It might seem easier than ever to make a hit rap song these days. The importance of wordplay may have diminished in the minds of some fans (Lil Pump's "Gucci Gang" repeats the titular catchphrase a hypnotizing 53 times) but when it comes to the sonics, the production has to slap, bottom line.
The role of the producer is as crucial as ever. Sure, Playboi Carti's "Magnolia" has replay value for days, but it was Pi'erre Bourne's The Jamie Foxx Show-inspired beat tag and production that served as the foundation for one of the year's biggest bangers. Then of course there are the behind-the-board vets whose tracks paved the way to Billboard and Grammy honors. Kendrick Lamar's "HUMBLE." shot to No. 1 on the Hot 100 with an assist from Mike WiLL Made-It, who also worked with the Compton lyricist on two other tracks from the soon-to-be classic DAMN.
On the East Coast, Brooklyn's living legend JAY-Z tapped No I.D. to produce the entirety of 4:44, another beloved LP. And don't forget the contributions of rising hitmakers like Ronny J, who helped catapult the careers of SoundCloud rap stars like Smokepurpp and Ski Mask The Slump God.
While there are an endless amount that delivered bangers this year, XXL took a holistic look back at 2017 to highlight 30 hip-hop producers—in no particular order—who made an impact.
Young Metro is one of hip-hop’s most sought-after producers, and this year, his status in the game was literally cemented when RapCaviar created a life-size statue in his honor. Named the year's biggest U.S hit songwriter (so far) in June by Music Business Worldwide, Metro Boomin manipulated the undeniable flutes on Future's "Mask Off" and laced Kodak Black ("Tunnel Vision") and Drake ("No Complaints") with some bangers as well. His collaborative efforts with Nav and Big Sean—Perfect Timing and Double or Nothing, respectively—were generally well-received, but it was his surprise Halloween project with Offset and 21 Savage that sent the internet into a frenzy. Without Warning was the biggest surprise album of 2017, with “Ric Flair Drip” remaining a mainstay on the Billboard charts to this day.
Tay Keith’s production is prototypical trap music, and Southern rap artists have taken notice. When the young Memphis native isn’t studying for his degree at Middle Tennessee State University, Tay is behind the boards creating head-knocking beats for artists like Moneybagg Yo, BlocBoy JB,Yo Gotti and Blac Youngsta. He produced his standout cut “Lil Bitch” for the latter, and luckily for us his hi-hat and snare selections are just beginning to spread around the industry. He's recently been spotted in the studio with hometown heavyweight Juicy J, so one can only imagine what he’ll bang out next.
There's no question that Pi'erre Bourne is one of 2017's breakout producers. Hip-hop was first introduced to the South Carolina native's video game-inspired sounds on Young Nudy's 2016 mixtape Slimeball, on which he produced tracks like "Butt Naked Bitches" and "Nun Like This." This year, however, Pi'erre debuted on the Billboard charts for the first time ever due to Playboi Carti's "wokeupliikethis*" with Lil Uzi Vert, and Carti's now-platinum 2017 summer anthem "Magnolia." His tagline, "Yo Pi'erre, you wanna come out here?"—taken from a scene on The Jamie Foxx Show—is now recognized nationwide, becoming just as popular as the songs he produces. Pi'erre is working with 21 Savage and Drake on upcoming music.
Ronny J has gained a new wave of followers due to his lo-fi, bass-rattling production for Smokepurpp, Ski Mask The Slump God and Lil Pump. The beatmaker/rapper has worked with Purpp extensively this year, and it's paid off—their May track "Audi" was just certified gold. In recent weeks, Ronny J has produced "Hi Bich" for Bhad Bhabie, and three of the five tracks on XXXTentacion's latest project, A GHETTO CHRISTMAS CAROL! EP. Stay tuned for more from the Jersey-bred, Miami-based artist.
You can't listen to this year's rising rap stars without hearing music from Bighead, also known as Bighead on the Beat, or @killbighead on social media. His productions run the gamut of rap's rookie class, blessing songs by the likes of Uno The Activist, Yung Gleesh, Lil Tracy and the late Lil Peep. Bighead is most known, however, for his co-production work on Lil Pump's self-titled debut album, songs like "Molly" (with Ronny J), "Flex Like Ouu" and of course the Gnealz-assisted "Gucci Gang," which sits at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, only down one spot from its peak.
Ness HBTL is having just as good a year as his labelmates, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Don Q. During the first quarter, Ness and Cameron Pasquale’s joint beat graced Drake and Giggs “KMT,” which had caused some controversy between the 6 God and XXXTentacion. Nevertheless, Kodak Black dropped his debut studio album Painting Pictures, a couple of weeks later, which spawned the piano ballad “Patty Cake,” co-produced by Ness, Nick Seely and Ben Billions. He later linked up with Nick Seely again to co-produce Boogie’s “Say A” off his debut album, The Bigger Artist.
“Issues” by PnB Rock—co-produced by Pasquale—is another notable cut from this year, as well as his solo tracks and projects. Will Ness be one of the next artists to blow up off of High Bridge the Label? Only time will tell.
In addition to his work on 2 Chainz’s Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, Murda Beatz has created sounds for Travis Scott ("Butterfly Effect"), A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Yo Gotti. The Toronto-based hitmaker also worked with CuBeatz for Nicki Minaj’s “No Frauds,” Migos’ Culture 2 single “MotorSport,” and two cuts off Drake's More Life. He's closing the year strong by contributing three tracks to Quavo and Travis Scott’s collaborative endeavor, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho.
Maaly Raw made his hip-hop entry in 2016, but his 2017 credits cemented him as one of Philly's top hitmakers. Raw has continued to cut futuristic, slap-heavy bangers for Uzi this year, specifically on the critically acclaimed Luv Is Rage 2 album, on which he produced "Dark Queen," "444+222," Unfazed" and "Early 20 Rager." His sound also caught the ears of Meek Mill and G Herbo, who both recruited Raw's instrumentals for their respective LPs.
YoungBoy Never Broke Again first rapped on a Dubba-AA beat last year, but the two have since become an unstoppable duo. Dubba laced YoungBoy's mixtapes Ain’t Too Long, AI YoungBoy, and Fed Baby's with Moneybagg Yo. Dubba also linked with longtime friend and collaborator Kodak Black for "Water," another YoungBoy collab.
Much was said of JAY-Z's extreme candor on his late-career classic 4:44. But aside from the lyricism, the production—handled exclusively by No I.D.—made the album one of the year's strongest releases. The legendary producer took R&B, gospel and reggae samples to a new level on soulful cuts like "4:44," "Family Feud" and "Bam." His role went beyond just moving switches, turning dials and chopping samples, though. No I.D. served as a producer in the most literal sense, helping Hov open up and let loose some of the most raw emotions you'll find in all of his catalog. Dion's stellar work on 4:44 has earned him a nomination for Producer of the Year at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
CashmoneyAP is responsible for several of this summer's rap-a-longs. His hi-hat techniques make for great production, specifically on tracks like NexXthursday’s “Sway” with Quavo and Lil Yachty, Honcho Da Savage and Smooky MarGielaa’s “Misfit” and Ski Mask The Slump God’s “BabyWipe,” which has been streamed more than 17 million times on SoundCloud since dropping seven months ago. Other highlights of this year for AP include Desiigner’s “Holy Ghost” and “Malibu” tracks, as well the viral “Nowadays” cut by Lil Skies.
$lick $loth of $uicideboy$
$lick $loth, also known as $crim, is the producer behind the boards of almost every $uicideboy$ track. As a beatmaker, $loth goes under the moniker Budd Dwyer, inspired by the politician of the same name who fatally shot himself during a conference in 1987. This year Budd is responsible for $uicideboy$ hits such as "2nd Hand" and "Now I'm Up to My Neck With Offers." He also handled most of the production on Juicy J's Highly Intoxicated mixtape, along with his $uicideboy$ partnerRuby da Cherry.
There aren’t too many hip-hop projects producer Southside hasn’t touched this year. Other than “Mask Off,” the beatsmith helmed the music to Migos’ “Too Hotty,” Lil Durk’s “Goofy” with Jeezy and Future, “Everything” by G Herbo, and Gucci Mane and Migos’ now-platinum “I Get the Bag.” Then there’s his credits on Nav and Metro’s Perfect Timing, 21 Savage’s Issa Album, and Gucci’s latest, El Gato the Human Glacier, which he produced entirely. The list goes on and on—his latest work graces Quavo and Travis Scott's new album, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho—and will likely only extend into 2018.
