Hip hop today is one of the biggest and brightest genres in the world. But it wasn’t always this way, and rappers can only carry it so far. Backing them up were the amazing producers who helped create all of the amazing tracks we have today. So in this article, we’ll take a look at the 21 best, biggest, and most prolific hip hop producers of all time.
1. Dr. Dre
The first name you think of when you think of the best hip hop producers of all time has to be Dr. Dre. His work is utterly incredible and stretches from the glory days of 90s hip hop to the modern day. The current founder and CEO of Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics, he was also one of the co-owners and founders of Death Row Records.
His incredible career began as part of N.W.A., popularizing gangsta rap and detailing the violent street life many people inside of inner cities were subject to on a daily basis. He would go on to become one of the most lauded rappers of the 90s as well with albums like The Chronic and produced albums for other Death Row Records rappers like Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle.
From the 2000s onwards, he has mainly been in a producer role, signing Eminem and 50 Cent, the two rappers who would come to dominate the hip hop scene in that decade. On top of being the most prolific rap producer in history, he has been called one of the greatest artists of all time and won seven Grammy Awards for his work both on the mic and in the production booth.
Madlib is a name that also appears on our list of the best underground rappers, but his production work is anything but underground. According to the artist, he’s a DJ first, a producer second, and an MC third. The list of artists that he has produced for is nearly limitless, including names like Snoop Dogg, MF DOOM, Freddie Gibbs, Kanye West, and Jay-Z.
Every beat he produces is a bit unique but carries his own style. The entire point of his production work and rap career itself was to help the game evolve rather than land on any charts, an artistic expression worthy of respect.
RZA had a way into the hip hop world that many people would never get, but he proved himself time and time again. The cousin of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, he began making beats at the age of 11 and wound up being the man behind many of the most famous songs Wu-Tang Clan ever recorded.
From there, he would go on to work with other hip hop greats like Jay-Z and Kanye West, producing most of Wu-Tang members’ solo projects, but his style has remained consistent throughout his career. Lo-fi samples and hard drums are staples of his work.
4. DJ Premier
DJ Premier is one of the amazing producers on this list for both being a legendary figure in hip hop and contributing production to artists outside of the genre. On top of his work in the scene, he was behind music from Limp Bizkit and D’Angelo. He is also behind some of the best singles to ever be produced. From his old-school hip hop beats that were used by Biggie and Nas to his work on singles like Jay-Z’s So Ghetto, very few hip hop producers hold a candle to the talent that is DJ Premier.
5. Kanye West
Kanye West might be the most polarizing figure in hip hop today, but his work as both an artist and producer is undeniably some of the best there’s ever been. Before becoming one of the biggest names in the industry as an artist, he had a prolific career as a producer that saw him make beats for the likes of Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. When you’re looking for creativity and innovation during the 2000s in the hip hop world, nobody had a better or more interesting run than him.
6. J Dilla
J Dilla may have passed at the age of 32, but what he did for the hip hop world is undeniable. Not only is he one of the greatest underground rappers of all time, but he’s also one of the best producers in all of hip hop history.
During his time, he took the entire art of making beats to a new level, which included producing some of the most complex unquantized drum sounds and experimenting with instruments and complicated samples in a way that nobody else could. He produced for big names like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul as well as making his own music.
7. Pete Rock
Pete Rock makes it this high on the list because he was one of the best producers of the 90s and was in large part responsible for the immense growth hip hop saw during that decade. Not only was he a beat-crafter, his samples often derived from jazz and soul songs, giving everything he did a soulful feeling that might have been missing from other producers’ work. He would be a driving force behind some of the biggest names of the decade, from A Tribe Called Quest to The Roots.
Timbaland is an interesting name for this list, as for many people, he’s a credited artist on a few big-hit singles. But in reality, he was one of the producers that dominated the charts in the 2000s. From the time he worked on Missy Elliot’s The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) to almost everything Justin Timberlake did and numerous artists like Drake, Nas, and Rihanna, he was absolutely everywhere.
The sheer ubiquitousness of his flawless beats was enough to earn him a place as one of the best producers of all time, but his ability to make each one of them unique in some way puts him over the top.
