Clifton “Jiggs” Chase
Often left out of the shuffle when considering hip hop’s early production pioneers, Jiggs was enlisted by Sylvia Robinson to be Sugar Hill’s in-house arranger and producer and ultimately create of some of the first rap production to reach a truly expansive audience. A jazz funk organ player, Jiggs moved the music away from the acoustic and towards the electronic along with Bambaataa and Herbie Hancock; his powerful synth stabs on “The Message” are the decisive component of the song’s urban groove.
However, his style wasn’t limited just to original composition, his co-writing credit on The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache (Jump On It)” was also pioneering in bringing one of the culture’s most famous drum breaks to the masses. I challenge you not to jump on it. —Dan Love
8Ball & MJG
Suave House isn’t exactly known for its meticulous accounting, so it’s unclear who made what on 8Ball & MJG’s first three (classic) records. T-Mix is listed regularly and Tony Draper has stolen enough credit for ten Sylvia Robinson’s, but he was in Houston and nothing sounds more Memphis than the alluvial slow-rolling funk that rattled out Ball & MJG’s backwoods Beale Street universe. Premro Smith and Marlon Goodman’s name are on those records and even if they weren’t the one digging in the crates, they deserve credit for being among the first to link H-Town, Memphis, Western G-funk and their own extraterrestrial bent. Not only was Organized Noize taking notes, but so was everyone else. Country rap starts here. —Weiss
Paul C is to hip-hop as Leif Ericson is to discovering America. Large Professor schooled all of New York’s legendary producers in the use of samplers. The man who taught Large Pro was a Jamaica, Queens phenom named Paul C who wouldn’t live to see the breadth of his influence. He produced Organized Konfusion’s demo and shaped the sound of Ultramagnetic’s Critical Beatdown.
His distaste for contracts means he isn’t always credited where he should be, but you can thank him for the drums and “huh!” on “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em” and the splice of James Brown and the Honeydrippers on Superlover Cee & Cassanova Rud’s “Do The James.” Paul was murdered right before rap’s most storied decade began and thus doesn’t have the same cult of fandom as a J Dilla, but his legacy lives on in the music of the golden age that was yet to come. To the organisms! —Evan Nabavian
I’m sure if you ask Dean Hodges, Ted Bohanon and Todd Shaw who produced what on the early Too Short records you’d get three different answers. And in some way, most of them might be right. I’m pretty sure those studio sessions passed in a haze of women, chronic, and the occasional break to watch Dolemite on Betamax.
But for the purposes of debate, let’s give Short credit where it’s due. After all, Short Dog is still doing it almost 30 years after Don’t Stop Rapping. He was custom making beats before Melle Melle looked like the Michelin Man. The man born to mack knew about more than just running game. He pioneered the sleazy Bay synthesizer line and knew to rap over a Roland as though he did the design. Sure, as his career progressed, he inevitably has gotten behind the boards less and less. But how can you blame him? The man needs his time to pimp.–Jeff Weiss
Often referred to as the “Dre of the Bay”, Oakland’s E-A-Ski never rose to the same commercial heights as the West Coast’s most iconic producer, but nevertheless shares the good doctor’s proclivity for balancing intricate layering with massive, popping beats. Ski will always be remembered for his collaborations with Spice 1, particularly on the stormy 187 He Wrote, but this progenitor of bay area hip-hop worked far and wide, cutting records with Too Short, Ice T, Ice Cube, Dre himself and of course getting involved in an ill-fated association with Master P. Witness Spice 1’s “Trigga Gots No Heart” for some of Ski’s best work. —Matt Shea
You can probably brand Ant Banks the Daz of the Bay, but the truth is that Daz is really the Ant Banks of Southern California. After all, the two piggybacked on the biggest figures of their respective region (Dre, Too Short), rapped and produced, and ended up getting overshadowed by the more famous figures in their extended crews. Except Banks came first, selling hundreds of thousands of tapes on the Oakland streets since the mid-80s and helping to create the Bay’s breed of lead poisoned funk.
