In 2020, the world may have stopped due to the coronavirus, but the music didn’t. Yes, things slowed down entirely too much, especially for those who rely on the art of hip-hop like oxygen. But there were still plenty of worthwhile songs and projects to throw into rotation, with beats crafted by dozens of talented producers. Now that we're back at the top of a new year, there’s a solid armful of beat architects that have recently gone on impressive runs. And they’re certainly looking to keep that momentum going in their direction in 2021.
Production duo Take a Daytrip did their thing last year. The standout pairing lended helping hands on the production for Travis Scott and Kid Cudi’s Billboard Hot 100 No.1 track “The Scotts,” Big Sean’s Detroit 2 cut “Wolves” with Post Malone and Juice Wrld’s “Bad Energy,” housed on Juice’s first posthumous album, Legends Never Die. To cap things off, they earned multiple production credits on Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon III: The Chosen, most notably on “Tequila Shots.” Why would they slow down now?
Quay Global had similar success in 2020. He was one of the go-to guys drafted to build the sound of Lil Baby’s My Turn, which was the best-selling album of last year. With production on tracks like "Woah," “Consistent” and the Gunna-assisted “Heatin Up,” it’s safe to say that Quay was in his bag. He’ll only step deeper this year.
Remember the name Jay Versace, the comedic wunderkind known for hilarious Vines and laugh-inducing viral memes? He gets busy on the boards now. Last year, he was recruited to add some production value to the Griselda clique. Months after producing on Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris album with the song “Versace,” the internet sensation produced the entirety of Boldy James’ The Versace Tape. With the quality of the beats on that effort, you can mark that moment down as the beginning of what will likely turn out to be a long and flavorful run in hip-hop.
After looking back through everything that dropped last year, from under-the-radar music to the most celebrated, XXL narrowed down 18 producers to you should look out for in 2021. From respected producers with a few years under their belt to rising newcomers, check them out below and expect to hear their tags all over rap this year.
Take a Daytrip, a super-powered duo comprised of David Biral and Denzel Baptiste, has been steady on the rise over the last few years. And 2020 cemented their most supreme 12 months thus far. Coronavirus pandemic and all, the two coproduced Travis Scott and Kid Cudi’s Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 song “The Scotts,” Big Sean’s “Wolves” featuring Post Malone, and Juice Wrld’s Legends Never Die standout “Bad Energy.” Owning a track record that also includes gems from varying artists that ranges from Lil Nas X to YoungBoy Never Broke Again, 2021 will be a year where their wide spectrum of sounds remains on display.
For some prominent producers, hearing their tag at the top of a song means that a hit is to follow. Prime example: Quay Global’s “Cook that shit up, Quay!” which was heard on 2020 tracks like “Heatin Up” by the Drip Harder prophets Lil Baby and Gunna, NLE Choppa’s “Narrow Road” featuring Lil Baby, and DaBaby’s somewhat melodic single “Peep Hole.” A good chef utilizes plenty of ingredients, some of which others would never even think to pull from. That idea fits perfectly with the beats of Quay Global in mind, whether we’re talking unheard of synths or unconventional drum patterns. Now in full stride, best believe that there will be plenty more five-star beats cooked up by Quay this year.
Most people recognize internet comedic superstar Jay Versace from his viral antics of dancing and acting. He's been memed a ridiculous amount of times, but he gets busy with the beats as well. Last year, the now-23-year-old New Jersey native scored production credits on projects by Westside Gunn, like the Pray For Paris album standout “Versace.” He also handled the entirety of Boldy James’ The Versace Tape. J Dilla and Madlib's inspiration on Jay can be heard on songs “Bentayga,” which features a soul-based sample that would make heads of any era knock. As far as 2021 goes, Versace has confirmed that plans to release two collaborative efforts with Freddie Gibbs and Westside Gunn. With a roaring buzz like the atmosphere of a barbershop, he’ll only continue to grow hotter.
German-bred producer Ambezza has been reaping the benefits of his musical labor lately. In the past few years, he’s assisted in the beat cook-up for artists like DaBaby with “Pop Star” and Baby Keem with “Invented It.” In 2020, he leveled up again, this time with coproduction credits on Future’s multiplatinum hit “Life Is Good” with Drake. And on top of that, he scored credits on Young Thug and Chris Brown’s Slime & B outro “Help Me Breathe” and worked alongside Marshmello to lay the perfect foundation for 42 Dugg to glide over on “Baggin’.” The only direction left to go in now is up.
