A great beat is a game changer. Period.
Let’s just keep it a buck: Beats and melodies have outweighed lyrics in the eyes of most for a while and with attention spans becoming shorter and shorter, it takes something special for listeners not to press the skip button or change the channel before the verses even begin. Meaning, the picking the right beat is vital. The 2010s saw dozens of hip-hop producers turn into stars while creating waves that would define the sound of the decade.
With origins in the prior decade, the trap sound was solidified in the 2010s by the likes of Southside’s 808 Mafia outfit and Lex Luger. Mustard put in work out on the West Coast, creating a bouncy, much-sought-after it-factor that made him a hip-hop household name.
Where would Chicago’s drill scene be without Young Chop’s menacing soundscapes? And how many less hits would we have in the last 10 years had the likes of Metro Boomin and Mike WiLL Made-It not come along and fucked the whole game up.
From outstanding samples to lo-fi SoundCloud mods to A-list anthems, the sound of the 2010s was all over the place but left us with some tracks that will be remembered for years to come.
The 2020s will undoubtedly bring a slew of new producers and different vibes that will make their mark in the next 10 years. As we say adios to 2019, XXL compiles a list of beats that defined the decade.
“Devil in a New Dress” Kanye West Featuring Rick Ross (2010)
Produced by: Bink! and Mike Dean
“Devil in a New Dress” is close to perfection. The chopped-up Smokey Robinson sample from Bink! grabs your soul and caresses it like a newborn baby while inducing possibly Rozay’s finest 16 to date.
“Hard in the Paint” (2010) Waka Flocka Flame
Produced by: Lex Luger
You can’t mention the 2010s wave of trap production without starting with Southside and Lex Luger. Waka’s menacing “Hard in the Paint” was the vehicle that helped drive home the movement, with its terrorizing tones and hard-body use of instrumentation.
“Niggas in Paris” (2011)The Throne
Produced by: Hit-Boy, Kanye West and Mike Dean
Hit-Boy became a hitmaker after producing the Grammy-winning single “Niggas in Paris” for Jay-Z and Kanye West. A club anthem with video game vibes, the instrumental was reportedly first turned down by Pusha-T. Now it stands out as one of the most memorable tracks of the decade.
Produced by: Mustard
Mustard captured hip-hop with his signature sound in the early 2010s. Tyga’s “Rack City” appeared to be where he carved his niche. Whole lotta “hey” chants.
“The Motto” (2011)Drake Featuring Lil Wayne
Produced by: T-Minus
With much bass and hella bounce, T-Minus’ “The Motto” instrumental was a slapper from the go. Drizzy turned it into anthem and the track birthed several remixes from rappers wanting to get in on the action.
“Bandz a Make Her Dance” (2012)Juicy J Featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz
Produced by: Mike Will Made-It
Clap for him. By way of dreamy chords and punching drum kicks, Mike WiLL created the essential strip club track of the past 10 years.
“I Don’t Like” (2012)Chief Keef Featuring Lil Reese
Produced by: Young Chop
The drill sound reached mainstream on the back of Young Chop’s chaotic composition of “I Don’t Like” for Chief Keef. Nothing was the same.
“Dreams and Nightmares” (2012)Meek Mill
Produced by: Beat Bully
Epic is the only way to describe Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares Intro” assembled by Beat Bully. With polar opposite vibes adding to the triumphant tone, the song feels like this decade’s “Victory.”
“I’m Different” (2012)2 Chainz
Produced by: Mustard
Mustard spread the wealth to both coasts in the 2010s. On 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different,” all it took was six piano chords to make one of the most memorable tracks of the decade. Hold the mayo.
Produced by: Zaytoven
The hi-hat god Zaytoven put much work in. On 2013’s “Versace,” the titan of tickling the ivories notched another momentous moment.
“Hot Nigga” (2014)Bobby Shmurda
Produced by: Jahlil Beats
Jahlil Beats’ “Hot Nigga” instrumental sounds like the score to a dangerous encounter in a back ally. A left hook of alarming chords and a gun butt of deep bass made a menacing musical arrangement has heads in the cobra clutch.
