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The Definitive Discussion: Top 5 Hip Hop Producers

By April 14, 2009Misc, Music, News

This gets harder and harder with each list…

With this installment, i’m going with the top 5 hip hop producers of all time. This was by far the most difficult list to date. I tried to stray away from simply listing favorites, and challenged myself to list the “best”. Here’s the criteria that i’m going by:

  • First and foremost, I’m considering the producer’s influence and legacy. Game changers. Legends. No fly-by-nighters.
  • Not including people who are producers in name, like Diddy. The producer has to have shown the technical ability to make music at some point in their career.

That’s it. I kept it pretty simple. And with that, here’s the list (in no particular order):

  1. Dr. Dre: Arguably the most influential hip hop producer ever. (And i’m usually the one arguing that.) Produced or co-produced some of the highest selling artists of all time – NWA, himself, Snoop, Eminem, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes. Think about how many records were sold from that list alone. You can’t deny his ability to make classic records with long lasting appeal. Some might debate whether or not he’s taking credit for other people’s production these days, but he’s still the man behind the boards. No different from Quincy Jones having session musicians.
  2. Jay Dee / J Dilla: I would have been crucified if his name wasn’t one of the first two mentioned. We’ve had countless debates about who was the greatest – Dilla or Dre – and the results weren’t always clear cut. I like to believe that I won the argument with Dre, but there’s a strong case with Dilla. The sheer volume of his body of work is unfathomable. He was already deep into the game before anybody knew who he was. If you factor in his influence on the latter half of ATCQ’s career, his work with Slum Village, the endless remixes and collabs, and the legendary beat tapes, you have a producer that touched nearly every corner of the hip hop community (as well as a few outside of hip hop). His production style has been duplicated by countless producers out there. Who gavethe clap / snare its distinct sound? Who put the shift in the sequence to bring the snare in a little early? Filtered synths and loops like no other? You already know.  There’s not much to say that you don’t know about already. Truly a legend.
  3. Pete Rock: For those of you that were around in the early 90s – remember when everybody had to have a “Pete Rock Remix”? Exactly. Name one weak project that Pete Rock produced. It’s okay, i’ll give you time… NONE.  As far as producers go, Pete Rock owned the “Golden Era”. He was Dilla before Dilla. The production on his own albums are still standards to this day, but he was equally as impressive with tracks for others.
  4. DJ Premier: I almost put him and Pete Rock neck in neck for the “Golden Era”. You had to have a Pete Rock Remix and a Premier Remix. Premier probably stepped outside of the east coast more than Pete did. He had signature drum sounds and a style all his own. “Step Into The Arena” and “Daily Operation” were two of the best produced hip hop albums ever, comparable with ATCQ’s 2nd and 3rd albums. And he’s a hell of a DJ. And he’s from TX. Stand up!
  5. This is where it got tricky. I couldn’t find a 5th without excluding someone else who could fit in its place. I polled a few people for their feedback, and here’s some of the answers that I got:
  • Marley Marl – HIGHLY influential in the earl days of hip hop. Changed the game as far as sampling goes.
  • Prince Paul – highly overlooked producer, was responsible for a lot of projects that people take for granted: De la, Stetsasonic, etc
  • The Bomb Squad – Public Enemy’s early work, helped launch Ice Cube’s solo career
  • De La Soul – a lot of people still don’t know that they do most of their production
  • Organized Noize / Earthtone III – Ever heard of the Dungeon Family? Produced Outkast, Goodie MoB, Witchdoctor, etc
  • Timbaland – don’t hate. He might be making the good Timberlake money now, but his sound is still rooted in hip hop
  • Kanye – ego aside, he is / was a damn good producer. I wouldn’t put him in the top 5, but his name is worth mentioning.
  • Manny Fresh – did a lot of popular music for the No Limit camp when they were putting out an album a week
  • Pimp C – a much, much better producer than anyone outside of Texas gave him credit for. Put straight up soul and funk on anything he produced. Look at his discography and prove me wrong.
  • Q-Tip – his work on the early Tribe projects (if it’s true) is classic. His tracks for Nas, Mobb Deep, and a lot of other people went HARD.

