RHH: Who Do You Think are the Top 5 Most Innovative Producers in Hip Hop History?

and why?

This is a pretty tough list to make, so many names to consider in different times and areas. The five names that'd I'd probably put up off the top are Dr. Dre, RZA, Marley Marl, J Dilla, and Prince Paul.

Marley for creating the basic techniques of sampling which would later be adopted by pretty much all major hip hop producers in the nineties. RZA for bringing in an almost totally unique style of boom bap, ushering in the use of soul vocal samples and movie clips in hip hop songs, as well as ability to connect an album's pieces thematically, pushing the boundaries of conventionalism in hip hop music. Dr. Dre for crafting and basically perfecting the G-funk sound, until later evolving into a producer not only making hit hip hop records, but also reaching into the realms of pop and R&B with his symphonic like production. Prince Paul for implementing the use of skits and sampling potentially more obscure records than what was usual for the time, also for delivering the first straight story concept hip hop album. J Dilla's innovation is harder to explain to me, he basically created a sound in hip hop that progressed what Prince Paul, Q-Tip, and Pete Rock were doing, almost neo-soul sounding, but also for his ability to flip samples in a unique way.

I basically made this top five for argument sake, so if you want to dispute one of these guys being replaced by another producer go ahead. You could probably swap J Dilla for Madlib. I kind of put 'em in the same boat, for obvious reasons. It's kind of hard to separate innovation and influence at times because they can kind of go hand and hand with each other, but I tried not to take influence too much in consideration. So, who do you think are the top five most innovative producers in hip hop history? Do you think anyone I mentioned doesn't deserve to be in such a list? Or would you replace someone I listed with someone else? Do you think Kanye West deserves to be in consideration for being a top five most innovative producer? How about Timbaland?

BQ: Rate Skyzoo's The Salvation.

BQ2: Overall thoughts on Elzhi?


@Wirftgu - You think Pete Rock has been more innovative than RZA and Dr. Dre? I'd at least figure RZA would be like an easy shoo-in for a list like this.

Update 2:

@Wirftgu - I actually didn't really think to include Rick Rubin at first, but yeah he's right there Marley. And I think we both acknowledge and appreciate Prince Paul's artistry. Now with Pete Rock though, you say without his innovations Q-Tip wouldn't be what he is, I don't find this to be completely true because they basically came up at the same time. The Low End Theory came out in like '91 and Midnight Marauders in '93, meanwhile Mecca & the Soul Brother came out in '92 and The Main Ingredient in '94. I actually think A Tribe Called Quest's style had more of an impact on Pete Rock than the other way around. That's why I think there's kind of a noticeable difference between Mecca & the Soul Brother's production and The Main Ingredient's production. Mecca & the Soul Brother seemed much more riddled with different sounds and jazz samples (random variations to the beats), while The Main Ingredient was a smoother sounding album. Mi

Update 3:

Midnight Marauders, I think is part, if not, most of the reason that there was this change in Pete Rock's production style around this time. Now as for Dilla, I totally agree, without Pete, Dilla definitely wouldn't be the kind of producer he was. And eventually Dilla would influence Q-Tip's works (and even Pete to some degree), so it's kind a circle of influence, if you get what I'm saying... Let's not forget Large Professor though. I believe he's definitely in the same boat as these fellas (though his amount of work doesn't really show for it as much).

To me, Madlib and Dilla go hand and hand. They're kind of interchangeable. It's more difficult to pinpoint who really directly influenced Madlib's style though. Like with Dilla you have Pete, with RZA you have Marley, ect. but you can't really quite do that with Madlib (I suppose Prince Paul is the closest comparison like you said).

Anyways, RZA even though as you said he was kind of ex

Update 4:

Anyways, RZA even though as you said he was kind of expanding upon what Rick and Marley did, I think a lot of producers at the time were also doing that, just not with that same level of modification. Like DJ Premier for example is more similar to Marley, than RZA was. What RZA produced was much more atmospheric and cinematic than ever before in hip hop. Imagine what the state of hip hop would be without the Wu-Tang sound, El-P likely wouldn't be the producer he is. (TBH, I don't find Funcrusher Plus to be all that innovative, but yeah, I give props on The Cold Vein album).

