Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Best Hip Hop Producer of All Time

Dr. Dre is a legend. His place on hip hop’s Mount Rushmore is about as solid as the George Washington likeness on the original sculpture in South Dakota. No other producer in hip hop history has been as consistent or successful in pushing forth hip hop and forcing America as a whole to assimilate hip hop into its popular musical consciousness. Dr. Dre is the man.
photo credit: Jason Persse via photopin cc
For a long time many people have openly called Dr. Dre “The Best Producer in Hip Hop History”. And based on his long track record of platinum hits, few have openly challenged this notion. After all, the man is responsible for The Chronic; Black America’s version of Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. Without Dr. Dre, who knows if Snoop Dogg would even exist? Eminem definitely wouldn’t have been able to be accepted by both Whites and Blacks if it weren’t for the ghetto-anchoring of America’s most popular producer.

So does this make Dr. Dre the best hip hop producer of all time?

The answer is… No!

That title is clearly held by one man and one man alone. He’s a 48 year old DJ originally from Houston, Texas. His government name is Christopher Edward Martin. To the hip hop world he’s known as DJ Premier.
photo credit: Xi WEG via photopin cc
What?! A dude from Texas holds this crown? Are you serious?! I know I have you spitting out your drink right now, but the truth is the truth. DJ Premier aka Premo is the best producer in hip hop history. It isn’t Dr. Dre. I’ll present several facts to support the reasons why Dr. Dre doesn’t deserve this crown and DJ Premier does:

1.       Dr. Dre’s Production Volume Levels: It has long been a chief complaint that Dr. Dre doesn’t really produce a lot of music. But when you dig into his discography you can clearly see his low volume of production. He has produced records every year since 1986, but if you dig deeper you will notice that of each year the amount of production usually ranges from 3 to 4 records per year. That’s pretty weak. If you check to see what Dr. Dre has on deck for 2014, guess what you’ll find? Zero. Nothing completed and nothing scheduled.  

DJ Premier’s Production Volume Levels: DJ Premier has been producing records since 1990. But if you look into DJ Premier’s discography his production amount is well above Dr. Dre’s. He produces on average 13 records per year. That’s almost triple the production of Dr. Dre. To give you a true measure of how many projects this man has on deck for 2014? Try 4 completed productions so far and 24 scheduled projects on deck. The dude is no joke!

2.       Dr. Dre’s Artist Selection: Point blank, if you’re not making paper for Dr. Dre, he’s not working with you. That’s just how he rolls. Artistic motivation doesn’t really exist with him. It’s seems to be only about financial motivation. His production catalog is so closely aligned to the Billboard pop charts that you would think it’s a second arm of Dr. Dre himself. He’s about his money. He’s currently estimated to have a net worth of over $450 Million. Do you have a hit on the charts? Call Dr. Dre. All others don’t even try to solicit his services. You’d have better luck calling President Obama.

DJ Premier’s Artist Selection: You can find the people DJ Premier has worked with everywhere. He’s worked for your Billboard Chart surfer. He’s worked with the dude cutting hair at the barbershop. DJ Premier will work with anyone who has respect for the culture and who has the motivation. He’s done work for his now deceased partner Guru and he’s done work for Alicia Keys. He’s done work for Heather Hunter and Afu-Ra. He’s even done work for Blaq Poet and Christina Aguilera. His range of artist selection reads more like a global phone book than a connection to Billboard. The fire in his belly is hip hop as an art form. And oh yeah, he only has an estimated net worth of $20 Million. So much for chart-hopping.

