Next week, Passion of the Weiss will be counting down the 50 Greatest Producers of All-Time. Before then, we’re highlighting some of the best to ever yell at people for labeling them “beat makers.” (It’s better than the excessively pause-worthy, “knob twiddlers.)”
Before you ask, #1 is going to the guy who made the beat for “Still Tippin.'” It seemed like the only sensible option.
What was the point of making an honorable mention list? Rick Rock. The Northern Cali King of slap paired the 808 crunk of the South to bugged out car alarm explosions and mob music. This is the sound to ghost ride the collapse of the Bay Bridge. The supreme architect of hyphy, Rock built a plutonium engine for E-40, Keak Da Sneak, Turf Talk, and The Federation to slang their crooked language.
Lesser known is Rick Rock, the consummate craftsman. Watch this video of him making a beat from scratch and you’ll understand why he’s been in demand since he blazed ‘Pac’s “Tradin’ War Stories.” Good producers prosper in one incarnation. Great producers evolve. Between his stint as a post G-Funk young gun and a vanguard of hyphy, Rock was responsible for the hydraulic bounce of Jay-Z’s “Parking Lot Pimpin,” Busta Rhymes’ “Make It Clap,” and Fabulous’ “Can’t Deny It.” They already said it best, if Rick Rock made the beat, somebody gonna’ rock it.–Jeff Weiss
Beats by the Pound
Beats by the Pound were so anonymous that if you Google Image search them, you can barely find a photo of KLC, Mo B. Dick, Craig B, Odell posing together. Master P knew this. The less fame you accrue, the less you have to be paid. So he created the first rap assembly line. Granted, Puffy had his northern Hitmen, but the medicine men from New Orleans cranked out beats so fast that there was barely time to call Dave Mays to take out ads. I mean, who do you think produced Rear End?
Using Henry Ford’s methods to soundtrack house parties led to the predictable problems of mass production. But if you took the 20 greatest Beats by the Pound cuts and stacked them up against anyone, they cannot be fucked with. “Bout it, Bout It,” “Ain’t My Fault,” “Make ‘Em Say Uhhh,” or “Ghetto D.”On the latter, they turned Eric B and Rakim into an anthem of crack sales. Kids like ASAP Rocky and Tyler are still quoting them today. They built upon Southern tradition: screw, bounce, Rap-A-Lot, UGK, and made it their own — ultimately, influencing the next decade of mainstream music. That’s worth a JPG or two. –Weiss
Teddy Riley might not be a rap producer, but he’s a hip hop legend. Puffy might have perfected the pairing of rap and R&B, but it was Teddy Riley’s idea. After all, Riley worked on What’s the 411 and Mary J sampled Guy on her second tape. He discovered the Neptunes. He’s half responsible for “No Diggity ” and half of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. This made gave you “My Prerogative,” and Keith Sweat. Fuck, he made “Rumpshaker” and if you believe that all you need is those Lafayette Afro-Rock horns to make a hit, Jay-Z would like to have a word with you. Few of these songs featured rappers, but they were all hip-hop. Laugh at the high top fades and bright suits all you want, Teddy Riley was a genius. And if you don’t like it, you can New Jack Swing on his nuts. –-Weiss
Is Deadringer the best instrumental album of the 21st century? The fact that this isn’t that crazy of a question to ask about an underground producer who has never worked with any artist bigger than Blowedian legend, Aceyalone or Doom (“Saliva”) is a testament to how icon RJD2’s work remains. Aside from being a faithful disciple and master of the sample, RJD2 is brilliant for being able to pack unbelievable amounts of narrative into a beat. He is not just one of the best producers of the decade, he is one of the best storytellers. —Tosten Burks
Sure, Train of Thought and Black Star are undisputable classics. And yeah, his ability to make Kweli sound like a prophet despite his pipsqueak voice deserves a platinum plaque in its own right. But Tony Cotrell went beyond those early classics. There is the non-biodegradable Hi-Teknology trilogy, and random cuts you probably didn’t even know that he did (“1-9-9-9 from Soundbombing, Game’s “Ol English,” Beanie Sigel’s “Get That Dough.”) Every 00s hack with a copy of Fruity Loops tried to emulate Tek’s fractured soul but none could. It wasn’t about chopping a sample, it was about connecting to ritualistic emotions–the passing of time, the mourning of the dead, the celebrations of life. — Weiss
Scott La Rock
Helming one of the greatest albums of the Golden Age of Rap in Criminal Minded, Scott La Rock’s death attempting to diffuse a gang situation took an incredible artist from us too soon. Fusing Jamaican reggae dub with a flair for hardcore drum programing, La Rock helped to define hip hop while it was still young. Ironically, he is at least partially responsible for starting the gangsta movement, though his demise helped launch the Stop the Violence movement. As the man said, when it comes to super, I’m not exaggerating. —Chris Daly
