Key tracks: Drake, “Best I Ever Had” (2009); Eminem, “Not Afraid” (2010); Drake, “Energy” (2015)
Drake has arguably been the most influential rapper to emerge in recent years, and his fellow Canadian Boi-1da has been the producer most responsible for shaping his signature, oft-imitated sound: intricate beats filtered through a hazy, hypnotic wash of keyboards and synth strings, laced with the occasional mournful piano. Since coming up with Drake on his Room for Improvement and Comeback Season mixtapes, Boi-1da has diversified both his sound and his client roster, turning out club bangers for the likes of Jeezy and Rick Ross and giving Eminem one of his biggest comeback anthems with “Not Afraid.” But his most innovative work continues to be with Drizzy, whose darker, more aggressive style on this year’s If You’re Reading It’s Too Late owes much to Boi-1da’s increasingly moody, menacing sound.
Key tracks: Cypress Hill, “Hand on the Pump” (1991); Cypress Hill, “Insane in the Brain” (1993); DJ Muggs feat. Dr. Dre and B-Real, “Puppet Master” (1997)
As the DJ and producer for South Gate’s Cypress Hill, Muggs injected the groove and menace of West Coast hip-hop with the wild energy of an East L.A. backyard party. The bouncing beats and tea-kettle whistles of his biggest hits, House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain,” were inescapable in the early ’90s, and spawned a thousand (mostly inferior) imitators. Muggs has also produced seminal tracks for Ice Cube, MC Eiht and Goodie Mob among others, done remixes for U2 and The Beastie Boys, and his trio of Soul Assassins LPs has featured guest spots from the likes of Dr. Dre, RZA, GZA, Kurupt and Bun B. He continues to produce for Cypress and release his own solo work, including a self-described “West Coast dubstep” album in 2012 called Bass in Your Face.
Key Tracks: Atmosphere, “GodLovesUgly” (2002); Brother Ali, “Uncle Sam Goddamn” (2007); Atmosphere, “Puppets” (2008)
No city’s hip-hop scene is more closely tied to a single producer than Minneapolis’, where Anthony “Ant” Davis has been at the forefront of the Twin Cities sound for two decades. Ant’s main gig is Atmosphere, his duo with rapper Slug; over the course of eight albums and countless EPs and mixtapes, they have amassed a catalog unrivaled in independent hip-hop. But he’s also the go-to producer for one of Minnesota’s other leading rappers, Brother Ali, and he’s supplied beats to Felt (Slug’s collab with Murs), Sage Francis and MF Doom among others. Ant’s strength is his versatility; he mines blues, soul and gospel for Brother Ali’s earthy sound, brings the funk for light-hearted joints like Felt’s A Tribute to Lisa Bonet, and combines simple but catchy melodies with skeletal beats on Atmosphere’s most memorable tracks.