The true heads know about Banks, forever bad ass and contributing beats to murderer’s row of classic 90s projects. Even Daft Punk once thanked him in their liner notes. Check the resume: Spice 1, Shorty the Pimp, 187 He Wrote, Get in Where You Fit In, Explicit Game, AmeriKKKA’s Nightmare, Cocktails, and Tha Hall of Game. And that’s in addition to his trio of solo albums on Jive. Later on, he made “Players Holiday,” the track that afforded him his lone crossover smash. No one deserved the shine more. — Jeff Weiss
Among casual observers, Mark “DJ Pooh” Jordan is most often referred to as the guy who produced The Doggfather when Snoop couldn’t get Dr. Dre onboard. But Pooh’s history in rap music goes back to the mid-80s, when he came up spinning records for seminal DJ crew, Uncle Jamm’s Army. From there, he crafted a hard-edged, electro funk production style via tracks for LL Cool J, Ice Cube, King Tee, and 2Pac. A man perhaps always slightly out of step with the norm – something that’s reflected by the many other hats he wears: screenwriter, director, video game producer – that inflection of old school will always be the defining mark of Pooh’s records. Did I mention he made “Today was a Good Day.” Someone give him a Nobel already. –-Matt Shea
Dan “The Automator” Nakamura
Dan “The Automator” Nakamura has a taste for the strange. Perfecting the fusion of hip-hop with film scores and trip-hop, he revived the careers of Kool Keith and Del tha Funkee Homosapien with compellingly odd concept records. He expanded the market for underground rap through commercially and critically acclaimed group projects like Handsome Boy Modelling School and Gorillaz that effortlessly blurred genre lines. Dan has mostly forgone rap production as of late, preferring work with rock acts like Kasabian, but his cinematic, absurd and adventurous sound remains distinctively his own. —Aaron Matthews
Being born and raised in Brooklyn, it only makes sense that DR Period crafts beats that sound like a ’93 midnight run through Bedford Stuyvesant. Drums that bump like hoopties cruising over speed bumps, and bass lines that creep like stickup kids on the come-up. This is Brooklyn bodega, F-train music that bumps everywhere, soundtracking the street tales of AZ, Cormega and Smoothe Da Hustla. Not to ignore M.O.P.’s punch-you-in-the-grill music. Period’s gift is converting his parents’ era of soul music into street-ready NY hustler anthems; he made “Build Me Up Buttercup” sound sinister on “Broken Language”, man! Not have you really lived until you’ve seen an entire nightclub wild out to “Ante Up.” —Aaron Matthews
There was a recent Redman compilation entitled Funk From Hell, and I couldn’t think of a better phrase to describe the Funk Doc’s production work. Where Dr. Dre imagined P-Funk as gangsta party music for 70s babies, Red digs out funk’s rawest and darkest elements to create something dusted. His best beat work blends discordant vocal sample loops layered with sticky, murky, bass-heavy funk and thumping drums. It’s fitting that Red recorded the largely self-produced Dare Iz A Darkside on an extended acid trip. See how “Rockafella” samples played out records like “Flashlight” and “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You” and still sounds like nothing else? That’s real swamp rap for your stanking ass.—Aaron Matthews
Before NWA, Ice Cube was running with Sir Jinx in the group C.I.A. When Cube left NWA, he linked with Jinx for four stellar albums. Jinx’s production from ‘90-‘93 was crucial in establishing the West Coast sound pre-G-Funk: fluid funk loops, gut busting bass and popping drums, topped off with frantic sample-collage hooks. Jinx is likely overlooked in the West Coast canon because he never cultivated an air of auteurship like Dre. His greatest work on records like Kool G Rap’s Live And Let Die and Cube’s Death Certificate is funky, knocking and cinematic in scope. This Sir deserves more respect. —Aaron Matthews
J-Swift is considerably less prolific than most of the other producers on this list, but his beats for the Pharcyde and the Wascals have become crucial entries in the true school catalogue. On tracks like “Oh Shit” and “Passin’ Me By”, Swift skilfully melded jazz and rock samples with tight drum loops and intricate scratches. His swinging, playful production provided the perfect springboard for the Pharcyde’s eccentric flows to take flight. Though he produced just a handful of tracks at his peak, J-Swift influenced generations of West Coast underground producers from Wil.i.am to Madlib. — Aaron Matthews
