Even though rappers and producers share a symbiotic dependence on one another, there's been an ongoing debate in rap music about who plays the most pivotal role: the one providing the words or the one providing the music. While the MCs obviously get the most shine, would Guru's words have been as impactful had he not been backed by the incredible DJ Premier? Could the Wu have revolutionized the game without the RZA? Here are the ten best producers in hip-hop history.
See also: Which hip-hop crew is the dopest?
10. Large Professor Besides discovering Nas and producing 30 percent of the most unassailable rap album of all time, Large Professor has been one of rap's most well respected figures for twenty years and counting. His career began in high school when he programmed beats for the legendary Eric B & Rakim. Soon after, he was producing his own classic album with Main Source in Breaking Atoms.
9. Rick Rubin Rick Rubin is arguably one of the finest music producers in any genre, but his contribution to hip-hop has been monumental. He may not have produced a ton of rap albums compared with the rest of his gigantic catalog, but much of his finest work has been rap, from Run D.M.C.'s Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys' License to Ill to Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and LL Cool J's Radio.
8. J Dilla J Dilla is both one of the most overrated and underrated producers in all of hip-hop. On the one hand, not enough people know him, or else his irrepressibly soulful cuts would be celebrated well beyond hip-hop walls. On the other hand, the people who do know him love him unconditionally. It doesn't help that he died from Lupus well before he had time to finish up his catalog, but his work with Slum Village and beyond was enough to show that Jay Dee was a one-in-a-million talent, capable of arranging a mess of mismatched samples into a beautiful bouquet and transforming an unrecognizable vocal snippet into an expression of pure emotion.
7. Pete Rock Pete Rock is one of the best samplers of all time, not only in his excellent taste and choice in samples, but in his creativity in recontextualizing those samples and reintroducing them with a hip-hop flair. He had an especially captivating ability to take horn samples, tweak them with effects and layer them over each other or themselves for classy, nostalgic effect. Rock's best musical years were had alongside rapper C L Smooth across the first half of the '90s, but his impact on the musical landscape, even today, is immeasurable.
6. Q-Tip Along with DJ Premier, Q-Tip was arguably the most impactful producer on the sound of rap in the '90s. Not only did he popularize alternative hip-hop with his work on the first three A Tribe Called Quest albums, but he also had a hand in producing some of the decades most important hardcore albums. 9th Wonder credits Q-Tip as the originator of feel-good hip-hop. If that's not high praise, I don't know what is.
5. RZA RZA's intense love of Kung Fu and imagination are among the primary reasons New York experienced it's hip-hop golden age in the early to mid '90s. A direct and obvious descendent of DJ Premier, RZA not only created great tracks that oozed hip-hop's very essence, he created an aesthetic that made listening to rap as exciting as watching incredibly skilled fighters test their techniques against each other. Kung Fu was a perfect match for hip-hop's style wars, and RZA gave his clan the perfect setting to showcase their moves.
4. Marley Marl Marley Marl has had a monumental influence. He earned his reputation as the producer of the most formidable hip-hop collective of all time, the Juice Crew, consisting of Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap and others. Marley Marl is also credited as the first producer ever to sample a breakbeat, which he did on MC Shan's "The Bridge," so it would be impossible to overstate his importance in the evolution of hip-hop during the golden ages that followed his innovations.
3. Kanye West Kanye West has the strongest, most complete discography of any rapper in hip-hop history, and it definitely ain't because of his lyrics. Before he made all his own music, he was helping Jay-Z, the Diplomats, Ludacris and Common make some of their best music -- all the while rapping to anybody who would listen to him. Since 2005's "Gold Digger," West has been on top of the game, and even as decorated as he is, he's not afraid to keep making bold musical choices, as evidenced by Yeezus.
2. DJ Premier DJ Premier's revolutionary sampling style set the tone for most of the rap acts of '90s. And while he was a very skilled DJ, his prowess in producing classic rap singles probably comes more from his vast music knowledge than anything else. Premo had the rare ear and patience to wade through hours of music to find one tiny, golden clip of sound that could chopped up and repackaged or even kept the same to become the basis for dope tracks like "Step in the Arena," "Above the Clouds," "Mass Appeal" and "Nas is Like."
1. Dr. Dre Dre's got across-the-board production talent, but it's his perfectionism and attention to detail that make him the best rap producer of all time in our book -- one time he reportedly made Eve repeat the same word 45 times for a track before she threw down her mike and he finally let her leave. There has never been a rap album as sonically rich and textured as The Chronic, for which we have to thank Dre's obsessive compulsivity. It's the little things all over in Dre's music that give it that top-quality sparkle.
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