Ever since the early 1990s, thorny copyright laws have determined and dogged the sound of hip-hop. While once a relatively lawless genre, that changed when artists and artists’ managers put a stop to the genre’s Wild West period – so-called because beats were being produced with a myriad of samples, without any fear of going to court.
Take the case of Public Enemy. In today’s legal climate, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, with its countless samples, wouldn’t be able to exist. At least not without a multi-million-dollar fee. Once laws and regulations were enforced, hip-hop became more diligent. Producers were sourced more thoughtfully, usually through the artist’s manager, which left rappers waiting around for beats to be sent.
The digital age, in which a glut of beats are uploaded to the internet each day, has seemingly circumvented hip-hop’s previous issues. It’s now common for high-flying rappers to seek out cheap, unknown beats producers on the internet themselves. They do so in order to substantially cut down the wait time and cost for a decent beat, and to avoid – let’s face it – pulling long nights in a studio with a producer they’ve never met before, in hopes of finding a vibe that may never come.
On the internet, your vibe already exists. All you have to do is find it. Beatmakers no longer need a publishing deal and rappers no longer need the hassle. That’s why the likes of Kanye West and Chief Keef have sought out low-rate bedroom producers and it’s a trend that’s expanding. Here it is in six songs...
1. Crown – Jay-Z (2013)
Now one of the most prominent names in the beat-making world, WondaGurl was just 16 and attending school in suburban Ontario when she received a production credit on Jay-Z’s 2013 album Magna Carta Holy Grail. Having experimented with drum pads and synths before she’d even reached double digits, one day in 2012, WondaGurl (aka Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde) had the nerve to slide over a beat Travis Scott’s way. While she’s since worked numerous times with the SICKO MODE rapper, Scott passed that initial beat over to Jay-Z, and it went onto be used in his Magna Carta standout track Crown.
2. Hoes 'N' Oz – Chief Keef – CashMoneyAp (2013)
You won’t find much of a beat-making scene if you happen to live on the small French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, as producer CashMoneyAp once did. A savvy navigator of the beat-selling marketplace, CashMoneyAp favours the leasing method over exclusivity. It means that he sells in bulk at a cheap price, using YouTube as a platform to sell, as well as popular beat-selling site BeatStars. His sound comes most inspired by the Chicago drill scene, which exploded sometime in 2010 and his impressive imitations found his way to Chicago veteran Chief Keef in 2013, as he sampled CashMoneyAp’s drill-type beat on the infectious Hoes 'N' Oz.
3. Fetty Wap – Trap Queen (2014)
Fetty Wap might not have even got his name out there if it weren’t for an unknown producer from Belarus. Wap had been rapping and recording music locally in his home state of New Jersey as a member of Remy Boyz 1738, before he decided to break off temporarily in pursuit of his own hit. Keen to attempt something different, he tried his hand at singing and he was desperate to find a beat to accompany his slow, melodic ode to his ex-girlfriend. He scoured the internet searching for the perfect sound and found it on producer Tony Fadd’s website. While first uploaded to Soundcloud with the title Hello, that track went onto be called Trap Queen, after it immediately amassed thousands of plays. It took a while for that popularity to translate to the charts, making it something of a sleeper track, and when Fadd saw that it’d blown up, he felt cheated out of a large sum of money – especially compared to the dismal fee he was initially paid. Fadd filed a lawsuit in 2015, which never came through. While Trap Queen scored 4 x Platinum, Fadd claimed he never even got a cut.
4. Fine Whine – A$AP Rocky (2015)
Imagine this – you create a beat haphazardly during a chilled cooking session – then you wake up to see that it’s been used by A$AP Rocky with M.I.A. and Future spitting over it. That’s what happened to a casual beat-maker who goes by the name of S.I.K, a frequent commenter on the famous Kanye West forum Kanye To The. As Rocky revealed during an appearance on Hot 97, he was searching for a beat to complete his 2015 album AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP. and he found it when he typed 'A$AP Rocky type beat' into the search bar on YouTube. Believe it or not, this method is increasing in popularity. While producers are more prone to make these ‘type beats’, which bear likeness to an artist’s sound, they mostly include the rapper’s name in the title for the purposes of search engine optimisation. Clearly, it works.
5. Kanye West – Father Stretch My Hands pt. 2 (2016)
Addy Khan, a mobile phone repairman from Rochester, just so happened to find himself on Kanye West’s album The Life of Pablo, on one of its most emotional songs Father Stretch My Hands Pt.2. Originally uploading his track as a Meek Mill-type beat, Khan, who goes by the name Menace, first swapped hands with Desiigner for his breakout hit Panda. While the rapper handed him $200 for the exclusive rights, Menace found himself in an even bigger league when Desiigner was signed to West’s label GOOD Music Inc, and West claimed the beat for himself. It’s still not known whether Khan has received a cut.
6. Does It – Kid Cudi – Idle Kid (2016)
Does It, a track from Kid Cudi’s 2016 album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ just so happened to come from the cold climes of Arkansas. As one of the pickiest hit-makers in the game, it’s really a testament to the young, Arkansas-based, producer Idle Kid that one of his beats was handpicked by Cudi himself. His name appears alongside Pharrell’s in the album’s credits and Does It, the first beat the young producer ever sent out, should be indicative of a big career ahead. Idle Kid initially uploaded the beat to his YouTube page under its original title SHITONYOU. As it surpassed 10,000 views, Anthony Kilhoffer, a producer and songwriter who often works closely with Cudi, picked it up and sent it over to the rapper. The rest is history.