Real music heads live for a good beat switch. How those diversions are executed is everything though. As usual, the ones with less flaws live rent free in people’s minds, especially hip-hop fans.
Most fans remember their first time listening to Kanye West’s 2016 song “Famous,” which quickly emerged as one ’Ye’s G.O.A.T. tracks thanks to the beat breakdown when Sister Nancy's 1982 dancehall song "Bam Bam" sounds off. The track was finessed by nearly 10 different producers and serves as proof that having multiple sets of hands in the pot isn’t always a bad thing. The same thing can be said for Travis Scott and Drake’s diamond-certified 2018 hit “Sicko Mode,” which tapped five different beat architects to turn one song into three. Or Kendrick Lamar's 2017 track "The Heart Part 4," which can be credited to four respective producers.
Build-up production transitions have a special place in the heart of hip-hop as well. There’s a reason why Meek Mill’s 2012 “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” is respected as one of the best openers in rap. Similarly, that feeling is also why Tee Grizzley’s “First Day Out,” released in 2016, has the same cultural impact.
Some beats are mutated to fit the mold of a featured artist, exemplified on tracks like The Game’s 2019 song “The Code” featuring 21 Savage or A$AP Rocky’s 2015 track “Electric Body” featuring "L.A.'s Puffy" ScHoolboy Q. On both tracks, the transition from point A to point B is so seamless that a listener will look down at their phone to see if the song changed.
No matter how they come, a good production switch-up is everything. Today, double songs aside, XXL spotlights these perfectly executed hip-hop beat transformations that take you from one sound to the other. Here Are 25 Perfectly Executed Hip-Hop Beat Switches. You can listen to them below.
"The Heart Part 4"Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar called on producers Syk Sense, Axlfolie, DJ Dahi and The Alchemist to build the capricious beat of his 2014 ode “The Heart Part 4.” On the five-minute song, K-Dot bobs and weaves through the differing composition styles that go from pacifying soul samples to roaring trap production. Multiple beats are used to bolster this song, but everything is undeniably cohesive and that’s what makes this record and its dynamic sounds elite.
"Famous"Kanye West Featuring Rihanna
Kanye West’s 2016 The Life of Pablo album cut “Famous” houses one of the most fiery beat switches in rap. The encompassing production—laced by ’Ye, Mike Dean, Havoc, Noah Goldstein, Charlie Heat, Hudson Mohawke, Plain Pat and Kuk Harrell—has a few layers to it, from the string-heavy backdrop that accompanies Rihanna’s chorus to the Sister Nancy beat breakdown around the two-minute that samples her song "Bam Bam" and Nina Simone’s "Do What You Gotta Do.” All of the above are executed seamlessly despite the varying tempos and flavors.
"Electric Body"A$AP Rocky Featuring ScHoolboy Q
No one is denying that A$AP Rocky’s music holds some of the best beat transitions in rap. Take for example the 2015 track “Electric Body” featuring ScHoolboy Q, on the Harlem rapper’s sophomore album, At. Long. Last. A$AP. The roping Hector Delgado-made beat launches with a combination of warped piano keys and a simple drum pattern. But as ScHoolboy chimes in for chorus duty, the production switches to something more far more melodic. Throughout the song, new sounds are dropped in, all fitting properly under the same umbrella.
"First Day Out"Tee Grizzley
The beat of Tee Grizzley’s 2016 track “First Day Out” can be credited to Detroit’s own producer Helluva Beats. The record, inspired by Meek Mill’s classic “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro),” goes from calming chords to a rapid-fire key composition that leads the booming beat drop. In a very polished way, this song is the definition of going from zero to 100. And its perfect execution is the reason why it’s among the best post-prison release rap songs of all time.
"Sicko Mode"Travis Scott Featuring Drake
Travis Scott and Drake’s diamond-selling 2018 hit “Sicko Mode” is three songs in one. To accomplish the seamless transitions on this rollercoaster of a beat, there are five sets of hands in the production pot including those of Hit-Boy, OZ, Tay Keith, Cubeatz and Rogét Chahayed. With an all-star team like that, the reactionary beat switches provide one of the best moments on the first listen of Travis' Astroworld album. And to this day, the production ricochets are certain to get you hype as a powerful rap song should.
"Track 6"Ty Dolla $ign Featuring Kanye West, Anderson .Paak and Thundercat
For every Ty Dolla $ign project, there’s a song or two that propels the quality of a good beat transition. On his latest album, 2020's Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, the BoogzDaBeast, TY$ and Damn Jones!-produced beat for “Track 6” featuring Kanye West, Anderson .Paak and Thundercat goes from rap&B vibes to a rock-centric one, led by a primary electric guitar progression midway. Though both sides can stand as singles on their own, the change is so smooth that it doesn't even feel like the beat switches.
