For a long time, record production was kind of a thankless job: you’d spend hours upon hours intricately tweaking a bunch of tracks, which had been thrown together in a few takes by an egotistical musician, and receive none of the credit even if the album blew up. Some rare producers like Phil Spector and Rick Rubin have broken through into the mainstream as a result of their public antics and/or high-profile projects, but it’s only with the relatively recent advancements in electronic music production that “producer” has become less of a background term. Nowadays, the producer of a track often creates many of the instrumentals from scratch, basically building the entire thing around a vocal track provided by another artist.
In hip-hop specifically, producers are beginning to get their due. One you’ll want to look out for in the near future is Paul White, who was behind almost all the tracks on Danny Brown’s highly acclaimed album Atrocity Exhibition (2016). Having also worked with artists like Yasiin Bey and Open Mike Eagle, White is beginning to earn a reputation as a producer of thick, grimy beats for big-name rappers. Interestingly, he also did a track for Charli XCX, who, love her or hate her, certainly knows how to pick producers—Rostam Batmanglij and Sophie have both worked for her.
On the heels of Atrocity Exhibition, White has released Accelerator, a brand new EP with collaborator Danny Brown, consisting of two songs and their instrumentals. The first track (the titular one) is an unstoppable barrage of thick toms and snares with Brown’s rapid-fire vocals riding through thick layers of vintage synths. If there’s any criticism to be given, it’s that the song sounds like an Atrocity Exhibition b-side. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
Although “Accelerator” was my favorite, fans are responding more to the other track, “Lion’s Den.” The beat slower and spaced-out, utilizing more minor chords, and features throughout a vocal sample in (I think) French. It’s a bit different from one of Brown’s typical instrumentals, but the lyrics could come from no one else. Brown views his experiences growing up in Detroit as parallel to the biblical story of Daniel in the lion’s den. It seems like the bleakness he developed throughout his early career, and perfected on Atrocity Exhibition, will be showing up in future:
“That voice in my head said have another round
Couple lines of coke got me feeling right now
I might lose it all, I keep on down this road
Seen too many fall, but this is all I know.”
All great producers have their idiosyncrasies, and White might not be your style. Whether you enjoy Accelerator or not, I also highly recommend Flume’s new EP, the second companion release to his Grammy-winning 2016 album Skin. As a fan of both Pusha T and Moses Sumney, I was thrilled to hear their sonic contributions to this incredible release: the stuttering trap banger “Enough,” one of a growing number of brilliant Pusha T tracks where he basically raps over a single skull-rattling bass note (“Numbers On The Board” and H.G.T.V. being other prime examples), and the more downtempo, moody, echoing instrumental of “Weekend,” perfectly complementing Sumney’s incredible voice and not dissimilar to his own recent solo work.