Who’s the Best Sample Producer in Hip-Hop History?
I'll give you a little insight into how "Question of the Week" works. I literally write down every interesting question I can think of, then go through and pick the one I could envision my rap nerd friends and I have an hour long debate about.
This week I was thinking that while we've dug into the various elements of rap - flow, lyricism, etc. - we hadn't really done the same for producers. Just like emcees, beat makers have a range of specialties. Some know how to make those speakers knock (Rick Rubin), some know how to layer percussion (Timbaland, Pharrell) and some know how to flip a sample.
So I was thinking of doing "Who's the Best Sample Producer of All-Time?", but the more I thought about it, the more I thought there could be only one answer. Still, it was just too good of a question to just throw away, so I threw it out on Twitter and moved on.
Was gonna ask "Best Sample Producer Ever?", but the only acceptable answer is Dilla. So it'd be more like, "2nd Best...?"
— Refined Hype (@refinedhype) August 7, 2013
Well, judging by the response I got on Twitter, there's actually a real debate to be had here. Ok, well then. In that case, let's fucking do this thing.
It should be self-explanatory, but we're talking about producers who both use samples that aren't obvious, and use those samples in innovative and creative ways. For example, "Picasso Baby" might be a dope beat, but Timbo didn't do much more than just speed up Adrian Younge's original. By contrast, the way Kanye flipped the drum break from The Temptations "What It Is" into "The Corner" was dope as fuck.
So there you go, I just got the list of names started. While Timbo does deserve some credit for his sample skills, "Big Pimpin" alone is a classic let alone all his work with Aaliyah, but I still don't have him in my top-of-the-top group. That group includes the aforementioned Kanye, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, 9th Wonder, Madlib, RZA and more, although as you already know my top pick has to be Dilla.
We're talking "The Light", "Runnin", "Stakes Is High", "Drop", etc., and that's not EVEN FUCKING TOUCHING "DONUTS", one of the greatest instrumental projects ever made. Now, I'll admit that like Biggie or Pac when we talk about rap, there's a RIP corollary here; Dilla's death has probably made me feel his music more strongly than someone like Premier, who's amazing but I probably take for granted to an extent because he's still working. Also, Dilla's catalog is inherently limited (although still growing), which works both for and against him. The number of dope beats he's made is going to be less, but he also hasn't been around long enough to make the kind of inevitable mistakes that come with any long career (Jay's "Kingdom Come", Jordan's Wizard years, etc.).
Still, while it's incredibly close, I can't think of any producer I'd rather just listen to instrumentals of, any producer who's beats make me have to track down the original sample, more than Dilla, and if that's not the definition of the greatest, I don't know what is.
But that's me, how about the rest of RefinedHype Nation? Have at it people, rap nerds unite...
This article originally appeared on RefinedHype.com, which has now merged with The DJBooth. For more info, click here.