My name is Curtiss King. I am a veteran music producer/rapper and the author of The Prosperous Hip Hop Producer. Through my YouTube channel, CurtissKingTV, I have had the opportunity to inspire, mentor, and educate over 4.2 million rappers and music producers around the world. My production credits include Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, E-40, and MURS, as well as corporate giants like MTV, VH1, and Vans. My last two albums, Jubilee Year and Summer Salt, both reached No. 4 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. But more importantly, I am a husband, father, and go-giver.
When I first began making beats in 2003, I didn’t know much about the art of creating or marketing my instrumentals. Truth be told, at that time I had a much greater grasp of hip-hop culture’s dos and don’ts. I would consume hours upon hours of hip-hop-centered documentaries, such as Rhyme & Reason, and treat the words of my favorite rappers and music producers as absolute hip-hop gospel. I never questioned the logic of these 20-year-old creatives and I didn’t dare request that they cite their sources when they shared their rules for being an authentic participant in the culture. However, of all the laws they laid out to living an authentic and guilt-free existence within the culture, it seemed that one law stood above all others: Never copy. Always be original.
Since the beginning of my career, I've lived by that law of originality as if it was a hip-hop commandment. I always pushed myself as a producer to pick the sounds other producers were afraid to use, use the tempos other producers couldn’t maneuver through, and instinctually arrange my instruments as uniquely as possible. Originality has always been at the forefront of my musical campaign, sometimes to a fault. I remember when I first began making beats, one of the most common critiques was that they sounded too "video gamey," and that my instrument choices sounded too computerized. This could mostly be attributed to the fact that I was one of the few producers—at least in my neighborhood—that used a PlayStation and a video game called MTV Music Generator as my beat-making equipment.
The beautiful thing about that feedback was that my oddball approach was still "hip-hop." Through my attempts to aggressively separate myself from the herd of other producers, the spirit of originality lived on through my music and the music of other producers like me. However, just as things always do in our culture, these laws changed and changed often.
Fast forward to today’s current landscape and we find a younger generation that is conflicted with hip-hop's law of originality. The struggle seems to fall between their insatiable thirst for remaining relevant to the current wave of their peers while also being disgusted by the idea of those same peers clout-chasing the waves they create. It must be confusing terrain to maneuver, especially when it’s in an environment where 20-something-year-old rappers and producers, who are still growing and finding their own way, get to define the rules of the day.
To be completely honest, as a 33-year-old online music producer, I've experienced my own inner conflict, specifically when I chose to dive into the beat-leasing industry. The beat-leasing world lived by rules that were very different than the rules shared by producers like Alchemist and Eric Sermon in that classic Rhyme & Reason documentary. In this beat-leasing business, I was exposed to music producers who not only aggressively went against the grain of the traditional music business, but against what many agreed upon were hip-hop commandments. At least, that’s how it appeared to me when I first arrived in this industry.
I remember when I first began researching how the most successful producers in this arena marketed their beats—I was shocked, to say the least.
JAY-Z type beat? Lil Wayne type beat? 50 Cent type beats?
What the hell was going on?! Where was the originality? Why were these producers using popular rapper names, images, and musical styles to drive traffic to their beats? Had they no pride in their own brand? I thought to myself, wouldn’t it just be smarter for them to market their own style of beats since all their competitors were also using this “TYPE BEATS” approach?
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Like many others on the outside looking in at this industry, I was certainly passing judgment from my ivory tower. I confused their marketing strategy for maximum visibility with a desperate clickbait(y) plea for attention and sales. I thought that a TYPE BEAT was an amateur’s indirect attempt at copying a more popular producer’s style because they lacked their own originality. I thought that this was how younger producers were trying to get their foot in the game. Although I’m sure that there were many producers at the time that did fit my suspicions, they didn’t represent why the most successful producers in the beat-leasing realm utilized this strategy.
To the elite beat-leasing producers, the marketing utilization of TYPE BEATS was no different than a blogger or YouTuber’s marketing tools. What did they all have in common? The use of high-ranking search terms through a process called Search Engine Optimization.
For those unfamiliar with SEO, it is defined as "the process of getting traffic from the 'free,' 'organic,' 'editorial' or 'natural' search results on search engines." For example, when a blogger creates a blog post listing the top 10 chefs on Food Network or a YouTuber creates a video about the top five reasons to start playing Fortnite, they both utilize the constant free traffic being generated by viewers and fanatics eagerly searching and consuming these specific topics. This is the reason that their blog posts and YouTube videos are filled with keywords that potential fans of their content are attracted to. This is how they get eyes on their art for free.
Guess what? Online music producers are doing the same thing by creating type beats. Most producers create a beat, mix it, export it and then think to themselves, "Who do I hear rapping over this beat?" Based upon what rapper they believe matches their production style the best, they use that aesthetic similarity as an online advertising tool to attract a similar demographic of rappers looking to buy beats. Keep in mind that a general demographic of beat-leasing rappers can range from 16 to 40 years old. What this means is that with those varying age groups come varying needs. For example, the up-and-coming rapper who hasn’t found their unique voice yet but is a huge J. Cole fan will use a J. Cole type beat differently than a 40-year-old that just appreciates the musicality of Cole’s production.
People who oppose this style of marketing and advertising widely believe that type beat producers think “WHAT RAPPER AND PRODUCER AM I GOING TO COPY FROM TODAY?!" That simply doesn’t apply to every producer, especially not the ones generating six figures yearly. Online producers like the freedom they have to create the music they love. These are not men and women desperate to be heard; they are hip-hop's newest entrepreneurs. Once I understood things from this perspective, my inner conflict began to find peace. I no longer viewed the use of type beats as a rebellion to hip-hop's law of originality, but more as a free tool available to every online music producer looking to leverage free traffic to grow their e-commerce business. We as online leasing producers are the small businesses of the music industry.
My enlightenment and eventual use of type beats gave me a unique perspective on both sides of the argument. I understood why the older heads didn’t get it, because at first I too was confused. At first, it felt awkward to create Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar type beats because I actually knew these rappers in real life. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that who better to provide this service than someone who actually produced for these rappers? I also had the chance to witness the brilliance of young online producers such as CashMoney AP, who literally monopolized type beats not only to sell more instrumentals, but to also catch the eye of popular rappers in the music industry. There have been many interviews where rappers like A$AP Rocky and Tekashi69 speak about looking up type beats on YouTube under their respective names to scout possible production for their newest albums.
Desiigner’s breakout single “Panda” was produced by a type beat producer named Menace. Young M.A’s viral song “Ooouuu” was produced by a type beat producer named U-Dubb of NY Bangers. The list and credits go on and on because the game is shifting. What was once looked at as a graveyard for music producers not lucky or talented enough to make it is now viewed as a multi-million-dollar industry with an abundance of talented leaders.
It's time these online producers get the respect they deserve. It's time that the industry producers admit they may not hold all the answers and keys to success. I know it’s a tough pill to swallow for a legendary producer who had to experience the ugliest parts of this music industry before becoming financially stable, to watch unknown music producers generate significantly more income than they did at that very same age. Some legends allow this evolution to inspire them, while others allow it to make them bitter. I simply chose to play ball. I chose to aggressively go against the grain because I knew that I wanted something different out of my production career.
Eventually, I found it, one type beat at a time.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t” was identified as a "type beat." Although the record was produced by an "online producer" (Epikh Pro), the beat was never solicited as a "type beat."