Produced by: Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin
Sonny Digital and Metro Boomin ushered in new waves by combining emo and club aesthetics for a psychedelic head trip on Makonnen’s breakout single “Tuesday.” It’s up.
"Alright” (2015)Kendrick Lamar
Produced by: Pharrell Williams and Sounwave
K. Dot’s To Pimp a Butterfly album was steeped in jazz and blues influences and “Alright” is the gap-bridging power anthem we didn’t know we needed. Silky and obtrusive, the Grammy-winning track is a Black Power fist in musical form.
"Look at Me” (2015)XXXTentacion
Produced by: Rojas and Jimmy Duval
XXX’s breakout song and musical middle finger is complete with a fitting soundtrack that will rile the youth for years to come. A dopey melody. Raucous lo-fi bass that smacks you upside the head. Mosh music.
“March Madness” (2015)Future
Produced by: Tarentino
“March Madness” is the only track on Future’s 56 Nights mixtape not produced by Southside and 808 Mafia affiliate Tarentino used his one opportunity to make a classic. The cinematic composition sounds like it should come with a UFO that travels light speed. It's one of Hendrix’s greatest conquests.
Produced by: Menace
Sure, the Future comparisons helped pull in traffic to the song, but Menace’s beat is what made “Panda” one of the most notable tracks in years. With U.K. grime influence, the powerful instrumental spawned over a dozen remixes.
“Bad and Boujee” (2016)Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert
Produced by: Metro Boomin and G Coop
Is Metro Boomin hip-hop producer of the decade? The hits don’t lie. Migos’ infectious “Bad and Boujee” is another lasting moment in the St. Louis beatsmith’s career.
“One Dance” (2016)Drake Featuring WizKid and Kyla
Produced by: Nineteen85, DJ Maphorisa and Noah "40" Shebib
The afrobeats wave took over U.S. rap in the 2010s and Drake was front and center. “One Dance,” one of the biggest songs of 2016, is Drizzy’s finest attempt at catching that wave thanks to Nineteen85, DJ Maphorisa and Noah "40" Shebib.
“XO TourLlif3” (2017)Lil Uzi Vert
Produced by: TM88 and JW Lucas
Emo trap became a thing in the 2010s. One of the staples of the subgenre was Uzi’s “XO Tour Llif3,” which takes listeners down a rabbit hole of sounds. The fact that this track was created by TM88 on a Beats Pill makes the feat even more impressive.
“Magnolia” (2017)Playboi Carti
Produced by: Pi’erre Bourne
With song of the summer consideration, Playboi Carti and Pi’erre Bourne both put themselves on the map with the contagious single “Magnolia.” Deep bass. Pulsating chords. A banger of mass proportions.
“Bodak Yellow” (2017)Cardi B
Produced by: J. White Did It
Bardi’s breakout hit packed some punch on the production end. J. White Did It did his thing on the radio-ready track with relentless 808s and an easily digestible melody that helped the song top the Billboard Hot 100.
Produced by: Metro Boomin
There are tracks that hit different and then there is “Mask Off.” A polished sample juxtaposed against bass that punches like a sledgehammer. Another one for Future and Metro.
Produced by: Pi’erre Bourne
6ix9ine’s “Gummo” took the game by storm. Pi’erre Bourne’s jarring instrumental played the foreground and provided a haunting soundtrack that won’t soon be forgotten.
“Sicko Mode” (2018)Travis Scott Featuring Drake
Produced by: Rogét Chahayed, Hit-Boy, Oz, Cubeatz and Tay Keith
“Sicko Mode” is a heralded banger. A quartet of producers helped create the momentous music arrangement. The switch will always be a “wait for it” moment.
“Old Town Road” (2019)Lil Nas X
Produced by: YoungKio
Leave it up to a little-known beat maker to produce the biggest record of the year. Combining trap and country music elements along with a Nine Inch Nails sample, YoungKio’s strange arrangement will be the beat 2019 is best remembered for.