Raised in St. Paul, based in Fort Worth, Cardo emerged as a favorite producer of Wiz Khalifa during that giggly stoner’s breakthrough era, producing Kush & Orange Juice songs “Mezmorized” and “In the Cut.”
At that time, Cardo excelled at warm G-funk-influenced beats that, despite their West Coast feel, proved irresistible for East Coast rappers like Smoke DZA and Midwesterners like Freddie Gibbs.
But over the past year and a half, Cardo has elevated to a new level, with credits on some of rap’s biggest blockbusters: Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., Drake’s Views, Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP, Travis Scott’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, and Migos’ Culture. There’s a case to be made for Cardo as the best beat-maker alive. Indeed, the influential hip-hop site DJ Booth named him the top producer of 2016, choosing him over the likes of Mike Will Made It and Metro Boomin.
Cardo, 32, moved away from Minnesota in 2006 after finding trouble in the Twin Cities streets. But hey, Bob Dylan headed out to New York when he was 19, and Minnesotans are happy to claim him as our own. Cardo, too, deserves recognition as a Minnesota musical treasure -- and yes, he does still pledge allegiance to MN now and again on social media.
MPLS/ST.PAUL ... period— K A N E U S A (@CardoGotWings) April 22, 2017
Here’s a primer on some of Cardo’s most notable work since the start of 2016, listed from oldest to newest.
Nef the Pharaoh -- Neffy Got Wings
Cardo jumpstarted his 2016 by releasing this collabo tape with Bay Area upstart Nef the Pharaoh. The beats tend to be breezily West Coast, with occasional doses of pure menace like “Devil’s Team” (featuring Sacramento’s brilliant Mozzy) and “Wake Up.” Nef’s voice reminds me of no one so much as Seattle native Ishmael Butler (Digable Planets, Shabazz Palaces), but there’s an innate Bay Area nonchalance to his flow, and his verses and hooks mesh gorgeously with Cardo’s slapping production.
Kendrick Lamar -- ‘Untitled 07 | Levitate’
The three-part, eight-minute “Untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016” was co-produced by Frank Dukes, Yung Exclusive, and Swizz Beatz and his son Egypt. But this 2:30 single version is the most replayable moment on Untitled Unmastered, with Kendrick articulating his go-to theme of self-love on top of the wobbly, ethereal instrumental.
Drake ft. Future -- ‘Grammys’
This beat, co-produced with 40, Southside, and Yung Exclusive, is unlike any of the previous instrumentals here, a flickering trap banger for the latest in Drizzy and Future’s long line of team-ups. The hard-hitting production does as much Future’s title hook to make “Grammys” one of the most mesmerizing songs on Views.
Payroll Giovanni -- Big Bossin Vol. 1
Straight up: Cardo’s full-length collaboration with the criminally underrated Detroit rapper and Doughboyz Cashout member Payroll Giovanni is bound to go down as a cult classic. It’s swaggering, get-money music set to a soundtrack of Cardo’s brand of G-funk. Vol. 2 is slated to drop this summer, and I can’t wait.
Schoolboy Q ft. Kanye West -- ‘THat Part’
Compulsively quotable, “THat Part” is the second highest-charting single of Schoolboy’s career, and the beat was one of the more distinctive to invade the airwaves in 2016: a dizzy, contrast-oriented instrumental similar to Kendrick’s previously mentioned “Untitled 07.” It’s the most notable of Cardo’s three contributions to Schoolboy’s Blank Face LP, though the cinematic “By Any Means” beat is a masterstroke in its own right. (The less said about “Overtime,” though, the better.)
Snoop Dogg -- ‘Coolaid Man’
The beat here is a creeping, knocking thing that doesn’t do anything overly conspicuous, a relatively low-key instrumental that lets Uncle Snoop do his signature electric slide. It’s the sorta-title track from Snoop’s Coolaid, his first true rap album since 2011’s Doggumentary.
Travis Scott ft. Kendrick Lamar -- ‘Goosebumps’
Maybe Scott’s characteristically huge chorus and Kendrick’s verse made this disoriented, otherworldly highlight the Houston artist’s biggest hit besides 2015’s similarly expansive “Antidote.” But Cardo’s ominous, blippy beat sure didn’t hurt any.
ASAP Mob ft. Playboi Carti -- ‘London Town’
This highlight from ASAP Mob’s guest-heavy Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends -- with vocals by the Mob’s ASAP Rocky, Ant, and Nast, as well as non-Mobster Playboi Carti -- features one of Cardo’s more conventional trap beats. But it’s still sneakily effective due to his ever-reliable mastery of sonic balance.
Migos Ft. 2 Chainz -- ‘Deadz’
Cardo’s contribution to Migos’ Culture was a dark, lunging beat that gave the Nawf Atlanta trio and 2 Chainz a head start in making it (unpopular opinion) the album’s second best song, behind “T-Shirt.”
Kendrick Lamar -- ‘God’
Compared to “DNA” or “Humble,” “God” is relatively low-key moment on Damn., the aural equivalent of an ultralight beam shooting into the heavens. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t integral to the Compton rapper’s latest masterpiece. Like virtually every other moment on the astoundingly great LP, it absolutely is.