Instrumental albums — also known as beat tapes — give hip-hop producers a direct connection with fans, without any of those annoying lyrics on top of them.
These can often be a nice change of pace. But make no mistake, they aren't albums to zone out to, or to put on while you do a crossword puzzle, they're fierce, compelling works in their own right. Below, then, are our top five (mostly) instrumental albums from L.A. producers this year.
5. Tae Beast
Tae Beast Tape 2
Tae Beast, a member of Top Dawg Entertainment's Digi+phonics production team, is responsible for some of the rising label's hottest tracks, including Kendrick Lamar's “Ronald Reagan Era” and Ab-Soul's “Pineal Gland.” On Tae Beast Tape 2 he showcases a knack for flipping routine samples with well-spaced keys and jazzy undertones. The addition of swirling live vocals (recorded in-studio) on tracks like “Kayden's Dreams” take this work to the next level.
Easily the most experimental producer here, Co.fee's Bermuda EP is more cinematic than is typically found on these types of tapes. The antithesis to today's spacey minimalist trend, his percussion is quite polished. The work is short, and as final track “Bourgeois” fades we're left wanting more.
3. Wilie B.
Ichiban Sound in 3D
Willie B juxtaposes moods and styles on Ichiban Sound in 3D; he's tough to categorize. Gritty melodies, clap-heavy percussion tracks, Barry White samples? It's all there. As soon as he finds his groove, he backs out and finds a new lane to occupy, flipping soulful cuts into body-swaying dance tracks (“One For Jansport”), and working in gully melodies (“Wild Wild Rock,” “Gang Member”) as well.
2. Chuck Inglish
Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids resides in L.A., if you couldn't tell by the inspired breeziness of his first beat tape Wkring. His follow up Wrkout eschews regional influences in favor of a diverse palette of production. It's quite fun, with traces of classic Cool Kids songs throughout, but it's also daring, particularly on songs oozing '80s video game funk like “Triangles.” Oh, and his disco flip of Genuwine's “Differences” shouldn't be missed.
1. Sweet Valley
In collaboration with his brother Joel 'Kynan' WIlliams, surf punk group Wavves' frontman Nathan Williams released his hip hop instrumental tape Stay Calm. This work was sadly overlooked, but it's one hell of a tape, combining sunny pop-punk melodies with clashing percussion. Sputtering then flowing, it builds, crashes and then mellows out. Its 22-minutes zoom by as the Williams brothers tinker their way to the strongest beat tape of the year.