To say that producers play an important role in hip-hop is the understatement of the century. Without producers making beats, there wouldn't be rap music. Some would say that producers are the unsung heroes of hip-hop, and don't get the credit they deserve. Years ago, I might have agreed. However, the music world has grown, and producers have begun to share the spotlight with the rappers and singers they work with. That's largely thanks to Leland Wayne, or as you might know him, Metro Boomin.
Metro was born and raised in St. Louis, but he's famous for his work in Atlanta. Metro started making beats when he was in high school, and when he was in 11th grade, he started to make connections with 1017 Bricksquad, a label founded and owned by Gucci Mane. Metro's mother would drive him back and forth to Georgia, an 8 hour drive, so that he could deliver beats to OJ Da Juiceman. OJ was the first popular rapper to work with Metro, and some of Metro's earliest placements were on OJ's Culinary Art School 2 in 2011. Metro produced "Make Crack Like This 2011," "Whole Calendar," and more. As he continued to work with OJ, Metro started to meet more of his posse. Through working with Bricksquad, he met producer Don Cannon and landed a spot on Big Sean's Finally Famous Vol 3: BIG, on the song "Hometown." These older songs feature some tags from Metro Boomin that are rarely used in his newer songs, such as a female voice simply saying "Metro", a far cry from the tags he uses today. In 2012, Metro found himself on the set of OJ's "I Sell" music video, where he met and exchanged numbers with the Bricksquad boss, himself Gucci Mane, a genuine star. Metro Boomin had officially leveled up.
Following this major turning point in his career, Metro swiftly started working on becoming a household name. Early in 2013, Metro charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with Future's "Karate Chop." This was a huge moment for both of their careers, as this song helped propel Metro to the A-List, and Future to superstardom. It was also the start of a beautiful friendship that would be beyond infulential for both artists. Metro and Future landed an even bigger hit later in the year with "Honest." These songs reflect hip-hop's mainstream style at this time, eccentric beats with hard-hitting drums and synths that sounded like they might be an intro theme for a sci-fi movie. Other producers at the time were experimenting with similar sounds (see Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV for plenty of examples), but what really set Metro apart was his ability to spice up these beats with eccentric keyboard melodies, dark horns, and all sorts of samples that added just a hint of evil into his instrumentals, which is part of what helped set Metro apart from other producers at the time. While he wasn't redifining rap just yet, he had barely started his career. There was a lot to look forward from Metro Boomin.
Metro closed out 2013 with a landmark release, 19 & Boomin. This was the first solo release from Metro, and it featured a slew of rappers, from familiar faces like Future, Gucci Mane, and OJ, to newer collaborators like Young Thug and Ace Hood. While there are many great tracks throughout 19 & Boomin, by far the biggest is the Young Thug assisted "Some More." This track, aside from being an excellent trap song featuring co-production from TM88 of 808 Mafia and Sonny Digital, is the source of one of Metro's most iconic tags; "Metro Boomin want some more nigga." This line, spoken by Young Thug, would come to be a calling card for the St. Louis producer, and help grow his brand as the most recogniziable producer in the rap world.
Metro Boomin kicked off 2014 with his most succesful song yet, ILoveMakkonen's "Tuesday" which, after recieving a remix from Drake, would go on to chart at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sonically, "Tuesday" is a far cry from the Future and Thug tracks that Metro was known for up to this point, being a spacy, Toronto-style collaboration with Sonny Digital. Through work on songs like these, Metro was able to quickly demonstrate his versatility. Hit singles aside, 2014 proved to be, far and away, the most important year for Metro's career. That summer, Metro worked with Travis Scott (then Travi$) on his classic mixtape, Days Before Rodeo. Metro worked on "BACC," "Mamacita," "Basement Freestyle," and the fan favorite "Skyfall." Much like his work on Future's Honest, this work with Travis proved to be the beginning of an amazing partnership that would continue for years. However, unlike Honest, Days Before Rodeo was where Metro really started to develop his sound. All of his songs had always had hard hitting drums, strong bass, and a sinster tone to set the mood. However, from this point on, Metro was scoring horror movies. "Skyfall" is a dark, evil, slow-tempo song that makes it feel like Halloween even it it's played in the middle of summer. "Mamacita" makes use of a Bobby Bland sample and truly incredible percussion to create a canvas for a then young, hungry, and angry Travis to dominate the track.
