+ Bridge the worlds of theory, improvisation, and jazzy hip-hop, and improve your piano chops with Grammy-winner Kiefer in his course, Kiefer: Keys, Chords, & Beats.
A new phenomenon in contemporary music is the emergence of innovative hip-hop-leaning producers, who, in addition to being able to turn a killer groove, are also skilled instrumentalists.
What makes these producer-instrumentalists unique is that they use technology to sculpt their sound in the production phase — and in a performance setting, they essentially reproduce their tracks in real-time using remix effects, live arrangements, or further explorations of the themes on the record.
You may very well even see some of the artists on this list tapping away at the keys on stage, too…
Before this trend, producers would usually double as DJs when it came time to play their tracks live. The DJ-producer combination most likely came about because producers wanted to solve a problem: figuring out whether their song was a hit or not. By having the ability to DJ, producers could test out their material in the club and get an immediate reaction from dancing clubgoers.
Similarly, producers now desire to be recognized as “artists” in their own right, and grab some of the limelight typically reserved for singers and songwriters. Producer-instrumentalists such as Quincy Jones (trumpet), David Foster (piano/french horn) and contemporary producers such as Mark Ronson (guitar/bass/drums/synths) and St. Vincent (vocals/guitar/keyboards/percussion) have created a template for musicians who can also chop it up in the studio chair.
Additionally, increased accessibility to music technology and education has made it easier to create music and bridge the gap between producing and performing. So with all that in mind, let’s check out our list of seven of our favorite producer-instrumentalists on the scene right now. And here’s a Spotify Playlist we put together to introduce you to all of them together.
We’re starting with Kiefer because, well, our incredible online course that we’ve made in partnership with him just launched! In it, Kiefer showcases his approach to the piano and keys, and making modern piano-based beat music, by tackling various writing challenges and explaining how he creatively navigates each one. He explores how to write sophisticated and soulful chord changes, harmonize with a melody, manifest exciting solos, fashion short loops into interesting beats, and so much more. Check out Kiefer: Keys, Chords, & Beats!
But now let’s turn to his music! Kiefer is a virtuosic keyboardist with a sound that is steeped in Black American musics like jazz, hip-hop, and soul. Kiefer’s production style is a combination of lo-fi hip-hop beats, melodic lyricism, and jazz improvisation. He combines these elements in an intimate and deeply soulful way. In a live setting, Kiefer expands on the themes of his songs with arrangements that augment and vary the composition away from the original recording.
Mndsgn, aka Ringgo Ancheta, is a Los Angeles based producer of hip-hop and beat driven electronic music, but on his recently released album, Rare Pleasure, he transitions to more of a songwriter, flexing his vocal- and lyric-writing skills. Although well-steeped in sample-based music and jazzy hip-hop, Mndsgn’s musical ear candy revolves predominantly around spirituality and mental wholeness, offering quite a refreshing perspective on the self-centric nature of today’s pop music material.
3. Salami Rose Joe Louis
Salami Rose Joe Louis is a producer, performer, and planetary scientist who makes music that is ethereal, quirky, electronic, and beautiful. Salami Rose Joe Louis sings and plays an assortment of keyboards, guitars, sequencers, live loopers, drum machines, and shreds on the harmonica (one of her many secret weapons). She is also a member of the hip-hop and soul collective Joomanji.
+ Learn more with a Soundfly Mentor: “Work 1-on-1 With the Mix Engineer Behind Run The Jewels, Action Bronson, More.”
4. DJ Harrison
DJ Harrison is one of those once-in-a-generation talents who can play any instrument and make it sound amazing. In addition, he has a prolific recording catalog with 32 records available on Bandcamp, and 9 records out with his band, Butcher Brown. Throughout DJ Harrison’s discography, he plays drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, and occasionally sings. With Butcher Brown, DJ Harrison performs with various synthesizers, Rhodes, piano, and organ. The instruments just keep piling up.
5. Bad Snacks
Bad Snacks is a multi-instrumentalist who sings, plays violin, guitar, keyboards, and bass. Bad Snacks uses effects from the Roland SP-404 to remix her tracks in live performances and also uses a diverse analog pedalboard to add reverb, delays, and glitch effects to her violin and synthesizers. And not only that, her YouTube channel is filled with tutorials and gear breakdowns that should help any amateur producer or instrumentalist get better acquainted with their home studio setup!
J3PO is known for his keyboard prowess and his unique sensibility for colorful synth sound design and textures. J3PO’s catalog consists of music that is influenced by hip-hop, electronica, jazz, and soul music. In live performances, he is known for performing with pedals that add remix style effects to his keyboards that range of lush verbs, analog tape-style delays, and glitch effects. He is also a part of the contemporary soul and hip-hop collective The Lesson GK.
Swarvy is a prolific producer-artist known for his constant collaborations with singers, rappers, producers, and instrumentalists in the Los Angeles area (as well as beyond). Swarvy himself plays bass, keys, drums, and guitars, throughout his discography, and on stage in live performances. Swarvy frequently collaborates with MNDSGN, Devin Morrison, and Kiefer on different projects — so you know that scene is strong!
Other producer-instrumentalists to check out:
- Devin Morrison — An LA-based keyboardist and vocalist blending gospel style harmonies and modern soul in an electronic context.
- Melanie Charles — A Brooklyn-based vocalist, flautist, keyboardist, and producer with a unique style that blends Haitian folk music with jazz and hip-hop.
- Anomalie — An amazing pianist and sound design wizard based in Montreal known for his smooth beats.
- Knxwledge — A playful producer based in LA using unique samples and crazy drum programming for a wholly unique and sought-after sound.
Don’t stop here!
Keep learning about theory and harmony, composing and arranging, songwriting, and more, with Soundfly’s in-depth online courses. Subscribe for access to all, including The Creative Power of Advanced Harmony, Orchestration for Strings, and our exciting new course with Grammy-winning pianist and producer, Kiefer: Keys, Chords, & Beats.