OG Parker was all about quality over quantity in 2017. The seasoned Quality Control producer is currently up for a 2018 Best Rap Album Grammy for his work on Migos' Culture. "Slippery" featuring Gucci Mane has been certified gold, as well as Chris Brown's "Pills & Automobiles," which he also laced. Parker's other highlights from this year include Gucci's "Enormous" cut with Ty Dolla $ign and "Liger" by Young Thug & Carnage.
Sonny Digital has been relatively quiet in 2017 in comparison to years past, but with the music he's dropped since the top of year, it's clear the Atlanta native hasn't missed a beat. Recently he's worked with both D.R.A.M. and Steve Aoki on their respective projects. He's also responsible for the music behind the highly-coveted 2017 XXL Freshman Class cyphers—which included XXXTentacion, Kap G and Ugly God rapping over his production.
Boi-1da's notable credits this year include “Free Smoke” and “Do Not Disturb” off Drake’s More Life, Lana Del Rey’s “Summer Bummer” with A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti, and over a dozen tracks on Joyner Lucas’ latest project, 508-507-2209. Later in the year, Boi-1da produced G-Eazy's newest single “No Limit” with Allen Ritter, featuring Rocky and Cardi B; the track currently sits at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 10 on the Hot 100. He also executive-produced Belly’s entire Mumble Rap LP in the year’s last quarter, which features more than 11 bangers.
Per usual, Mike WiLL Made-It is having a solid year. The veteran producer has crafted racks like "Perfect Pint," "Gucci On My," Future's "Razzle Dazzle" and Rae Sremmurd's "Perplexing Pegasus"—all are among the year's strongest instrumentals. His work on Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. album, however, took Mike WiLL's 2017 from great to absolutely astonishing. The Atlanta beatsmith is solely responsible for the production on "Humble" and "DNA," while also co-producing "XXX."
Though 16yrold was rumored to have joined 808 Mafia in early 2016, it wasn't until he teamed up with artists like Famous Dex and Thouxanbanfauni that he became the go-to producer for rap newcomers in 2017. Musically he identifies with an alternative rock aesthetic, so the young hitmaker has created hard-hitting, lo-fi cuts for everyone from Smokepurpp and Ski Mask The Slump God. Ski and Desiigner's "Up Next" and Killy's "No Romance" are his standout's from this year, combining for more than two million listens on his SoundCloud over the past five months. Look out for his new tape, which he recently announced is on its way.
In under a year’s time, DJ Flippp's credit list has grown more quickly than most rising hip-hop producers. His upbeat trap bangers have propelled him to work with rising stars like Lil Yachty, Famous Dex and Uno The Activist. Other highlights: Trippie Redd’s “Rack City/Love Scars 2” with 12hunna and “Lied” featuring Smokepurpp and Ugly God.
Wheezy has continued to helm beats for the YSL label and other Atlanta artists, working with no breaks throughout the majority of the year. Distorted production over strings and keys has become his calling card, hallmarks of his tracks on Young Thug's Beautiful Thugger Girls ("Feel It," "On Fire"). The Drip or Drown EP, Wheezy's latest offering, sees him assisting Gunna behind the boards on all seven tracks. Lil Tsunami has also worked with Future and Kodak Black on a handful of cuts this year..
Danny Wolf has come a long way since he started his internship at Hoodrich Entertainment. His melodic, bass-heavy trap sound on Hoodrich Pablo Juan’s HoodWolf mixtape, Lil Pump's "Flex Like Ouu" with co-producer Ronny J and Tay-K’s “Coolin” with Dilip have solidified him as one of hip-hop’s most prized beatsmiths of 2017. As of today, we are still awaiting “Me and the Moon Relate,” his collaborative effort with Lil Uzi Vert initially previewed in the beginning of the year.
