A beginner’s guide to Kenny Beats – the megastar producer’s best collaborations so far

He's worked with everyone from IDLES to Rico Nasty; no wonder some call him the new Rick Rubin

Over the last couple of years, Kenny Beats has asserted himself as one of the hottest producers in the industry. His out-of-this-world collaborations frequently veer away from genre, with his presence on a track usually signified by his “Whoa Kenny!” tag. The 28-year-old has worked with Rico Nasty, JPEGMAFIA and Denzel Curry, rising stars Deb Never and Omar Apollo, and even started his own YouTube freestyle series The Cave with guests including Danny Brown and Slowthai.

READ MORE: “I only work with people I’m obsessed with”: How Kenny Beats became the most sought-after producer of his generation

As a new project with Bristol punks IDLES lies ahead – the producer recently told NME that “they’re the most important band in the whole world” – we figured now would be a good time to dive into his impressive back-catalogue. Here are some of Kenny Beats’ best collabs so far.

ScHoolboy Q, ‘Hunnid Stax’ (2014)

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Before Kenny Beats was the shit-hot producer he is today, he used to sell weed to rappers in an attempt to get noticed. Picture a young Kenny catching ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul at a sneaker signing, giving them a load of freebies and convincing them to take his beats. The result? A collaboration that see Q and Soul exchanging lyrical blows over ominously pulsating drums, with a young Mac Miller delivering a stoner-y, hazy chorus.

Beats-iest moment: The sampling at the start; the rumbling bassline and trap-heavy kick drums feel like a precursor the chaos to come.

Rico Nasty, ‘Anger Management’ (2019) 

Beats and Nasty have worked together for years, and ‘Anger Management’ is a reflection of their ease with one another. Opening with the metal-influences ‘Cold’, the duo intertwine the rapper’s lacerating vocals with dial tones and distorted glitches, capturing the essence of a temper tantrum. The collection then gradually winds down, moving from the initial sense of fury to the gleefully bullish ‘Hatin’, before ending in a place of acceptance in the sugary trap bop ‘Again’.

Beats-iest moment: This feels like a project born from mutual trust; Rico’s able to completely lose herself behind the mic while Kenny backs her up with futuristic beats.

Vince Staples, ‘FM’ (2018)

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It was always going to be tough for Vince Staples to follow-up the incredible 2017 album ‘Big Fish Theory’. Counteracting the bubbling, electronic funk of its predecessor, ‘FM’ showed a more raw side to the Californian rapper. From the outset, Beats and Staples pair radio skits from DJ Big Boy with lines such as, “Summertime in the LB wild / We gonna party ’til the sun or the guns come out,” a juxtaposition that perfectly summarizes the notoriously playful yet politically minded rapper.

Beats-iest moment: This album is layered in signature Beats troupes, from comedy radio skits to clacking hi-hats and booming basslines.

03 Greedo, ‘Netflix & Deal’ (2019) 

Created in Greedo’s final days before serving a 20-year prison sentence, ‘Netflix and Deal’ is a brilliantly vivid glimpse into what the rapper’s success could be like. This feels like a passion project for Beats, who ensured its completion and release, making standout tracks such as ‘Disco Shit’ even more triumphant. As Greedo masterfully draws a witty comparison between his life and the movie ‘Blow’, Beats goes easy on the steadily paced funky drum beats.

Beats-iest moment: Kenny Beats frequently refers to himself as a ‘janitor’ when working with artists – polishing their work – and this is demonstrated in the way that Greedo’s lyricism shines through the crisp production.

Freddie Gibbs, ‘Freddie’ (2018) 

Gibbs is unmatched in his lyrical flow, freestyle skills (just watch his Cave session) and vivid depiction of street thuggery. With Beats alongside him, the album ‘Freddie’ is characterised by heavy basslines and vulgar verses. ‘Death Row’ is a real standout, paying homage to the West Coast lyrically with lines such as, “I just might go throw a Rollie on my next ho / Hundred kilos in my trunk, I might get Death Row,” and a familiar key riff to Eazy-E’s ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood’.