I feel you on Kanye also. RZA was doing the whole sampling thing of soul vocals (and changing their tempo) a good while before 'Ye was. That is the main thing that Kanye made his signature sound with. I think some mistake making a trademark or signature sound with being innovative, while it can be in some respects, it's not necessarily. Just Blaze was also doing this around that same time, so...

Update 5:

My addition details kept getting cut off as you can probably tell.

Update 6:

I agree that Pete Rock and Q-Tip were mutually influenced by each other, but I disagree that All Souled Out impacted ATCQ all that strongly. People's Instinctive came out before it and I think you could already see that they had a particular sound and direction to their music, though yes, it wasn't quite refined as it'd eventually get to be on Midnight Marauders. The only track on All Souled Out I find to be really "fresh" sounding is "Mecca & the Soul Brother" and I can see how that could've influenced Q-Tip later on on The Low End Theory, but other than that song that EP sounds kind of dated in comparison to People's Instinctive. (Anyway, that's just a small thing I disagree with.) I also can see what you're saying with Mecca & the Soul Brother being the first kind of cinematic hip hop album too. There definitely is an atmosphere Pete's production gives to that album with all the interludes and intricacies it has. Tip though I think

Update 7:

Tip though I think had a clearer, cleaner sound in comparison to Pete, and the direction his production was going in was more the route I think jazz/alternative hip hop would end up taking (like I think the song "Bonita Applebum" was great sign of what was to come from them). In the end, I think I would give the slight edge to Pete in terms of who was more innovative between the two, but I also think a case for Tip could just as easily be made.

Update 8:

I agree with everything you said about Madlib and Dilla. I think that Madlib has a lot more "far out there" stuff in comparison, like maybe The Unseen (more so the entire concept of this album than just the beats singularly) and Madvilliany being prime examples. I think Dilla's innovation was more something other producers could probably imitate while with Madlib there really isn't anybody I can think of or have heard even come up with something similar to his work, much less as unique as it. If there was anyone who could've it was Dilla. I think Madlib is kind of in a class of his own right now in that respect.

Update 9:

I get what you're saying on Pete and RZA being cinematic in different ways. The difference between them though is that I'd say the only real album Pete produced which I'd consider somewhat cinematic is Mecca & the Soul Brother. RZA definitely took it to a further extent, and you can hear/see it on all those Wu releases in nineties (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Liquid Swords, and Wu-Tang Forever most evidently show this). So while Pete was kind of limited to one release, RZA had a bunch. I think the style that Pete had on Mecca & Soul Brother was only really good for the time it was released too. Hip hop gradually started to get away from that compact style of production with horn samples 'n stuff (e.g. Tip's looser production style getting popular), that's why you see an alteration in Pete's production style. RZA's and Tip's styles are more representative of the direction hip hop music was headed in (I think this kind of relates back to why you always

Update 10:

(I think this kind of relates back to why you always hear about how the "golden age" of hip hop ended after '93, with the releases of Enter the 36 Chambers and Midnight Marauders being significant).

As for Funcrusher, I won't doubt it's innovation from a rapping standpoint, but production-wise it hardly seems that adventurous and to me for the time it was released it doesn't really standout that much stylistically. That's all in my opinion though, I don't know, nor can really tell how much of an impact it had on future underground hip hop albums.

8 Answers

  • Favorite Answer

    Prince Paul - 3FHAR defines production as I like it, built around a loop and less about loud drums, did some crazy inventive stuff, zany, didn't hesitate to go outside the box.

    Marley Marl - Laid the template that Prince Paul would change, I think he defines hip hop's golden age production styles and sounds, less outside the box than a lot really.

