I’m constantly surprised by what I hear in hip hop, and not just lyrically. The other half of hip hop, the beats, is as expansive and comprehensive a music as any other, and because it’s sample-based music, it’s really hard to run out of new forms.
On the surface, the process is simple—take a four-bar section of a couple of songs, mix them and loop for a few minutes. But good producers go further, taking the sound of a snare drum from one album, the kick from another, mixing it with woodwinds and a muted synth bass added in later. In art criticism, we’d talk about the use of palettes—the range of colors the artist uses to create—and the same word applies here. As a listener, being able to hear the difference between emcees is a little like hearing the difference between John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Being able to hear the difference between producers is like distinguishing Quincy Jones from Gil Evans.
My own tastes are stuck in the mid-nineties, lately. Soul-heavy production and a wide variety of instruments are the hallmarks of that era’s producers—Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and Erick Sermon are just a few from New York, but there are dozens more from both coasts, as well as the incredible production by the late J Dilla, from Detroit. Regardless of where you end up, the world of hip hop producers is vast and varied, and you won’t run out of new sounds anytime soon.