Published Oct 01, 2001Hip-hop production has come a long way since DJs created musical backdrops fashioning breakbeats with two copies of the same record on turntables. The advent of the sampler allowed this looping effect to be emulated and hip-hop's use of technological means has lead to producers creating explosive multi-layered collages from the work of the Bomb Squad on early Public Enemy albums to adding live instruments to their creations. However the pioneering efforts of the legendary Marley Marl, the producer who accidentally discovered how to sample drums while trying to isolate a vocal in the mid-80s, is perhaps the most influential and pivotal figure. His groundbreaking work with the entire Juice Crew, not to mention his other collaborations, laid the foundation for many of the following producers who've developed their own style within the art form.
Pete Rock got his start spinning on Marley Marl's radio show on WBLS in New York and soon began releasing music with friend, MC CL Smooth. The self-proclaimed Soul Brother #1 established his own style with tight snares and flooding his tracks with beefy bass lines and jazzy samples culled from his father's voluminous vinyl collection. Echoing horns became his trademark of his beats and the words "Pete Rock remix" became a stamp of assured quality as his rep as an in-demand producer grew. His ruggedly smooth sound was emulated through much of the mid-90s and has influenced rapidly ascendant producers such as Jay Dee and Hi-Tek.
Seminal recordings: Pete Rock & CL Smooth All Souled Out EP (Elektra, 1991); Pete Rock & CL Smooth Mecca & The Soul Brother (Elektra, 1992), Public Enemy "Shut 'Em Down (Pete Rock Remix)"(Def Jam, 1992); Nas "The World Is Yours," Illmatic (Columbia, 1994); Pete Rock & CL Smooth The Main Ingredient (Elektra, 1994); Pete Rock Soul Survivor (Loud, 1998).
The DJ/producer formerly known as Waxmaster C moved from Houston to New York to form Gang Starr with Guru and quickly established the group's rep for jazz-infused hip-hop. By 1992, Premier had found his sonic niche. His concrete-hard beats were supplemented by samples rendered unrecognisable from their original source. Premier often changes speeds, filters and chops his breaks and sprinkles chimes and strings to add scope. Additionally his photographic memory of rap lyrics allows him to distinctively speak with his hands scratching in lyrics from several different songs to construct new phrases. Primo is the producer new and established artists call to reaffirm their underground credibility and his resume is ridiculously long even when his contributions to hip-hop's legendary duo Gang Starr are discounted.
Seminal recordings: Gang Starr Step In The Arena (Chrysalis/EMI, 1991); Jeru The Damaja The Sun Rises In The East (London/FFRR, 1994); Group Home Livin' Proof (London/FFRR, 1995); Gang Starr Daily Operation (Chrysalis/EMI,1992), Notorious B.I.G. "Unbelievable," Ready To Die (Bad Boy, 1994); Nas "Memory Lane" and "N.Y. State Of Mind," Illmatic (Columbia, 1994); Gang Starr Hard To Earn (Chrysalis/EMI, 1994), Gang Starr Moment of Truth (Virgin, 1998)
After an-ill fated deal with Tommy Boy, the artist then known as Prince Rakeem retreated back to Staten Island and eventually got his crew the Wu-Tang Clan together to record "Protect Ya Neck." Hip-hop has never been quite the same. RZA's production freaked soul records into dissonant, ominous soundscapes that incorporated a fascination with martial arts and proved to be an apt foil for the cryptic Clan members. Yet within this insular world of Shaolin, RZA still tailored his production to the personality of the Clan MCs. RZA's recent keyboard-heavy "digital orchestra" productions were borne out of studying music and the results are crisper and cleaner than the revolutionary bent of early Wu-Tang material.
Seminal recordings: Wu-Tang Clan Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (Loud, 1993); Method Man Tical (Def Jam, 1994); Raekwon Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (Loud, 1995); Ghostface Killah Ironman (Epic/Sony, 1996); GZA Liquid Swords (Geffen/ MCA, 1995).
After a stint as the DJ in hip-hop's early pre-eminent live band Stetsasonic, Prince Paul mentored and produced three Long Island teenagers who went to his high school who called themselves De La Soul. Their arrival pioneered the use of samples outside the well-established James Brown and George Clinton axis, utilising rock, pop and country records. His decision to bring thematic consistency to the record by incorporating skits proved so influential that for better or worse, skits are now de rigeur on virtually every hip-hop record. Instead of developing an instantly recognisable sound, Prince Paul's trademark has proved to be his irreverent sense of humour and penchant for producing sophisticated concept albums.
Seminal recordings: De La Soul 3 Feet High & Rising (Tommy Boy, 1989); De La Soul De La Soul Is Dead (Tommy Boy, 1991); De La Soul Buhloone Mindstate (Tommy Boy, 1993); Prince Paul A Prince Among Thieves (Tommy Boy, 1999).
Recruited by Eazy E to produce tracks for his Ruthless records label after modest success with the World Class Wreckin Cru, Dr. Dre became the main sound provider behind the incendiary NWA, bringing "gangsta rap" into the mainstream. While the group regressed into self-parody, Dre's production matured and he left to reach his creative apex at Death Row records. Dre hired keyboardists and guitarists to lay down his melodies that were heavily inspired by elements of p-funk classics while he oversaw percussion. With its pedestrian bass lines and heavy use of synths, the sound that became known as g-funk was the antithesis of the comparatively frenetic drum emphasis typified by East Coast producers. Dre popularised and perfected the sound to the point where for a time in the mid-90s it became synonymous with hip-hop from the West Coast.
N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless, 1989); N.W.A. Niggaz4life (Ruthless, 1991); Dr. Dre The Chronic (Death Row/Priority, 1992); Snoop Doggy Dogg Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope, 1993); Dr. Dre 2001 (Interscope,1999).