So I was asked a question about something that I usually have a debate in my head at least once every few months: Who is in my top five Hip Hop producers of all time. I really don't have a criteria or formula then my own ear test...Ok I'm lying lol. The one thing that I do not use as a measurement is sales. Over time that has shown that can be skewed so this irrelevant (to me). I look at originality, longevity, classic material, signature sound, derivatives of that producer, impact on genre, and hits (not sales...but HITS). Even though I just gave you those qualifiers, not every one of my top five has all of those. I may deem that although this producer never had a hit, their impact on Hip Hop may trump that fact. So these are my Top Five (no particular order):
Organized Noize: The first entry here is not a producer, but a trio of producers. They pretty much one of the two in my top five who pretty much cover the spectrum ten times over according to my criteria. Originality? Rarely samples, but when done it is done cleverly and the use of live instrumentation gives their music an organic feel. Classic material? C'mon!!! I'm not gonna even go down the list. They have produced both classic albums and songs so there's that. Signature sound? What I loved about them is that they didn't have a signature sound, but you KNEW it was them when you heard a song. I've always love En Vouge's "Don't Let Go" and when I first heard it I had a feeling it was them. Sounds nothing like their Dungeon Family stuff, but that's the beautiful thing there. Derivatives? I can honestly say there is only one ON and I don't think they have any. Impact? Their early run output is one of the best ever of any genre I think. Southerplayalistic, ATLiens, Soul Food, Still Standing, Aquemini, East Points Greatest Hits, are all faves of mine and play them constantly. Hits? Once again....C'mon!!!!
RZA: If it wasn't for this guy I don't think I'd love MUSIC as much as I do. RZA's output between '93 to about '98 is almost as good as it will ever get. I may be a bit biased because he's only the architect of my favorite group of all time, but he also shined a spotlight on Memphis music, namely Willie Mitchell. During that time period RZA couldn't be touched. He wasn't on the same level as a Dre or Puff at that time, but he gave us rugged underground dudes with the dusty fingers something to look forward to on every release, group or solo. Now I'm not to say my guy is without fault. I can be honest and say I'm glad he's expanded and evolved his sound, but I don't want to hear Rae and Ghost over lush, clean production. Personally early RZA gets more of the nod, but I still respect his evolution as a producer.
DJ Premier: No one embodies the NY Hip Hop sound like Preemo and he's still doing it to this day. This man's catalog is ridiculous and I can't imagine what he has that either wasn't able to clear sample wise, or just didn't make the cut on an album (I've never understood how a Preemo beat would be cut, but oh well). Gangstarr is on iconic status in Hip Hop, much like Outkast and Wu-Tang, but cuts he's crafted for Jay-Z, Nas, and Christina Aguilera shows he can be a hit maker as well. You want Preem at his finest? Listen to Gangstarr's "Moment of Truth" then come back to me. You're welcome.
Dr. Dre: One of the men behind YO! MTV Raps is one of the....oh....wait....wrong intro. Nah, for real though this is the pinnacle of Hip Hop producing here. Dre has changed the game (no pun intended) countless number of times in his long storied career. He's pretty much accomplished everything you could possibly think of in music. There are two deity like figures when it comes to Hip Hop production Dre is one of them. He is a perfectionist and I used to be upset about that because I wanted more Dre music. But as a producer/beatmaker myself, I now understand. Dre just has a knack for everything when it came to how to craft a song, album, or hit. Then to be able to re-invent yourself over and over is something that is lost on normal producers. He sweated the small stuff and the small stuff made the gigantic impact. Remember when I said he was one of the Deity-Like figures in production?.....
J Dilla: This is the other. I would go into a lot about this guy, but here are three videos about this man that puts him on another level: