Ever since the inception of hip hop music, there has been an ongoing debate over who is the “G.O.A.T.” (Greatest Of All Time) lyricist. I’ve managed to find myself in many of these discussions and, quite honestly, I need to take a breather. It’s not that I’m exhausted of the topic, but rather frustrated and annoyed at the typical laundry list of artists that are discussed (2Pac, B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, etc.). Additionally, when I engage in these debates with these casual fans they seldom provide concrete evidence or reasoning to support why they believe (insert name here) is the “G.O.A.T.”. It is my theory that these individuals I am referencing heard these names in a hip hop documentary that they saw on VH1 (coincidentally while they were smoking marijuana) and suddenly became experts on the matter.
As much as I’d love to continue the redundant dialogue on “G.O.A.T.” lyricists, I must insist on changing the subject (temporarily). While I am quite aware that all hip hop glory is bestowed upon the Gods of the M.I.C., where would they be without the respective producers who craft the soundscapes for their songs? Many of the great hip hop producers were formerly DJs who learned how to flip samples on an SP-1200 as well as program drum machines. As far as all those “G.O.A.T.” lyricists are concerned, would you be knocking your head to their lyrics without the hot production behind it? I seriously doubt it.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I am no exception to the rule. Having said that, the following list is my Top 10 hip hop Producers Of All Time.
10. MF DOOM
Hip hop’s most villainous lyricist is also a seasoned veteran behind the mixing boards. DOOM’s production style relies heavily on sampling, sampling and more sampling. However, it’s his sample selections that set him apart from his contemporaries. Although he primarily produces for his own solo projects he has also contributed tracks for KMD, Ghostface Killah, Masta Ace, and MF Grimm. Key Tracks: “Beef Rap”(Mmm..Food), “Go With The Flow”(Operation: Doomsday), “Clipse of Doom” (Fishscale).
9. Pete Rock
In the early nineties, Pete Rock made a slew of classics with his partner C
.L. Smooth. Their album Mecca and The Soul Brother is one of the hip hop’s undisputed classics. The singles “Straighten It Out”, “Lots of Lovin’” and “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” were all praised by fans and critics at the time of release. The duo would produce one final album before going on a prolonged hiatus. After they split, Pete Rock continued producing songs for other artists as well as launching his own solo career with his Soul Survivor LP.
8. The Beatminerz (DJ Evil Dee & Mr. Walt)
The production duo of DJ Evil Dee & Mr. Walt helped redefine the sound of New York hip hop in the early 90’s. From 1993-’98, The Beatminerz were tasked with the duty of producing various projects for the Boot Camp Click. Landmark albums such as Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, Smif N Wessun’s Dah Shinin’ and Heltah Skeltah’s Nocturnal are hailed as classics from the 90’s “Golden Era”.
7. The Bomb Squad (Hank and Keith Shocklee)
The Bomb Squad are pioneers of multi-layered sampling. Known primarily for their work with 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Public Enemy, Hank and Keith Shocklee created incredibly loud and noisy backdrops for Chuck D’s verses that were charged with an erratic intensity that few have been able to replicate. The Bomb Squad sampled everything from James Brown to Slayer and proved to the genre that creativity should have no boundaries.
Key Album: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
6. Erick Sermon
As one half of the monumental duo EPMD, the “green-eyed bandit” crafted the bulk of their instrumental catalogue. Known for utilizing funk/soul samples and basslines hard enough to blow out your 808s, Sermon’s productions are raw and uncut dope. At the height of EPMD’s popularity they formed a collective known as The Hitsquad which included K-Solo, Das Efx, and a then unknown Redman, all of whom Sermon produced tracks for. After The Hitsquad disbanded in 1992 E Double formed The Def Squad which included himself, Redman, Keith Murray and sometimes Jamal (of Illegal). Eric continued to produce tracks for various hip hop artists into the new millennium. Additionally, he continues to release solo projects and occasionally tour with EPMD.
