“… lyrics ain’t nothin’ if the beat ain’t crackin’.”
Hip Hop producers do not get the credit they deserve. The producer is the person who crafts the musical canvas for the artist to bare their soul, and more times than none it’s the rapper who recieves the acclaim for the song if it’s a hit but if the song doesn’t live up to it’s expectations, it falls on the producers shoulders. Being a producer is a tough job. They have to make sure that the song is structured in an understandable and digestable fashion, whether it be the keys, arrangements, hook is right or wrong and up to par. The general public thinks the rappers make the beats or can care less about who the person behind the boards are, but the producer is the one who generates more revenue than the rappers and they don’t have to deal with the attention, they’re behind the scenes unless they make a personal choice not to be. They’ve pretty much transcended how we relate to not just rap but music as a whole. They can get away with saying how much they’ve contributed to the game and they can boast about how music pretty much wouldn’t exist without them. But a great producer doesn’t just “make a beat”, the captivate the attention of a listeners.
Picking a top five list of anything is no easy task but I came up with my 5 top producers (in no particular order).
An innovator of the past few decades in rap, Dr. Dre who needs no introduction. He’s one of the pioneers of rap and a living legend. Dr. Dre was the originator of the G Funk era and I’m forever thankful for him because without it, I wouldn’t have been so deep in rap. Let me explain, being born and raised in CA, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing a Dr. Dre record. His sound became the mold for the history of the West Coast. We may never hear Detox but The Chronic is more than enough contribution, The Chronic pushed boundaries and introduced people who couldn’t experience Straight Outta Compton due to censorship to what West Coast Hip Hop looked and sounded like. It’s an album that more rappers need to pay attention to. It’s the quality not that quantity that matters for Dr. Dre but it should be stated he’s put on enough of your favorite rappers from Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound. And if he didn’t put them on he’s definitely worked with them from Ice Cube, to Tupac, to Ras Kass, to Nas, he wouldn’t have been able to connect with such a regal cast of professionals had it not been for the line his unique talent fell under. He is an icon.
“Nothing handed out, I’m about to take mine” is what Kanye West said on “Big Brother”. And he did exactly that. Kanye West started out with a full heart, sacrificing his own career as a rapper so that he can give his strongest production that were made for himself to another very popular recording artist by the name of Jay Z. Ye’s rise to fame came under Jay Z’s classic album The Blueprint. But the goals he’s been able to set for himself as an artist is beyond anything anyone is able to do for their own career in a decade and he’s made it happen in a span of 8 years. He was overlooked for willing to take risks but he found a lane that made him comfortable and he took advantage of the self reflecting walk, and he seized his moment. He knows how to make his mark on a record, he’s got charisma falling out of the pores and he’s the definition of versatile. We’ll never see another artist as “genuine” who speaks from his heart like Ye, he went from wanting to just have Jay-Z to share his stories over his musical landscape to touring side by side with his mentor/big brother. He has proven that he’s more than just an untouchable producer but an impeccable rapper.
But I think one thing can be said that I don’t believe he would argue with. Production wise, Kanye would not be here without one man, The RZA. The RZA is one of the most influential producers of all time, as his style has found different translations through so many producers that have come up today it’s incredible. But more importantly, if it weren’t for RZA, there wouldn’t be a Wu Tang. Wu Tang set the trend for hip hop. He’s been able to evolve from a hip hop producer to not even needing anything from Hip Hop anymore, directing his attention to movie soundtracks, and various business ventures. Yet as an artist he still keeps creating quality music. He set the trends for sampling in his production and skits on albums. He’s designed classic after classic with each Wu Tang Clan member. RZA was the key ingredient in putting the East Coast hip hop back on the map, as he and the Wu Tang forced their entry in 1993 with “Protect Ya Neck” hitting the radio airwaves with a blatant disregard for normalcy. The rap game hasn’t been the same ever since due to his grimey ear’s for beats. RZA father most of rap’s producers style.
You can’t have a hip hop producers conversation without throwing DJ Premier into the mix, he’s one of the greatest to ever do it. Aside from being the driving force behind the Gangstarr foundation, DJ Premier is the mastermind behind most of your favorite albums. When he’s behind the boards, you know it’s going to be a hard bass thumping cyclone of a record. He’s is the sound of New York hip hop, from the specific samples of soul, jazz, funk. The drums always left a neck thrusting chaotic rhythm in motion worldwide. He’s composed 3 of the timeless gems on Illmatic. 3 masterpieces on Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. He’s also been blessed with the ability to crossover into other genres working with talented artists ranging from multi platinum pop scarlett (Christina Aguileria) to rock & roll superstars Limp Bizkit, scaling mountains while maintaining his credibility as one of the most authentic names hip hop and music in general.
Another direct descendant whose DJ Premier influence is clearly present amongst tracks is the super official Alan The Chemist. This man has HEART. I remember around ’02 – ’03, in a random public access interview with Jeru Da Damaja, they asked “Who’s gonna carry DJ Premier’s torch?” One of the names Jeru Da Damaja belted out with the quickness was “The Alchemist”. Alan The Chemist has gained notoriety for being one of the grimiest producers in hip hop, amongst being one of my favorites of all time. From working with Dilated Peoples, Mobb Deep, Nas, he’s become synonymous for delivering the essence of the streets through his compositions as well as a critical monster behind the boards. The funny thing is, he started out as a “rapper” with the group, The Whooliganz and he went by the alias “Mudfoot”. But when that didn’t work out, Mudfoot developed another more fitting moniker, he focused more on honing his production skills for childhood friends, Evidence and his crew Dilated Peoples. With those gates opening, he eventually took on making music with the infamous Queensbridge duo Mobb Deep, and from there working with Snoop Dogg, The LOX, and Nas. Within that time he has developed his own vibrant yet gutter signature sound that allows the listener to sit comfortable as they fall into the trance of the Chemist. I can say ever that since then, he’s stood the test as one of my favorite producers of all time.