When an artist wants to create anything on a grand scale, it takes a team. Sometimes it can even take years to find someone who can match the creative output or see a similar vision, but there is nothing like that moment when it hits. In hip-hop, a rapper finding a producer to grow with is so vital, especially in a genre that evolves and changes so quickly. Throughout history, there have been plenty of rapper-producer duos that have helped shape each other's sound. Here, XXL highlights some of those lauded pairings of rappers and producers, and the impactful music they created together that will inspire generations to come.
Often enough, there are rappers who start to work with producers from the start of their career, then go on to become legends together. Gucci Mane was making music around Atlanta, but when he met Zaytoven in 2004, his prolific output began. Rhyming over Zaytoven's trademark organs and 808s led to Gucci evolving into the trap rap pioneer we know and love today. Zay is the producer behind a lot of the Guwop's discography, and plenty of his classics like "Icy," his first taste of success, "Bricks" and more.
A year after Gucci and Zay met, Drake and his right-hand producer 40 began working together, and bought their own, spaced-out, R&B-influenced sound to hip-hop. The two longtime friends changed how rap sounds. Drake has turned into one of the biggest and most influential rappers in modern hip-hop, from when his mixtape So Far Gone took off in 2010, to Certified Lover Boy topping the charts just last year.
Check below for more go-to producers crafting these rappers' signature sound.
Megan Thee Stallion and LilJuMadeDaBeat
In a story of a match made in heaven, Megan Thee Stallion and LilJuMadeDaBeat, both Texans by way of Houston and Dallas, respectively, have been locked in for years. Once LilJu was hired as an in-house producer for 1501 Records in 2017, the indie label Meg was first signed to, they teamed up creatively and never looked back. Meg's biggest songs, including "Big Ole Freak," "Cash Shit," "Body" and more, include Ju producing. Capitalizing on a fun, drum-heavy brand of production that really feels like a modernized version of classic Texas rap, Meg's array of flows and voice are a hand-in-glove fit with Ju's beats.
"Big Ole Freak"
"Cash Shit" featuring DaBaby
There are artists that are truly blessed to find the producer that truly gets their sound. Gunna is one of those rappers to lock in with a master of production. In his case, it's Wheezy. He's produced on Gunna's 2017 EP ,Drip or Drown, along with having a looming presence on its' 2019 sequel and Gunna's 2020 album, Wunna. Wheezy has mastered the skill of putting sounds together and making beats reminiscent of a king leading a parade ("Met Gala") or like something ominous lies ahead ("Blindfold"). Moments like these are what make him an incredible producer. His range, along with how Gunna uses his voice and flows, makes everything work.
"Three Headed Snake" featuring Young Thug
"Blindfold" featuring Lil Baby
Metro Boomin's career truly took off once he began to work heavily with Future. He was already building a name for himself prior by producing for Gucci Mane, Travis Scott and more, but it was linking with Future that further solidified his production credits. The year was 2015, when he produced heavily on Future's career-changing album DS2, which would become a modern day-classic, and What A Time To Be Alive, a Drake and Future collab album that proved to be huge. Future is a talented rapper and singer, and became a star not only because he can rhyme, but his ability to elicit emotion became his calling card. Having a producer who is as versatile as Metro, who can make beats that, simply put, bang, while having the ear for pristine commercial hits like "Mask Off," makes Future's job even easier.
Drake and Future's "Digital Dash"
"Thought It Was A Drought"
Playboi Carti and Pi’erre Bourne
There's a certain synergy between Playboi Carti and Pi'erre Bourne. As they both took off, the copycats followed. P'ierre's drum patterns, most notably the one he used on Carti's 2017 hit "Magnolia," are still emulated to this day. Pi'erre's talent lies in his ability to use sounds that no one else could make work, and getting all the pieces to fit together every time. A lot of his production has an almost intergalactic sound to it, blended with popular Atlanta production when the region was into fun, party focused sounds (think mid-2000s). What's also fascinating about Pi'erre and Carti is the music they make together is so vastly different from year to year. The tracks they were making on Carti's 2017 self-titled debut isn't comparable to what they came up with on Die Lit, Carti's follow-up the next year. They haven't worked together in a little while, but hopefully they have something up their sleeves soon.
Working together professionally since 2011, with the single "Thuggin" (and it's associated EP of the same name), Freddie Gibbs and Madlib are a true underground rap success story. Madlib was already well-known for crafting beats for legends like MF Doom; Freddie was a respected lyricist but was still up-and-coming. The latter is an extremely sound technical rapper, who made his name in coke rap, but is really moving when he raps about his own personal demons. Meanwhile, Madlib can take samples from any era or genre, and craft magic. Freddie continued to become a tangibly better rapper year over year, and their 2014 collab album Pinata changed his career, making him one of the most sought-after rappers in the underground circuit. Their 2019 follow-up (yes, they waited five years) Bandana took Freddie even to higher heights, and forced anyone not in the loop on Madlib's greatness to take notice. Freddie and Madlib continue to be a nearly untouchable rapper-producer duo who keep their output close to chest, ramping up anticipation at all times.
21 Savage and Metro Boomin
Already being friends through the Atlanta rap ecosystem, the moment when 21 Savage and Metro Boomin became an undisputed force together was their 2016 collab mixtape Savage Mode. Metro's darker turn at the time was perfect for 21 Savage's deadpan street raps, and really helped solidify the rapper's career trajectory early on. By the time they dropped the sequel, 2020's Savage Mode II, they were both big-time hip-hop stars, and had figured out new angles to approach their musical partnership. No one is rapping about the tougher side of the street in a colder and more calculated way than 21, and Metro's ability to fit nearly any artist's sound have made them formidable.
"X" featuring Future
Boldy James and The Alchemist
In 2013, Boldy James dropped his debut album, My First Chemistry Set, fully produced by legendary producer The Alchemist. After that, Alchemist would go on to produce three more projects for the rapper. Boldy is a well-paced street storyteller, working in vivid details that really put his writing talents on display. The Alchemist is a sample and loop master, able to pick any song apart and bend it to his will, while always finding another level to rise to. Boldy has continued to sharpen his sword, and had a legit album of the year contender in 2021, with Bo Jackson, his collab LP with Alchemist.
"Surf & Turf" featuring Vince Staples
"Hot Water Tank" featuring ICECOLDBISHOP
Meeting in 2004, and working constantly since, Gucci Mane and Zaytoven both elevated each other into hip-hop's hall of fame. Gucci Mane is inarguably a trap rap pioneer, with his flows, sharp lyrics and sense of humor inspiring rappers then and now. Zaytoven, raised in the church and committing to production early on in his life, was Gucci's perfect partner, working in organs, excellent piano key work and 808s to whip up classics. They really took off with 2005's "Icy," and continued with more huge songs in Wop's discography, like "Bricks," "First Day Out" and many, many more. Zay and Gucci have made hundreds of songs together, and are forever linked because of how important they are to each other's legacy.
"First Day Out"
Starting off in 2016, with their collab album Swervo, G Herbo and Southside's rapper-producer partnership works well for what their goals are. Herbo's music is usually very serious, circling around the troubles that await when making money in the street. Southside is a largely successful trap producer, with an otherwordly ability for making melodies work within his futuristic beats. G Herbo wanted to loosen up and floss a little; Southside's canvases give Herb the perfect arena to do so in. The pair showcased their ability to craft a well-respected project in 2019, with Southside having six beats on Still Swervin.
