Finding The GOAT Producer: Pete Rock vs. Kanye West. 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.
By the time Kanye West released his first solo album in 2004, Pete Rock had been producing for himself and others for 15 years. However, there’s no denying West’s arrival as a bona fide superstar in the last decade, making today’s battle one between two supremely accomplished producers. Together with C.L. Smooth, Pete Rock became a founding father of East Coast Hip-Hop’s soulful renaissance of the 1990s, during which time he continued crafting superb landscapes for everyone from Run-D.M.C. (“Down With the King”) to The Lost Boyz (“The Yearn”). But his reign extends far beyond the “golden era”; in 2016 alone, he worked alongside De La Soul, The Lox, Mistah F.A.B., Smoke DZA, Torae, and more. By contrast, Kanye West really began establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with at the turn of the century, splashing onto the scene forcefully with Jay Z’s 2001 radio smash “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and 2002’s “‘03 Bonnie and Clyde.” Outside of his immediate Roc family, he produced singles for Common, Drake, The Game, Ludacris, Scarface, Talib Kweli, T.I., and Twista by decade’s end – at which point he was a household name. Now arguably one of the most influential artists in music history, Yeezus’s celebrity all began locked in a room, doing five beats a day for three summers. But how does that stand up against the body of work belonging to the Chocolate Boy Wonder? You decide.
To be called “Soul Brother #1,” one has to earn it. Since 1989, Peter Phillips has done just that. By virtue of producing his cousin (Heavy D) and then his own partner (C.L. Smooth), Pete Rock made the smoothest leap from radio to production, with the hardest drums and smoothest samples. Deliberately, