Finding The GOAT Producer: J Dilla vs. Madlib. 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.
Round 2’s “Sweet 16” begins with two producers who were actually in a group together. J Dilla and Madlib were brothers in arms through JayLib. Even before they worked together, these men were deeply respected peers, both lovers of unconventional sampling, brutally hard drums, and believers in the laissez-faire side-projects amidst dedicated group roles. Both worked on the same LPs by De La Soul, A.G., Guilty Simpson, with many more overlap later on. To get to the second round, both producer/MCs defeated respected elders by a sizable margin. With Dilla’s death 11 years ago this month, his legacy (and catalog) continues to shape his status as a giant behind the drum machine. Madlib, with an unrivaled output and constantly evolving sound etches a legacy that speaks almost entirely through music, as the man behind the talent shuns all spotlights. This battle could prove to be won by a margin as small as a stone’s throw.
Defeated MF DOOM in Round 1 (73% to 27%)
In the mid-1990s, Jay Dee pocketed a sound so refreshingly exciting that two Hip-Hop crews already associated with incredible in-house production pounded on his door to get him involved. A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul heard Slum Village’s fan-tas-tic tapes, and welcomed the Detroit, Michigan producer to their spaces. Dilla sampled and arranged in the style of his higher-profile contemporaries. However, the sources of records leaned more eclectic (especially Electronic), and his drum sounds pulsated as hard as any in the genre. By the early 2000s, Dilla reached a zenith. Although he thrived in R&B and other genres, songs for Common, Q-Tip, and The Villa’ crossed into the mainstream. Each record differed from the next, as Dilla could evoke soothing tenderness just as easily as he could make music that challenged sub-woofers in stacked Jeeps. With high profile decorations in tow, James Yancey came full circle in the last five years of his life. The producer recharged Instrumental Hip-Hop by making Donuts the whole world craved, while plugging away at other projects (Champion Sound, Fishscale, Be) that have been analyzed with time and care as forward-sounding visions. Even before his death shocked the musical world, Jay Dee was regarded as a living legend, and a true contender for the GOAT.
Defeated Prince Paul in Round 1 (62% to 38%)
Madlib is the master of quirk. A true original, the “loop-digga” blew his smoke at the trends in Hip-Hop in the late 1990s, and returned the culture to its dustiest roots. The Oxnard, California native born Otis Jackson, Jr. has extracted sounds that crawled up from the underground sounds of Lootpack, his Quasimoto alter-ego, and the Alkaholiks. By the early 2000s, thanks to intersections with J Dilla and DOOM, Madlib’s genius was manifested across Hip-Hop. In turn, artists like Kanye West, Erykah Badu, and Talib Kweli spotlit Madlib Invazions. ‘Lib tracks are deliberately intoxicating, from the artist who famously made his music “blunted in the bomb-shelter” of suburban L.A. From honing in on the perfect arrangements straight off of overlooked sources, to recreating entire musical movements, Da Konducta works a baton when he sits at the turntable, drum machine, and samplers. A onetime mainstay at Stones Throw, Madlib helped produce a number of artists at a macro-level. From Strong Arm Steady’s finest hour to patiently-waiting Bronx “rhyme inspector” Percee P, ‘Lib creates a sound for all. The Cali’ king was able to push many of the artists he believed in towards professional careers, and does so still. Moreover, artists perhaps thought to be outside of the traditional Hip-Hop circle like Freddie Gibbs are able to find their essence through Madlib Funk. Thanks to Yesterday’s New Quintet, and tireless series Beat Konducta and Medicine Show, Jackson made Instrumental Hip-Hop commercially viable and critically acclaimed outside of the “Trip Hop” box. The same way artists on the East Coast have traveled to DJ Premier or Pete Rock to refocus their skills, for 20 years, Madlib has been that to the Bear Republic.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.