"Bought A Tool"
Drake and his main producer 40 have changed the sound of rap, and created incredible careers for themselves in the process. The rapper's spacey, somber, mood-driven sound was unique for it's time, and that was something he built in lockstep with 40 in 2005. From Drake's first hit, 2009's "Successful" with Trey Songz, to Drake's latest album, Certified Lover Boy, selling over 700,000 units in a week, 40 has been there every step of the way. The producer has executive produced every Drake album, making beats (or coproducing) and seeing to it that the Toronto MC's albums stay on track. With Drake being the biggest star in hip-hop now and 40 the respected key architect to that rise, their loyalty to each other has paid off.
"Successful" featuring Trey Songz and Lil Wayne
"Crew Love" featuring The Weeknd
"Free Spirit" featuring Rick Ross
EST Gee and ForeverRolling
For the most part, Louisville, Ky. was an overlooked town when it came to hip-hop before the likes of Jack Harlow and EST Gee found success in two completely different lanes of rap. Now the city is having its' own moment. ForeverRolling is EST Gee's main producer, crafting the menacing beats he's been rapping over. Gee is a vivid and clever street rapper, and ForeverRolling's key-driven beats really fit him; it's almost like a street horror movie that always has a new twist. ForeverRolling is all over Gee's debut album, Bigger Than Life Or Death, and put in work on many of Gee's most popular solo songs.
A connection from across the world that started in 2019, is what led the late Pop Smoke, from Brooklyn, to 808Melo, from the U.K. Together, they created multiple timeless bangers. Pop discovered the beat to what would become "Welcome To The Party" on YouTube one night, which is what started off their working relationship. As a Brooklyn drill rapper with a distinct voice and blend of charisma that made him stand out, 808Melo helped amplify that sound with his own drill production. Melo has a heavy presence on Pop's Meet The Woo and Meet The Woo 2, along with the rhymer's posthumous work. It's truly a shame we didn't get to hear more from these two due to Pop's life being cut short in February of 2020.
"Welcome To The Party"
"Meet The Woo"
"Mannequin" featuring Lil TJay
Nas is a living legend who has hit all wins with Hit-Boy when it comes to their creative catalog. The established producer has accomplished a lot in a short period time working with the rapper. This kind of mixing of generations is a bold move, but when it works out the way it has with this duo it, the risk is worth it. Hit-Boy fully produced Nas' last three albums, King's Disease, Kings Disease II and Magic, all of which have an underlying current of Nas finding his place in the landscape of modern rap. He sounds fresh and engaged, and Hit-Boy's appreciation for both boom-bap and more up to speed, technically proficient beats keep the music from sounding dated. They have already won a Best Rap Album Grammy in 20201 for King's Disease. Maybe another one is in their future.
Payroll Giovanni and Cardo
Payroll Giovanni has been on the scene since 2007, when he made his splash in Detroit rap as a member of the group Doughboyz Cashout. His creative partner, Minneapolis producer Cardo, would make a name for himself after that, working with Mac Miller and most notably, Wiz Khalifa. Payroll and Cardo's paths crossed in 2016, when they released Big Bossin Vol. 1 and then 1.5. in 2017. Cardo's appeal lies in his laid-back, G-Funk reminiscent beats, and Payroll's subject matter has always been about how to get rich in the streets. Putting the two together makes too much sense, as Payroll's cool delivery over Cardo's smooth, breezy beats provide a crystal clear picture set on storytelling. The duo also dropped Big Bossin Vol. 2 in 2018.
"Bylug Outro" featuring Bylug
When you've been on the same team since 2009, there will be ups and downs within the journey. In 2013, YG and Mustard, longtime friends, collaborated on "My Nigga," which would be YG's first big hit. Considering the two had been working together back when YG was just buzzing locally around Los Angeles, the two artists having such a huge moment meant a lot to their success. Mustard produced most of YG's acclaimed 2014 debut album, My Krazy Life, then didn't work with him again until 2018's Stay Dangerous. Apparently there was a spat that neither has really explained fully. They have since made up, and thankfully they did, because what propelled YG and Mustard as a team is their synchronicity. YG's music has mostly been about fun and street antics while Mustard's sound is a blend of the Bay's Hyphy movement and the funk of throwback West Coast rap. Those sensibilities feed right into each other, and it's why no one can recreate what YG and Mustard do as a pair.