Atlanta’s own Brandon Phillips-Taylor is establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with. He hasn’t branched out too much yet, but that’s because he’s been focused on propelling the career of fellow ATLien Deante’ Hitchcock. As the rapper’s go-to producer, Phillips-Taylor has crushed beats for songs like the J.I.D-assisted “I Got Money Now,” “How TF” with 6lack and “Growing Up/Mother God.” As evidenced in those songs, this beat-making scene is really his playground and he’s sliding into 2021 with solid momentum.
The easiest way to earn a major label record deal is to have hits under your belt like Section 8 does. Last year, he produced Lil Baby's platinum-selling summer anthem “We Paid” with 42 Dugg and the protest song “The Bigger Picture,” a record 8 also cowrote with the 4PF head honcho. Bolstered by a few additional cuts on the best-selling album of 2020, My Turn, 8 inked a deal with Warner Chappell Music to close out the year. Now that 2021 has arrived, expect for the Grammy Award-nominated talent to keep that same energy with even more top-tier artists.
Brooklyn drill music was the biggest sub-genre to emerge out of 2020. Among the leading acts are the obvious—Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign—but longtime friends Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow are steadily elevating as well with a handful of undeniable bangers crafted by Great John. Last year, the New Jersey native gifted his signature sound to projects like Sleepy's Sleepy Hallow Presents: Sleepy For President with “Molly” featuring Sheff G, and three Sheff joints: “No Suburban, Pt. 2” on One and Only, “Black Sheep” on Just 4 Yall and “Mistakes” on Proud of Me Now. Merging staticky 808s and guitar strings, Great John has been generating something unique with his drill-centric beats. As the style continues to blossom, his tag and imprint will remain essential.
ATL Jacob not only reps his hometown in his name, but in his beats as well. He’s certified when it comes to trap production, making sense of the fact that an artist like Future would draft him to build an indisputable catalog. Last year, Jacob coproduced Hndrxx’s High Off Life hit “Ridin Strikers,” but he also extended his reach to work with Trippie Redd for the Pegasus cut “Spaceships” with Young Thug, and Lil Yachty for the LB3 bonus “Flex Up” assisted by Playboi Carti and Pluto. Looking forward to this year, it would be foolish to assume that he doesn't have more ammo in the chamber. Bet that he'll unload the clip again.
DJ K.i.D"Blame It On Baby"
In order to properly build up his Billion Dollar Baby Entertainment label, DaBaby had to recruit some gifted people, like DJ K.i.D. In 2020, the North Carolina-born musician produced six records off of Blame It On Baby, including the single “Find My Way” and coproduction on songs like “Jump” featuring YoungBoy Never Broke Again and the title track. His working relationship with the man formerly known as Baby Jesus has earned them both a slew of platinum plaques, but more recently, K.i.D has taken his talents to other artists like Brooklyn’s Smoove’ L with "Get Married” and Georgia’s Foogiano for “Yano.” He shows no signs of slowing down in 2021.
The production on Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake album is elite. And part of that credit goes to 23-year-old producer Brandon Finessin. The Philly-bred beat architect helped craft the backdrop for standouts like “Lo Mein,” coproduced “Baby Pluto,” “Venetia” and the deluxe cut, Young Thug-assisted “Got The Guap.” Obtaining a keen ability to bring his otherworldy sounds to life, Finessin was also drafted to produce on the Pluto x Baby Pluto mash up, most notably on “Marni On Me”—a song he coproduced with Outtatown. With Lil Uzi Vert slated to drop twice more in 2021, we’ll probably hear Brandon Finessin all over that if not somewhere else.
KBeaZy had a beast of a year during the last rotation around the sun. In 2020, he had a “Google me” moment when he was named as the youngest producer to score a No. 1 record on the Billboard Hot 100 for the coproduction value he added to 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood.” The man who took his talents from the cello to Fruity Loops ended up coproducing a handful of additional tracks to close things out.
You can hear his work on Tokyo’s Revenge’s “Sorry” featuring 24k, Iann Dior’s “Holding On” and Lil Wayne’s “Drag ’Em” featuring Gudda Gudda. Still unable to legally drink, he’s just now finding his footing in not only the world, but in the music industry. Looking forward to this year, one thing is evident though: he’s found a lane and in it and hasn’t deterred off track one bit.