    Madlib - the only hip hop producer I consider truly avant garde that sticks with his b boy roots. He deconstructs jazz and funk and even progressive rock (Frank Zappa - see Meat Grinder) and recreates it into his own hip hop wonderland full of abstract quirks and yet retaining clear hip hop sound and really taking what Prince Paul did to a whole new level unmatched by anyone. Not to mention his contributions to hip hop style jazz that are unique and outweigh any others of note as far as amount created.

    Pete Rock - Basically created the art Of making entire beats built around little more than a sample, giving the music a dense and bass heavy sound. Not sense in the sense of Bomb Squad's overuse of samples (at least to me) but in the sense where the only space is room for a nice line of bass.

    Rick Rubin - Need I explain this one? Basic essentials that defined the new school of hip hop, loud drums and sparse samples, hardcore hip hop is rooted in his production as far as I see it.

    I think kanye is a watered down pop artist who did minor tweaks and his only innovations come from hundreds of guest producers telling him what he can do with a studio and a crew of pseudo-progressive minded musicians.

    Timbaland can be considered innovative but he's too much of a pop crossover artist for me to credit with any true artistic merits, though I do respect him for a commercial guy and do like a good amount of his beats that have begun to all sound similar.

    Honorable mention to Freestyle Fellowship and The Roots for having live studio production, and FF really introduced the abstract art of freestyle rhyming before even Wu Tang (less about beat production and more about making songs)

    BQ: didn't hear but the thing with the Cosby family on it was just alright so I never looked into him more.

    BQ2: I think he should settle on a style. He's blended street poet Nas, microphone fiend Rakim, and a lot of conscious styles all together and hasn't really made anything incredible. His rapping is terrific but as an artist I think he is too much into different stuff from one song to the next and can be plain corny

    Edit: yeah for sure. At least RZA, I think RZA sort of modified what Rubin or Marley Marl were doing and made it more raw and aggressive but I don't think he sampled well until LS. Dre did a great thing with G Funk but I don't think the idea was all that creative until after the first Chronic. He's possibly next in line though. I think Pete made the jazz rap of Freestyle Fellowship, Tribe, and yes even Organized Konfusion into a legitimate style not as well refined by those, and really making hip hop more soulful than ever before. RZA created an atmosphere great for hardcore hip hop but I think Pete innovated a lot with being the first guy to really deconstruct samples and make his own songs crafted as well as they were out of his eclectic range (for the time). Without him I don't think the innovations of J Dilla or Q Tip would be what they are, or would have an inspiration point.

    Edit 2: El P would be my next in line

    Edit 3: Well, I think that Q Tip, on People's Instinctive, had a sound that was a lot like what Pete was coming onto for Mecca. I still think that it wasn't a refined sound, as you'll notice, Midnight Marauders really develops on what PI did, a lot more of a full sound and a lot more atmospheric, really something that I think Pete accomplished before anyone else on Mecca, which I consider to be the first hip hop album that has an almost cinematic feel. I agree that ATCQ really did feed into Pete's sound, but I think it is a mutual sort of thing. All Souled Out I think is what impacted ATCQ the most. I think that Q Tip really fed off the vibe he was getting from ASO, which of course still had a way to build to meet Mecca. I think that Q Tip is very innovative in his own right and I can't completely attribute anything that Q Tip did to Pete though.

    As for Large Pro, I think he was well ahead of his time, and it's a damn shame to me that he doesn't have a large discography. Everything I've heard from him is flawless. However, I think he is more of a refiner than an innovator, not that he didn't innovate, which I think he would have been number 1 most innovative if he stayed active. I think he took the jazz rap sound and soul sound Pete was doing and fused them together perfectly, better than Pete or anyone else for a long time, maybe up and beyond J Dilla.

