Blockhead Credit: Courtesy the Artist

New York producer Tony “Blockhead” Simon has invigorated America’s underground hip-hop scene for two decades—he started out as a close collaborator of famously slippery lyricist Aesop Rock, and more recently he’s provided beats for hard-edged rapper Billy Woods. Over the years, Simon has also learned how to transform the gritty, big-footed underground hip-hop sound into lush, cinematic instrumental music. Last year, he dropped two albums for hip-hop heads, one that corrals an all-star team of underground rappers that includes Open Mike Eagle, Tree, and Vic Spencer (January’s Free Sweatpants) and another that focuses entirely on his nuanced, luxurious production (November’s Bubble Bath). Simon works hard to sustain an understated feeling of comfort and serenity that belies the vast amount of labor and attention he lavishes on the details of his beats—on the psychedelic “The Magical Intimacy Camel,” he builds patterns of hand drums and hand claps atop dreamy keys, twisting them into complex shapes that grow more hypnotizing as they grow more intricate. Now that “lo-fi” YouTube stations dedicated to hip-hop wallpaper have attained serious cultural momentum, Simon’s music is especially welcome—he proves that instrumental hip-hop producers have plenty of new territory to explore, and never need to settle for making “homework beats.”   v