Producers are the backbone of hip-hop. Rappers get most of the shine but producers provide soundtrack for The Culture’s storytellers. The best producers changed the sound, inspired those who came after them, and generally helped to push hip-hop forward. We’re here to give the beat makers their due so check out our list of the 10 Most Influential Hip-Hop Producers of All-Time.
DJ Premier epitomizes the “classic New York hip-hop sound.” His signatures, boom-bap drum loops mixed with expertly chopped up samples of Jazz, Funk, and Soul songs, with hooks created from him cutting and scratching in vocal samples from other hip-hop songs. A famous user of the Akai Pro MPC, DJ Premier still uses the MPC as his instrument of choice for his production. Premier is of course one half of the legendary duo Gang Starr but his influence extends throughout the game. He has worked with a number of the most respected artists in the industry, including The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, and Rakim. His ability to make authentic hip-hop records that become hits has made him an inspiration for countless producers.
3 CLASSICS: “DWYCK” by Gang Starr feat. Nice & Smooth — “Ten Crack Commandments” by Notorious B.I.G. — “N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas
Dr. Dre pioneered a sound, West Coast G-Funk. That sound is made up of multi-layered synthesizers, deep bass, and slow hypnotic-like grooves. After changing rap though his work with NWA, his debut solo album, The Chronic became one of the most influential albums of all-time in ant genre. His hip-hop classic catalogue is almost too long to list. But his influence extends beyond just the sound he created. Dre has played a major role in launching the careers of some of the greatest artists hip-hop has ever scene including Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar.
3 CLASSICS: “Still Dre” by Dr. Dre — “Nothin’ But a G Thang” by Snoop Dogg — “California Love” by 2Pac
Kanye West, in his various iterations, has had an enormous influence on hip-hop over the years. He began by focusing on sped-up soul samples before experimenting with orchestral strings, electronic sounds, and then going back to his roots with the 808. Ye continues to push boundaries and reinvent what we consider “hip-hop music”. His catalog of classics is lengthy and his epic collaborations include Jay Z, Common and Scarface. Like him or loathe him, there’s no denying the influence his music has had on the genre.
3 CLASSICS: “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West — “Slow Jamz” by Twista feat. Kanye West & Jamie Foxx — “Gold Digger” by Kanye West feat. Jamie Foxx
Mannie Fresh is the super producer of the south. And he is also easily one of the. most prolific producers of all-time. Serving as the in-house producer of Cash Money Records for over a decade before branching out on his own, Fresh has produced hundreds of tracks. Besides the CMR roster, Mannie has worked with Drake, UGK, and Rick Ross. His signature “New Orleans Bounce” sound has influenced an entire region of producers, artists, and party goers since the late 90’s.
3 CLASSICS: “Back That Ass Up” by Juvenile — “Bling Bling” by B.G. — “Ha” by Juvenile
One of Hip Hops original producers, and perhaps the game’s first official super producer. Marley Marl definitely deserves a place on this list. His sound featured classic boom bap drum loops and the early use of sampling. Responsible for producing some of hip-hop’s first certified classics, he worked with early greats like LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, and Eric B & Rakim. Marly’s great impact is that he inspired a plethora of young producers including three that made this very list (DJ Premier, RZA, and Pete Rock).
3 CLASSICS: “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J — “Ain’t No Half Steppin” by Big Dady Kane — “The Symphony” by The Juice Crew
Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo came together in jr. high school to form The Neptunes and went on to completely reinvent the sound of hip-hop. Their sound, a unique mixture of brashly synthetic keyboard sounds and off-the-wall polyrhythmic percussion tracks. They produced for a who’s who of hip-hop artist including Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and Busta Rhymes. And In the early ‘00s you couldn’t get through an hour of rap radio without hearing their signature sound. They influenced producers to be more expiremntal with their tracks and to be themselves.
3 CLASSICS: “Grinding” by The Clipse — “Hot in Herre” by Nelly — “Drop it Like its Hot” by Snoop Dogg
As one half of one of the most revered hip-hop duos Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Pete Rock’s place in hip-hop history is secured. And as a producer, Rock focuses primarily on samples to create original, jazz-influenced beats similarly to DJ Premier. He took that to the next level by digging deep into the crates and then layering a number of different samples to create something completely original with each song. As a result, whenever you hear one of Pete Rock’s hip hop productions you know exactly who made the track. Primarily an east coast representer, Rock has worked with some of New York’s finest including Nas, Rakim, and Public Enemy.
3 CLASSICS: “They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth — “The World is Yours” by Nas — “Down With The King” by Run DMC.
Timbaland is a producer who not only changed the sound of hip-hop but totally rewrote the rules for beat making. Double-time sticatto drums, unruly synths, and even beatboxing all come together to form bouncy, sci-fi fare, futuristic funk. It’s safe to say that no one was making beats like Tim before. Tim has made hits for a multitude of hip-hop’s finest including Missy Elliot, Jay Z, and Diddy. And we won’t even get into his R&B and pop hit list. He also co-created the Versuz series with Swizz Beatz which is his latest and greatest game changer.
3 CLASSICS: “Big Pimpin'” by Jay-Z & UGK — “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” by Missy Elliot — “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” by Jay-Z
Rapper, Producer, and founder of the legendary group Wu-Tang Clan, the RZA is hip-hop royalty. He primarily relies on soul samples and dirty drums to create his signature rugged beats. RZA has produced much of the Wu-Tang Clan’s discography, as well as a number of projects for each member’s solo products which would be enough to get him on the list. But the RZA is also a founding member of The GraveDiggaz, pioneering the HorrorCore sub-genre and produced for artist like Notorious B.I.G., Cypress Hill, and Big Pun.
3 CLASSICS: “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan — “Long Kiss Goodnight” Notorious B.I.G. — “Ice Cream” by Raekwon
Swizz Beatz for all his accolades is still one of the more underrated producers in the game. With a mix of party-starters and street anthems in his catalog, Swizz is a jack of all trades when it comes to production. He started his career as an in-house producer for Ruff Ryders Records and then went on to craft hits for the biggest stars in music, including DMX, Jay Z, and Snoop. His reluctance to adopt samples and affinity for incorporating live instruments to construct his beats. He also was the first east coast based producer to embrace the “Dirty South” sound and was not afraid to incorporate it into his production which is something almost every producer does now.
3 CLASSICS: “Ruff Ryders Anthem” by DMX — “Bring Em Out” by T.I. — “Party Up” by DMX
We hope you enjoyed this look at the Most Influential Hip-Hop Producers of All-Time. Make sure to check out some of our other lists:
Written by @TalentedMrFord