A producer who was clearly ahead of his time, Q-Tip( aka The Abstract) made his mark in the industry producing and rhyming for A Tribe Called Quest. Tribe’s Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders are critical and commercial successes. Q-Tip’s production style is primarily influenced by jazz and funk/soul samples. Many of today’s “hot” producers such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye West credit Q-Tip as being a direct influence on their production styles. Nearly a decade after his departure from ATCQ, he created a classic solo album The Renaissance.
4. Rick Rubin
Pioneering hip hop producer and co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, Rick Rubin has been at the forefront of helping propel the genre into the mainstream. Most of Def Jam’s early artistic successes can be attributed to Rubin’s contributions. It was his idea for Run DMC and Aerosmith to remake “Walk This Way” for a new generation of music fans. He produced the Beastie Boys’ multi-platinum debut album License To Ill as well as LL Cool J’s Radio.
Although he has more or less abandoned the genre to produce albums for rock & roll artists, he occasionally returns to form with artists such as Jay Z and Eminem.
Although in recent years his production work has expanded beyond hip hop, it is important that we remember his beginnings with The Roots. While other producers merely dabbled with jazz samples, he assembled an entire band and made original jazz/hip hop fusion. Though The Roots have continued to release new material, the most important LPs in their catalogue are their first four (Organix, Do You Want More?!, Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart). Questlove is also responsible for many of the production for various Okay Player artists and affiliates such as Jay-Z, Common, Blackalicious and Jill Scott.
2. The RZA
In 1993, the G.O.A.T hip hop group (YES) known as the Wu-Tang Clan emerged from the slums of Shaolin (Staten Island, NY) with their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Produced entirely by The RZA, a new sound was created that redefined New York hip hop. It was a much grimier sound than that of what was coming from the dominant (at the time) West Coast. RZA opted for erratic piano loops and boom bap drum kicks instead of glossy Parliament funk samples. It was a much needed breath of fresh air.
After the critical and commercial success of Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, The RZA continued to produce the bulk of the first round of Wu-Tang solo albums (Tical, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Only Built For Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, and Ironman) all of which are hailed as classics. He continues to produce new music and is highly regarded as one of the greats.
1. DJ Premier
Nobody has contributed more timeless masterpieces to hip hop music than the legendary DJ Premier. Originally hailing from Houston, he co-founded Gangstarr with Boston native Keith Elam aka The Guru (R.I.P.). At the time of the duo’s late 80’s inception, they agreed that moving to Brooklyn, NY would be in their best interests as New York was the hot spot for hip hop artists looking to sign a recording deal. Shortly after relocating to Brooklyn, Gangstarr signed their first recording deal and proceeded to create multiple classic albums. Although Guru was a great talent in the booth, it was the production of DJ Premier that initially caught my attention and kept me coming back.
Other prominent artists in New York took notice as well. Premo has worked with Rakim, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Krs-One, Mos Def, M.O.P., Showbiz & AG, OC, Afu-Ra, Fat Joe, Freddie Foxx, MC Lyte, and many others. However, it was within the Gangstarr foundation that much of his greatest instrumentals were made. Jeru The Damaja’s The Sun Rises In The East and Wrath Of The Math LPs were both produced entirely by DJ Premier. Another notable yet overlooked jewel on his resume is Group Home’s Livin’ Proof LP. With all due respect to Lil’ Dap and Melachi The Nutcraker, nobody bought that LP for the lyrical content.
DJ Premier is also the master of crate digging. Whether it’s deploying obscure samples or scratching vocal sections of a hip hop record to create a brand new hook, he has production down to a science. Although he may not have the accolades or the wealth other so-called producers have, they don’t have what he has within the culture: RESPECT and longevity.
Without question, Premo is hip hop’s G.O.A.T. Producer. There is no comparison or counterpoint to that fact.
-Charles E. Rigmaiden
Easy Mo Bee, Pharrell Williams, Marley Marl
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.