Hardwood Blacktop’s 2012 Hip Hop Awards: Top Ten Producers of 2012

Posted: December 31, 2012 in Best of 2012
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2012 was a really great year for rap producers, probably a better year for producers than rappers, which seems to have been the trend for the last few years.  It is notable that 2012’s list sees the inclusion of several producers who work through primarily sample based means, several who work primarily in the field of original composition, and several who are equally adept in both fields or use interpolation to recreate previous compositions.  This strikes me as notable as I cannot think of a year where there was quite so much balance between the various modes of production.  2012 was also a tough year to select just 10 producers for this honor, as admittedly Roc Marciano, Ka, Harry Fraud, Willie Green, Aesop Rock and others had some very noteworthy production in 2012, but didn’t make the final cut.  As with the rappers, this is in no particular order.

Key Nyata “Suicide Capital” produced by Blue Sky Black Death

Blue Sky Black Death

It’s kind of amazing that it feels like this collective is still “proving themselves” in the industry given the number of years and dope projects they have to their name.  In 2012, BSBD dropped the final two pieces in the trilogy of projects they released with Nacho Picasso over a very tight time frame.  They then quickly retooled and put out projects with the new group Skull & Bones as well as Deniro Farrar before the end of the year.  They’ve got a ton of new material in store for 2013 as well, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to garner some more major label placements like they did on eXquire’s EP this year.  Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but it would be amazing to hear BSBD do a full length project with a vocalist who could really float amid the ether of their production the way an Ethelwulf, Future, or Chief Keef could.  Future and Keef seem like a bit of a stretch, but an EP with Wulf seems like it could happen if the two sides came to the table.  Laptop A&Ring aside, there really weren’t many producers who were on BSBD’s level in 2012 so as always it will be interesting to see where they take their game in 2012.

Chief Keef “Hate Being Sober” (prod by Young Chop)

Young Chop

Whether or not you actually believe drill brings anything new production-wise to the table that trap hadn’t already coined (which is a legitimate question), Young Chop was undeniably running shit in 2012.  No producer had his fingerprints on as many potent cuts in 2012, and his songs generally tended to dominate their placements by outperforming those from other producers on the same project.  He also dropped a few cuts that showed a surprising bit of range (his more soulful/organic sounding contributions to Mikkey Halsted’s Castro for example).  I don’t even think anybody has accurately cataloged exactly how much music was released in 2012 with a Young Chop beat, but as far as I can tell it’s well over 100 songs.  Given the prominence his work rose to in under a year of national notoriety, it’s a mere formality that he will continue to be a major factor in the (re)definition of the trap/drill sound going forward.

Lil Ugly Mane “Throw Dem Gunz” (prod by Shawn Kemp)

Shawn Kemp (Lil’ Ugly Mane)

Ugly Mane was certainly in the thought process when coming up with the top 10 rappers of 2012.  Mane is a competent lyricist and certainly has shown adaptability to different styles on the mic, but his real genius is in his production and ability to create music that evokes a certain mood or emotion.  While it was a shame that the Little Sunshine EP hasn’t resurfaced after Mane lost his harddrive, Kemp still had a pretty impressive discography in 2012, including: Mista Thug Isolation, External Files, Uneven Compromise, Supasonic, and a couple of individual beats for Raider Klan members and other affiliates.  While many original got into Lil Ugly Mane due to a perceived Memphis revivalism in his work – something that is present at times – it’s become apparent that Ugly Mane is really just a huge fan of golden era rap in general as well as the creative process itself.  It’s unlikely that his output in 2013 will sound too much like his output in 2012, but there’s no doubt that it will be high quality product.

Robb Banks ft. SGP “Bend Ova Like That” (produced by SpaceGhostPurpp)


SGP is an innovator and a visionary.  His musical pedigree puts him alongside many of the greats and his production this past year spoke for itself.  When at his best on the mic, there a lot more going on than most of his critics like to acknowledge, and when he’s behind the boards he just steps into a magical place.  While there are hundreds if not thousands of artists out there trying to recapture the magic of 90’s rap in some form or another, SGP stands above that crowd because he’s managed to craft a sound that is entirely his own yet still reminds us all of the feeling we got when we ripped open some vinyl, popped in a homemade underground mix tape, or cut the shrink-wrap off a new cd during the golden era.  It’s a shame that so much of the focus on Raider Klan this year has revolved around tension between the BRK camp and the A$AP camp, when at the end of the day the music is much more interesting than the posturing.

