Rap puts a lot of emphasis on lyricism, perhaps more so than any other genres. But it wouldn’t be the same without the beats. After all, like Evidence once spit, “Emcees without a voice should write a book” and what would that voice be without the kicks and snares backing it up? The rappers delivering vocals usually take the primary spotlight, but the best rapper alive still can’t make a hot song out of a crap beat, so we decided to give these beat creators a moment in the sun.
The members of the TRU Brain Trust painstakingly formed a list by putting in their personal favorites and voting in multiple rounds to ultimately create this list of the ten guys we believe shaped the sound of rap in 2012. As a result, you can’t argue with these results, unless you got a beef with democracy.
10. Harry Fraud
“La Musica de Harry Fraud” could be heard on a multitude of projects this year. From French Montana’s mumble to the yacht-rap of Rozay and tales of hookers and high cuisine by Action Bronson, his recognizable hi-hats and organic sounds could be heard everywhere. There’s always talk about rappers “bringing New York” back in some way or other, implicating a lost style of spitting, but this Brooklynite brought a slice of updated and unadulterated NY beats back. Harry Fraud is the real deal. -Jaap
9. Wit (of Wit and Dre Murray)
If it was Christian hip-hop in 2012, chances are Wit was involved somehow. Impressive still, Wit’s stark, chilling production ran circles around most secular producers. Church. -Rizoh
8. Sounwave (of Digi+Phonics)
Like all future greats, Sounwave understands the essence of branding. The Top Dawg Entertainment producer has a distinct sound — it starts with a calm (usually a brooding piano loop) and gradually (not forcefully) widens into a thick, smooth, circular soundbed. If he had a production theme song, it would be “Let the Beat Build.” Wave helped build 2012′s hip-hop soundscape, dripping his imprint all over standouts like Schoolboy Q’s “There He Go” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” -Rizoh
Being one of Danny Brown’s in-house producers means you’re either a really good friend to the man, or you make some CRACK when you hit the lab. SKYWLKR embodies both, and has the chops to bring the sounds to bring Danny’s vision forth. He had some of the more memorable cuts from 2011′s XXX, but it’s his 2012 output like the XXX re-release bonus cut “Witit,” or the Britney Spears-sampling “Toxic” from Childish Gambino’s latest that really have us wondering where this low-end pirate will be creeping up in 2013. We know one good place to start: Danny’s official debut album, Old. -Khal
6. Big K.R.I.T.
Big K.R.I.T. produced songs for several rappers in 2012, but the highlights of his music making came from his own catolog. After producing his mixtape, 4eva N a Day, in its entirety, he turned around and did the same thing with his debut album. Live from the Underground has a southern fried sound that is at once reminiscent of classic southern acts like UGK but still fresh and distinct enough to belong to K.R.I.T. As good a rapper as Big K.R.I.T. is, he may be an even better producer. -Aaron
Though he’s been in the game for almost 20 years, the man who loves noise had the best year so far in his already impressive career. Producing not one, but two stellar albums in a single year, one behind the boards with Killer Mike and a solo-album, and some loosies left and right, he was more productive than ever without coming close to sounding worn out. On the contrary in fact. Yeah, his beats often sound the invasion by an army of Skynet B-Boy cyborgs has already begun, but the future sure looks bright for EL-Producto and his fans. -Jaap
4. The Alchemist
Alan The Chemist had a ridiculously high output this year, starting with a brand new Gangrene album (with Oh No) and moving on to a solo-album mining Russian psychedelic music and a project with Action Bronson people were clamoring for, in the meantime delivering several successful collaborations with Schoolboy Q. All the beats were grimy, hypnotic headnodders, the sort of dusted funk brilliance any rapper worth his salt can sound intimidating over. The Alchemist’s concoction is a winning formula. -Jaap
3. Mike Will Made It
Who had a bigger year that the man with the illest producer drop? He helped re-ignite the bass-rattling sound, with credits on “Mercy,” “No Lie,” and the infamous “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” Tracks so big, we don’t even need to mention who they were credited to. His scope also touched on R&B, with Future’s “Turn on the Lights” and Rihanna’s “Pour it Up” added to his discography. He’ll surely be a go-to producer within the new year, trust. -Khal
2. No I.D.
Kanye West’s mentor was as good as ever in 2012. No I.D. produced a good chunk of Nas’ Life is Good, including the 90′s-style thump of “Loco-Motive” and the epic sound of “Accident Murderers.” Among other beats, No I.D. also produced “Wildside,” by T.I. featuring A$AP Rocky, which further showcased his versatility behind the boards. No I.D. is one of the greatest producers ever, and he’s also one of the best of 2012. -Aaron
No, “Niggas in Paris” wasn’t a fluke. Anyone who expected Hit-Boy to sit back and admire his success or ditch the boards for an elusive career on the mic has egg on his face right now. Sure, he had a relatively quiet year (by industry standards) in 2012, but the few tracks he blessed knocked harder and greater than the works of his more prolific peers. The kid is here to stay. Beleeedat. -Rizoh
Honorable Mentions: Young Chop, Kanye West, Frank Dukes, Baauer, Roc Marciano, Flying Lotus/Captain Murphy, Dame Grease, Rico Love, Apollo Brown, Scoop DeVille, J57 and Oh No.