Hip hop producers are in the spotlight today more so than ever. Believe it or not, there was a time when the opposite was true.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, when hip hop was in its infancy, producers were primarily behind-the-scenes.
Nobody knew who made the beats. Instead, the artist/MC himself got all of the shine. Or, at least the DJ.
Today, producers are more known than ever. As they should be. After all, they are responsible for the beats, right? And the beats make up at least half of the song, sometimes even more.
Listed below are 3 hip hop producers who have helped to change the game, and turn the role of “producer” into a famous, sought-after position. These producers have played huge roles in the direction of popular music as a whole, as their works have shaped the sound of the industry.
Hip Hop Producer #1: Dr. Dre
Any list involving important hip hop producers would not be accurate unless it contained the Doc.
Dr. Dre was one of the first hip hop producers who really became known for making hip hop beats. He was a rapper too, of course, filling in spots for the World Class Wreckin Cru, as well as the original gangsta rap group N.W.A. His involvement as a rapper certainly helped him to become noticed, but it was his work as a producer behind the mixing boards which his name would become synonymous with.
Some of Dre’s first and finest work included the 90’s classics California Love, Let Me Ride, and Nothin But a G Thang. His crisp, clear and hard-hitting drum sounds, flawless mixes and infectious head-nodding grooves would all contribute toward what would become his signature sound.
This very sound would go on to revolutionize and define an entire generation of hip hop. The classics produced by Dr. Dre will always live on, and are still considered to be some of the absolute best hip hop songs ever produced.
Dre took things to the next level in 1999 when he founded one of the most successful hip-hop artists of our time, Eminem. He produced 3 of the album’s biggest hits, “My Name Is”, “Role Model”, and “Guilty Conscience”, and put his stamp on a new generation of signature production.
In the new millennium, Dre would go on to produce one of the biggest hip hop hits of all-time, 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”. He would follow that up with another track featuring 50, but this time the track landed on The Game’s debut album. The song, of course, was “How We Do”.
Today, Dr. Dre’s list of achievements include being a rapper, producer, Grammy-award winner, record label owner, artist developer, entrepreneur, and the list goes on. He is currently the richest man in the hip-hop culture, with his net worth totaling just around $800 million after he sold his Beats headphones to Apple.
Through all of Dr. Dre’s achievements, he is known best for his work as a producer, and that is why he is arguably the hip hop producer who changed the game more than anyone else.
Hip Hop Producer #2: Kanye West
Kanye West might just be the Dr. Dre of the new millennium. The same kinds of things Dre did in the 90’s, Kanye has done in the 2000’s.
Kanye started out as a producer making hip hop beats for the likes of Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, and many others, but later broke into the game as an artist himself. But he remained a producer, as he makes the very beats he raps to. A true talent.
The thing that makes Kanye so important is that he single-handedly shapes the sound of popular music with his production.
When he dropped his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, he introduced his own brand of sped-up soul sampling. He took the art of sampling old soul/r&b records, an art which hip hop was created from, and he put his own personal touch on it. He sped up the samples, and this gave them a fresh sound. This sound would go on to take over the radio waves, and inspire thousands of new producers to do the same.
But Kanye NEVER does the same thing twice.
For his sophomore album, Late Registration, Kanye reinvented his sound again. This time, he put a lot of emphasis on bringing live orchestration into hip hop. He would hire professionals to record violins, string sections, etc. and add a rich, live sound to his gritty, old-school drums. The songs “Roses”, “Gone”, and “Touch The Sky” are good examples of West’s new take on production. Granted, he still had a touch of his sped-up soul sound on the album, but not as much.
Kanye would change the game again when he released his 4th album, “808’s and Heartbreak”. This album’s sound relied on heavy auto-tune, and relatively minimalist production. Kanye made a bold choice here, as many of the songs were of West singing with auto-tune as opposed to his normal rapping.
I think you can catch my drift here. The story of Kanye West’s discography is that each album introduces its own, original, and innovative sound. And each album has been ground-breaking in terms of what it has done for pop culture. It seems as if wherever Kanye West goes, the radio follows.
This very reason is why I chose Kanye to be on this list. The impact that his hip hop beats have had on the industry is nothing short of amazing.
Hip Hop Producer #3: Timbaland
I had a difficult time choosing who to put in the final spot on this list. It was between Pharrell Willians, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, and Lil Jon.
Ultimately, I chose Timbaland. The reason for this is because Timbo did something for hip hop that I feel was overlooked and incredibly important.
Timbaland did a masterful job at fusing hip hop with pop. He played a huge role in introducing synth-heavy sounds into hip hop and pop beats.
One could argue that Timbaland is more of a pop or r&b producer than a hip hop producer. This is precisely why I put him on this list. As mentioned before, Timbo was able to fuse hip hop with pop culture with his signature sound.
In his earlier years, Timbo was known most for his work with Aaliyah. The genre was r&b/pop, but with a certain innovation. The beats were harder than what you’d typically think of when you hear the word “r&b”. “More Than A Woman”, “Are You That Somebody?” and “Try Again” were 3 of the big ones which commanded a ton of radio play.
Timbo took that style into hip hop, as he landed hit after hit with Missy Elliot. (“Gossip Folks”, “Work It”, “Pass That Dutch”, etc.)
From there, Timbo went on to produce huge hits for hip hop’s biggest artist Jay-Z. “Big Pimpin”, “Is That Yo Bitch”, “Hey Papi”, and later, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” were some examples of Timbo’s work with Hov. Not bad.
But it was Timbo’s work with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado in 2006 which really shook up the game. I remember a time in 2006 when a Timbaland produced track was playing on 5 different radio stations at one time. It was insane. “SexyBack”, “My Love”, and “What Goes Around” by JT, and “Promiscuous” and “Say It Right” by Nelly Furtado were all out around the same time, and all hogging up the radio waves of every pop and hip hop station in America.
The impact that Timbaland had on the music industry alone was astounding. His presence has undoubtedly faded over the more recent years, but he made his mark in a big way when he had the spotlight. He was without question the hottest producer in the mid-2000’s, and I credit his synth-heavy production style as a reason that pop music has gotten more and more electronic in recent years. This alone is the main reason that he is on this list.
Other Game-Changing Producers: Pharrell Williams, Lil Jon, Swizz Beatz, RZA, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, Scott Storch
There have been a lot of producers throughout the years who have been important in molding the sound of the culture of hip hop. In fact, every single one of them has contributed something…whether it be a new kind of drum pattern, new synths and effects, or a fresh beat groove.
The three I’ve listed above are simply at the top level of their craft, and have contributed so much to how the popular sound has evolved.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list. If you’re searching for some game-changing hip hop beats yourself, be sure to check out Adamack Beats, where you can buy beats online and download free rap beats.