‘The 900 Number’ marked 45 King’s arrival in 1987: a brutal breakbeat loop from Marva Whitney’s ‘Unwind Yourself’ that catapulted his career to Tuff City and Tommy Boy. As the Flavor Unit’s go to member behind the boards his production credits are extensive and never at the cost of quality: his 89 to 93 run is one of the strongest catalogues of any producer in the game. Issues with drugs caused a drop in productivity during the mid 90s, but ‘Hard Knock Life’ marked a triumphant return, followed by the platinum selling ‘Stan’ by a certain Marshall Mathers. They needn’t have called it a comeback, he’d been here for years. — Dan Love
They may have changed their day jobs after the new-millennial rise of southern hip-hop, but Trackmasters will forever be remembered for a peerless ability to balance the commercial with the respectable. Jean-Claude “Poke” Olivier and Samuel “Tone” Barnes’s success began via an alliance with a young Puff Daddy in the early 90s, and escalated into a mid-to-late decade run of dominance, when the duo would rent out five studios at a time and work around the clock to produce a factory line of hit records: Nas’s “If I Ruled The World”, Foxy Brown’s “Ill Na Na”, Jay-Z’s “Wishing on a Star”, ad infinitum. Their recent comeback may not have turned heads like their early work, but these guys are beyond having to prove anything to anybody.–Matt Shea
The often forgotten foil to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s fiery, full throttle collective persona, U-Neek’s stripped down, chiming, and soulful takes on g-funk provided Bone with the perfect canvas on which to work their somersaulting delivery. U-Neek’s dominance on Bone Thugs’ beats seemed to splinter much like the crew itself during an endless late 90s run of solo releases, and by 2000’s BTNHRESURRECTION he was only producing a third of the group’s material. He still remains tied to the group, but U-Neek, much like Bone themselves, will be best remembered for the effortless, sliding cuts of “Thuggish Ruggish Bone”, “1st of the Month” and “Tha Crossroads.”
Clark Kent’s background explains his production technique: he started out DJing for Dana Dane, so his beatmaking naturally evolved from a need to move the crowd. His production focuses on the track’s feel and how it plays on the radio or the dancefloor. Kent takes a carefully selected sample, and loops and filters it perfectly to optimize hookiness and danceability. On his greatest productions, Kent pulls choice segments from 70s soul faves like the Ohio Players and optimizes their lushness and depth. Kent’s been quiet lately but his beat for Rick Ross’ “Super High” illustrates the potency of this formula. Tracks like Junior Mafia’s “Get Money” and Skillz’s “Move Ya Body” still move crowds today where tracks of similar vintage fail to budge youngsters. —Aaron Matthews
Rockwilder’s sound only dominated the pop landscape for a short time (’98-’03) but it remains a recognizable and mostly importantly, banging aesthetic, to this day. It may have been oddly prescient of 2000s hip-hop’s flirtation with electronic and techno music; certainly Rockwilder’s skeletal bangers mirror Jay Dee’s minimalist techno beats from around the same time. Working closely with Redman, Rock cemented a clear formula: pulsing synths, pumping bass and stiff, clattering drums. Rockwilder captured the essence of a Tunnel banger, so much so that “Da Rockwilder”, became a hit with no chorus or hook. Simple but effective. –Aaron Matthews
MP3: Method Man & Redman – “Da Rockwilder“
MP3: Big Pun ft. Black Thought-“Super Lyrical”
When you rap about throwing bombs, people tend to forget when you drop them. Over the last 20 years, Boots Riley has advocated the violent overthrow of government, civil disobedience, and stealing his album a la Abbie Hoffman. These things will get you noticed and even incite the occasional Michelle Malkin diatribe. It’s a shame that they tend to obscure Riley, the impeccable craftsmen, stitching together samples from The Doors, MC Lyte, obscure British band, The Mohawks, and Jimi Hendrix’s childhood friends, Ballin’ Jack. And that was just on the first song on the Coup’s first album. The truth is that Boots’ sample collages were as funky and eclectic as anything Prince Paul was putting out at the time. His early production play out like an alternate world De La Soul, in which daisies were replaced by dynamite. –Weiss