Quality Control associate Twysted Genius got an ever bigger taste of the limelight in 2020. His placements on Lil Baby’s My Turn—“Sum 2 Prove,” “Emotionally Scarred” and “Forever”—and Marlo’s 1st & Third—“Street Talk” and “Lit AF”—earned him a top placement on the Billboard Hot 100 Producers & Songwriters chart. To cap off the coronavirus pandemic year, he teamed up with artists like City Girls for “Come Outside,” the Plutos for “Real Baby Pluto,” coproduced with Zaytoven, and Toosii for assisting efforts on “Right Now.” As a newer talent himself, Twysted Genius continues to spotlight and tag-team music with emerging artists. It’ll be interesting to see who the Mississippi native gifts his saucy beats to this year.
Turn Me Up Josh, a Winners Circle signee who hails from the soil of Houston, has already gone platinum and received Grammy Award nominations for engineering songs like Drake’s Lil Durk-assisted “Laugh Now Cry Later.” Impressively, he’s gotten all of that but still hasn’t hit his biggest stride yet, though 2020 was major for him. Last year, he continued to lock in with Chicago’s street voice Durkio. Evidenced in his production value added to records like “Backdoor,” “When We Shoot” and “The Voice” just to name a few, he quickly became the go-to guy for trap piano beats. That sound isn’t going anywhere this year, so neither will he. He’ll without a doubt be racking up more accolades in 2021.
Dutch producer Outtatown has been making his rounds in the rap game when it comes to beats. Last year alone, he helped produce records for Lil Uzi Vert (“Sasuke”), DaBaby (“Lightskin Shit”), Future (“All Bad” with Baby Pluto) and Gunna (“MOTW”). If that long list of gems and top-tier artists somehow isn’t convincing enough, he also added stellar production to Playboi Carti’s long-anticipated Whole Lotta Red. Exemplified in the added sauce to tracks like "Beno!," Outtatown has been on another level when it comes to coding beats. Why would he let up now?
South Carolina’s own Tahj Money was influenced by Metro Boomin and Zaytoven growing up. So when it comes to 808s and orchestra-like strings and piano keys, it was only a matter of time before he found his own groove. In 2020, the rising producer crafted the beats for Polo G’s The GOAT album single “Martin & Gina,” assisted on NLE Choppa’s “Moonlight” featuring Big Sean and helped build the foundation for Rod Wave’s sophomore album standout “Letter from Houston.” Though Tahj has plenty of years left, he’s proven to be a prime studio collaborator for many rising artists. It’s only a matter of time before he starts unloading the music he has in the tuck for this year.
Gunna’s DJ Taurus also doubles as a producer. Spending years around the Atlanta rapper has afforded him ample time to not only study Wunna’s sound, but to perfect it. Exemplified in the beats he made for “Skybox,” “200 For Lunch” and his helping hand on “Nasty Girl/On Camera,” it’s safe to say that he’s done just that. Just three days into the new year, Gunna tweeted “New Year New Money New Album.” It can be confidently said that Taurus should be heavily involved in that upcoming effort, as well as Slime Language 2 which could be dropping any day now.
Audio Anthem likes to refer to himself as the Lou Williams of the studio. Like the NBA player, there’s always a fit somewhere for his versatility. In 2020, the Atlanta-residing producer coated Nas’ “Ultra Black,” worked on Big Sean’s La Flame-assisted “Lithuania” with Hit-Boy, lended some assistance on Conway The Machine's Dej Loaf-featured "Fear Of God" and even on an R&B tip, helped put together PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “PGT.” Simply put, he was eating stuff last year. Now in full rhythm, fans can anticipate that he’ll be wiping the plate clean again this year.
L.A.-bred songwriter and producer Jasper Harris went off in 2020. Off rip, he snagged production credits on DaBaby’s “Blame It On Baby,” Gunna’s “Do Better,” Russ’ “No Tears Left” and 6ix9ine’s post-prison release “Punani.” During the second half of the year, he added some funk to Ty Dolla $ign’s “Powder Blue” with Gunna and aided in Jack Harlow’s second album single “Way Out” accompanied by Big Sean. Jasper will likely pick back up right where he left off in 2021, which means his flavor is again about to cover a lot of ground.