"The Code"The Game Featuring 21 Savage
The Game’s 21 Savage-assisted track “The Code,” which arrived in 2019, starts with an angelic soulful sample but once 21’s part comes in, the Prince, Tec Beatz, Big Duke and Titus E Johnson-laced beat takes a new shape. To fit the Atlanta rapper’s street style, the beat changes around the three-minute mark with trap inspiration to sound like something straight off his Savage Mode album. Working around the featured artist has nothing but positive effects, as you can hear on this one.
"Flex"Playboi Carti Featuring Leven Kali
The spacey Kasim Got Juice and J. Cash Beats-crafted beat of Playboi Carti’s 2017 track “Flex” will put you in a dream world. The production switch-up created to accompany Leven Kali’s part has a “chef’s kiss'' effect in the way that its harmony is transcendent. Around the two-minute mark, the meme of Pooh Bear leaving his body comes to life as the song slows and takes yet another transition. That’s the reason why this is still one of Carti’s best songs in his catalog.
"Cokewhite"Goldlink Featuring Pusha-T
As one of the most underrated entries on this list, Goldlink and Pusha-T’s 2019 collab “Cokewhite” features a pristine beat switch between Push’s part and the “Crew” rapper's rhymes. Just over the one-minute mark, the track uses high-pitched strings to hasten the beat. If you remember listening through Goldlink's 2019 album, Diaspora, for the first time, you probably looked down to see if the song changed after hearing this transition. And that speaks to the flawless work of Fwdslxsh, Md$ and P2J for laying the foundation.
"Fake Names"Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
Freddie Gibbs is good for bodying a good beat switch, especially when he has someone like Madlib to lace it for him. Their 2019 Bandana cut “Fake Names” has a classic transition just before the two minute mark that will make your face scrunch. The alteration is a quintessential example of boomeranging between two different sounds. With almost 30 years in the game, Madlib flexed his seasoned sauce with this one.
Baby Keem’s 2019 track “Stats" erupts with a grungy beat that’s fit for his freestyle flow. But right as your head starts to bob a minute in, a new, classy sound is pump-faked before going back to the original feel. Thanks to production from Keem himself and producers Keanu Beats and Kal Banks, “Stats” is interrupted with soft piano keys. It aptly reverts back to the trap-heavy vibe again to end the record, and features a new beat in the second half.
If you ask the streets or your social media timeline about the best beat switches in rap, it’s guaranteed that multiple people will respond with that of J.I.D’s 2016 song “Never.” Halfway through this standout song, the Christo and Childish Major-crafted production is separated with a record scratch before introducing a much more striking, whistle-heavy counterpart. Notably, it's smooth sailing here on the journey from point A to point B.
There were plenty of Drake-focused beat switches we could have utilized for this list, but none quite rival the memorable one on the 2013 Nothing Was the Same album classic “Come Thru.” The B-side track, credited to Drizzy’s right-hand producer 40, is initiated with a mid-tempo rhythm, but as the song ends, the beat is decelerated and distorted as the repeated word “through” helps to accentuate the sound. Like the beginning of “Crew Love” or the breakdown on “Take Care,” the change provides one of the best moments to come from listening through the 6 God’s song archive.
"Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)"Meek Mill
Meek Mill’s 2012 “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” is rightfully regarded as one of the best preludes for an album, Dreams and Nightmares, in hip-hop history. The Tone the Beat Bully-produced beat begins with enchanting piano keys, but around the one-minute-and- a-half mark, assisted by the proper placement of a Maybach Music Group tag, the combative beat fires off and Meek’s energy catches up to pace. Everything about this one is about as infectious, accepted and fit for any occasion, from parties to championship sporting events.
Young Money’s first label compilation, We Are Young Money, in 2009, flexed the prowess of each artist, especially on the album's last song “Finale.” For all 10 verses, the beat is adjusted to match the delivery, tone and flow of whoever the focus is. For Drake’s part, the clapping snare is much louder to highlight his witty bars. For singer Shantell’s part, the melody is emphasized to accompany her euphonious belting. And for Lil Wayne’s outro, the beat adopts three different molds to let the head honcho shine in every way. It’s quite the challenge to make one beat work for a near dozen acts, but producers OnHel and Infamous hit the ball out of the park with this joint.
