Breaking down 3 contrasting tracks co-produced by Kenny Beats

Hailed as a “rap therapist” by Rolling Stone, there’s no doubt that Kenny Beats is most known for his contributions to hip hop.

However, that’s not to say that his musical talents aren’t incredibly diverse—many may not even be aware of the fact that his early career was devoted to EDM, for example. With that in mind, below we take a look at three recent tracks from three contrasting artists—Vince Staples, Joji, and Ed Sheeran—that Kenny Beats had a hand in, analyzing how he applies different sides of his musicality to best serve each artist.

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Vince Staples’ “ARE YOU WITH THAT?” (2021)

The opening to Vince Staples’ self-titled album, “ARE YOU WITH THAT” is a track that serves as a highly effective demonstration of juxtaposition; the weight of the lyrics (which reflect on Vince’s mortality and upbringing surrounded by violence) are contrasted with his smooth and gentle delivery.

The production also seamlessly aligns itself with this creative decision. The drums and 808s are loud, dry, centered, and heavy. These characteristics keenly contrast the supporting chords, which are light, wet, panned, and ambient; the high frequencies are entirely cut out, making the sound feel as though it’s submerged underwater. The major tonal center also gives the track a complex melancholy feeling when paired with the somber lyrics.

Vince’s self-titled album is one of his most personal works yet, and it makes sense that he selected Kenny Beats as his partner in developing tracks across the record. Through their banter in The Cave it’s clear that while they take friendly jabs at each other, the two have a close relationship that makes working on this sort of project possible.

Joji’s “Mr. Hollywood” (2020)

Joji’s “Mr. Hollywood” is another melancholy track, but the angle is entirely different. A delicate love song, “Mr. Hollywood” tells the story of staying grounded and being there for someone despite any amount of fame and stardom.

Once again, the instrumentation and production effortlessly assist in communicating the narrative. The lo-fi intro evokes the image of the song playing on speakers somewhere, perhaps in the room of the person it was written about. From there, sustained chords, electric bass plucks, and crisp drums establish the timeless R&B-love-song mood. A booming 808 positioned underneath it all gives the track a contemporary aesthetic, and also creates a great moment of contrast when it cuts out at 1:23—making the subsequent section feel light and indescribably sweet.

Ed Sheeran’s “Take Me Back to London (feat. Stormzy)” (2019)

Last but not least is a track from pop superstar Ed Sheeran. In “Take Me Back to London,” Ed teams up with UK grime veteran Stormzy to reminisce about their shared London roots and celebrate how far they’ve come.

Produced alongside the likes of Skrillex and FRED, this track demonstrates Kenny’s ability to adapt, collaborate, and apply his skills to more radio-minded contexts. Lo-fi samples and washed-out textures are exchanged for clean pizzicato strings and tightly-quantized drums, and grime influences are meticulously balanced with a pop polish. That said, Kenny’s unmistakable driving energy can definitely be felt through it all.

What are your favorite productions from Kenny Beats? Let us know in the comments below.

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October 25, 2021

Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a composer, content strategist, and writer who’s passionate about democratizing music creation and education. He leads the Splice blog and produces vocaloid music as Namaboku.