by The Expert
Really strong year with lots of great releases. I know people will be wondering where all the Backwoodz releases are but the ones below rocked my world more (production wise). As best albums, others may have made this list (hello “Deathfame”!).
Please go to my bandcamp page and check out my project with Jermiside “The Overview Effect“.
Here’s my top 10!
Black Thought & Danger Mouse: “Cheat Codes”
For me this is the definitive Black Thought album. The reason for that is heavily down to the production of Danger Mouse. On Cheat Codes, Danger Mouse has created a space and world with a cohesive sound just for Thought.
On the album, Danger Mouse displays his deep knowledge of music and crate digging. (I actually have sampled 6 of the same tracks he used of this record! – see “$5 God” by Zilla Rocca). He uses this knowledge, to seamlessly layer samples with his own instrumentation to create a specific soundscape for Thought to shine in (see “Identical Deaths”). The production is extremely clever, lush and timeless.
While songs may be based off loops, they all have interesting structures, arrangements and changes. There is a beautiful mixture of low end bass, melodic mids and high end synths which make for a wonderfully mixed headphone experience. I’ve seen some people question the mix on the album but these were very intentional and intriguing choices. It feels like Danger Mouse was channeling the ethos of classic Beatles albums but modernizing it for Thought (see intro to “Aquamarine”). I truly believe this album will become heralded as a true classic piece of work as time goes on.
This is my most listened to album in 2022 and it absolutely ROCKS my world. Unfortunately Paten passed away in 2019 but he has left us with his magnum opus and a timeless piece of work. As a producer, whose been making music for years, I can’t quite put into words the level of tiny detail put into this album. It is filled with tons of incredibly intricate decisions but all comes across as fun, light and breezy – which is the holy grail for producers. No surprises at all, but I love the psychedelic soundscapes and use of delay and echo used throughout this album. It is a perfect companion with “The Overview Effect”.
This album is filled with inventive ideas and really interesting choices and surprises throughout. “Oodlesofnos” is a wonderful showcase of his flipping classic soul chops. “Crocodile” then moves away from straight bars to shine a light on singing vocals and lots of intricate production techniques creating an otherworldly soundscape. Paten then follows this up with the extremely abstract “Fried Egg” with Edan. On this we hear them rhyme over pure distortion, crazy effects sprinkled with a classic well known soul sample, oddly chopped up funk and some ODB for good measure. “Stupidsmart” is my favourite beat of 2022. Just the most perfect few loops, seamlessly intertwined for a throwback back and forth between Locke and Willie Evans Jr.
I haven’t seen or heard many people talk about this album and I honestly can’t say enough good things about it. Do yourself a favour and go check it out NOW. Let’s ensure Patens name lives on!
Avantdale Bowling Club “Trees”
Had never heard of this New Zealand act until this year but I’m glad I have now. This album is a beautifully produced and an incredibly accomplished piece of work. It combines hip hop and jazz with nods to lots of other genres throughout. Lush live instrumentation is used throughout the album which sees emotional string and horn arrangements intertwine with other elements such as guitars, synths, trap drums and DJ cuts. Sonically its got elements from the past but it is very much a progressive high end piece of hip hop and jazz. The songs are well crafted, with different movements that bring you on a journey. “Without You” may be one of my favourite songs of the year. Just top notch production throughout that really urges you to return to find something new on the next listen.
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist: “Elephants Bones”
Two giants in the game combine and show how experience matters throughout this album. The production is full of subtle touches such as sampling Rakim vocals before going into ”Quantum Leap”, a track that flips the same sample Rakim used for “In The Ghetto”. Again when Roc says “chicken scratch “ in the song “Liquid Coke” and Al adds some scratches in. The album is full of these little touches. It’s a master class in how to extend short loops into full songs. That’s the genius of the production level on display on this album. The way Alchemist uses filters, sound effects, synth sweeps and little vocal snippets to bring subtle changes to each song and to transition between each track.
And “JJ Flash” displays that Alchemist is still as sharps as ever when it comes to chopping up a sample.
Lupe Fiasco: “Drill Music in Zion”
Lupe’s latest sees him jump behind the boards with producer Soundtrakk and the results are great. The album displays Lupe shifting between hard trap to modern golden era style beats. There are moments where the production is beautifully melodic (see “Kiosk” & “Ms.Mural”). This gives the opportunity to display live instrumentation mixed with wonderful and heavily processed synth sound choices. “Naomi” harks back to the classic 90s era boom bap yet layers it with live jazzy horns and female background vocals. Along with the production, the level of attention dedicated to mix, space given to every single detail is a huge victory for this project. It really gives Lupe and the music their own time to shine.
Stik Figa & August Fanon: “Heresy”
Two of the absolutely best and most consistent artists operating in hip hop over the last number of years combine to create a super strong album. Fanon is one of my favourite producers at the moment as he just has a fantastic ear for samples and doesn’t over complicate his tracks. The beats are often loops yet don’t get tired and always give the right amount of space for vocals. Perfect example of this is the wonderful track “theprodigalsun” featuring Miles Bonny which is a real highlight here. Also shoutout to Stik’s EP with Conductor Williams “Valley of Dry Bones” which was also great from this year. Stellar year.
Production can be viewed in different ways and here’s a self produced album that is made by an artist who knows exactly what works for their style. While the production is quite simple and relatively straight forward there is such a clear vision and sonic palette for the whole album to fit the artist. NAHreally digs in the jazz crates to combine lots of slow, beautiful guitar and piano driven melodies with crisp drums and that Dilla swing.
Everything just has a wonderful amount of space to compliment his lyrics and style which makes you want to listen over and over.
Infinity Knives & Brian Ennals “King Cobra”
I’ve no doubts this album will be on a lot of end of year lists. Really bold, varied and interesting production on display throughout by Infinity Knives (Brain Ennals kills it btw). Begins with the acoustic guitar led folk music intro, to the industrial electronica on “Coke Jaw” to the 80’s west coast funk on “A Melancholy Boogie” and this is just the first 3 tracks! It’s a really brave album that doesn’t fit within a box and is something that should not be an outlier and more of the norm within the genre. Really varied instrumentation, experimental, thought-provoking and fun – can we have more of this please?
So this album is full of dope dope beats. The production from start to finish is just super stellar. It’s that pure, raw, sample based hip hop – straight no chaser. Great and varied sample choices, nice mixture of beats with no drums, straight bangers and joints that really swing. Feels like a mixture of Roc Marci meets Dilla. Brain is easily one of the best producers out on the mic right now.
Homeboy Sandman & Deca “Still Champion”
Last choice is an album that’s quite understated but incredibly accomplished. The production is full of great bass lines, interesting chords and samples. Subtle sounds drift in an out of each beat to help build songs, choruses and arrangements.
The sonics range from the super melodic “Today” to classic boom bap head nodders like “ Fresh Air Fund” to the more laid back swing of “All Because Of You”. Deca does a stellar job with each track, all of which suit Homeboy Sandman who is just floating on all these tracks. Probably my favorite Sandman project along with Humble Pi.
- Joshua Virtue “RAMA” – Really interesting drum programming and production throughout.
- Moses Rockwell “Until You Run out of Cake” – Very cohesive project with a strong sonic identity.
- The Opioid Era “The Throwaways 2” – Just a lot of raw raps of dope and grimey beats.
- Penpals & Spectacular Diagnostics “Dimensions of Dialogue” – An album full of raw, jazzy beats sprinkled with hints of psychedelia. Samples are well chosen and really fit the MCs. The whole album has a cohesive style and sound and just really works.
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