At this point, Metro had established himself as the go to producer for a beat that would be perfect to commit a murder to. In a 2014 interview with BMI, he stated that: “I’ve always liked horror movies, and scary sounding stuff, which is the opposite of who I am: charismatic and silly,” but despite his personality, he likes to add a "hard" edge to his music. Taking this theme and running with it, Metro served as the executive producer a tape for Future that fall, Monster. Dropping on Halloween, Future and Metro did all they could to match the holiday theme. The tape explores themes of, well, being a monster. Future uses Metro's dark beats (he produced 5 of the 14 songs on the tape) to express his negative, angry, and evil energy. Even at this relatively early stage of his career, it was already evident that Metro had a lot of influence on his peers. Some non-Metro songs on Monster, "Throw Away" for example, seem like high-quality Metro type beats, with dark, ambient sounds over intense precussion. This is not to say that producers like Nard & B or DJ Plugg were biting Metro's sound, just that Metro had a lot of influence over the sound direction at the time.
Over the next year, Metro continued to push this eerie, evil, sound and the hip-hop world took notice. Big Sean released the smash album Dark Sky Paraidse that Febuary, and though Metro didn't produce for it, his influence is all over the project. Hip-hop as a whole took a shift towards a darker sound, with everyone from Mike Will Made It to Vinylz working on low-tempo, sinister beats. Metro himself was busy producing for Travis Scott's debut album, Rodeo, where he handled production for 4 songs, notably the single "3500." Other album cuts like "Wasted" helped highlight what made Metro so special, his drums. Metro had at this point mastered drums far better than many other producers at the time. Even on songs that strayed from his trademark dark sound, Metro consistently laid the best drums in the game. Superstar producers like Kanye West would even call on Metro to put drums on their songs (see the pre-Metro Father Stretch My Hands demo "Liberated" and compare it to the album version to really notice the difference).
2015 was full of success for Metro Boomin, aside from Rodeo he worked on Future's DS2, producing on 12 of the 13 songs on the album. The production on this album adds almost a hint of sadness to the evil, while still keeping the same menacing tone throughout. It also features some of Metro's most left-field beats, like "I Serve The Base," which is a Yeezus-esque distortion of synths that could only be handled by someone like Future. Aside from that, the album contained the standout single "Where Ya At," which had a Drake feature verse. This combo of Future, Drake, and Metro seemed to work pretty well, #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 well. It's thanks to this song that later on in the year, the three reunited to release the chart-topping What A Time To Be Alive.
It probably goes without saying that Metro, Drake, and Future had captured lightning in a bottle. Anyone who was on social media at this time will probably remember endless memes about how good What A Time was. The album captured the public attention for months, and that's probably thanks to the smash hit "Jumpman". This song was not only incredibly popular, but it also debuted Metro's new tag, his most famous: "If Young Metro don't trust you.. I'm gon' shoot you." Unlike producer tags of the past, often featuring unnamed vocalists, this tag featured the superstar Future spitting an iconic line. This tag played a key role in Metro's brand recognition, as more songs dropped featuring the line, suddenly everyone knew the name Metro Boomin. This hype reached its peak with the release of Kanye West's The Life of Pablo, featuring the afforementioned "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1." This song features the most recogniziable use of the "If Young Metro..." tag, spawning vines, and millions of memes across the internet.
The brand recognition that Metro gained can't be understated, before this point many casual listeners simply knew the rappers featured on a track, not who produced the beat. Many other tags weren't as catchy, and didn't immediately identify the producer to those who wouldn't look it up. Producers like Mike Will had good tags for sure, but nothing like having two tags given by two of rap's biggest figures. It may seem ridiculous nowadays to give all this attention to people recognizing producers, everyone knows Pi'erre Bourne and Murda Beatz nowadays. That's all because of Metro. His distinct sound, and overall great quality control helped him build an impeccable brand. Since he wasn't firing off beats to every no-name who asked, Metro's beats were in demand. If you were working with him, you were talented. Artists like Young Thug who would team up with Metro for songs like "Hercules" or "Speed Racer" would benefit from using his name, due to his fame alone. This was new ground for producers, and ever since that Future tag became an online meme, the landscape of hip-hop began to change.
Thanks to his growing influence, Metro started to find new talent to work with. Later in 2016, Metro linked up with 21 Savage to release Savage Mode, a collaborative mixtape which spawned two massive hits, "X" and "No Heart." For a rookie like 21, this was beyond impressive. Metro helped craft the perfect beats like the constantly evolving "X" instrumental to compliment 21's already evil, cold delivery. 21 owes his success in part to Metro, and Metro can thank 21 for some of the biggest songs of his career.
