Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
In 2012, MetroBoomin (real name Leland Wayne) moved to Atlanta to study. Soon enough, he was working on mixtape joints for rappers like Alley Boy, OJ Da Juiceman and SL Jones, until his beat for Future’s Karate Chop turned him into a major player and he was able to focus on the music full-time.
Unlike many rap producers who have a particularly good summer, Metro hasn’t just pinned down a sound for the club. Celebrating his success isn’t the same as lauding a prolific hit-maker in the way that people fussed over Hit-Boy, Mike Will Made It or DJ Mustard. There is a dexterity to Metro’s work where he seems to understand exactly how the artist should be presented in that moment. His beats are weird when they need to be, stupid when they need to be and they can even veer into unsettling and unnerving realms. It would be all too easy to assume that he just makes instrumentals for the club. Hopefully, a run through these stellar Metro triumphs will show that the 22 year old is in fact one of rap music’s most accomplished and in-tune figures.
One of the best beats showcasing the adeptness of a Metro production. While Travi$ Scott’s severely over-hyped debut was disappointing on a lot of counts, this stirring instrumental created a definite standout. Totally adapting to Scott’s bruised nightcrawler identity, the gaudy electric guitars against the crunching bass make a good enough backdrop for 2 Chainz to rap about backstroking to his children’s room. This song is like the Mad Max of rap of 2015 – apocalyptic, wearing and extreme.
Metro hasn’t produced for Gucci nearly as often as we would like, but this cut from Guwop’s 2013 ‘Trap Back 2’ mixtape shows that he understood the melodrama and extremities that come with a Gucci Mane tape. The “drunker than a white man” hook is backed by a suitably theatrical string-led instrumental. Metro’s knack for opulent and intentionally overdone production was perfect for Gucci’s lighter moments.
A blinding example of Metro’s penchant for Atlanta molly rap. While Peewee Longway might not have yet lived up to the expectations of being ATL’s next major export, the 1.5m YouTube views on Sneakin N Geekin are well deserved. Metro uses some dizzy synth melodies to create a kind of strip club psychedelia. Built with drum sounds of the club but presented with a glaze of off-kilter trippiness.
Perhaps the most definitive of the ‘definitive’ MetroBoomin productions – rattling, quick-fire and weird. Future’s clipped, staccato flow bolts around the sirens and the fleeting piano keys. This cut ended up catapulting Future into the major leagues amidst album postponements and controversy surrounding a dodgy Lil Wayne lyric on the remix. It ended up as a bonus track on 2014’s ‘Honest’, but this track was never really about the rapper. The organised chaos at play on this instrumental is signature MetroBoomin: a whirlpool of ad-libs, smash mouth drum sounds and delicate refrains.
Metro was pretty instrumental in Future’s return to dominance after his lacklustre major label LP ‘Honest’. As well as having a hand in his explosive string of mixtapes, he produced the bulk of ‘Dirty Sprite 2’ and helped Future pin down this fascinating and unnerving sound. Lyrically, ‘DS2’ is almost completely based around nihilism and non-stop hedonism. Metro managed to capture not just the full-pelt energy of the bender, but the creeping paranoia of the aftermath. Every song on the album carries an air of warped psychosis. In terms of a cohesive body of work, ‘DS2’ is Metro’s finest hour.
Kourtney Money hasn’t exactly taken over the rap game (he last tweeted in 2012 saying he was ready to get it), but this is a lesser know beat from Metro that really knocks and shows his undying affinity with street mixtape cuts. Its an explosive, simple, super-bass-heavy beat with some of the best off-set ad-libs you’ll find in all of Metro’s rich discography. The likelihood is that Kourtney’s number has been roundly deleted from Metro’s phonebook but this is definitely one of his most underrated productions.
One of the best uses of Metro’s iconic sonic producer tag. Nicki Minaj – despite unshakable top 5 status – is still a rapper that needs the optimum producer to show the dated naysayers just how incredible she is at rapping. MetroBoomin came through on ‘The Pinkprint’ with this fantastically ferocious instrumental. Sliding in and out of earshot, lines like “Is pigs flying? Is these bitches trying me?” surf across the beat with all the nonchalance of rolling up to the club like you’re Nicki Minaj. This beat didn’t just give way to an LP highlight – it put Nicki’s flow at the fore and effortlessly reaffirmed her indomitable reign.
Keef’s older cousin Fredo Santana is an oft-overlooked rapper. This song shows off his dangerous flow impeccably. For this starring turn featuring fellow Chi-Town hero Lil Durk, Metro turns in one of his most frenetic and direct beats. There’s an almost DJ-like instinct to the way this instrumental plays out with the flattened, hi-hat free breaks and the frequent mini-breakdowns. He knows when to put a hook on acappella and when to leave it with the spiralling, nauseous synth lines.
Metro worked with ATL beat-making demigod Sonny Digital a lot on iLoveMakonnen’s first proper release and this instrumental might be their greatest triumph. It was tracks like this that painted the picture of Makonnen as the Morrissey of rap: forlorn, longing, heartbroken. Rather than giving Makonnen the kind of overt sounds he saves for characters like Gucci, Metro’s instrumental here is a minimal masterclass. Minor key melodies and thick organ sounds give-way to Makonnen’s heavy crooning. While Tuesday was the cut that gave them the hit, tracks like Sarah further prove Metro’s adeptness as a producer. Understanding the artist, and presenting them in the most effective way possible.
No definitive rundown of MetroBoomin instrumentals in 2015 could end without a mention of ‘What A Time To Be Alive’. When Drake launched the tape on his Apple Music radio show, he thanked Metro personally for his work ethic and his commitment to their joint venture. Much like ‘Watch The Throne’ succeeded on account of actually managing to sound wealthy, ‘Big Rings’ is Metro’s most lavish and showy instrumental. Out of all the tracks on the tape, this is the one where a middle ground is found between Drake’s flow and Future’s scattergun auto-tuned warbling – the only song on the tape where neither rapper sound like a guest. A complex and nuanced achievement like this rolled out for two of the biggest rappers on the planet. And he just getting started.
Drake and Future's joint mixtape 'What A Time To Be Alive' featuring MetroBoomin productions is out now (buy / stream).