Fat Joe – “My Lifestyle”
Blackstar – “Re:Definition”
M.O.P. & 50 Cent – “Big Boy Game”
WC – “This is Los Angeles”
Moka Only – “Oh Six”
Soulkast – “Premiere Salve”
Agallah & RA The Rugged Man – “Til My Hearts Stops”
Ras Kass – “Golden Chyld”
NOTE: Before people proclaim their hatred and start spouting “Where’s this J Dilla beat? Where’s that Dr. Dre beat?”, these are simply some of my favourite beats I thought I’d share, to give you an idea of why I love hip-hop music and what gets my head nodding.
10. The Diplomats – This Is What I Do (2003)
Produced by Heatmakerz
The Heatmakerz may not be held in high regard like some other Roc-A-Fella alumni (Kanye West or Just Blaze for instance) but they are responsible for much of the speaker-splitting sound that ensured the likes of Cam’ron, Juelz Santana and their crew The Diplomats dominated rap in 2003. While Cam’ron’s “Purple Haze” is perhaps remembered more fondly, for my money, Dipset’s creative peak (if you could call it that) was the bloated onslaught of booming bass and proud horns that could be found on “Diplomatic Immunity”. Much like how “Dipset Anthem” was Juelz Santana’s showcase song, this was Hell Rell’s. Hell Rell is easily the most in-your-face member, with a presence befitting his criminal past. Admittedly, any sense of lyricism is negated by the fact it’s a Diplomats track (come on guys, THIS IS WHAT THEY DO), but Rell’s voice is perfect for such a vicious production. The fact that the beat toys with the listener by almost coming to a stop every few bars, only to inflict another onslaught of bass and horns not heard done so well since Pete Rock’s heyday. The most surprising thing is that it’s tucked away towards the end of disc 2 of the album.
Unfortunately, Hell Rell was still locked up when this record dropped, meaning that when he did come out with music, the buzz surrounding Dipset had already waned, with only Juelz Santana maintaining any momentum in to the latter half of the 2000s. “Diplomatic Immunity” is very much of its era (when calling yourself Taliban was deemed gangsta) but it’s got some fantastic beats on it.
9. Self Scientific – Chace’s Theme (2005)
Produced by DJ Khalil
Chace Infinite and DJ Khalil went by the name of Self Scientific in the early 2000s and were one of my favourite rap duos during a period where Scott Storch was breaking away from Dr. Dre’s shadow to craft pounding, piano-led hip-hop. DJ Khalil was an animal, creating quintessential west-coast hip-hop with an underground edge that should have led to big things for the two. Chace is hugely underrated, and while this is his “theme”, it’s all about Khalil’s decision to take that piano sound of the era and let the listener have it more than they thought they needed it.
Self Scientific have some huge bangers in their locker, namely “Jealousy” and “Live N Breathe” – check them out.
8. Heltah Skeltah – Soldiers Gone Psyco (1996)
Produced by Baby Paul & Rock The Bucktown Bulli
The fact I’m not including “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” only highlights how damn good the album “Nocturnal” from Heltah Skeltah is. Banger after banger, this continued obsession with being slightly psychotic (something Gravediggaz, Redman and numerous others were using in the mid-90s) lends itself well to a beat that will have you dancing like you’re advertising the latest line of straight-jackets. It sounds a little like a Redman track if it weren’t for them crashing snare drums – up there with Mobb Deep’s “Temperature’s Rising” in terms of leaving your ears looking like Mick Foley’s.
7. Heather B – If Headz Only Knew (1996)
Produced by Kenny Parker
Commonly seen these days on Sway in the Morning on Shade45 Radio (and on YouTube), Heather B was known for being a vicious (if limited) emcee, as well as a reality TV star in the USA. “If Headz Only Knew” was perfect ’96 New York hip-hop that owed a lot to the work of Da Beatminerz, which while quite simplistic in terms of melody, remains a favourite thanks to that era’s tendency to include heavy bass on everything.
6. Anderson .Paak – The Waters (2016)
Produced by Madlib
I’m a sucker for west coast gangsta rap, no matter how misogynistic and ultimately fantastical it inevitably is. WC and Daz resurrected the sound on 2013’s “West Coast Gangsta Shit” LP, but this year’s “Malibu” from Anderson .Paak felt fresher. It’s not the first time the singer has combined well with that modern Dre sound (.Paak appeared on 2015’s “Compton”, which was largely disappointing), but “Malibu” is full of smoother R&B-tinged instrumentals that outdo Dre at his own game. It may have an R&B feel, but much like Bilal, this still sounds knowingly gangsta. “The Waters” knows its the most tough-sounding song on the LP given the prevalence of profanity compared to other tracks and .Paak favouring rapping for much of the song. That beat though, one of the only beats on this list that gets straight in to the best bit. I wish there was more music being made like this outside of traditional R&B artists such as Bilal and the odd Keyshia Cole track. The fact that Madlib (!) did this is crazy, showing he’s way more versatile than a lot of the so-called greatest hip-hop producers that are typically mentioned.
