Super Producers Don’t Know How to Feel About Tags Either

Kodi Vonn

From left to right: Bryan Michael-Cox, FKi 1st, Honorable CNOTE, Bangladesh, Sonny Digital at A3C 2017

At this year’s A3C Music Conference, a panel of super producers—including Bryan-Michael Cox, FKi 1st, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Bangladesh, and Sonny Digital—quickly fell into a discussion of producer tags. Good? Bad? Necessary? Overused?

“People don’t care about producers anymore unfortunately because they don’t read credits. And here’s the thing; where can I read credits?”

– Joe Budden, The Joe Budden Podcast

🖤

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There’s a lot of contention in the field of tags or “drops” by producers. Like a lot in music nowadays it may seem like a completely new construct by the millennial generation, but tags have been around for a while. Who first dropped the name of a producer in the opening of a track? What qualifies a tag? These variables make it hard (or close to impossible) to find the first, “true” producer drop.

Essentially, a drop is a shoutout for the person working behind-the-scenes. You can find early examples of this in the 90’s all over Murder Inc.’s and Bad Boy’s music. It’s entirely possible Diddy made this  practice popular. By the turn of the century, producer shoutouts by rappers became more common. Just Blaze produced tracks with ad-lib shoutouts in the beginning (“Oh Boy” by Cam’Ron in 2002 and “Church for Thugs” by the Game in 2005 are notable standouts). The Alchemist received similar attention on “Worst Comes to Worst” by Dilated Peoples and “Book of Rhymes” by Nas in 2002.

Wherever their true origins lay, producer tags really hit their wave in modern hip-hop. We know some drops so crystal clear they might as well be Stanley Steamer commercials.

If young Metro don’t trust you I’m gon’ shoot you.

Today, Southern producers’ tags rule the radio and hip-hop streaming playlists. Zaytoven, Mike Will Made-It, and Metro Boomin—whose tags include one from Future, a “Metro Boomin want some more, n****, and Kodak’s “Aye, Lil Metro on that beat”). You can’t hear a new track without first hearing the callout to the producer who brought the song together.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

With the departure of the CD market, so too departed much of the accrediting information for those behind-the-boards. Producers work as hard, if not more so, on crafting a song. Their style can be as important to an album’s sound as the artist. They deserve credit and super producers agree.

At A3C, Sonny Digital told a room full of artists and producers that tags are “important for your brand.” He added that tags help to “connect the dots of your work”. The nature of the work producers do means that they’re work can appear on about a dozen albums in current rotation at once. Connecting those tracks with tag placement helps fans  find and recognize your work.

“Your tag is part of your legacy,” said C.N.O.T.E.

But are they being overused?

During the panel, Bangladesh shared two stories that seem to prove the jury’s still out on the use and frequency of tags.

“I been tagging since ’03,” said Bangladesh.

Still, at one time Bang felt that including a tag on every track was over-doing it, and took his off a track he did for Eminem—only to later receive a call from Em personally asking when the tag was going to be added to the song. Later, working with Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill, Bang learned all of his tags had been removed—without his knowledge or consent.

The panel agreed however that tags were different on mixtapes as opposed to albums. Because mixtapes are albums for the streets, producers generally feel a tag is necessary. But to have an album of ten songs with ten producer drops in a row can feel excessive and take away from its playability.

“Just because the tag’s ill doesn’t mean the beat is.”

– Bryan-Michael Cox

Does every producer need a tag? (no)

Timbaland, Dr. Dre, and Kanye don’t use tags. So it’s possible to be a great and well-known producer without tagging your work. But if you choose to create one for yourself, it’s important the tag does its primary job as promotion. To do this, drops should be born from the producer’s style. “La musica de Harry Fraud” perfectly captures Fraud’s smooth style. “DJ Esco moe city the coolest DJ on the motherf**king planet” brands the producer and his trap style before you even hear the record.

“Having a tag before you have your style is corny.”

– Bangladesh

FKi 1st told the audience he can tell immediately when a producer is doing too much and when they’re faking it.

“I know these people don’t know how to do that with the high hat. That takes real talent,” said 1st.

Emerging producers need to nail down their sound—the style they alone bring to the track—before they start branding music with their drop. For any artist, knowing your brand and style comes with (1) knowing yourself and (2) knowing your music history.

Apple Music has a series of playlists titled “Behind the Boards” featuring nearly every producer you’ve ever heard of. Find the links below.

To begin work on your career as a producer, check out our course on The Business Side. Learn how to take your music from hobby to a revenue source.

Metro Boomin | Bangladesh | Tha Bizness | David Banner | Araab Muzik | The Alchemist | Don Cannon | Drumma Boy | Harry Faud | Honorable C.N.O.T.E. | J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League | Jahlil Beats | Just Blaze | DJ Khaled | Lex Luger | Mike Will Made-It | DJ Mustard | Sonny Digital | Southside | Zaytoven