"Who Do You Love?" featuring Drake
While taking part in a Lil Baby recording session thanks to one of his friends, Quay Global came up with the beat for "My Dawg" in 2017, which would be their first hit collaborating together. From there, Quay has had a presence on every Lil Baby project (except for Baby's 2021 collab album with Lil Durk, Voice of the Heroes) and produced most of the songs in the rapper's Harder series. Quay's sound is bright and upbeat, but his heavy drums help ground things in reality, which is perfect for a rapper like Lil Baby. The Quality Control Music��star has a great delivery, and seems to find a couple new flows each year; his subject matter, which veers from the streets, dealing with fame and basking in the moment, aligns perfectly with what Quay produces. They are a dynamic team with the plaques to prove it.
"Heatin Up" featuring Lil Baby
Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats
Rico Nasty is one of the more refreshingly unique rappers in the game. She's both a talented and funny rhymer who projects like the lead singer of a rock band. Kenny Beats, whom Rico met in 2018, is a versatile producer with an EDM background, so he's skilled with pace and folding in sounds and samples. Together, they've made some of Rico's biggest songs, like "Smack A Bitch," "Countin Up" and "Rage," proving that they know how to create magic. They have a full collab project together, 2019's Anger Management, and remain close friends to this day, which is probably another reason why the music they make as a team sounds so good.
"Smack A Bitch"
Winners Circle and Great John
As the Brooklyn-based rap label Winners Circle, comprised of Sheff G, Sleepy Hallow and Eli Fross, surged to local and national prominence, New Jersey producer Great John was the architect behind their sound. Great John's calling card around 2019 were his super-efficient drill beats, piano keys, strings and 808s mixed into one visceral product, a perfect fit for the rhymes Sheff, Sleepy and Eli deliver. As the rappers' styles changed and evolved, so did Great John. He can now make a spacey, dream-like beat for Sleepy's "2055," slower beats like Sheff's "Moody" or more loop-driven work like Eli Fross' "Shakur." Great John is officially a member of Winners Circle, and his value to the team is clear; together, they are helping to shape how NYC rap sounds.
Sleepy Hallow and Sheff G's "Tip Toe"
Sleepy Hallow's "2055"
Sleepy Hallow's "Luv Em All"
Young Nudy and Pi’erre Bourne
After meeting Young Nudy in 2016, as a studio engineer, Pi'erre Bourne built a working relationship with the rapper, producing a lot of his early songs and becoming a mainstay throughout his career. Nudy's Slimeball series and their 2019 collab project, Sli'merre, include plenty of gems from their studio time. Pi'erre's calling card is strange, spaced-out sounds and extremely unique drum patterns, and he makes it all work and finds new directions to take his sound in every year. Nudy is a straight-line street rapper, but likes to have fun with his music, and the sound beds Pi'erre gives him works well with his disposition. He can make the most gutter songs like "EA" and also create the whimsical-sounding "Hell Shell," with neither feeling out of place in either of their respective discographies.
"EA" featuring 21 Savage
"Extendo" featuring Lil Uzi Vert
Last year was by far the biggest moment of Moneybagg Yo's career, as he scored his first No. 1 album with A Gangsta's Pain, preceded by "Time Today" and buoyed later by "Wockesha," two hit songs crafted by Memphis producer YC. The beatmaker's name first took off due to his work on Pooh Sheisty and Lil Durk's "Back In Blood" in 2020, a tremendous song for all parties involved. As a producer, YC has a lot of styles, from uptempo trap to more downtempo, R&B-tinged work like "Wockesha." A lot of his strength lies in his keyboard work and drum patterns, along with an intuitive feel for what bangs; all of his beats land in a very specific, southern hip-hop club way. His touch for that sound and Moneybagg's hold on street rap are a match made in heaven.