    Source(s): Lotta typos Also I thought I was original by putting Rubin but wow glad to see someone else put him in their response.
  • Esco97
    Lv 6
    8 years ago

    Madlib. He can make a lot of music ranging from Jazz to Soul to Tribal etc.. and make it sound so beautiful all by using different samples that he fits together to make a masterpiece. His sampling is flawless and he really set the standard for producer diversity and sampling. DJ Paul for his consistency and his gift to make bangers and how he makes vocal samples apart of the beat is so well implemented. His way of using dark bass patterns and eerie beat patterns set the standard for the Southern Underground today. Lex Luger because he took the Trap sound and enhanced it further. His formula is used in a lot of Popular Hip-Hop songs today. DJ Screw because he perfected the screw technique and made it mainstream. The screw technique not only gave notice to a lot of rappers in Texas but also spawned thousands of C&S artists. RZA for taking boom bap and giving it a gritty edge with excellent use of samples and basically what you said.

    BQ: Haven't heard it.

    BQ2: Haven't heard much from him recently but Elmatic was a great mixtape. Love the live recordings of the instrumentals.

  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    Yahoo cut off this part of my answer:

    I think for Madlib and Dilla, Dilla did a lot as far as technique for sure, but I think Dilla is a lot more rooted in tradition of stuff like Pete and guys like him, Q Tip etc. Madlib...I think it's near impossible to find his parallel. Pushing aside his random Afrobeat and reggae music things, I think it's just damn impressive how eclectic the man is, more than anyone I've ever heard. I can't think of anyone else who can make incredible melodies out of free jazz, and for that, I have to give major props to Madlib. Of course, Dr. Dre could go into the same category, because funk is a very free genre, but at the same time, Dre used live instruments to twist the sound he wanted for that. Which in itself is very innovative...who else would have used a live set of musicians before him? But back to Dilla and Lib, I think that Dilla used different approaches to get to a fresher sound of the golden age, which is greatly innovative. His technique probably brought more to the table than Madlib though, as he was more of a chopper which is more original than looping, but I also don't think he did anything that outside of the box until Donuts.

    RZA definitely modified the old style more than anyone at that time, which is of course why he gets so much recognition. I think he did create a more direct atmosphere and cinematic feel. Back to what I said about PR making a cinematic sound, I mean that in a different way than this I suppose. RZA's beats went well with what was going on in the words of the rappers, which is cool in its own right, but I think the actual ambiance that Pete put into his sounds, that thick sound that left little room for silence, is what sets him apart. That was rare before Pete, I think sounds were kinda wimpy and not as heavy and thick. That's not always a bad thing, but it really has to do with the level of bass and a producer's spacing imo. I definitely can't take anything away from RZA though.

    For El-P, Funcrusher is very innovative on a rapping standpoint (technically it's alarming how far ahead those dudes were) but I think it actually is behind. Of course, I do think it's important in the sense of what underground would turn into. The production has some new stuff, but combined with that atmosphere of old hip hop. And by that, I'll refer to what I was speaking of earlier, that the sound isn't as thick, there's a lot of space and the ambiance isn't as full, it's really back to pre-Pete. Which really set a tone for underground, because the underground before that album wasn't really all that different from the movements going on at the time. I think that album really put the throwback ethic into the underground, which has clearly come over into today, as there's a lot of underground acts that are focused on hip hop at its root sound or at least golden age. I personally think that the Cold Vein is more innovative than it is good, I love the rapping on it (especially Vordul) but not all the beats have clicked with me yet. This was all off topic a bit....

  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    Pharrel Williams



    Rick Rubin

    Kanye West

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  • 8 years ago

    Roc Marciano



    Flyng Lotus


    For example

  • Zer0
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    Innovative is defined as bringing something new to the table... to be honest, I don't like his beats at all, but Lex Luger. He was the one making all the traps beats before they was booming and popular.

    Since the question isn't "best producers of all time" I am going to say Lex Lugar is easily top 5 most Innovative producers, regardless of my opinion on his beats.

    I'll agree with Dr. Dre and J Dilla as well.

  • ?
    Lv 5
    8 years ago

    Dj kool-Herc


    Lord Finnese



  • 8 years ago

    weirdguisergsne is a tryhard

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