In 2005, Clifton Reddick launched Battle of the Beatmakers, a competition for aspiring Toronto music producers. The premise was simple – potential hopefuls submitted their beats to a panel of music industry professionals, with 32 contestants being chosen to compete in a live setting before three judges (usually established rappers or producers). The March Madness-style tournament lasted multiple rounds, participants going head-to-head playing their beats, until a winner was crowned at the end.
Despite the debut competition’s remote suburban location in Mississauga, and Toronto’s longstanding reputation as the “Screwface Capital” – a nickname bestowed on the city in the early 2000s, referring to its inhabitants’ reluctance to support local hip-hop – the event was a success. Since then, BOTB has seen thousands of applicants hailing from Scarborough to Switzerland, graduated to a much larger room (the Opera House, a former 1900s vaudeville theatre turned 1702-capacity music venue) and invited special guest judges including 9th Wonder, Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital and 808 Mafia’s Southside. What’s drawn eyeballs to the competition most of all, however, is its reputation as a platform where some of the biggest producers in Canada have gotten their start.
“People like Boi-1da, WondaGurl and the list goes on, their careers have really skyrocketed,” says Priya Ramanujam, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Urbanology Magazine, who has been involved in BOTB since day one. “Anybody who hasn’t been to Battle of the Beatmakers who’s a lover of hip-hop or a lover of Toronto music, I think that’s something you want to experience at least once.”
While many of these producers are closely associated with Drake and his OVO roster, including (but not limited to) Nineteen85, Sevn Thomas, Hagler and Arthur McArthur, their influence on international hip-hop, R&B and pop music makes BOTB truly worthy of the title “The World’s #1 Producer Competition.” With the 2017 edition set to go down November 9-11, here’s five alumni who have gone on to make a name for themselves.
Before he became a household name as a Drake collaborator and produced songs for Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and others, Boi-1da won not one, but three consecutive battles. Born in Jamaica, he was exposed to dancehall at a young age, and taught himself how to use FL Studio without any formal training. The Grammy Award winner’s also returned to BOTB as a judge on numerous occasions, where he met WondaGurl, and ended up mentoring her through Toronto non-profit youth arts organization The Remix Project.
“What makes me want to come back is just remembering when I was young back in the day, and so eager, like, ‘Man, I wish I could meet Dr. Dre, I wish I could meet Timbaland, and I wish these people would come and inspire me in some way, other than (with) their music,’” he said in a 2011 interview. “Me going back is giving back to my own people that I love. I love hearing new stuff from new producers. I love being out there. It’s a great atmosphere.”
After winning the 2012 competition, then 15-year-old Ebony Oshunrinde, AKA WondaGurl, didn’t read off a laundry list of names or give a lengthy acceptance speech. Instead, she quietly accepted the trophy, and invited her mother onstage to say a tearful thanks. The producer’s had plenty more to brag about since – including producing the Sizzla-flipping “Crown” for Jay-Z a year later – but that’s not her style. Oshunrinde doesn’t have a producer tag, but her fingerprints are all over today’s radio and underground hits, whether it be her multiple songs with Houston rapper Travis Scott or Lil Uzi Vert’s “Scott and Ramona.” She judged last year’s battle alongside mentor Boi-1da, and later this month will appear in a very different ring, leading her Enjoy Life crew in the 2017 Red Bull Culture Clash Atlanta.
Though FrancisGotHeat lost to WondaGurl in an early round of the 2012 tournament, the pair have since become close collaborators, and together are responsible for Big Sean’s Eminem-assisted 2017 single “No Favors.” The 20-year-old multi-instrumentalist’s also behind the emotional centerpiece of Drake’s don’t-call-it-an-album playlist More Life, “4422,” which features UK singer Sampha crooning over a quietly melancholic beat.
While he’s the rookie on this list, there’s nothing amateurish about 2014 BOTB winner Jordon Manswell’s sprawling, soulful instrumentals. Explaining his less-is-more philosophy to making beats, the producer told Noisey, “Most times I’ll start it, if it sounds cool then I’ll finish it, but if not then I’m probably just going to stash it and move onto the next one. If I’m passing like 10-15 minutes, then that means I’m overthinking it.” He’s worked with Toronto up-and-comers Daniel Caesar and Ye Ali – the former’s latest piano-driven ballad “We Find Love” being one of Manswell’s strongest efforts to date.
Another one of Drake’s earliest cohorts, T-Minus is behind Billboard chart-topping anthems “Moment 4 Life,” “I’m On One,” “The Motto” and “HYFR.” Despite rumors that he was calling music quits, Williams returned this year with two credits on More Life, including fan favorite “Blem.”