5. Shyheim – Real Bad Boys (1995)
Produced by RNS
The Wu-Tang Clan, extended family, affiliates (and any friend of RZA it seems) have a large selection of records with top production. It’s commonly known RZA isn’t the gritty, innovative beat provider he once was, but guys like Mathematics, Bronze Nazareth and 4th Disciple are all capable of dropping fire on their day. Shyheim’s second LP “The Lost Generation” was one of the best Wu affiliated records of the 1990s, thanks to some grimy beats that were more akin to something Duck Down Records would release. “Real Bad Boys” is fairly generic lyrically (ignoring the fact Shyheim was a teenager bragging about his criminal lifestyle) but that bassline. Listen to it. It’s absolute filth. Wanting to play this loudly while rapping the hook “Real bad boys move in silence” is beautifully ironic, but is also hip-hop at its best – blunt yet sharp.
4. The Doppelgangaz – Barbiturates (2013)
Produced by The Doppelgangaz
The Doppelgangaz back catalog has been consistently strong over the past 5 years, but one thing that remains most noticeable from their projects is how there’s always one genuine face-melter of a beat on each album. Hugely underrated outside of the murky underground they frequent, Doppelgangaz regularly release instrumental records showcasing their knack for thick, booming production, whilst also retaining a unique style of rhyming that sits somewhere between Ghostface Killah’s abstract verbiage and Planet Asia’s street tales. “Barbiturates” is a beat I never tire of, “Doppel Gospel” being a close second.
3. The Game – Hard Liquor (2007)
Produced by Dr. Dre
There are plenty of fantastic Dr. Dre productions that I’ve enjoyed over the years – Dre’s “2001” album was my first rap album way back in 1999 which explains my soft spot for someone like The Game. The early 2000s were (in my opinion) Dre’s peak, where he was dropping gems on countless albums, that today are often overlooked. Xzibit’s “Losin’ My Mind”, 40 Glocc’s “Finer Thangs” and Obie Trice’s “Oh!” – the guy was shitting gold at this point. If the long-delayed (read: cancelled) “Detox” had dropped in 2005, it would have been insane. My favourite Dr. Dre beat however, was tucked away on a Game mixtape round about the time he was going back and forth with 50 Cent and G-Unit. “Hard Liquor” is quite hard to track down these days (a muffled version appears on Game’s “L.A.X.” album from 2008 as a skit) so God bless YouTube for this one. By 2007, these types of beats were starting to go out of fashion, highlighted by Kanye’s “Graduation” outselling 50 Cent’s “Curtis” and signalling the end of hardcore hip-hop in the mainstream. But Game’s “Hard Liqour” was SO gangsta it felt like Dre was slamming Alicia Keys’ head in to her piano keys while Kokane crooned “see her on the floorÉ”. The current hip-hop charts sorely miss Dr. Dre’s touch, even if it was misogynistic as f***.
2. Jaylib – The Red (2003)
Produced by J Dilla and Madlib
It’s not often two great producers come together and produce gold, especially twice on one song. What I mean by this is that “The Red” exists in two forms thanks to the sample on the original never being cleared. I much prefer the original version, although the other one is great in its own way. A lot of great beats have made use of a vocal snippet that’s been sped up or had the pitch changed, but none better than this. It’s let down by some sub-par emceeing but Dilla and Madlib were never selling music because of their rhymes, unless you got off on that Quasimoto record. I could listen to this beat on loop for hours and not tire of it.
1. Mobb Deep – Shook Ones Pt. 2 (1995)
Produced by Havoc
Many proclaim Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y.” to be the greatest hip-hop beat of all time, and there’s a strong claim for it being true. Personally, I prefer something a bit more bruising (“Ghetto of the Mind” is my kind of Pete Rock track) and Havoc delivered a haymaker to the skull when “Shook Ones Pt. 2” dropped. And boy, what a “drop” – it’s like having a bucketful of goosebumps thrown down the back of your neck when that hi-hat and snare start playing. The teasing bassline. The industrial sound effect straight out of a Dario Argento flick. It had it all (except a vocal snippet unfortunately).
It doesn’t matter if you’re listening to it as the final part of “The Infamous LP”, a brave DJ has thrown it on after being hassled in a nightclub (I regret nothing), or you’re just discovering it in 2016, it’s a perfect hip-hop single. It’s effortlessly vicious, boasting vocal performances (particularly from Prodigy) that are career-defining for both members. Hundreds of songs have lifted lines from this song and scratched in the acapella – it’s up there with Eric B & Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” in that regard, which is great company to keep. As much as I love the Mobb’s 1996 LP “Hell on Earth”, they have never matched this song’s morbid atmosphere.