Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Electric Relaxation: Greatest (Favorite) Hip-Hop Producers AKA The Great 8

Let's be honest. I love lists and I hate them. They're always subjective and no one will ever agree with them. But for respected critics and fans, it's a good way to gauge what their tastes are. One way or the other, they spark conversation.

Back on Myspace a few years ago, I listed some of my favorite rappers/producers/rock groups and it was pretty fun but looking back at it, it definitely showed where I lacked in knowing more stuff. So don't kill me if I leave out some underground producers I'm not too up on. But to be the greatest, you have to have some level of success or influence.

My apologies if I incorrectly describe someone's style. I tried to research this as well as I could and ask people as well.

1. Dr. Dre

There is no argument about what Dre has done. Introduced NWA, Snoop Dogg, D.O.C., Eminem, 50 Cent and The Game. Produced a slew of classics. Created G-funk with The Chronic - a sound that has defined the West Coast to this day. Added a cleaner sound/live instruments to beats (I know Stetasonic did as well but Dre brought that to the masses). A master professional. An underrated sampler (especially in his early days).

From 1988 to 1994, he had one of the greatest runs as a producer in history (NWA's last two albums and 100 Miles EP, D.O.C.'s debut, The Chronic, Doggystyle, "Deep Cover", Eazy-E's debut, "Natural Born Killaz"). The Quincy Jones of hip-hop changed his sound radically from NWA and D.O.C. to the Chronic to the heavy synth/piano beats he has now.

Still relevant over 20 years after Straight Outta Compton and still makes amazing beats (Hell Breaks Loose on Eminem's Refill), his beats still are a Grade A symbol of respectability.

1B/2. DJ Premier

Just like Dre defined the West, Primo defined the East. An incredible ear for sampling like few others, a knowledge of music that makes him an wealth of info when scratching in hooks, the ability to repeat a two-bar loop and make it sound fresh the whole way.

A beat from Primo meant you were legit. Just the fact that Ludacris was so honored to have him on Theater of the Mind lets you know how respected he is. He's made samples from the obscure (Chinese water torture for Jeru's Come Clean, the weird sound for Gang Starr's "Just to Get A Rep").

He made Gang Starr one of the greatest groups ever. Made nearly every rapper he worked with sound better (Nas, Jay-Z, Fat Joe) and made some ok-to-wack rappers sound better (Group Home's album might be the best produced album ever with wack MC's). Put it this way. I would listen to his instrumentals all day over Dr. Dre. Hands down you can take Dre vs. Primo and have a great argument on who's the best ever.

(Best thing about Dre and Premier, both still made some relevant music in the 2000's. A beat from both of them is solid gold)

3. RZA

When you mention the Wu as arguably the greatest group ever, RZA is a big reason why. Combining soul samples with martial arts samples to create unique beats, Bobby Digital created a new dirty sound filled with 70's Black culture.

Like Dre, he had an epic 5-year run (Wu-Tang's debut, Tical, Liquid Swords, Cuban Linx, ODB's debut, Ironman and culminating with Wu-Tang Forever). Each album sounded dramatically different yet kept the same RZA imprint. He was an original, chopping up samples to fit the beat, something that Kanye and others would copy in their own styles.

Just the fact that the sample for "Ice Cream" was discovered this past month lets know that he was a cratedigger on par with Primo or anybody else who's ever done it. Not to mention he's translating his success to movie scores and expanding his resume.

4. Pete Rock

I'll be honest, I really didn't know much bout Pete besides "T.R.O.Y." for most of my life. But then I heard his remix of Public Enemy's "Shut Em Down", Run DMC's "Down With the King", the original beat of "Juicy," Nas "The World Is Yours". Then I realized that the horns he used in his beats was a huge trademark like Primo's scratched in hooks or Dre's piano.

(And I just realized as I type this that he produced AZ's "Gimme Yours" - that beat is amazing!!)

His remixes were well known before P. Diddy trademarked it. And he's staying even more relevant today, producing joints with Talib Kweli, Method Man + Redman, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon. A lot of hip hop fans today may be underrating him - myself included - but his mark in hip-hop is solid.