Action Bronson “Eggs On The Floor” (produced by Alchemist)


Alchemist is one of those producers who seemingly should have fallen off by now.  Great producers tend to lose a step at some point, it’s almost without fail actually.  There are far more rappers who have demonstrated prolonged longevity in the rap game than there are producers.  Alchemist arguably is one of the only ones who seems like he continues to improve or at least evolve.  This year, as rap was going through perhaps it’s most psychedelic phase ever Alchemist really pioneered and embraced that dynamic.  On the heels of last year’s Covert Coup with Curren$y and Greneberg project with Oh No and Roc Marciano, Alc dropped Vodka and Ayahuasca with Oh No, Russian Roulette, No Idols with Domo Genesis, and Rare Chandeliers with Action Bronson in 2012.  Downright unprecendented for a producer entering his third(!!) decade as a rap music producer.

G.O.O.D. Music “Clique” (produced by Hit-Boy)


A signature sound always goes a long way in helping a producer to move beyond the masses into the limelight.  Hit-Boy continued to garner major placements in 2012, including producing A$ap Rocky’s “Goldie,” Good Music’s “Clique,” Kanye’s “Cold (pka Theraflu),” Kendrick’s “Backseat Freestyle,” and Kanye & Rick Ross’s “I Wish You Would.”  He also put out his first solo rap mixtape (which didn’t get nearly as much attention as it should have), showing he could hold his own on the mic as well as behind the boards.  His production discography of upcoming releases for 2013 already looks better than most producers discographies from 2012, so there’s no reason to think he’s slowing down any time soon.

SL Jones “S.L.A.B.” (produced by DJ Burn One)

DJ Burn One

2012 was a year where Burn One really took his production game to another level.  His work with iNDEED/5PMG was highly instrumental (sorry couldn’t help it) in his development from good producer to one of the game’s best.  Importantly Burn One seems to have recognized that his role as a producer is much more multi-faceted than the role of the average “here’s my instrumental, now rap over it” beatmaker out there.  The highlights of 2012 certainly include his project with SL Jones, which just simply was slept on way too hard by most rap fans as well as iNDEED’s two stellar projects this year.  There were at least half a dozen other projects with his handy work all over them, but those are the ones that weren’t to be missed in 2012.

Killer Mike “Don’t Die” (produced by El-P)


El-P may have witnessed a minor (probably virtually nonexistent in actuality) mutiny from some of his fans who craved a more catastrophic and non-conformist vision from the man who brought them Funcrusher Plus and Fantastic Damage, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that both Cancer4Cure and R.A.P. Music were big records on the independent scene in 2012.  They also both have to be contenders for the best produced albums of 2012, and showed a lot of growth and diversity from his funky apocalypse routine of year’s past.

G.O.O.D. Music “Mercy”

Mike Will Made It

Mike Will Made It is one of those producers who if he didn’t have that signature drop on each of his production endeavors, a listener might not know whether or not he produced a song.  It’s not so much that Mike Will Made It doesn’t have a signature sound, as it is that it seems like he has several.  That said, he’s at his best making mammoth beats that really need some singing as well as rapping to really do them justice.  Take “Neva End,” “Mercy,” “No Lie,” “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” “Truth Gonna Hurt You,” and “OJ” for example… what do they have in common beyond Mike Will?  Tough to say exactly, but whatever it is, he’s definitely on to something big.

Young Giftz & Tree “Nino” (produced by Tree)


Tree kind of teased us in 2012 by dropping Sunday School so early in the year and then talking about follow ups and more projects with his own production only to wait until the last day of the year (today) to follow up with Tree Featuring The City. I haven’t even had a chance to crack the spine on that chapter yet, so Tree is here regardless of his final 2012 project due to the merits of Sunday School on it’s own, as well as the mixtape he put out for Tone Skeeta and individual cuts he produced throughout the year.  The inventor, creator, innovator, and purveyor of Soul Trap definitely did it big in 2012.  He won’t let you forget it anytime soon either.   

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