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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.


  • Datrobotjazz says:

    Say what you want, but Kanye West deserves to be on this list. If not in your top 5, at least give him the respect he deserves. We’re here to discuss musicians and the music they produce…not their public persona or image. Kanye West has done a lot for hip hop. The College Dropout revolutionized mainstream rap/hip hop and made it something everyone could be a part of. His style is truly original and highly accessible. Don’t judge an artist by what you see them do on MTV. Judge them by the music they create. For every time I wanted to cover my face when Mr. West made a fool of himself on TV, there have been infinite more times for which I wanted to shake his hand for bringing hip hop back to life. Keep hip hop positive. Keep minds open.

  • wtf? says:

    Jesus christ. Another J Dilla ride feast.

    “If you factor in his influence on the latter half of ATCQ’s career, ”

    and you consider this a positive why? Common, The Pharcyde and Tribe all started their downslide as soon as they started fucking with Dilla. He’s by far the most overrated producer of all time and putting him over someone like Extra P is just a sad joke.

  • Nes says:

    Another Dilla ride fest?

    I’ve noticed that the only Dilla haters are the ones who have listened to about 1% of his music. The ones that delve into his countless beat tapes(I’ve been a fan for yrs and yrs, and I’m STILL finding new material), little-known remixes, his experimental ish, and really get a feel for who he is – can’t leave him off a top 5 list. He was just so different, so much more talented and creative than most anyone else. Dude put feeling into his music that very few producers could. He had his own sound. Pete Rock influenced him, yes…but even PR admitted that Dilla took his stuff to another level (peep Dilla’s new documentary).

    You only listed ATCQ, Com and Pharcyde because those are the only crews you’ve heard of that f’d with Dilla, admit it. Do your homework before being a misinformed hater, kid.

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