DJ Mister Cee
Though he arguably gained greater renown as the radio DJ on New York’s Hot 97 FM and as the associate producer of Ready to Die, it was Mister Cee’s work on Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live the Kane that garnered him inclusion on this list. Sure, Marley Marl gets the love as “engineer extraordinaire,” and official producer, but it’s clear that it was Mr. Cee’s master plan that put this one into the All-Time Classic category. With crisp, clean cuts, Cee took Kane’s powerhouse style room to breathe and groove. People blame Kane’s infatuation with R&B artists as producers later in his career for the rapper’s eventual decline. I’m saying he should have just stuck with Cee.–Chris Daly
With an ear for muted jazz sounds, Nujabes painted aural soundscapes reminiscent of the loneliness one experiences when surrounded by too many people, a sound that has since become practically associated with Far Eastern beats. What’s more, he helped soundtrack “Samurai Champloo,” to this day one of the greatest anime exports of all times. Arguably the work with which he’s most familiar, Samurai Champloo also is one of his final pieces, as a car accident took the man often called “The Japanese J Dilla” from the game too soon.–Chris Daly
MP3: Nujabes-“Next View”
If you owned a jeep, smoked blunts before intramural exhibitions, or listened to any mix shows in the late ‘90s, Nashiem Myrick would’ve been one of your top five producers and you would not have even known it. The least visible member of The Hitmen, Myrick was the Liner Note Assassin; without any signature drum kits, vocal drops, or Casio pre-sets, his mark on east coast bangers is impeccable. The first beat he ever sold was “Who Shot Ya?”. The name of his production company Top of New York became the Iraq-to-Kuwait anthem “T.O.N.Y” for CNN. He turned Kim into “Queen Bitch”, made Biggie meditate on “What’s Beef?,” and yanked Scarface out of Def Jam South offices and back on “My Block”. Nore was spot-on: “Nashiem, he laced this beat on some east coast shit”. –-Zilla Rocca
DJ Scratch is dope because he sounds nothing like his Hit Squad/Def Squad production mentors Erick Sermon, Parrish Smith, and Redman. Hitchcock strings with rapid fire skittering drums for Busta’s “Gimme Some More”. Matador opulence on Flipmode Squad’s “Cha Cha Cha”. Speakeasy strangle moves on Q-Tip’s “N.T.”. Shiny and grimy Tunnel bangage on Pharoahe Monch’s “Right Here”. David Porter on HGH for LL Cool J’s “Ill Bomb”. The anti-Okayplayer bruiser “Rock You” that opened Phrenology. And the joint that inspired a hundred NahRight freestyle career falsestarts, “New York Shit.”–Zilla Rocca
Naming yourself “Bink!” leads one to assume that you were a founding member of Harlem World, not a certified head cracking producer with classics for Lost Boyz, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Kanye West. “Beasts from the East” singlehandedly made me want to rap. “1-900-Hustler” made me want to sell drugs. “Lights Camera Action” turned me out after 3 rum and cokes. “Cigar Music” had me spending my last check on a medallion with a beard and sunglasses. “Devil in a New Dress” had me want to take her back. “Blueprint (My Momma Love)” is the Mother’s Day anthem for hustlers. And Freeway’s “When They Remember” makes you feel fucking invincible.–Zilla Rocca
Blockhead is the funniest producer since Prince Paul; he charges double to cop beats if you’re a female emcee. But ain’t shit sweet about his production. From his subterranean classics with Aesop Rock (“Commencement at the Obedience Academy”, “Daylight”, “None Shall Pass”) to his solo amber street light stick-ups on Ninja Tune, Block’s output the past decade is what rap heads always hoped from DJ Shadow: layered and filthy dollar bin boom bap with a touch of jazz, trip hop, and sketch comedy (PFAC MOTHERFUCKERS!!!).–Zilla Rocca
It’s funny how respected and beloved Three Stacks is on the mic now that he drops maybe 60 bars a year. And yet Rico Wade of Organized Noize believes Andre became a GREAT producer back in 1998…the year when Outkast dropped Aquemini. Like his favorite emcee (and reticent producer) Q-Tip, Dre doesn’t bring much attention to the fact that he is a master of production. As one-third of Earthtone III with Big Boi and Mr. DJ, it’s hard to pinpoint 3000’s solo work amidst the Kast catalogue. Glimmering Southern comfort routed through Prince and the Revolution’s synth set-up with a busted Roland 808 seems to be his signature on “Rosa Parks”, “GhettoMusick”, “Millionaire” by Kelis, “Hey Ya”, “You Ain’t No DJ”.–Zilla Rocca
I remember reading an interview with J-Zone ages ago. He was blown away by guys like Pete Rock who make multiple beats per day. Jay confessed to making one beat a week. His beats SOUNDED like they took a week to make, with no hooks, no radio-friendly 8 bar loops, and absolutely no quantized, proggy arrangements. And it sounded fun.
