What’s happening peeps?! This post concerns the celebration of Hip Hop producers. While current trending jacks like Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, Noah “40” Shebib, and Hit-Boy are dominating the airwaves, they had to have gotten their sound from somewhere. Who were/are their influences?
This is for all the producers that have either paved the way for the current sound or are still making waves for future producers and beatmakers to sink their teeth into. There are a lot of producers whose sound we don’t bump as much as used to, if we still do at all. However, this is for those who (I feel) have left legacies to remember or are still building theirs up. Without further ado, let’s get started with my top 20 (in no particular order).
Anyone that personally knows me knows the fact that this cat from Los Angeles is my favorite producer in the game and definitely one of my favorites ever. This former member of The Whooligans crew started working with the likes of Dilated Peoples, Mobb Deep, Defari, and Nas and became one of Hip Hop’s most in-demand producers for his very melodic creations. Citing DJ Premier and Pete Rock as influences of his, it’s no wonder why he’s being compared to him in terms of greatness.
There’s NO way you can mention revered Hip Hop producers without mentioning this legend.
This producer-de-force originally from Texas made a name for himself being taught by Queens legend, Large Professor, and from there he was responsible for all of he and partner-in-rhyme the late Guru‘s albums as Gang Starr.
Seen as the quintessential NY sound maker, other than Da Beatminerz, Premo has a zero fail formula, and is the innovator of the “scratch chorus”, which a lot of producers emulate to this day. He has blessed everyone as diverse as Nas to Snoop Dogg, to Bun B to even Christina Aguilera (!) and all sounded ridiculous. All hail King Preme!
The “Chocolate Boy Wonder” himself is as highly influential as anyone during the nineties, and is still relevant today.
Most remember him as the producer half of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and their landmark hit “T.R.O.Y.“, but let us not forget he also contributed to one of Nas‘ most legendary singles, “The World Is Yours“.
He dropped his first compilation album, Soul Survivor, in ’98, thus bringing people into his brand of boom-bap production. The cousin of the late Heavy D has since dropped gems for INI, Busta Rhymes, Smif-N-Wessun, and Ghostface Killah among many others.
Arguably seen as the most respected and praised Hip Hop producer within the past two decades, the late James Yancey left a legacy that was seen as unrivaled.
His lush arranging and sampling was his trademark and he became subsequently one of the true masters of the MPC. Most known for early work with his high school friends of T3 and the late Baatin to form the trailblazing Detroit trio Slum Village, he later decided to branch to combine his talents with Tribe‘s Ali Shaheed and Q-Tip to form the trio The Ummah, which had produced Beats, Rhymes, and Life and The Love Movement from A Tribe Called Quest and cuts from Keith Murray‘s exceptional sophomore album, Enigma.
A true genius behind the boards, everyone from Kanye to No I.D., 9th Wonder, Hi-Tek, and more have been greatly influenced by Dilla. He never allowed his battle with lupus to deter him from his passion, thus leaving behind TONS of instrumentals for the world to hear, and we can’t thank him enough for it. His instrumental albums consisting of Donuts and Jay Stay Paid among others showed the unmatched talents of this brilliant producer.
Rest well Dilla Dawg! Your legacy isn’t going anywhere
The almighty D-R-E. Seen as Hip Hop’s Quincy Jones, he’s looked at as one of the single most influential and masterful producers in all of Hip Hop.
The innovator and originator of the nineties west coast gangsta sound, Andre Young was already a hellacious producer since the N.W.A. days, but completely evolved his sound come 1992 with his benchmark, The Chronic, and it marked the beginning of the renaissance for the west, but also in Hip Hop period. From The Chronic, he made another masterpiece with Snoop‘s debut, Doggystyle, and we were off and running with this new Cali sound. Ten years after The Chronic, he dropped 2001, which evolved his sound even more.
North Carolina’s own 9th Wonder has progressively become one of the most hard-working producers in the game and is redefining Hip Hop with his often soulfully induced sampled Hip Hop.
A true student of the game, he was influenced by the likes of Premo, Dilla, Kanye, and other greats to help shape his sound. His rise from fantastic underground producer to sought after mainstream producer came in the form of Jay-Z’s “Threat” from his release The Black Album, and even garnered himself a spot for Destiny’s Child’s Destiny Fulfilled album with their hit “Girl”, along with “Is She The One”.
While us Hip Hop nerds hope and pray for a Little Brother reunion one day, we’ll be content with others such as Rapsody, Saigon, Murs, David Banner, and Skyzoo slaying over his outstanding smooth and soul-driven samples. He also assembled a team of fellow NC producers such as Khrysis, E. Jones, Eric G, Ka$h, sand even Virginia’s powerhouse Nottz to call themselves The Soul Council.
A future legend is among us, and believe me, a decade from now, he’ll still be among your favorite rapper’s favorite producers list.
LA’s own Madlib has been a constant dweller in the underground for nearly twenty years now but everything he does is quirky and eccentric, yet extremely melodic and keeps the repeat button going. Primarily having a jazz-based influence, he has assembled some very creative pieces that have often been among some of the most acclaimed in all of Hip Hop.
