In hip hop there’s the age old debate about the greatest Emcee of all time. Everyone who’s listened to hip hop for any extended period of time can likely tell you who they think the top 5 of all time are and why. What doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough in my mind are the guys who can make or break each and every song, the producers. How many times have you skipped a song initially just because the beat was sub par? Most of us would say plenty of times. The beats draw us in and the lyrics captivate us. Well just like with emcees much of this comes back to user preference but there’s also those who are not to be F’d with regardless of the listeners affinity for their style. Which this leads me into my first choice of greatest producers of all time. (List is not in any order)
1) Rza. Rza is personally my favorite musician/ producer of all time but that doesn’t mean I think he’s the best. The man responsible for the gritty style of the Wu-Tang Clan has done what many thought could never be done. He’s gone from grimy, sample heavy beats where he added clips of old kung fu movies to creating the scores of kung fu movies themselves. He’s credited with the creation of moving from one bar loops to multiple bars. This is partly what gave him the ability to layer his beats and add multiple samples on top of each other. He has the ability to make something sound half Beethoven and half chaotic static noise , creating a sound like none other. He purposely has most of his beats not make sense from a classical music tempo but that’s part of his magic. When you can take 5 parts that shouldn’t fit together in any sense and bend them so that they create a symphony of sounds combined that showcases an imagination and understanding of sound beyond anything we’ve heard in hip hop. I also give him extra credit for having the vision of creating an 8/9 member group and the foresight to create all of their contracts where each member could be on their own label while also the Wu as a whole was on another level. C.R.E.A.M. – Wu-Tang
2) DJ Premier. So if you’re familiar with these 3 then you’re noticing a common theme. All 3 of these guys are sample heavy but do it in their own way. For those who say that’s not creating music I’ll simply say if you can tell me where each sound comes from I’ll agree with you but you cant. You can’t because by the time they’re done with taking a single snare or drum from something they’ve stretched it or cut it and changed the speed to where it’s a completely different sound entirely. Premo would be one of the first to do this and to me is the godfather of that style/sound that became part of not only the North East culture but hip hop in general. Go listen to above the clouds or Rite Where You Stand and pay attention to the perfect timing he creates, like a composer using different sounds to build up to the creation of an Apex or climax. This man was so far ahead of his time they should have him teach a class to all up and coming producers. Rite Where You Stand – Gang Starr, Above the Clouds – Gang Starr
3) Alchemist. Another sample heavy producer who can make a beat that makes you want to hit someone, perform a stick up and on the next sit back, relax, and just vibe to it. I guess that’s what you get when you have the dark streets of NY with Mobb Deep and Sunny California style with Dilated People in your repertoire. ALC grew up with DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill and that’s where he started but no one in the business can take a few notes of singular samples to lay them out into the perfect pattern the way ALC can and does. He is a crate digger and will pull things from every era and every genre and the end result is fire. He’s one that when you hear a beat you’ll know immediately if it’s his or not. To me he’s essentially a more technologically savvy version of RZA and Premier combined. He will chop and slice like RZA but keeps it raw and smooth like Premo. – Worse Come to Worst- Dilated People
4) Dre. I’m not the biggest fan personally but if I said I didn’t understand the greatness I’d either be lying or not understand what hip hop is or stands for altogether. Dre took samples as well but stuck to a more consistent theme or era of music to borrow from and thus the G funk era was born. Where I give Dre the most credit is with the different types of instruments he keeps in his arsenal. He tends to slow the BPM way down and yet can match sounds and keep a clean pocket for an emcee like an offensive line does for a quarterback. He uses heavier bass lines than the others I mentioned but is also able to have the instruments not hold their own and keep up from being drowned out but highlights them both at the same time which is impressive in its own right. By slowing the BPM he’s able to add more to each bar without it becoming a clustered mess. He’s definitely a master on the equalizer. Master of lining each piece up perfectly. – Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang- Dr. Dre
Each of these producers use the same backbone concepts but end up with such different styles all their own that will (damn sure should) inspire future producers for years to come.