Beats-iest moment: Beats seems to love paying homage to a rap movement by delicately lifting motifs, and there’s no better partner than Gibbs when it comes to old-school gangster shit.

Denzel Curry, ‘UNLOCKED’ (2020)

Kenny Beats and Denzel Curry had previously collaborated on a few unreleased tracks pre-’UNLOCKED’ but it was his freestyle performance on The Cave that kick-started this particular project. Beats creates a backdrop of mid-’90s and boom-bap rhythms for the Miami rapper to unleash his boundary blurring lyrical flow. There’s a plethora of influences and styles to pick up here, from Curry’s DMX-style snarls to the vocal distortions and vintage samples that echo producers such as Madlib or MF Doom.

Beats-iest moment: The chaotic ‘So.Incredible.pkg’ sums up Kenny’s homage to those aforementioned rap greats with its cartoonish mania – all created, of course, with clinical precision.

Omar Apollo & Dominic Fike, ‘Hit Me Up’ (2019) 

When the Indiana songwriter and Florida rapper came together for the Beats-produced ‘Hit Me Up’ last year, the result was a vibey funk-driven hit. Considering most of the projects Beats had released beforehand were rap-focused, this was a real flex of his musical palate. Swapping bass sample packs for an actual guitar, he’s tapping into his Berklee-educated past while making something that sounds fresh – and all with two of the hottest talents in the game.

Beats-iest moment: Smooth R&B production, a slapping bass and two of the scene’s biggest new names? It’s got Kenny Beats written all over it.

Deb Never, ‘Stone Cold’ (2020) 

‘Stone Cold’ is another collab that demonstrates the producer’s non-conformity when it comes to genre. While alt-emo riser Deb Never picks apart the archetypal, Steve Austin-inspired ‘tough guy’, Beats goes easy on the production with a simplistically steady beat and distant ad-libs. This gives Never plenty of scope to articulate brilliantly witty lines such as, “He’s slammin’ bodies left and right, / Just to prove a point / That he’s the strongest man alive – but a lonely boy.”

Beats-iest moment: The solid bass underpinning this addictively catchy track makes it quintessentially Kenny.

JPEGMAFIA, ‘Puff Daddy’ (2018)

JPEGMAFIA is notorious for working alone, so this collaboration came as somewhat of a surprise. However, ‘Puff Daddy’ feels like a natural pairing, as the rapper’s lyrical blows come backed-up with equally aggravating beats. The track is a two-and-a-half-minute joyride of sadistically thrilling lyrics with which Peggy declares, “You are all my sons… We don’t claim you bums / This shit for the scum.” Meanwhile, Beats matches his deviant energy with a frantic haze of glitching sounds and blown-out bass.

Beats-iest moment: Beats reigns in Peggy’s explosive nature by adding a clear structure to the track – an unusual move for the rapper – thus facilitating a sense of controlled chaos.

Key!, ‘777’ (2018)

Fun fact: the “Whoa Kenny!” tag comes from Key!. A veteran of the Atlanta scene, the rapper enlisted Beats for his 2018 album, which acted as a reminder of his trailblazing energy. A project with no features, the 15 song-collection is a testament to placing faith in a producer. There is an undeniable sense of chemistry, as tracks such as ‘Demolition 1+2’ show, with its messy rhythmic flow, choir sample and tuned hi-hats for a crisp finish.

Beats-iest moment: Key!’s expressed that this is “the most polished” version of him, and there’s no doubt it’s because of Beats.

Zack Fox and Kenny Beats , ‘Jesus Is the One (I Got Depression)’ (2019)

When Kenny Beats started the Cave sessions, he could never have expected comedian Zack Fox to record a viral hit in the space of 10 minutes – but it happened. Fox shared fairly vague instructions for Beats to create an – ahem – “ a post-9/11, pre-death of Whitney Houston-style beat,” and unwittingly paved the way for ‘Jesus Is the One (I Got Depression)’. It would later end up topping the Spotify viral charts and reach over 22 million streams.

Beats-iest moment: Whether he likes it or not, this song was a huge moment for Beats and projected his web series forward to a massive audience. Whoa Kenny!

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