Finding The GOAT Producer: J Dilla vs. A Tribe Called Quest. Who Is Better?
“Finding the GOAT Producer,” the third installment of Ambrosia For Heads’s annual battle series features Hip-Hop’s greatest producers vying for the #1 spot. Thirty producers were pre-selected by a panel of experts, and two slots will be reserved for wild-card entries, including the possibility for write-in candidates, to ensure no deserving beat maker is neglected. The contest consists of six rounds, NCAA basketball-tournament style, commencing with the Top 32, then the Sweet 16 and so on, until one winner is determined. For each battle, two producers (or collective of producers, e.g. The Neptunes) are pitted against one another to determine which one advances to the next round.
Similar to the presentations in “Finding the GOAT MC” and “Finding the GOAT Album,” for each battle there is editorial about each producer that contextualizes the match-up, as well as sample songs, to help voters in their consideration. There is also a poll in which votes are cast, and readers are able to see the % differential in votes, real-time. Though there also will be an enormous amount of debate in comments, on social media, in barbershops and back rooms, which we encourage, only votes cast in the official ballot count. In prior “Finding the GOAT” battles, just a handful of votes often decided the results, in early and late rounds. So while we want everybody to talk about it, be about it too, with that vote that counts.
In the first battle of Round 3, two frequent collaborators and sometimes co-producers square off. As The Ummah, Jay Dee, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Q-Tip helped illustrate Hip-Hop outside the lines, but that was a combined skill fostered in the respective members’ previous works. As the culture grew into the 1990s and fueled itself with bolder experimentation and explorations in sound, A Tribe Called Quest became a mold-maker, bridging Jazz with Rap in ways that continue to push producers nearly 30 years later. Similarly, on his own, J Dilla proved that grit and gloss can live side-by-side, and the benchmark he set for plucking elements of genres as varied Samba and Soul remains the gold standard today. Both A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla have awe-inspiring bodies of work. But who will “Find a Way” into the next round?
Defeated Madlib in Round 2 (69% to 31%)
Arguably the most lionized producer in Hip-Hop history, the late J Dilla (aka Jay Dee) has only grown larger in the years since his passing. 11 years later, his music continues to live on and influence new generations of fans and creators. Emerging out of Detroit, Michigan’s bleak-yet-vibrant underbelly, Dilla put on for his city at home and elsewhere, spending the 1990s working with hometown crews as well as acts as far-ranging as The Pharcyde and Busta Rhymes. With his multi-layered sample chopping, prolific use of drum machines, and keen ear for blending multiple genres into a cohesive story, the one-time mentor of Amp Fiddler grew into his own and went on to create hallmarks for A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, and many more. By the time Slum Village’s Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) dropped in ’97, Jay Dee was linking up behind the boards with the fledgling Ummah, a group of producers which included Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. However, he kept it unadulterated Dilla in his solo ventures like 2001’s Welcome To Detroit, 2003’s Ruff Draft, 2006’s Donuts and, to a lesser degree, 2003’s Champion Sound (recorded under the name Jaylib with Madlib); as well as in works found on releases by Chino XL, D12, Elzhi, Ghostface Killah, Royce 5’9, and Talib Kweli.
A Tribe Called Quest
Defeated Timbaland in Round 2 (68% to 32%)
In 1990, A Tribe Called Quest released their self-produced debut LP, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip would continue using an in-house formula for the vast majority of their work on The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Such works helped define “Jazz Rap,” with the two innovators capable of seemingly endless wells of sophisticated, impactful sampling, layering, and instrumentation. By the late 1990s, ATCQ and Jay Dee created The Ummah, an amalgam responsible for Tribe records Beats, Rhymes, Life and The Love Movement; together, they left distinctive fingerprints on works from Heavy D, Keith Murray, Da Bush Babees, and more. Into the new millennium, Q-Tip and Dilla would merge with The Roots’ Questlove and James Poyser (and other artists) to become Soulquarians – an outfit responsible for platinum- and gold-selling LPs from Common, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, The Roots, and others. But there’s no mistaking the quintessential sound of ATCQ’s earlier works, when Muhammad and Tip joined forces masterfully to create classics that remain staples for any student of Hip-Hop, novice or expert. However, Q-Tip is also responsible for extending Tribe’s relevance into today as the foremost producer of the group’s 2016 LP, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.