With such a monumental year for hip-hop and pop music, a good grip of year-end lists are shining the spotlight on the invisible hands that work tirelessly in the studio to churn out our favorite hits of 2018. This year, we were impressed by electronic producers who’ve taken their careers to the highest point, whether they’ve been in it for just a few years or over decades; additionally, we picked some of the best producers whose names don’t get the recognition they deserve as they’re producing hit songs for the biggest rappers and pop stars of the industry.
Check out our list of the 10 best producers of 2018 below, and find out our picks for who to watch in 2019 here.
NEST HQ Best of 2018: Producers
*10 producers listed alphabetically
If you asked me right now what artist I’m most excited about, I would say Boys Noize, and if you asked me the same question in five years, I would probably still say Boys Noize. The German techno wunderkind has an insane musical catalog spanning back over a decade, and in 2018 alone released the live album Strictly Raw, Vol. 2, collaborative EPs with Virgil Abloh and Mr Oizo as Handbraekes, production credits on Tommy Cash’s ¥€$, and launched his house-focused moniker Elax. He toured extensively with his UK WAREHAUS project, a US club tour, and an appearance on AMF’s inaugural Friendship sailing. Heading into 2019, he’s the most inspired and productive he’s ever been with a new studio album in the works. There’s a quote from Soulwax’s Stephen Dewaele that I think says it all: “[Boys Noize] has this thing that transcends techno. Alex is the guy who can do underground stuff in front of 30,000 people, so that’s what makes him special.” Even after all this time, you’ll still find him lugging around a crate of vinyl from venue to venue. Boys Noize exists in a league of his own, and as they say back home, is the true König des Untergrundes. — CS
DJ Koze is no stranger to the scene, but 2018 proved to be one of his biggest yet. He’s always put forth a smart, forward-thinking flair on techno and house music since his start in 1988 — 30 years later, though, his taste and execution has proven to be superior to his peers. He released the full-length record Knock Knock this year, the 16-track magnum opus of his career that oozes precision and sophistication in sound, digging back to the roots of dance music as he carefully selects moments of his sound we’ve never before experienced. Of all the songs on the record, “Pick Up” shattered listeners’ expectations with its many moving parts, including the vocal sample taken from Gladys Knight’s “Neither One Of Us” coupled with that ever-looping disco beat. DJ Koze represents timelessness in dance music, but he’s not stuck in the humble beginnings. He’s right on the nose of what’s to come. — JM
If you’re like us, you wonder who’s behind all the hit pop songs that are churned out on radio stations all day long. These artists’ names often go unnoticed to the public eye, but you’d be surprised at just how much work they’re putting in. Frank Dukes is one of those producers, and not only is he responsible for making beats for artists like Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Logic, and more just this year alone, but he’s also credited as a songwriter for their hits, too. He’s been shelling out his skills for the better part of the 2010s, but 2018 saw one of his biggest accomplishments yet: Frank Dukes is named as a songwriter, producer, and executive producer for The Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy along with songwriting and production credits for artists like Gunna and MØ. Writing a hit song is no easy feat, but Frank Dukes somehow nails it over and over again. — JM
G Jones entered 2018 on the tail-end of a B2B tour with Eprom and was almost finished writing his debut full-length album The Ineffable Truth. He had spent every free moment over the past two years in the studio and the end result is timeless, breaks new ground, and is the kind of record that I think we’ll back on in five to 10 years with the significance of Aphex Twin or Burial. From our colleagues at Insomniac to almost every DJ in bass music, everyone was talking about how G Jones was doing something special. He joined Virtual Self on tour over the summer, with Porter describing him as “[exuding] inspiration and creativity,” and is now bringing his live A/V show to the world. G Jones can make the heaviest bass composition that you can imagine and the most serene, beautiful soundscapes that shimmer like distant exploding stars; he’s able to hold two opposing ideas in contrast, and see what others can’t see. Did you know there are stars visible to the naked eye and we see them as they were 10,000 years ago? G Jones had the best year of his career thus far, and I can’t wait for his music to reach them – just like he reached us. — CS