A multi-instrumentalist, Madlib has done work not only on his own stuff consisting of his group Yesterday’s New Quintet, and his rapping alter-ego, the high-pitched Quasimoto and his acclaimed album, The Unseen, but outside work with the likes of Tha Alkaholiks, OGC, and Lootpack, but it was when he collaborated with underground legend MF DOOM for the timeless classic Madvillainy that more heads knew who he heads and he came really into his own.
He further generated more of a fan base with his fantastic collar with Dilla as Jaylib for their album Champion Sound and most recently with Freddie Gibbs for another instant classic in Piñata. Be clear, he’s nowhere near done, and that’s all kinds of exciting.
This sought after producer from the D (Detroit for those not in the know) has emerged as a bonafide threat in Hip Hop. Often named a Detroit version of 9th Wonder, his thick-drummed, melodic sampling boom bap Hip Hop has been widely acclaimed, especially with his work with O.C. for the album Trophies and with Guilty Simpson for the album Dice Roll. His other work with the group Ugly Heroez and with former Little Brother member Rapper Big Pooh is continuing his momentum as one of Hip Hop’s most intriguing producers.
Now you know we can’t leave the South out of the mix. One of the trailblazers for the southern sound is former Big Tymer and Cash Money producer Mannie Fresh. Widely known for his work with early Cash Money consisting of The Hot Boy$ (Juvenile, B.G., Lil Wayne and Turk) and his own stuff with Birdman as Big Tymers, he branched out after a falling out with Birdman to do stuff for the likes of Clipse and T.I.
There’s also an album he supposedly was working on with Mos Def called OMFGod, which may or may not ever see the light of day. In any event, Mannie is still seen as someone who helped revolutionize the southern sound with thick 808s and trunk rattling bass. One can only wonder what would happen if The Hot Boy$ were to all reunite and have Mannie produce the album. The results would likely be amazing.
Mike WILL Made It
One of the current in-demand producers goes by the name of Mike WILL Made It, and he has definitely taken the rap world by force, most notably the southern region with his brand of knocking 808-Hip Hop.
Known for the occasional “trap” style production, among his hits have been Juicy J’s “Bands A Make Her Dance”, 2 Chainz’ “No Lie”, Future’s “Turn Out The Lights”, and Rihanna’s “Pour It Up”, which are all constant rotators to this day. Taking the “trap” style from the underground to a widely mainstream audience, Mike WILL Made It is taking his own niche into established legacies of Hip Hop producers.
Another pioneer of the Cali gangsta sound is David “DJ Quik” Blake. Quik since his childhood has been a musician, but put that with his love of Hip Hop and we have a winner (as with most on this list). Since his seminal debut in ’91, Quik Is The Name, he has had a sound all his own that isn’t quite as melodic consistently as Dr. Dre’s per se, but is every bit as funk fused if not more.
Aside from his own projects, he has worked with the likes of various artists such as Xzibit, Eightball & MJG, R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone, and even Talib Kweli to further establish his notoriety. Best believe if a funky, party starting groove if what you’re looking for in your production, Quik is a name that will be at the top of the lists throughout time.
From Virginia comes one of the most unique, yet successful, producers of our era. Starting out with Chad Hugo to form the ever successful Neptunes production duo, they broke up only to have Pharrell emerge as one of the most in-demand and go-to producers not just in Hip Hop, but all of popular music as well.
Grammys galore, Mr. Williams has been a juggernaut, composing greatness with the likes of Britney Spears, Clipse, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and many others. It was in 2014, however, that he hit his biggest achievement in the form of “Happy”, which sold nearly 14 million copies and making it one of the biggest singles ever. His pedigree so far is that of legends, and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down any time soon.
This production innovator is widely considered one of the true giants of Hip Hop. He was the first to use sampling in Hip Hop, and has since put together classic pieces that still get rotated to this day.
Mostly known for his in demand work in the 80s working with the likes of The Juice Crew, Heavy D & The Boyz, and MC Lyte, he reached a whole new audience when he produced the entire album Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J, which is considered LL’s magnum opus.
Once the 90s hit in full bloom, he worked with artists like Da Youngstas, Lords Of The Underground, Fat Joe, and CNN on their classic debut The War Report. Many producers such as Pete Rock have used Marl as an influence in their beat and sampling techniques.
What can you say that hasn’t already been said about Mr. West? Some call him eccentric. Many call him conceited. One thing everyone should call him: genius.
Revered as the Quincy Jones of this era, Kanye continues to push the musical boundaries of what Hip Hop should sound like. A student of the game, he studied under the likes of J Dilla, Pete Rock, and hometown hero No I.D. and became the single most intriguing producer in all of the genre and perhaps in all of music.
Aside from constructing his own monuments like The College Dropout, Graduation, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Late Registration, he has also helped to put together great albums from Consequence, Pusha T, and especially the greatest Common album ever presented, BE.
Guaranteed to go down as one of the greatest producers of all-time, heads can look forward to a new album from him this year, and one can only imagine what he has in store for us when he drops it. Perhaps a new standard in pushing more boundaries in music altogether.
