Los Angeles Beats: 20 of the Best

Popping up just after the turn of the millennium, the Los Angeles beat scene has become a crucial component of the global electronic music landscape, melding sounds of IDM, R&B, electronic, ambient, and psychedelia. Here are some of the landmark releases.

By Google Arts & Culture

Keeping tabs on the Los Angeles beat scene can feel like playing a game of whack-a-mole. Instead of a defined musical collective operating within one distinguishable aesthetic, it comprises myriad cross-pollinating sub-genres that fade as quickly as they flourish. Uniting them is their rooting in Californian hip-hop, but the lenses they apply traverse IDM, R&B, electronic, ambient, psychedelia, and jazz. The work is broadly characterized by woozy atmospherics and blown-out beats.

The community’s beginnings lie in mid-to-late noughties and Low End Theory, a weekly club night run by Daddy Kev — the man behind Alpha Pup, one of several key labels alongside the likes of Brainfeeder, Leaving Records, and Stones Throw Records. In just shy of 20 years, this burgeoning network of interwoven communities has transformed America’s west coast from a backwater of electronic music into an essential and cutting-edge component, with each new year bringing new, exciting iterations. Here are some of the beat scene’s key releases, as chosen by Erik Otis, a journalist based in Los Angeles.

Flying Lotus - Los Angeles (2008) by Build / Timothy Saccenti / Cmnwlth

Flying Lotus - Los Angeles (Warp, 2008)

Los Angeles is the second album that Flying Lotus — founder of Brainfeeder — released, and with it he kickstarted his long-standing relationship with the mighty Warp Records. Heralded as an instant classic — receiving a rare 5/5 review from Resident Advisor and an 8.5 on Pitchfork — Los Angeles captured the maturing sound of America’s burgeoning west coast musical community, drawing on the past to define the present. 

Features included FlyLo’s fellow beatmakers Samiyam and Matthewdavid, and the result is 17 tracks of dusty atmospherics and IDM-infused glitches. Nobody does it quite like FlyLo, and Los Angeles shows why.

Dibiase - Machines Hate Me (2010)

Dibiase - Machines Hate Me (Alpha Pup Records, 2010)

Where would the Los Angeles beat scene be without Alpha Pup, the label and digital distributor? It was founded in 2004 by Daddy Kev, in his pre-Low End Theory days, and by 2010 it was hitting full stride. Dibiase’s Machines Hate Me album was an early hit — a daring album of lo-fi eccentricities, fuzzed-out synths, and unforgiving bass.

It’s influenced by Dibiase’s gang-rife upbringing in South Central Los Angeles and his love for video games. The album is downtempo and emotive, and in its bold experimentalism lies a snapshot of the local beat scene’s nascent days. 

Teebs - Ardour (2010) by Mtendere Mandowa (Teebs)

Teebs - Ardour (Brainfeeder, 2010)

On October 11, 2010 Brainfeeder released the debut album of Mtendere Mandowa, a 23 year old ex-skater, painter, and music producer from Chino Hills. Its title, Ardour, means great enthusiasm, love, or passion, which feels just about right to an album of such scintillating beauty.

With its inherently warm, lushly textured beats, Ardour is an undisputed classic in the Brainfeeder canon and it’s more widely considered an essential chapter in the ever-evolving puzzle of the global beat scene. To celebrate its 10th birthday, Brainfeeder released a special reissue in 2020.

With its inherently warm, lushly textured beats, Ardour is an undisputed classic in the Brainfeeder canon and it’s more widely considered an essential chapter in the ever-evolving puzzle of the global beat scene. To celebrate its 10th birthday, Brainfeeder released a special reissue in 2020.

Matthewdavid - Outmind (2011) by Miko Revereza & Jesselisa Moretti

Matthewdavid Outmind (Brainfeeder, 2011)

Outmind is the first album of Matthewdavid, real name Matthew David McQueen. It took him over four years to complete and it broadly tells the story of his life in Los Angeles. It arrived in the midst of Low End Theory, but instead of gearing towards the dancefloor it demonstrates a penchant for mysterious, murky ambiance and psychedelia — as if the music is blunted and worn out.

In the years since, McQueen has become one of beat music’s most oddball artists, and he presents his tastes on Leaving Records. Outmind was where his story began. 

Tokimonsta - Creature Dreams (2011) by Jennifer Lee

TOKiMONSTA - Creature Dreams EP (Brainfeeder, 2011)

Any release bearing the Brainfeeder stamp is sure to be good, and TOKiMONSTA’s Creature Dreams is no different. What made it so memorable — besides its alluring warmth and emotional resonance — is that with it TOKiMONSTA, real name Jennifer Lee, became one of the first females to break into the Los Angeles beat scene, which for so long has been dominated by males. Tokimonsta is now dubbed the “First Lady of Brainfeeder,” and her success will likely pave the way for more females.

The Gaslamp Killer - Breakthrough (2012) by Ilias Panayiotou

The Gaslamp Killer - Breakthrough (Brainfeeder, 2012)

Willie Bensussen, a co-founder of Low End Theory, released his debut album on Brainfeeder in 2012. As The Gaslamp Killer, Bensussen purveys a breed of instrumental hip-hop like nobody else, melding the jarring and abrasive with psychedelic loops, trippy textures, and luscious melodies.

