By Tamara Palmer
Though they’re not often given credit for doing more than twiddling knobs, a truly great producer goes far beyond stitching a beat together. Over the course of 2011, these five producers demonstrated their talent, not only for picking out memorable rhythms, but also for exquisite arrangements, composition, and a knack for predicting international appeal. If you don’t already know most of their names, trust us — you already know their beats. Check out RapFix’s picks for the five best producers of 2011, listed in no particular order.
Noah “40″ Shebib Like his friend and cohort, Drake, Toronto’s Noah “40” Shebib got his start as a child actor before helping Aubrey Graham to shape the breakthrough sounds on his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone. 40 began this year with a beguiling remix for Sade before unleashing his monster minor key melodies for DJ Khaled (“I’m on One,” co-produced by T-Minus) and overseeing production on Drake’s new album Take Care, which included a top 20-charting single (“Headlines”) and a new player hater’s anthem (“Marvin’s Room”).
No I.D. With the low-key moniker of No I.D., Chicago’s Ernest Nelson never seemed to care about grabbing the same share of the spotlight that his production has. Associated strongly with Common–having produced the majority of four albums as well as classic cuts like “I Used to Love H.E.R.”–No I.D.’s resume for the year includes work with Jay-Z and Kanye West, Rihanna, J. Cole, Killer Mike, and Big Sean, including the latter’s enduring single “My Last” with Chris Brown. His ear even helped clinch a new job this year: No I.D. is now the executive vice president of Def Jam.
T-Minus The Canadian producer (born Tyler Williams) crafted his uniquely soaring orchestration into some of the year’s most memorable songs. He began the year on a high note with top 20 singles like Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m on One” (the latter co-produced with colleague 40), and finishes it with the number one success of Lil Wayne’s “She Will,” plus album cuts for Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Birdman, and others.
Hit-Boy Born Chauncey Hollis, Hit-Boy is part of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label roster and he enjoyed a diverse year producing singles for the likes of Kelly Rowland, Pusha T, Rihanna, and even Joe Jonas. But it is his work on Jay-Z and West’s Watch the Throne album that has earned him the most accolades this year, particularly on the unstoppable single “Niggas in Paris,” which the duo has selected to perform multiple times at each tour stop.
Kanye West We wouldn’t blame Kanye West for resting on his production laurels this year, but he came with the hunger in 2011. He not only worked on most of the songs on Watch the Throne, but he also managed to remix Justin Bieber, craft tunes for Snoop Dogg (“Eyez Closed”) and Beyoncé (“Party”), and not disrupt any award shows. Just when people thought they could instantly pinpoint one of his productions, West has pushed himself to evolve even further.