Who did I leave off the list? Who’s worthy of that 5th spot? Did I get it all completely wrong? Discuss below.


Founding member of K-OTIX / The Legendary KO. Unheralded jack of all trades. Spends most of his time these days creating moving pictures and writing some of the best material he's ever written. Likes dogs. Cats - meh.


  • Anon says:

    RZA of course..

  • TACH says:

    too many great producers to make a Top 5….
    (no order, just a list)

    Pete Rock
    Redman (yes Redman)
    Black Milk
    Bomb Squad
    The ARE
    The Alchemist
    Rick Rubin
    Dr Dre
    K. West

    All are great, and all have contributed to this thing called hip hop…

  • dudeman says:


  • simon says:

    to me, hip hop has evolved to the point where if you’re gonna talk about “top producers” or whatever, you really have to seperate eras…. just like you wouldn’t compare tyson to ali…. of course there’s no dilla without paul c it’s all connected, but you can talk about “formative” producers, cats like

    dre, timbaland, dilla…. you almost can’t help mentioning more recent names because hip-hop as an art form is always building on itself….. so as it evolves it just gets better (ideally.) dilla obviously represents the essence, and beyond that his ear and arranging skills are even beyond hip-hop…. one of the greatest *musicians* period in the history of western music.

    so you have the paul c/large pro/pete rock/premier lineage…. new york chop shit.
    you have the south…. which is really interesting, as they did almost as much as dilla to bring back RHYTHM to the music…. what is the evolution of “dirty south” anyway? someone should write a piece on that.
    you have the west coast, obviously, dre and all the underground west coast producers that influenced him. you have the new west coast underground quannum/cut chemist/good life cats…. e40 is prob worth mentioning…..

  • bushie2000 says:

    Damien!! I feel your list but not hatting or any thing kanye does not belong any where on that list. you would have account for dudes like Dj Muggz and when you speak of shape shifters 9th wonder has to have a place somewhere. before you look at kanye the name Madlib has to come to your thought forefront first. Khrysis
    Q?love & black thought
    Scott Storch
    Dj Khalil
    not to rub it in futher
    Kurtis Blow
    the beatnuts
    Kool keith
    then my all time favorite
    Peanut Butter Wolf

    this are all that deserves a mention way before Kanye can be uttered

  • bushie2000 says:

    wot ever happened to Roc Raida

  • TL says:

    m phazes
    pete rock

  • TL says:

    kev brown

  • loulou says:

    Juju and Psycho – Beatnuts #1, competition is none….google it.

  • dirty dugg Lo says:

    Hassan Olu I agree with you 100% cats gots to do your homework, from the time i started working on my craft(’84-’85) i was influenced by alot of Dj’s, producers, and musicians. so its hard to sum it all up in 5 slots. peace to Mantronix, the beatnuts, and questlove

  • DJ MaJAZZtic says:

    some of my top whatever:

    -Tone B Nimble (from All Natural)
    -Dj Roddy Rod (from Maspyke)
    -Oddisee (Low Budget)
    -Kevin Brown (Low Budget)
    -20Syl (from Hocus Pocus, France) GREAT!!!
    -J. Rawls (Lone Catalysts)
    -Headnodic (Crown City Rockers)
    -Damu The Fudgemunk
    -Fat Jon (from Five Deez)
    -Freddie Joachim (Watch out for him!)

    call em new school. and respect to all the old school producers all mentioned above!

  • Christian Hatcher says:

    I’ve gotta think that the RZA should get a mention. He’s been behind every one of the Wu’s crack albums practically. He produces some damn good beats and he’s got this unique raw style to all of them, they’re sparse but yet intricate at the same time.

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