3.       Dr. Dre’s Politics: It has been no secret that Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre are very good friends. Dr. Dre has made tons of money based on that relationship and in return Jimmy Iovine has been able to push Interscope Records to levels few record companies reach. But it is also no secret that Dr. Dre has treated more than a few people badly based on the alleged whisperings of Jimmy Iovine. For instance, numerous artists have signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records and have been allegedly held back due to Jimmy Iovine’s interference. Some of Dr. Dre’s signings to his label seem to be more politically motivated than genuine artistic fits. Many have whispered that some signings seemed to be made to remove an artist from the marketplace and to prevent other record companies from getting the artist. After a few years and significant loss of value, the artist is then let go with no album release and allowed to try to salvage their careers (see Eve and Rakim).  That’s some grimy stuff. Especially if you’re a hip hop producer.

DJ Premier’s Politics: DJ Premier doesn’t get involved in what your record company is doing. He stays in his lane and only puts forth positive energy towards his musical productions. If you have beef with your label or an artist and you want to say some gully stuff over a Premo production, go ahead and do it. It’s your track. You’re the artist. He won’t even try to sensor you! That’s your art and you have the right to say whatever you want. When an artist works with DJ Premier it is almost 100% artistic. No politics involved.

4.       Dr. Dre’s Production: What goes into a Dr. Dre production? Is it him actually making the tracks or does he go into a studio with a team of people? Does he actually play any instrumentation or is someone else performing the sounds that he has signed to his production company? There are more and more whispers about many so-called “super producers” that actually have whole teams that produce work and have the company heads sign off on the work as their own. The rumors have floated about Dr. Dre for years. In fact, Hi-Tek, an east coast producer has all but confirmed it in interviews. So has Scott Storch. What does this say about the producer? With so many questions, it can’t be something that will be good for his legacy. How can you be labeled the best producer in hip hop history with so many of these questions floating around?

DJ Premier’s Production: To be fair, every producer uses musicians from time to time. It’s just inescapable. But DJ Premier keeps those inclusions to a bare minimum. His preference is to go into the studio with the artist that has solicited his services and make the track on site. In your face! There are usually no questions about who made it. Enough said.

5.       Dr. Dre’s Sound: The Good Doctor has a sound so clean and crisp that it sounds like he’s playing it in the same room that you’re in. For a while it was a signature sound. It couldn’t be duplicated. And although times have changed, for the most part, his attention to maintaining that same sound quality has been the same. But California has changed around Dr. Dre. The MCs coming out of Cali are less into the “worm” sound and more east coast flavored. Sure you have a few “OGs” that still subscribe to that sound, but they are becoming more difficult to find. And so Dr. Dre is trying to adapt and change with the audience. The production he provided on 50 Cent’s new song Smoke (obviously not produced in 2014) was tight but by Dr. Dre standards was not up to par. But to be fair, it shouldn’t sound the same as Dr. Dre’s previous productions. Growth should be evident in the producer’s discography. Producers change with time. But in altering his sound it seems that Dr. Dre is a little out of his element and is struggling a bit. And that is the threat.

DJ Premier’s Sound: DJ Premier came into the game on some experimental stuff. His sound was so drastically different than what was heard that it has almost become an expected situation to get that signature boom-bap left field sound from him. But that dedication to pushing new sounds and to adding weird combinations is what has made Premo’s sound impossible to duplicate. His beats are pounding. His crate-digging skills are so strange that you can’t tell where the sound came from. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of what sound from a record made in the 1940’s he’s going to sample for his latest record.  DJ Premier’s sound has been so influential that whole companies have made or altered their programming behind his style of innovative production. Fruity-Loops, Reason, and Pro Tools… Take your pick. In fact, it’s safe to say that producer 9th Wonder’s professional existence was birthed through the drum and sampling machines of two innovators in hip hop production: DJ Premier and Pete Rock. And DJ Premier’s sound is so innovative that it’s still going strong. It’s just as much in demand as it was in the 90’s.

Dr. Dre is the man when it comes to hip hop. He’s always in my top 3 producers of all time. No argument there. But in terms of who has taken hip hop to innovative heights and who has been truest to the core principles of the culture, there is no competition. DJ Premier crushes Dr. Dre beyond belief. DJ Premier is the best hip hop producer in history. There’s no competition.