Behind every great rapper are great producers, whose compositions can make lyrics truly come alive. Today we’d like to acknowledge some of hip hop’s most brilliant instrumentals. This is not a “Greatest Beats of All Time” list, as such a thing is not possible to determine.
Instead, we’d simply like to share some beats that have resonated with us. This will not be our final list covering this topic, so if you don’t see what you think are the best hip hop instrumentals, don’t worry! They may soon be covered.
Mobb Deep – “Shook Ones, Part II” (Produced by Havoc)
“Shook Ones, Part II” is a testament to the skill required to uniquely flip a sample: creeping throughout the track is an absolutely haunting piano melody that no one would suspect to have been sampled from a song so gorgeous as Herbie Hancock’s “Jessica.” However, slowed and pitched down, the intro to “Jessica” becomes the perfect backdrop for Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy’s harrowing stories of life in the Queensbridge projects.
DJ Screw/Point Blank – “My Mind Went Blank” (Produced by DJ Screw)
The Houston-based originator of the “chopped and screwed” sound, DJ Screw could turn songs of any genre into hazy, psychedelic masterpieces that sometimes even border on outsider music. (Just listen to his remix of Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.”) “My Mind Went Blank,” originally by Houston rapper Point Blank, is perhaps Screw’s greatest reimagining.
While the original contains an upbeat, funk-inspired instrumental, Screw’s remix takes the song to darker corners, better reflecting Point Blank’s dismal lyrics.
Lil Ugly Mane – “Throw Dem Gunz” (Self-Produced)
Lil Ugly Mane’s 2012 mixtape Mista Thug Isolation is one of the most under-appreciated releases in hip hop history. On the surface, its lyrics are comprised of over-the-top, and consistently entertaining, bravado; however, throughout the tape are subtle references to Ugly’s struggles with mental illness (a topic that his later work would explore in further detail).
The album’s closer “Throw Dem Gunz” sees Ugly come to terms with his guilt from drug dealing. His rhymes are emotive, yet cold. And underneath it all is a simple, poignant instrumental that paints as vivid a picture as the lyrics.
King Geedorah – “Fazers” (Produced by MF DOOM and E. Mason)
It’s been nearly two years since the passing of MF DOOM, and our devastation remains. Not only was he one of the greatest MCs of all time, but he was a brilliant producer. “Fazers,” performed under the name King Geedorah–one of DOOM’s many aliases–exemplifies his ear for obscure samples. The distinctly vintage instrumental is so ear-catching that it almost outshines the clever wordplay.
But where is the sample from? Only DOOM knew the answer to that, and he unfortunately took it to his grave. He once vaguely commented that the sample was taken from “an old p*rno,” but considering DOOM’s tendency to troll his fans, this should be taken with a grain of salt.
Lil B – “I’m God” (Produced by Clams Casino)
Regardless of how you feel about Lil B’s unorthodox style of rapping, it is hard to deny that he single-handedly laid the groundwork for much of modern hip hop. His early utilization of spacey, “cloud rap” instrumentals is best exemplified by “I’m God,” produced by Clams Casino.
The track features a heavily altered sample of Imogen Heap’s ambient pop classic “Just For Now,” a song that on its own invokes feelings of comfort and tranquility. Juxtapose those feelings with hard-hitting drums and booming 808s, and you’ve got the magic that is “I’m God.”
Kanye West Feat. Rihanna and Kid Cudi – “All of the Lights” (Self-Produced)
In our meme-centric world, the use of the word “epic” has become cringeworthy at best; however, there is simply no better descriptor for Kanye West’s “All of the Lights”. Produced by Ye, the song features stunning live pianos (courtesy of Elton John) and a transcendent horn section.
We all have our opinions of Kanye. Even his biggest fans will tell you that he’s made his share of mistakes. Even “All of the Lights” features an oxymoronic confluence of lyrics that both inspire us and make us shake our heads. However, there’s no getting around the fact that the song’s instrumental nears perfection. Apparently, the song took two years to complete, and it shows.
ASAP Rocky – “Wassup” (Produced by Clams Casino)
We opened this list with a Clams Casino beat, and we’ll close it with one. ASAP Rocky’s debut mixtape Live. Love. ASAP made accessible the spacey sounds that were being utilized by smaller artists like Lil B and SpaceGhostPurrp. The “Wassup” instrumental, which samples Mimi Goese’s “Fire and Roses,” can be described as transcendent and meditative, yet it is surprisingly fitting underneath Rocky’s aggressive and braggadocious lyricism. (i.e. “The only thing bigger than my ego is my mirror.”)
What are, in your opinion, the best hip hop instrumentals? Let us know in the comments!