Behind the Boards: Highlighting North Carolina Hip-Hop Producers

Story by Kyesha Jennings 
Photos by Sandra Davidson
Graphic Design by Ai-Ling Chang 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

 

What is a hip-hop artist without an innovative producer? Within hip-hop, producers are responsible for cultivating unique sounds that leave a sonic imprint on the genre. Think of Organized Noize, DJ Premier, Timbaland, the Neptunes, and Swizz Beats. Not only are their styles distinct, through the making of beats, but also their work has archived the unlimited possibilities of hip-hop and hip-hop production. All hip-hop producers create a vibe. Some producers have mastered the art of sampling in a way that allows them to create stories about Black music, fostering sonic genealogical links that expand across musical genres and periods. In her book Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, the hip-hop scholar Tricia Rose notes that although hip-hop “relies on oral performance, it is equally dependent on technology and its effects on the sound.” It was the hip-hop producer (and arguably the DJ) who organically advanced rap's technological interventions through the use of sampling and the alteration of sounds. What’s more, the hip-hop producer’s influence is shaping regional sounds such as crunk (Memphis or Atlanta), trap (Atlanta), drill (Chicago), and bounce (New Orleans)—a phenomenon that gives cities and communities across the country their own recognized sound within the genre. 

Within the past few years, hip-hop producers have garnered increasing attention, perhaps becoming as important as the artist. There is no Future without Zaytoven or Metro Boomin, and there is no Drake without the sonic backing of 40 (Noah James Shebib). The rapper-producer duo has replaced the DJ-rapper duo who once dominated the scene. Surprisingly though, most of the recent attention on the rise of budding and more experienced hip-hop producers has been Atlanta-centric. For the past 10 years or so, Atlanta has solidified its position as hip-hop’s headquarters. Once a cultural afterthought, Atlanta has grown in prominence in parallel with the progress of Atlanta producers and artists. In general, broader conversations on outstanding production in hip-hop tend to be about veteran solo super-producers exclusively. 

As the geographical outlier of Southern hip-hop, North Carolina doesn’t own or claim one sonic style. Some may argue this is a bad thing, and one of the reasons this state gets left out of hip-hop conversations. Others are able to see and home in on the beauty of having diverse sounds originating from the same place. Home to many talented emerging and veteran producers, North Carolina has shaped how these talented people approach making music. Join us in celebrating some of the state’s dope sonic architects. 

 

 

Khrysis

Instagram: Khrysis_

 

Where are you from?

Durham

At what age did you start making beats?

I started making pause tape loops at 14. I got my first copy of Fruity Loops when I was 18 and I’ve been going ever since.

Who are your musical influences?

DJ Premier, Pete Rock, RZA, J Dilla, Erick Sermon

How would you describe your sound?

Boom bap mixed with soul, funk, and jazz

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

I actually prefer hardware: Maschine+ and my ASR-10

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

My solo album, The Hour Of Khrysis

List all major musical placements:

Rapsody, featuring Anderson. Paak: “Oooweee”

Conway the Machine: “Jesus Khrysis”

Little Brother: “Watch Me”

The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix)

Mac Miller: “She Said”

Sean Price: “Onion Head”

Masta Ace: “Da Grind”

Madden 20 (Reuben Vincent: “No Problems”)


 

Imani Pressley
Instagram: @Iamimani9

 

Where are you from? 

Greensboro

At what age did you start making beats? 

9

Who are your musical influences?

Prince, Dr. Dre, Zedd, Outkast, Flume

How would you describe your sound?

I would describe my sound as electric, captivating, intense, and percussive

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

Logic Pro 

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

My Grammy Nomination that I received at 19 years old with gospel group Trin-I-tee 5:7

Imani’s major musical placements:

Trin-I-tee 5:7 “Bring Your Praise” 

Virtue: “You Deserve” 

Canton Jones: “Let’s Get Started” 

Samples of Imani’s work:

Live demonstration of Imani Pressley making a trap beat

Live demonstration of Imani Pressley making a funk beat

 

 

D.R.U.G.S. BEATS

Instagram: @drugs_beats

 

Where are you from? 

Atlanta, GA. Based in the Apex now. 

At what age did you start making beats? 

15

Who are your musical influences?

J Dilla, Madlib, and DJ Muggs

How would you describe your sound?

Raw hip-hop

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

MPC

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Producing for the legendary Dr. Dre

D.R.U.G.S.’ major musical placements:

Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Ludacris, 50 Cent, Lloyd banks Crooked i, Locksmith, Young Dro, Royce da 5’9, Diamond D, Sadat X, Lil Eto, and Jarren Benton

Dr. Dre, King Mez , Marsha Ambrosius, and Kendrick Lamar: “Darkside/Gone”

 

 

Katrina Wright/ Pheonyx The Producer

Instagram: @Pheonyxthegreat

 

Where are you from? 

Fayetteville

At what age did you start making beats? 

21

Who are your musical influences?

Timbaland, DJ Paul, Metro, Mike Will, Pharrell, Scott Storch, Big Krit, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, JID, Boogie, and Isaiah Rashad 

How would you describe your sound?

Laid back yet edgy and eccentric 

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

FL Studio

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Hosting my own artist freestyle competitions as a producer, which opened doors for me to create new networks with different artists to help build solid relationships and work with them

Samples of Pheonyx’s work:

Pheonyx The Producer: Slaps For Kato

 

 

Kashif  Norville 

Instagram: @Kashdontmakeme

 

Where are you from?

Rocky Mount

At what age did you start making beats?

21

Who are your musical influences?

Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre, J Dilla, 9th Wonder, Khrysis

How would you describe your sound?

Soulful/melodic

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

Maschine

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

President of Jamla Records; Laila’s Wisdom placement (Grammy-nominated album)

List all major musical placements: 

Rapsody: “Pay Up” 

Murs: “Night Shift” 

Murs: “S.I.N.” 

Heather Victoria, featuring Jadakiss: “Love Unconditional”

 

 

Maliq “Millie” Vaughn

Instagram: @Millie_Vaughn

 

Where are you from? 

Raleigh

At what age did you start making beats? 

16

Who are your musical influences?

Timbaland, Pharrell, Quincy Jones

How would you describe your sound?

Very versatile! I have a variety of sounds and none of my beats sound alike.

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

FL Studio is my favorite program, but I use Maschine and Logic Pro, as well.

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

I am proud to have won 6 Beat Battles in North Carolina. I am also proud of being nominated as “Producer of the Year” at the 2017 Carolina Music Awards

Samples of Millie Vaughn’s work:

“Southside Blues (Milli Lo-fi)”

Defacto Thezpian, featuring Dasan Ahanu: “Hey Stranger” 

 

 

Demarcus "SoloSteeze" Walker 

Instagram: @Solosteeze

 

Where are you from? 

Charlotte

At what age did you start making beats? 

16

Who are your musical influences?

Quincy Jones, Kanye West, Timbaland, OG Parker

How would you describe your sound?

One word: vibey

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

FL Studio

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Madden ‘21 song placement (“Flag on the Play,” by Blacc Zacc)

Demarcus’s major musical placements:

Toosii: “Pea Coat”

Blacc Zacc: “Flag on the Play”

Blacc Zacc: “Living Legend”

Blacc Zacc: “Did Today”

Tia Corine: “Avril Lavigne”

 

 

Jeremy Dupree p/k/a “JermJuice”

Instagram: @Jermjuice__

 

Where are you from? 

Charlotte

At what age did you start making beats? 

18

Who are your musical influences?

Pharrell, Robert Glasper, Lex Luger, and Mike Will 

How would you describe your sound?

Fusion of hip-hop and R&B 

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

FL Studio

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Madden ‘21 song placement (“Flag on the Play,” by Blacc Zacc)

Jeremy’s major musical placements:

Blacc Zacc: “Flag on the Play”  

Blacc Zacc: “What I Did Today”  

Blacc Zacc: “Living Legend”  

Big Mali, featuring Rich da Kid: “WTF” 

Big Mali: “Dgaf” 

Tia Corine: “Avril Lavigne” 

Big Mali: “For the Record” 

 

 

Xavier Skinner/Professor X 

Instagram: @Professorxtheproducer 

 

Where are you from? 

Goldsboro

At what age did you start making beats? 

15

Who are your musical influences?

9th Wonder, Cory Mo, Madlib, J Dilla, Organized Noize, Qtip, DJ Premier, and my grandfather Willie Skinner 

How would you describe your sound?

Nostalgic freeform hip-hop 

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

Native Instruments and live instrumentation 

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Performing my first beat set out of state last year in Oklahoma 

Xavier’s major musical placements:

Phocuz and O. Givens 

 

 

Pat Junior (½ of Pelham and Junior)

Instagram: @iampatjunior

 

Where are you from? 

Originally from New York but I've been in North Carolina for most of my life, so Raleigh is home

At what age did you start making beats? 

23

Who are your musical influences?

Daniel Steele, Jon Bellion, Ludwig Garrison, Hans Zimmer, Johann Johannsson, Pharrell, Return To Forever (Band), David Julyan, Oddisee, Tierra Whack, Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Dahi, Shad K, Hit Boy, Cam Obi' (so much more)

How would you describe your sound?

Eclectic hip-hop with cinematic and electronic undertones

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

Logic/Ableton 

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

The work on my last album. Aside from the incredible songwriting that I did alone and with friends, most of the album was produced by the Pelham & Junior team/affiliates. 

Pat Junior’s major musical placements:

Hit Boy, Dom Kennedy, Xavier Omar, Big Sean, Kehlani, Jacquees, Kaleb Mitchell, Kiana Lede, Denzel Curry

Sample breakdown | "Offline," by Hit-Boy and Dom Kennedy

 

Justin Pelham/ J. Pelham (½ of Pelham and Junior)

Instagram: @Jgotdreams

 

Where are you from? 

Daytona Beach, FL

At what age did you start making beats? 

13

Who are your musical influences?

Gospel (the Winans family, Tonex, B Slade, Clarke/Moss Family), HipHop (Pharrell, Kanye West, Justice League, Alan Swoope), R&B (Dark Child, Brandy), Jazz (Robert Glasper, Ben Tankard, Keifer), there's more but too many to name

How would you describe your sound?

Eclectic, but with Southern roots

What's your favorite music or software to make music?

Logic for sound design and mixing; FL Studio and Ableton for beats

What musical accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

Creating a label that inspires and empowers thousands of musicians, producers, and artists to make dope music with our samples

Justin’s major musical placements:

Hit Boy, Dom Kennedy, Xavier Omar, Big Sean, Kehlani, Jacquees, Kaleb Mitchell, Kiana Lede, Denzel Curry

Sample breakdown | "Offline" by Hit-Boy and Dom Kennedy

 

Kyesha Jennings

Kyesha Jennings is a PhD student, hip-hop scholar, and multi-hyphenate creative who writes, teaches, speaks, researches, and creates content about hip-hop and Black culture. She is a English Lecturer and Faculty mentor at N.C. State University.