K Swisha’s use of synthesizers and heavy bass have made his records slap harder than most this year. His credits appear on both “Harley” and “Priorities” off Lil Yachty’s debut album, Teenage Emotions. He also got back in the studio with Madeintyo this past summer, releasing three tracks with him. But K Swisha’s biggest moment this year undoubtedly came via 2 Chainz and Migos. K helmed the beat for the catchy “Blue Cheese” off Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, which was certified gold in September.
There are only a handful of producers who can say they’ve worked with some of today's greatest lyricists—Cam O’bi is one of the select few. Known for his extensive work with Chance The Rapper, Cam has expanded to working with J. Cole, Joey Bada$$, Lute and EarthGang, providing each artist with soulful, soothing vibes. Most recently, the Grammy-winning producer dropped his feel-good track “Jeri Curl,” which is sure to hold us over as we await his solo debut LP, Grown Ass Kids.
Digital Nas has developed a secure following throughout this past year. Most of his work with Lil Wop—which includes “Murder Rate” and “Snakes” off Wopavelli 3—sounds straight off a horror movie soundtrack. He kept the same vibe on “Mattress,” a standout track on A$AP Ferg’s Still Striving. Digital Nas' latest production, “JUMP” by Smokepurpp, has garnered more than 1.7 million views in less than two weeks.
Griselda Records’ in-house producer Daringer has continued to bang out tracks for Conway and Westside Gunn this year, but others have gotten into his timeless production as of late. Action Bronson hit up the New York native to lend his talents on Blue Chips 7000’s "Chop Chop Chop" and soulful cut “The Choreographer,” which sees Daringer mix samples of Dru Hill’s “In My Bed” and “I’m Back for More” by Leo’s Sunshipp. Most recently, Conway dropped his latest project G.O.A.T, with nine of the 10 cuts being handled by D.
Veteran hip-hop producer 9th Wonder has had a big year with collaborators Rapsody and Kendrick Lamar. While the old school samples and (three!) switch-ups on K. Dot’s “Duckworth” are still amazing, it was his work on Rapsody’s second studio album, Laila’s Wisdom, that reminded hip-hop heads why 9th Wonder is a star in his own right. The esteemed musician has more than a dozen production credits on the critically-acclaimed LP, and is a big part of the reason why the project is nominated for Best Rap Album alongside Kendrick’s DAMN.
Toronto-bred producer and rapper Nav has had an extraordinary year with some of hip-hop's hugest stars. Aside from dropping his self-titled debut mixtape in February—produced entirely by himself with assistance from a handful of other hitmakers—he also released his collaborative album with Metro Boomin, Perfect Timing, which saw features from Gucci Mane, 21 Savage and Belly. He also linked with Gucci and The Weeknd again this year to produce their single "Curved," co-produced by FrostADX.
A few months ago, London on Da Track told XXL he wants to keep busy and be productive. Judging by the number of hits he's worked on this year, it seems like he's done just that. In 2017, London has hit the studio with Young Thug, Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, French Montana and PnB Rock to assist with tracks on their solo projects, and even came out with a track of his own. “No Flag” with Nicki Minaj, Offset and 21 Savage is off his upcoming project Who Would’ve Known, is scheduled to drop before the year’s end. Another highlight from the Atlanta native this year is Kodak Black’s single “Roll in Peace” with XXXTentacion, co-produced by CuBeatz.
Year in and year out, Cardo crafts at least a few amazing tracks. Don Q’s “Protect Ur Patek” with A Boogie—co-produced by Johnny Juliano—became a hood banger in New York, while his work on Kendrick Lamar’s “God” aided in making the track a standout on DAMN. This year Cardo has also teamed up with OMB Peezy to produce all of the records on his Humble Beginnings EP. To top it all off, he finally dropped G-Worthy, the project he created in L.A. with Jay Worth and G Perico over the span of two days. Catch his latest work on “Where U From” off Travis Scott and Quavo’s brand new album, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho.
Zaytoven continued his can't-knock catalog this year via collaborations with everyone from Future to Chief Keef. One of his more notable beats from this year was Young Dolph's "Play Wit Yo Bitch," the Memphis rapper's diss track to fellow hometown native Yo Gotti. Other work from Zaytoven this year includes Migos' "Big on Big" and his mixtape Where Would the Game Be Without Me 2.