It’s important to appreciate the artists who can fire on all cylinders both behind the mic and behind the boards.
It has become easier than ever before, for a producer to find success in the rap game. That’s not to downplay the craftsmanship and creativity that goes into the art of beat-making, but simply to acknowledge that accessible technology has leveled the playing field. There are still reliable names, often recognized through signature staples and iconic production tags, setting the trends and leading by example. When a rising talent scores a hit, it’s not uncommon to see many imitators follow in their wake, a pattern that occasionally bears the unfortunate side-effect of repetition.
Understandable, given that many emerging producers are simply looking to secure a placement on a major label album. Should trends truly dictate the instrumentals being made, originality and innovation run the risk of fading from the mainstream entirely. While perhaps such an outlook is unnecessarily cynical, it’s hard to deny the value a true originator brings to the table. What makes something truly original? Though the question is in itself unanswerable, there does appear to be one particular formula that yields originality more often than not. That is, of course, when an artist steps behind the boards and produces their own beats.
Initially intending to develop a new skill set, Royce studied under the tutelage of Dj Premier and Denaun Porter until the results began taking shape. The intensive sessions ultimately manifested into Royce’s most political project to date, as well as his most sonically cohesive. Though he generally opted to stay in his boom-bap bag, drawing on samples and vintage sounds, his own stylistic flourishes quickly became evident. While it’s unclear as to whether or not he’ll be helming any production on his next album, Royce’s work on The Allegory allowed an already immersive emcee to add another dimension to his creativity.
While Royce is an interesting example, having come to discover the art of production deep into his career, J. Cole is easily one of the most prominent self-sufficient artists in the modern rap game. With a discography that runs five albums deep, Cole has laced the vast majority of the beats himself, having steadily honed his craft over the years. Though it’s not often you’ll see Cole named among the game’s top producers, it’s still impressive to witness the cohesive way his beat-making and lyricism harmonize. It’s not like he can not body beat from outside sources, being as technically gifted as he is, but he understands the value an instrumental can add to an existing message. It’s part of why Cole is so effortlessly able to paint vivid pictures for his listeners, as all elements are designed to express a different layer of his vision.
It wouldn’t be right to talk about self-producing artists without highlighting a few of the greats. Kanye West, following a strict regimen of recreating all the golden era’s hip-hop classics, proved the scope of his talents on The College Dropout. Of course, Kanye’s genius mind for sampling was already long solidified especially in the wake of Jay-Z’s Blueprint and Black Album but The College Dropout allowed him to express his multilayered personality.
All sides of Yeezy were present and accounted for, from the scholar to the backpacker, the hedonist to the believer. It’s hard to imagine a world where Kanye’s albums were produced by an outside source, compelling though his emceeing may be. It’s no coincidence that many of the artists who produce their own material tend to create some truly original and immersive material.
To draw a parallel with the field of cinema, such multi talented artists can be likened to auteurs. Which is to say, creatives who take full artistic control in an effort to realize their vision exactly as they see it in their mind’s eye. While these are only a handful of the artists who have taken both challenges upon themselves, each of the aforementioned deserves credit for expressing their creativity and ably, at that on two equally challenging fronts.
Which self-producing artists deserve more credit?