Queens’ Large Pro is credited with a couple of key things. For starters, he taught DJ Premier how to use an SP-12 drum machine, and he also introduced the world to a young, nasal voiced Queensbridge up-and-comer named Nasty Nas on the now famous cut, “Live At The BBQ” from his former group Main Source’s outstanding debut album, Breakin’ Atoms.
Since then he’s been a frequent collaborator with Nas, along with the likes of Cormega, AZ, Torae, Jeru The Damaja, and Joell Ortiz, which shows how much NY heads respect and appreciate Xtra P. His own debut album, appropriately entitled The LP, is considered a true gem of an album some twenty years after it was supposed to be released (it got released finally a few short years ago).
Salute to Large Pro!
The Ruler Zig-Zag redefined a whole NY sound in the early 90s when he came through with eight other emcees that knocked the world off its axis, called the Wu-Tang Clan.
Their debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is considered one of the greatest albums to ever hit ears and showed the unorthodox stylings of RZA. His penchant for kung-fu samples mixed with dusty drum patterns and slowing or speeding up soul samples (a style later used by Just Blaze, Kanye, Apollo Brown, 9th Wonder, and a host of others) made him a standout in east coast beat making.
Aside from his own Wu-related projects, he has done stuff for The Throne (Kanye & Jay-Z), the late Big Pun, Earl Sweatshirt, and Talib Kweli and has even done scores for films like Kill Bill and Man With The Iron Fists. Truly a renaissance man.
One producer that started to set fire to the early millennium was Jersey’s own Just Blaze. Coming from relative obscurity, he became Roc-A-Fella’s go to producer, along with Kanye, to construct some of the most hard hitting chipmunk soul tracks during that time period.
Producing albums for Jay, Beanie Sigel, Young Gunz, and especially Freeway’s sick debut Philadelphia Freeway made him a household name. Since his departure from the ROC, he has still put out bangers from Slaughterhouse (with whom he’s executive producing their next Shady Records album, Glass House), Saigon, Cam’ron, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, and even Maroon 5 for their smash, “Makes Me Wonder”.
One thing’s for sure: if you see a track with Blaze’s name attached to the production credit, it’ll be on constant repeat.
Long Beach’s own Battlecat has supplied his own brand of G-funk all throughout the west coast for over twenty years. Known for his work with Snoop, Tha Eastsidaz, Kurupt, Lucy Pearl, Xzibit, and others, he’s characterized his super thick synth bass lines and hand clap snares into a signature west coast sound. Usually the perfect soundtracks to Crip Walk to. There’s something about that Battlecat G-funk.
This Grammy Award-winning producer from Virginia has etched out a legacy that has placed him among the greatest to ever do it, in any genre. First making his name known on Ginuwine’s debut, Ginuwine…The Bachelor, he later paired with the late Aaliyah for her One In A Million album and for Missy Elliot‘s debut, Supa Dupa Fly, both of which were commercial successes.
From there, he became one of pop music’s most sought-after producers and songwriters, collaborating with the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Nas, Rihanna, and Rick Ross. He found enormous with Justin Timberlake and his Futuresex/Lovesounds album and Nelly Furtado’s Loose album, both of which hit Diamond status and above. He returned with Justin for his other outstanding album The 20/20 Experience, in which nearly four million copies have been sold, and is considered a pop music masterpiece.
His upcoming solo album, Opera Noir, promises to change the landscape of urban music as we know it. Knowing Tim, don’t bet against him.
The self-professed “Green Eyed bandit” is a legend in this game. As one-half of the seminal duo EPMD, Sermon has been producing since their landmark debut in ’88, Strictly Business. It wasn’t until he started on his own solo work when he started finding his own sound, and it worked with often fantastic results.
His debut, No Pressure, was a slept-on album of sheer dopeness, then along with Redman and Keith Murray, he created the Def Squad and the three of them put out some of the craziest Hip Hop throughout the late nineties to the early millennium. Among them were Redman’s Muddy Waters, Keith Murray’s incredible album, Enigma, and the Def Squad album, El Nino.
Outside of the Squad, he has worked with the likes of Illegal, Scarface, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, Xzibit, and Ludacris with his patented E-Double funk. Although he’s been on the low over the past few years, notably due to an unfortunate heart attack in 2012, he returns this August with his first album in eight years, E.S.P. with more of the same that we’ve been missing.
Other notable producers that have made an impact in the game include:
- No I.D.
- Organized Noize
- Da Beatminerz
- Easy Mo Bee
- EZ Elpee
- Lord Finesse
- N.O. Joe
- Mike Dean
- Terrace Martin
- Lex Luger
- DJ Toomp
- Marco Polo
- Statik Selektah
- Swizz Beats
- Wyclef Jean
- Missy Elliot
- Prince Paul
- DJ Scratch
- Dan The Automator
- Danger Mouse
- Sir Jinx
- The Bomb Squad
- Ant Banks
- DJ Jazzy Jeff
- Diamond D
- Lil’ John
- Black Milk
As you can see, producers have been the embodiment of the Hip Hop sound from generation to generation. With so many up-and-comers, one can only hope that they can step in the shoes that have been set for them to fill when it’s all said and done. Until next time dogs and cats, stay living Hip Hop!