5. J Dilla

Dart Adams made a great point on Twitter last year. Dilla fans can be just as bad as Tupac fans with their worship of the late producer who tragically left us too soon. He's been elevated as the greatest producer ever and while I see the argument, I can't put him above the four I just mentioned.

What I can say is that Dilla had one of the best ears for sampling. His musicianship is on par with RZA and Dre. Donuts will go down as one of the best instrumental CD's ever and the final testament of his legacy while alive. The way he chopped and sampled songs or combined several samples was a tribute to his genius.

What I can say is that Dilla may be an underground hero but he had hits with the Pharcyde, Common, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Slum Village and others. He was a part of the legendary Soulquarians that had a great production run from 1999-2002.

If you wonder why hip-hop has shouted him out constantly the last four years, look up his tracks for the above, his work with Slum Village and pay respect to a producer many of us overlooked

6. Timbaland

Forget what he's done the last 2 years or so. Just go back to 1997 when he and Missy dropped "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and it changed the sound of hip-hop. Heck, go back to Ginuwine "Pony" in 1996 and Aaliyah "One In A Million" to see how R&B changed.

They took hip-hop from straight sampling to computerized, future-sounding beats. Granted, I learned later that Timbo has an underrated sampler but he not only changed the sound of hip-hop, he changed his style a few times. Futuristic from 1997-99, incorporating foreign influences in 2000-2003, then changing the sound of pop music with Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake.

His resume with Missy, Jay and Aaliyah speak for itself. His work with Bubba Sparxxx is severely underrated. You can literally see where hip-hop was before and after him. A big reason for the Neptunes and Swizz Beatz' success and style is dependent on him.

7. Marley Marl

Overlooked by most hip hop fans after the rise of Bad Boy signified the new direction of hip-hop, Marley is arguably the first superproducer of the genre. He formed the Juice Crew and not only produced their classic cut "The Symphony" but albums by them, including Big Daddy Kane's and Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo's classic debut.

He was the go-to-guy for LL Cool J's comeback - producing Mama Said Knock You Out. He also produced Eric B. & Rakim's classic debut singles "Eric B. For President" and "My Melody."And just when his time was thought to be passed, he helped find Lords of the Underground which led to their classic "Chief Rocka"

I respect what he did and when I heard UGK update his classic "Symphony" with Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane, it was one of my favorite moments on that album.

8. The Neptunes

The run that Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams had (still have?) epitomized the new superproducer era in hiphop. Starting with Noreaga's Superthug, they brought a stripped down sound using minimal drums, the occasional synths, and experimental sounds.

I grew up in high school and college on the Neptunes sound. They had the game on lock and just when their sound was dominating the airwaves, they came out with "Grindin" - one of the most minimal beats ever and an introduction to the Clipse. That beat was one of the best of the decade and showed that they could be innovative in their pop success.

Of course, they took a detour and produced "Hell Hath No Fury" - every producer needs a masterpiece album and this is it. Dark, ominous and creative. They made great songs for too many to name but they make the list for their quality as well as their wealth of hits (even got Common to make a spaced out b-boy record in "Universal Mind Control" - too bad, the single didn't match the album)

I was going to do Rick Rubin but as far as hip-hop, his resume (not understating his importance to the culture) falls in comparison to others like DJ Quik, Erick Sermon, Q-Tip, Madlib, MF Doom, Kanye West, 9th Wonder, DJ Paul + Juicy J and Just Blaze. And then if you include all urban music, you throw in Jimmy Jam + Terry Lewis and Jermaine Dupri. So like my boy Marsz said, I'm cutting it off at 8.

The list can go on. Large Professor is severely underrated as a producer/MC. Prince Paul was the mastermind behind De La Soul and 3rd Bass' albums along with other solid albums.

(And how did I forget the Bomb Squad?? Three of the most important albums ever - P.E.'s Nation of Millions, Fear of a Black Planet and Ice Cube's classic debut)

All 8 to me define the wide range of this thing we call hip-hop. The Golden Era, West Coast, East Coast, Underground, the Mainstream. All of them brought their own style and in a few years, we can definitely add some more to the list.

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