"Interstate 10"Mustard Featuring Future
Mustard’s “Interstate 10,” a track featured on his 2019 album, Perfect Ten, is configured with two divergent flavors. The first is a Latin-inspired, guitar-driven foundation that Future sharply pokes his bars into. And the second, positioned as an outro, provides a slow, sedated backdrop for the Atlanta rapper to croon over. The transformation is nothing short of amazing. Attention to detail like this is what makes the production trio of Mustard, GYLTTRYP and Justus West a force to be reckoned with.
Every top-tier artist knows how to zig-zag through any beat. On J. Cole’s 2014 track “G.O.M.D.,” he doesn’t shy away from the switch-up at the end of the song. Instead, he embraces it by punching in even more quotable bars as the record’s Afro-inspired soundscape unpeels another layer. The breakdown sets up part one perfectly for part two. That respectable nod can be given to Cole himself, who’s proving that he’s just as nice on the boards as he is with the pen.
"Pressure in My Palms" Aminé Featuring Slowthai and Vince Staples
The first half of Aminé's 2020 song, “Pressure in My Palms” featuring Slowthai and Vince Staples, is bold and abrasive. But the second half takes the form of an alter ego that’s much more chill and spirited. The Pasqué-laced beat, co-produced with Aminé, stuffs two two different tastes into one dish. Like something sweet and salty, both sides mesh into each beautifully and benefit from one another.
"Proud of U"EarthGang Featuring Young Thug
EarthGang’s entire 2019 major label debut album Mirrorland is packed with beat reworks. But none compare to the perfect switch on “Proud of U.” The Young Thug-assisted track, produced by Olu, sheds its bubbly DNA for a sped-up breakdown toward the end of the track. It eventually goes back to square one without you noticing, which is a feat in itself.
Eminem deserves a standing ovation for the way he floated through the D.A Got That Dope-designed beat of his 2020 song “GNAT.” The first three quarters of the record are packed with a replicated guitar string progression, but that beat switch at the end, backed by what sounds like a xylophone and a trumpet, is what takes the cake. Other than the quick gunshot effect, you would have to slow this beat down to hear the point of the transition. That’s how it should be.
Songs like 2014's “Soul Food” or 2018's “Midnight” are obvious choices when we’re talking about beat switches finessed by Logic. But Bobby’s 2018 track “YSIV” is among the best that there is to discuss, too. The boom-bap production style, credited to DMV producer 6ix, adopts a new mold midway through the record. Impressively, it will catch you off guard like all established beat alterations do at first, making it deserving enough to be planted on this list.
The beat of Future’s “Baptiize,” released on his 2019 album, Future Hndrxx Presents: The Wizrd, is a multi-layered wonder. Tag-teamed by Southside and Fuse, the production interpolates the Atlanta rapper’s DS2 gem “Slave Master” near the halfway mark. If that wasn’t powerful enough on its own, the following seconds feature another switch-up that any trapper would have a field day with. The song in its entirety is built strong enough to be a classic on any Future project. Trust that.
Pusha-T's "Santeria," off his 2018 Daytona LP, will force your head to knock on impact. The Mike Dean and Kanye West-constructed beat samples Soul Mann & the Brothers' "Bumpy's Lament" for the first minute, but a few seconds after, 070 Shake's voice can be heard stealing the show. After her a cappella and some additional words from Push, a gritty beat falls into place. 070 Shake's singing is the transition from beat to beat. Without a doubt, great minds know how impactful that could be.
Childish Gambino's 2013 album, Because the Internet, is widely regarded as a modern day rap classic. But as evidenced on his song "Worldstar," that salute cannot be given without keeping the production in mind. The beginning of the metronome-driven beat changes drastically by the end of the song, which adopts a jazz pattern that's fronted by a saxophone. Producer Ludwig Göransson and Gambino delivered something special with this transition.
OK, you knew that this one was coming. Mac Miller's 2018 Swimming album hit "Self Care" is split by tempo and note scale. Just over the three-minute mark, the standout song is reduced to something much more tranquil while keeping its calming energy consistent. To get from the beginning to the end, producers DJ Dahi, ID Labs and Nostxglic didn't complicate the transition. In this case, the abrupt switch works well.
Bonus: "Nights"Frank Ocean
Though “Nights” by Frank Ocean, on the hip-hop singer's 2016 album, Blonde, isn’t a rap song, we can’t talk about perfectly executed beat transitions without mentioning the iconic one on this song. Many words aren't needed to express how valid the transition is from part one to part two, but what can be said is thank you to producers Vegyn, Michael Uzowuru, Buddy Ross and Frank himself for their production duties.