9. Rick Rubin
Rick Rubin is one of the old heads who were around when hip hop was in its infancy. He got his start in the 80s, producing beats inspired by rock and roll like the one in LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells. He would go on to be a co-founder of Def Jam Records and continues to be an amazing producer to this day. He’s another one who works outside of the genre, helping create hit singles for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash in addition to his work in the genre.
10. Just Blaze
Just Blaze was one of the producers who defined what hip hop sounded like during the 2000s. His way of tuning samples to get the utmost out of them is unmatched and his ability to select them makes for a unique style in an inflated genre. He’s produced for a lot of big artists, from Jay-Z to Eminem and Ghostface Killah to Busta Rhymes. His biggest achievement and the song that showcases his talents the most is probably Jay-Z’s U Don’t Know.
11. The Neptunes
The Neptunes are actually a duo consisting of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, and together, they became one of the best hip hop-producing entities in history. Their work is all-encompassing, encouraging artists to be heavily involved in the production of their songs and going beyond just being beat-makers. Within the hip hop scene, they made major hits like Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot, while outside of the genre, they produced hit singles for Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey.
12. Metro Boomin
Metro Boomin is one of the newest hip hop producers who has a resume that qualifies him for this list. He has done extensive work with 21 Savage but also produced tracks for Future, Drake, and Migos. When it comes to trap songs, no other producer has a better claim for being the best, nor has anyone changed the game as much as him in recent years.
13. DJ Shadow
DJ Shadow may be the only producer to only produce his own music on this list. He eventually became one of the best-known producers in the genre, starting with the release of his 1996 album Endtroducing… It’s the first album in history to be made entirely of samples and changed the way people looked at hip hop. The genre could still be an art form without a rapper, and he not only proved that but revolutionized the way instrumental productions were done in the game.
14. No I.D.
No I.D. first made his name as the producer behind a lot of the beats Common used but wound up being one of the most critically-successful hip hop producers in history. His work with artists like Jay-Z and Nas would win him a Grammy Award and see him earn a further five nominations. His style stands out among hip hop producers because of the way he uses samples. He doesn’t just look to traditional genres to pull them from, instead, he’s one of the most creative and selective producers out there.
Q-Tip isn’t just a producer; he’s also one of the best in the game in all forms of hip hop. As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, he both recorded and produced the highly-touted group’s albums, but his career didn’t end when the group disbanded. He would go on to produce his own solo projects and work with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Busta Rhymes.
16. The Alchemist
Anyone whom Eminem chooses as their official DJ is going to be an amazing producer. The Alchemist has spent over 30 years working as a producer, rapper, and musician in the hip hop world. A consummate professional, he’s one of the very best samplers out there, working in and out of hip hop to produce the highest quality instrumentals you can find.
Nujabes is a really interesting entry to the list and one that a lot of people have probably never heard of. Born in Tokyo, Japan, he would eventually become one of the best solo hip hop producers in the world and was essentially responsible for the creation of the lo-fi hip hop genre. Almost all of his work was instrumental, but it was groundbreaking. And with how immense the lo-fi genre has become in recent years, it would be patently unfair to leave the originator or it all off of this list.
18. Mannie Fresh
Mannie Fresh is one of the foremost producers at Cash Money Records, working with artists like Lil Wayne, Birdman, Drake, and Nicki Minaj. If a song came from that record label that was successful between 1998 and 2004, he was likely the one behind it.
19. Swizz Beatz
Someone had to be behind the iconic East Coast hip hop sound of the 90s, and it was none other than Swizz Beatz. While he wasn’t alone, his work was the main defining feature of that subgenre as a rapper, producer, and record executive. He worked with pretty much all the East Coast names you know, from Jay-Z and Kanye West to T.I. and DMX. Even 20 years later, he is still one of the most high-profile producers out there.
20. DJ Quik
DJ Quik was another one of the biggest producers in G-funk hip hop. Alongside big names like Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and R. Kelly, he quickly established himself as one of the best. He got his name from how quickly he could output songs, finishing them much faster than anyone else in the business at the time but never losing quality while speeding through them.
21. Erick Sermon
Erick Sermon is best known for his time as a member of EPDM, but in 2008, he would co-found EP Records and produced EPDM’s seventh album. Several songs by Busta Rhymes, Def Squad, and Redman are credited to his production.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.