In our Beat Construction column, FADER speaks with producers, rap’s relatively anonymous but essential pillars. This week, as part of a 34-night events program, Red Bull gathered some of these producers onstage—sans rappers—for a showcase of their big songs. The result, where artists of varying stripes played their tracks for a patient audience, was not quite lecture and not quite party, and unlike any rap show I’ve ever been to.
Some producers are DJs first, growing into the job after years of researching their market. (DJ Spinz comes to mind, someone who DJed his grandparents’ supper club and high school football games before producing for Travis Porter, Ca$h Out and Waka Flocka.) But most of last night’s performers showed that someone who’s great at making beats isn’t always used to entertaining. Drumma Boy brought a DJ with him, instructing the guy when to play and pause beats, and interspersed the stops with little stories. Bangladesh told a quietly interesting anecdote unlikely to be told on any other stage—Gucci mane, evidently, incorporated “yellow” into his rhyme scheme so often because he liked the look of a yellow MPC—then called for help with a technical difficulty and, unpracticed as his own hype man, struggled to fill the dead air. The three-man Miami-based collective J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beamed like kids playing their first piano recital. At one point, they had a guy play alongside an unreleased beat on saxophone. Even with that embellishment, the song was plush but indistinguishable, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s set felt like a sort of cautionary tale: having a signature, high-end sound might impress Rick Ross, but it doesn’t always translate to an enraptured crowd.
Boi-1da, the Toronto producer who’s best known for rising along with Drake, opened his set with a DJ Khaled-blessed song he co-produced, “No New Friends,” finally turning the show toward something resembling a club night. He brought along a casual hype man to karaoke along with Nicki Minaj and Drake lyrics and blushed at opportunities to address the crowd, flashing his dimples. Afterward, Young Chop produced the night’s best spectacle. As much as Bangladesh may enjoy the confinement and solace of the studio, Chop loves a stage. With his shirt squeezing around his chest like a sweater on a teddy bear, he held the mic during his set, introducing songs and calling out to fans with Kelly Ripa enthusiasm. He brought the night’s largest support crew—Chicago’s teen mixtape host DJ Victoriouz triggered the laptop, Lil Durk was recruited to stand around and check his phone glamorously. Presumably drawn by the energy of “Blocka” and “Hate Being Sober,” audience members Kitty and Chippy Nonstop made an unsolicited jump into the fray. “Someone please explain why kitty fuckin pryde is on stage with young chop,” tweeted RBMA participant Evian Christ. Perhaps because, like Chop, Kitty and Chippy are not just music-makers but also personalities hoping to engage curious witnesses. Chippy’s brief, almost-twerking stage dance grabbed attention and produced at least one Vine; a side show making its own splash. It ended only when DJ Mustard, calmly and almost without moving his face, signaled to his hype guy and cleared her off the stage.
Up next was DJ Mustard, a wisely chosen lead-in for Mannie Fresh, the night’s eventual headliner. DJ Mustard is a consummate professional, for years the stable, cool guy anchoring out-of-hand parties starring rappers like YG. His set passed quickly, culminating with the undeniable “R.I.P.” Perspiring with a white hand towel draped over the top of his head, Mustard rightly called the song his “hottest.” For a set-transitioning crowd pleaser, he snuck in—probably against Red Bull rules—the show’s only song not produced by one of its performers (Iamsu!, Problem and Juvenile’s “100 Grand,” produced by P-Lo).
Packing up and taking out their gear alongside one another, with DJ Mustard stealing glances at Mannie Fresh’s laptop screen, the two were a fascinating display of generational contrast. Mustard is 23, his crisp and synthetic sound a descendent of ringtone-inspired jerk productions that emerged just a few years prior. Mannie Fresh is 44. As a kid, he taught himself to use a Moog, figuring out the functions of hundreds of buttons by trial and error. Comparably, “everybody is growing up not learning nothing!” he said in a Red Bull-sponsored lecture last year in Spain. His years don’t weigh on him, though. Fresh’s skin is perfect, he smacks gum, his mouth’s corners are always turned up, just a nudge away from full-blast smile. Just for this show, he created a special recorded intro, complete with silly branded drops. He dropped a booming REO Speedwagon sample between “Go DJ” and “Project Bitch.” As both producer and performer, Fresh is intent on telling a story, amping up a crowd and eliciting a response from it. He’s thought about this longer and harder than most, and it shows.