Across 17 dizzying tracks, Bensussen brought together many key figures of the Brainfeeder community, including Daedelus, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and Samiyam. It was a breakthrough record for a revered musician within the Los Angeles beat scene. 

Thundercat - Apocalypse (2013) by Brainfeeder

Thundercat Apocalypse (Brainfeeder, 2013)

Any feature on the Los Angeles beats is incomplete without Thundercat, and all three of his albums are considered classics within the wider scene. The distinct flavours of his second, Apocalypse, are wonderfully imaginative, bringing pop, soul, electronica, and progressive rock into one impossibly funky whole.

While the record leans heavily on free jazz’ advanced instrumentalism, it’s rich in vocals and R&B harmonies. All 12 tracks are bathed in the melancholy brought on by the death of Austin Peralta, one of Thundercat’s musical partners and best friends, making it fun and fresh, but also heartbreaking. It was produced by Flying Lotus.

Ras G & The Afrikan Space Program - Raw Fruit by Seth Feriss

Ras G Raw Fruit Vol. 1 (Leaving Records)

Raw Fruit is an ongoing beat-tape series by the late hip-hop and funk producer Ras G, a co- founder of the Poo-Bah label. The first part, released in December 2013, comprised 12 freestyle experimental electronica and hip-hop beats made to smoke weed to — and they’re as raw as possible.

Before his death in the summer of 2019, Ras G was a defining figure in Los Angeles beats, known for digging deeper into the worlds of free jazz, jazz fusion, and afro-futurism than any of his peers. His work was inspired by Sun Ra, the Afro-futurist jazz composer. 

MNDSGN - Yawn Zen (2014) by Seth Ferris

Mndsgn Yawn Zen (Stones Throw Records, 2014)

Mndsgn, pronounced “Mind Design,” is the work of Ringgo Ancheta, a prolific beatmaker originating from New Jersey, now based in Highland Park, Los Angeles. His alias is inspired by the Nas lyric "my mind is seeing through your design like blind fury," but it also nods to his father's work in neuroscience. Yawn Zen, his first album, and a debut on the mighty Stones Throw, demonstrates what all the fuss is about.

12 tracks of playful smooth jazz that flirt with trip-hop in a way that feels unnervingly natural. Since then, the young producer has carved himself an uniquely claiming soundspace in the Los Angeles beat scene — check out Snaxx, his 2019 long-player, too.

Knxwledge - ‎Hud Dreems (2015) by Mckay Felt

Knxwledge ‎Hud Dreems (Stones Throw Records, 2015)

Knxwledge (pronounced “knowledge”), a beat-maker raised in central New Jersey and Philadelphia, signed to Stones Throw with Hud Dreems. With 26 tracks of smooth instrumental hip-hop, the album was an early demonstration in Knxwledge’s skills in blending the genre with soul and jazz into his own individual style.

The rising talent, now based in Los Angeles, went on to work on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and he’s since released dozens of remix and beat tape collections through Bandcamp. Hud Dreems is where his journey began. 

Kiefer - Kickinit Alone (2017) by Chris Hund

Kiefer Kickinit Alone (Leaving Records, 2017)

When Kiefer, born Kiefer Shackelford, signed to Matthewdavid’s Leaving Records in 2017, few had heard much of the talented Californian keyboardist and beatmaker, other than through his work playing live with Mndsgn.

But after Kickinit Alone, everyone took note — earmarking him as the latest continuant of a rich vein of hip-hop inextricably tied to keys and jazz. It’s a cozy and nostalgic record, but also soulful and fun. Shackelford has released two albums since, both on Stones Throw Records.

Elusive - Fusion Swing (2017) by Mychal Alva

Elusive Fusion Swing (Alpha Pup Records, 2017)

Elusive pieced Fusion Swing together at various studios across Los Angeles, drawing on his rich history in hip hop, beats, and classical. The release fuses jazz breaks from the ‘50s and ‘60s with syncopated electronic tones, and it glistens with texture, shape, and harmony through the addition of saxophone, guitar, upright bass, trumpet, cello, and harp. Vivid color schemes and dynamic rhythms create a record of spiritual ascension from a veteran of the scene.

Woolymammoth - Filling Spots (2018) by Dome & Jake Jenkins

Woolymammoth Filling Spots (Alpha Pup Records, 2018)

Los Angeles’s Woolymammoth, real name Jason Wool, signed to Alpha Pup Records with his debut album, Filling Spots. Like his previous music — a handful of singles and EPs since 2016 — the record falls somewhere between glitched-out IDM, experimental hip-hop, and future bass by splicing together intricate rhythm schemes and dynamic sample work.

Features include Bleep Bloop, Renraku's Yokaze, Courteous Family's Tsuruda, Cast, and Legoon. It’s a breakout album from one of the scene’s newest talents. 

Credits: Story

Selections by Erik Otis

Text: William Ralston

Credits: All media
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