Continuing to breakdown each release Metro had a hand in would quickly turn this piece into a 500 page article, so I'll run through some of the important ones. Metro reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in his career with Migos & Lil Uzi Vert's "Bad and Boujee," another song that exploded thanks in part to the power of memes. Metro also worked with Uzi on the hit song "You Was Right," though Uzi and Metro had already been working together since 2014. Going into 2017, Metro produced more hits than ever before. Post Malone's "Congratulations" became a top 10 hit, as did Future's "Mask Off." Metro also found success with 21 Savage again on "Bank Account," and he also linked with Drake & Offset for "No Complaints," Metro's first solo release since 2013. Metro also released a collaborative tape with NAV, Pefect Timing, a tape with Gucci Mane, DropTopWop, and an album with Big Sean, Double Or Nothing.
The biggest move Metro made in 2017, however, was Without Warning. This suprise mixtape released on Halloween and was a joint effort from Offset, Metro Boomin, and 21 Savage. Regular collaborators Quavo and Travis Scott made appearances, and Offset's track "Ric Flair Drip" became a smash hit. Without Warning was truly a suprise, and is still considered to be one of the strongest releases in the past decade by many fans. 21's slow monotone blends perfectly with Offset's menacing triplets, all playing out over Metro's darkest, scariest beats yet, chock full of samples and sounds that will make you shiver in broad daylight.
Coming off the successes of the previous year, many people expected big things from Metro in 2018. He started the year off strong with an executive production credit on Gunna's Drip Season 3, but after that, Metro dissapeared. While most of the rap world was baffled by his absence, looking back it makes perfect sense. Metro had done so much work in 2017, his sound was potentially in danger of becoming saturated. The exclusivity was fading from a Metro Boomin beat. His solution? Don't produce anything. Metro has a total of 0 singles charting on the Hot 100 for 2018 where he isn't the lead artist. The rest of hip-hop began to evolve in his absence, with producers like Southside stepping in to fill the role of the dark producer that Metro left behind.
After a quiet year, however, a billboard appeared in October.
This turned out to be the teaser for his long awaited debut album, Not All Heroes Wear Capes(thank god he changed the title... "All Heroes Don't Wear Capes"??? Who approved that?). This album featured an all-star cast of Metro's most notable collaborators old and new, Gucci Mane, Travis Scott, 21 Savage, Swae Lee, Gunna, Young Thug, Offset, Kodak Black, and more. Future was notably absent from this list, sparking rumors of a beef, but those were squashed by Metro and Future in the following year. This album featured a new Metro, a more advanced Metro, keeping the dark vibes but implementing vocal samples ("Overdue", "Borrowed Love"), even producing dancehall ("Only You"). Metro had spent the better part of a decade working with the best artists in the game to establish his sound, a sound which diffused throughout hip-hop, but he was ready to be more versatile and start experimenting before. Not All Heroes is so important because not only was it a triumphant return for a hip-hop titan, a legendary producer led album with features from the best in the game, and an album with multiple hits, but it was an album that showed that Metro Boomin was without a doubt the best producer in the game. Those who called him one-note couldn't argue with his most versatile body of work yet, and longtime fans still got to enjoy that Metro Boomin flair on all of the tracks.
After knocking it out of the park with an incredibly popular album, what next for Metro? Well, that remains to be seen. Metro closed 2018 with production on 21 Savage's i am > i was, another album hailed as important artistic development for both 21 and Metro. The beginning of 2019 saw him and Southside, as So Icey Boyz, tackle Offset's Father of 4. Following that, there was a whole lot of nothing. Metro went back into hibernation. He made a breif appearance over the summer to confirm Savage Mode 2 with 21 Savage, and again on Halloween to shoot down Without Warning 2 rumors. The only other major release the self-proclaimed "sleeping giant" was a part of was the chart-topping "Heartless" by The Weeknd. Following that, Metro started to tease a "phase 2," which could mean more activity, a new album, or is maybe just a reference to the upcoming Savage Mode sequel. No matter what, the world is watching to see what he does next.
When looking back on his career, its remarkable how much Metro accomplished in such a short period of time. Within a year of his first major placements, he was already influencing his peers musically. Metro helped grow the careers of superstars like Young Thug, Future, 21 Savage, and Lil Uzi Vert all while developing his own brand. But above all else, his most important accomplishment is how he broke down barriers for producers. Thanks to iconic producer tags coupled with viral hits, Metro established his own brand instead of just being a background figure like many other producers. In putting the spotlight on himself, he also put the spotlight on producers as a whole, ushering in a new era of recognition for producers like Mike Will Made It, Murda Beats, Pi'erre Bourne, London on da Track, jetsonmade, and hundreds more. Thanks to a kid from St. Louis, producers are now more respected, more vauled, and getting way more creative than ever before in hip-hop. I hope you trust us Metro, because we sure trust you.