Referred to by Pitchfork last month as “hip-hop’s prodigal son,” formerly half of the LOUDPVCK duo known as Kenny Beats is on the tip of everyone’s tongue in rap these days. Just this year he’s worked with JPEGMAFIA, Vince Staples, Rico Nasty, Freddie Gibbs, KEY!, 10k Caash, ALLBLACK, and 03 Greedo. If you don’t know anything about Kenny’s background, one might think he came out of nowhere, which is absolutely not the case. He was making hip-hop beats and working to be heard as a producer in that space all while making proper dance and trap bangers and touring as half of LOUDPVCK. There’s a frantic, rock ‘n roll edge to his sound that gives an air of volatile instability resulting in an unavoidable adrenaline rush every time one of his productions comes on. If you’re not on him yet, start with his 777 project with KEY! to get a taste of that Kenny Beats heat you keep hearing about. — MH
You might not know Ludwig Göransson by name, but you do know his music. He’s been producing songs with Childish Gambino for nearly a decade, including the recent single “This Is America,” with 2019 Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. He’s also the composer behind Marvel’s superhero film Black Panther, contributing the original score, renowned for its authentic portrayal of African music in tandem with traditional, anthemic orchestral elements and modern hip-hop production techniques. That’s nominated for a 2019 Grammy, too, for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. But his inclusion on this list is due to the powerful cultural significance of his work, which in a broad sense tackles racism, violence, and hatred, not only in America but across the world. He’s bringing our attention to a conversation that’s really about the value of human life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like what I see when I turn on the news. Göransson’s impact in 2018 through his musical output is immeasurable, and be it intentional or not, he’s written the soundtrack to inspire change. — CS
Few producers in history can boast the grip on the rap game that Metro Boomin has acquired for himself. His work over the latter half of this decade has culminated into a star-studded discography of modern rap hitmakers that use his stripped-back yet catchy beats as a base to jump off of. This year, after a questionable retirement announcement, he dropped Not All Heroes Wear Capes, a supposed farewell album that showcased the height of the producer’s talent. Though this may be the last we hear from him, his mark on trap and mainstream hip-hop is not one to be discounted. — MW
In the world of hip-hop, Mike Dean made 2018 his year. As an artist whose career began playing keys for Selena, Mike Dean crafted a signature sound that has stood the test of time through trends that surpassed the 90s, 2000s, and into the 2010s. This year alone, Mike Dean elevated rap music with his work on Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD, Pusha T’s DAYTONA, and served as the somewhat invisible hand on all of Kanye West’s records from this year. His name graces a number of year-end lists for best producers, including ours; Mike Dean seriously has no end in sight, though he claims he’s thinking of retiring next year. Whatever he decides, he’s solidified his title as a living legend. Period. — JM
Possibly the hottest producer in the 2010s to come out of Miami, Ronny J’s work with Denzel Curry, XXXTentacion, and Ski Mask the Slump God has catapulted the South Florida scene into the mainstream via SoundCloud mixtapes and undeniable hits like “Ultimate” and “Take A Step Back.” His mixtape that dropped this year, OMGRONNY, gave us a taste of how far he’s willing to take the scene and his willingness to experiment within the SoundCloud scene by finding new and creative uses for distorted bass and warped vocals. — MW
The Nigerian producer has had a relatively mellow year in terms of output, but his impact in popularizing Afropop on a global scale is immeasurably huge and shows no signs of slowing. With the help of regular collaborator Wizkid, Skepta’s “Energy” was brought to life and reveals a far more laidback, reflective vein of hip-hop than what we’re accustomed to, and we expect to hear that sound bouncing back from all over the mainstream in 2019. Since Drake’s “One Dance” exploded and he collaborated with Wizkid on “Come Closer” last year, Sarz set the stage for his self-proclaimed mission to “bring Africa to the world.” If you’re unfamiliar with this behind-the-scenes innovator, you should also check out the anthemic “Lakukulala” by Oladips featuring Reminisce to hear what we’re talking about in terms of the unstoppable Afropop crossover he’s at the helm of. — MH
Words by Dani Noguera, Molly Hankins, Jordan Mafi, Cassie Sheets, and Max Worthy