Citing Quincy Jones as one of his major influences, Lenn says that seeing the process all the way through is the most important thing, not only as the producer, but as the director. He builds first on the technical aspect of the artist. "As a producer, especially in hip-hop, you have to know what will work best for an artist," he stresses, "whether with the chord progression, melody and key, whatever. Quincy Jones made Thriller. Michael Jackson was amazing, but without Quincy's control, it would have not been a complete project."

The expression of a producer's ingenuity is dictated by the needs and desires of the artist and the respective record they're working on. The fundamental characteristics of beatmaking and the audacity of reinvention are two facets seen throughout the progression of greats like DJ Premier for years. A major change in Preemo's producing style came in 1994, with Gang Starr's "Mass Appeal," in which he chopped samples and arranged the beat in a way that was more compelling with each listen.

Es-Nine, the production mastermind behind Prime Element (the trio formerly known as 3 the Hardway), finds it more natural to go where the feeling leads you and not conform to one particular idea. "I try not to overthink it or force a song," he reveals. "And I always create music with a feeling, emotion or mood in mind."

Beat street: Boonie Mayfield (top) and Xperiment Beats represent the Mile High City in this week's Red Bull Big Tune finals in Chicago.
david lang, red bull photofiles
Beat street: Boonie Mayfield (top) and Xperiment Beats represent the Mile High City in this week's Red Bull Big Tune finals in Chicago.

Creating a signature sound without being redundant is the ultimate aim for many. Davey Boy offers the most poignant observation: "Strangely, I couldn't duplicate my own beats even if I tried," he confesses. "With all the different sounds and instruments, there's a constant drive to make something new."

To that end, Gypdahip says laying the verse down over the beat while it's still being constructed enhances the context and tone. "I like for someone to come in and lay the verse down over the beat while it's still dry and then throw in the feelings afterwards," says Gyp. "Once you know what it sounds like, you can add whatever explosions you like."

Whether beginning with a sample, as Graffiti chooses to do, or leading with the drums, as Es-Nine prefers, each producer shares a desire to create something that's challenging for the artist to work with, that's accessible to the listener, and that bears the indelible stamp of the producer.

"Audio Two rapped over just drums, and Jay Electronica rapped over movie-soundtrack music with no drums at all," notes Kid Hum, bolstering the notion that at the end of the day, there really is no method to the madness.

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