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Zaytoven has helped to define trap music over the last decade.He’s branded his style: “Hard club music with nice, friendly melodies.” Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’re familiar with the list of Atlanta stars whose sound he’s entirely or partially shaped: Gucci Mane, Future, Migos, OJ Da Juiceman, Que, Rich Homie Quan, Rich Kidz, Rocko, Waka Flocka Flame, and Young Scooter have all worked with the Grammy winner. Over the years, he’s dropped innumerable great beats. The following is an abridged (and necessarily incomplete) list of some of his best productions.
“Something Crucial” by JT the Bigga Figga on the 1999 album, Something Crucial
Growing up, Zay was a military brat and lived all over the world. During high school his family lived in San Francisco and he met JT the Bigga Figga after a high school football game when the rapper was impressed with Zaytoven’s skills on the keyboard. JT taught Zay how to produce and this song was his first placement on a project.
“Icy” by Gucci Mane featuring Young Jeezy and Boo on the 2005 album, Trap House
This song put Gucci Mane in the spotlight for the first time, while Young Jeezy’s verse continued to build the hype around his debut. The bounce, percussion, and playfulness of the beat became trademarks in the multi-instrumentalist’s sound. The track started the beef between the two kings of the trap because each argued that it was theirs first and even though they called a truce in 2009 on “Trap or Die 2”, produced by Zaytoven; it was short-lived and still continues.
“Bricks” by Gucci Mane featuring Yo Gotti and Yung Ralph on the 2008 mixtape, EA Sportscenter
Guwop continued to make hood classics like “Freaky Gurl” and “Pillz” but his record label situation didn’t take the songs to the next level. He began to go on his prolific mixtape run including the excellent EA Sportscenter which was produced all by Zaytoven. “Bricks” was the breakaway track which features Zay using the organ skills he learned in church to make street gospel.
“Make Tha Trap Say Aye” by OJ Da Juiceman featuring Gucci Mane on the 2009 album, The Otha Side of the Trap
Using a similar sonic palette as “Bricks”, Zaytoven combined the organ with hard 808 drums and hi-hats to give OJ a hit that was supposed to make him a star. After his album dropped and didn’t sell well, Juiceman went back to the streets.
“First Day Out” by Gucci Mane on the 2009 mixtape, Writing on the Wall
Gucci and Zaytoven were to trap what Snoop and Dre were to G-funk. This track was monumental because Gucci rose to the top of the Southern rap ladder with his Gangsta Grillz mixtape, The Movie in 2008. However, he was in jail and couldn’t reap the benefits of his hard work. Upon release he worked on a new project for the streets and knew his first song out had to be with his main collaborator Zay. Synths are prominent through the record but don’t overpower it, allowing you to hear Gucci’s hunger pangs.
“Ambitious” by Rocko featuring Future on the 2010 mixtape, Rocko Dinero
The chord progression on this song showed that Zaytoven can do more than sparse beats with funny sounding noises. The harmonies and melodies on the track match the energy of Rocko, especially when Future rips the verse without Auto-Tune.
“Papers” by Usher on the 2010 album, Raymond v. Raymond
This record is Zaytoven’s only track to crack the top 40 in Billboard’s charts. It’s an emotional record explaining the singer’s process of realizing a divorce was certain. The song has a new sound that people wouldn’t think Zay could do, but his trademark synth fills and chords are still prevalent.
“Space Cadets” by Future on the 2012 mixtape, Astronaut Status
In an interview with The Fader last year Zay said, “I got so much music that sounds completely different. But the young folks don’t really care about that. They’re like, Ok, that sounds cool, but we want the stuff that we know that we like. Sometimes it can be frustrating, like, Man, they won’t let me show what else I can do.” When he began to work with weirder artists, they began reach deeper into his stash of beats with more obscure sounds. With this plush, fully realized beat and Future piloting the space shuttle, he took trap music to a different galaxy.
“Appeal” Young Scooter on 2013’s FBG: The Movie
On a somber record, Zaytoven plays the keys but still has knocking drums.. Scooter laments his friends that are imprisoned, the families that suffer from their loved ones being gone, and the letters he gets from his friends. On the second verse he shouts outs iconic street figures and reminds listeners that only snitches get deals. The record showcases a different side of Scooter while displaying that Zaytoven could make emotionally multi-faceted productions.
“Versace” by Migos on the 2013 mixtape, Young Rich Niggas
Also in his Fader interview, the 33-year-old said “There’s actually never been something that I feel is really my best work or something I’m really that proud of. It’s music that’s thoughtless for me. I’m a musician, but I do the beats in five minutes and someone raps over it. I know to the fans this stuff is classic and they love it, but I didn’t really put forth a big effort in doing a lot of these. It’s made me who I am, but it’s also got me stuck to what I do. For the fans that really know me, they want that same type of sound that they already. People like Migos are still looking for that same thing that they heard from me for the last ten years. That keeps me almost right there.”
While he may not too proud of the record, the song was definitely the song of the summer. Even with the rise of the 808 Mafia, Mike Will Made It, and Young Chop, Zaytoven is still a producer that street artists want to work with. It’s become almost a rite of passage. He remains busy and will definitely be on plenty of mixtapes this year. While some may criticize of making the same beat over and over again, the rappers are the ones at fault of that. It’s obvious that he’s more versatile than one might think and hopefully he gets the opportunity to display more than just the carnival trap sound he helped create.