With equal reverence for Bomb Squad, Tim Dog, Spice-1, and X-Clan, Jay was funny and misogynistic on the mic while pulling off Madlib, Dilla, and Exile production tricks unheard until the Abelton/Fruity Loops/Serato revolution pulled back the curtain on the magicians. Check the chops on “Gimme Gimme” with Masta Ace, “G.O.D.” from The Leak Brothers, and the hardwood alchemy of his solo joint “A Friendly Game of Basketball”. —Zilla Rocca
Marley Marl’s partner protege, vastly underrated until his ascension to fitting cult hero status sometime during the 00s. His best work was never flashy, it was measured and subtly engrossing. As such it was extremely well suited to accompany the kind of intelligent street smart narratives that crystallized as the essence of the mid-90s New York rap. His collaboration with Larry-O as Real Live is generally and correctly regarded as his masterpiece, and it remains one of the best ‘unknown’ East Coast albums. —Alex Piyevsky
Warren G is a bit tricky to pin down. His name comes to mind immediately when G-Funk is mentioned, but his style wasn’t particularly original or innovative. The man did make some very great beats and he deserves credit for that, but he owes at least some of his success to association. He made one of the most ubiquitous rap songs of all time, he did a song with Jackie Chan. “Honorable Mention” feels about right. —Alex Piyevski
He’s Ultra, and he’s a veteran. As one of the early proponants of sample chopping Ced Gee laid the foundation for modern rap music. It was this shift in production technique that ultimately gave the music its thump, and he thumped emphatically. Listen no further than ‘Ego Trippin’’: 25 years young and still infectiously raw.–Dan Love
Spinna’s boom bap pedigree is only one part of the story. His versatility as a DJ-minded producer is perhaps the more significant reason for this honorable mention, having translated mid 90s indie success into a well-established career of party rocking and musical experimentation behind both the boards and turntables. Nicely played, sir. —Dan Love
When you think of Portishead and hip-hop, it may be along the lines of who’s sampled the band – RZA, Timbaland and Three 6 Mafia, for example – rather than the other way round. But Geoff Barrow, the production nerve centre of the Bristol-based trio, cut his teeth as a tape operator for Massive Attack, and if it wasn’t for he and his bandmates’ obsession with noir-ish cinema, it may very well be hip-hop, and not trip-hop, that Barrow would now be known for. But we’re largely talking a difference of nomenclature here: Barrow’s a beatmaker, plain and simple, and an exceptional one at that. Witness “Only You”, “Machine Gun”, or “Biscuit” for some of his best work. —Matt Shea
MP3: Portishead-“Essential Mix, 4/23/1995)” (Left-Click)
Taking tricks from original production partners Organized Noize, OutKast’s Antwan Andre ‘Big Boi’ Patton would use the ATliens and Aquemini recording sessions to in time become a skilled producer himself. Big’s productions these days tend to be hepped-up, heavily-layered, funk-laden party cuts, and as the years mount since the last OutKast album, it seems to be a growing part of his artistry. He co-produced almost the entirety of his blazing solo record Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, and it’s easy to imagine the Atlanta-based artist appearing higher on future lists. —Matt Shea
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