There are backbones in the process of creating music. You have songwriters, people tasked with the mastery of words and how they sound. You have executives, who essentially operate as head coaches and general managers on projects that make certain that a certain player (in this case, the artist) is able to work with and create under the best possible condition.
Then you have producers, the men and women actually tasked with putting the music together. Producers are a studio’s last line of defense. They’re the ones making sure either an artist sounds decent or spectacularly great in the studio. That may not translate into whether or not the artist is great live, but that’s a discussion for another day. Point is, producers operate under the same stressful situation any artist or creative does. They’re either in the business of making things that put plenty of money in their pockets or they’re doing it out of love. And rarely, very rarely, do those very specific ideals meet in the middle.
Last year, the Houston Press Music Awards shifted away from being a traditional awards show by changing the categories and format. New names were recognized, which sort of is the byproduct when someone wins an award. Curiosity spikes after a monumental thing happens, whether that thing be local, national or — as in the case of the Golden Globes — international.
We also failed a part of the local aspect in regards to the people who make the music. There was no award given to the city’s best producer, and, of course, what amounted to the Houston hot-take version of D-Day occurred. That's hyperbole but believe me, it was damn close. While there's no need to attempt to pacify, there is a time to spotlight and move forward.
Thus, you have this — a spotlight on some of the best producers doing it from within city limits at this very moment. Mind you, the select committee of one isn't highlighting the absolute best or picking his absolute favorites. He’s merely showing the world that the boardsmiths in Houston are pretty damn good and deserve proper acknowledgement. On Wednesday, we highlighted Charity Evaughn & Nate Coop, two producers who went all over the country, landed creating the beats for the XXL Freshmen class and plan to do it all over again. Both of them came from the Space City Beat Battle. A couple of the names on this pseudo-list were judges of that contest. Other names, like Tony Dark and hasHBrown, have either participated, judged, won or made large waves owing to connections made there. Now let’s meet the other badasses who keep the music moving in the H.
For at least a decade, Ryu & Pyro of Sound M.O.B. have kept their names in the loop of radio programmers on both sides of the aisle. Beginning with Kirko Bangz's “What Yo Name Iz” and the “Drank In My Cup” follow-up, the duo have sort of wed themselves to the Texas sound via squelchy guitar work and at times moody drums and soundscapes. Their latest double whammy has given Bangz another smothering single with “Money On The Dresser,” featuring Z-Ro and their biggest placement yet: Tyga’s new “Feel Me” single with Kanye West. Thankfully they didn’t have to send them a “Tyga/Kanye West Type Beat” to do so.
Beanz N Kornbread
I’m certain Beanz N Kornbread could piece together something that sounds like an extension of Frankie Beverly & Maze. I’m also certain they could craft something together that is as dark and moorish as something from Mike Dean’s recesses. Between them and The Cold Chamber, they’re most responsible for translating Z-Ro’s slice of real-life blues into either radio or tape deck gold. You know them best because of "These Dayz" by Ro and Dallas Blocker's “Rock Ya Body.” And if you loved Le$' Olde English album, you probably loved the old-school West Coast twist they put on “Sundazed.”
Last year the self-proclaimed genius earned a platinum plaque for YFN Lucci’s “Key To The Streets.” That should be enough for him to earn acclaim, but that’s not it. Over the past three years, James has married strip-club-ready chants with drums with the same amount of kick as Jim Kelly in his heyday and more. That sound has traveled from 45 South all the way to I-35 in Dallas (Yung Nation’s “Shawty Wassup”) to Atlanta and more. Even on his own solo records, James can’t help but make the strip club sound like an elegant yet intoxicating place.
There's no surprise that Chris Rockaway, the paradoxical, insightful, quixotic guitar and drums maven, has translated all those adjectives into surprising sonics for a wide range of artists. He’ll grant smoldering, brown liquor blues to Jack Freeman or twisting and bubbling anarchy for Lyric Michelle, or calmly give Hollywood FLOSS or any T.H.E.M. member boom bap to puff their chest out on. Rockaway does it all. Just don’t call him John Stockton or anything.
G Luck & B Don have switched names a few times, but they’ve kept up with Houston's constant shift toward the funk. When you hear the GNB tag, you’re immediately going to land in a world that either saunters about with hi hats and stirring drums or you're going to want to let the top down and glide. Crafting a bulk of Slim Thug tracks over the years has given them the template to create their own brand of riding music. Doesn't matter whether it’s for boisterous rap cats or songbirds wanting to flex and flip social constructs on their head.
If WOLFE de MÇHLS manages to stretch woozy, almost hypnotic R&B out for public consumption for himself, then Mufasa Enzor does it for everyone else. The young producer has cut his teeth all over records, whether it be for Rocky Banks or SVN or anyone else. Jazzy and organic, Enzor’s chops come from a place of always wanting to challenge and prove something.
I’ve often compared Trakksounds to Mike Dean, for the sole reason that they’re damn near geniuses behind a piano. Given what Trakksounds has done for so many artists over the past four or five years, he’s maintained a healthy position as one of the best producers in Houston. Smoker’s anthems? He can give you one. Spaced-out creations in which the drums can rip through the earth? Those too. A lot of his work feels like a bright red Cadillac. So in pocket, so smooth, so insular.
For the past six years, maybe seven, Donnie Houston has navigated life as both a DJ and a producer. When he landed placements on Slim Thug’s final Hogg Life album, he glided with flips of The Dramatics and breezy tranquility. He originally broke through shaping Propain’s world while the baroque emcee wrestled with life’s gains and shortcomings. Now he’s firmly entrenched in producing full-length epics for a host of people, including the little piece of HOUNOLA ’90s culture dig that was his and Hot Peez’s Lagniappe.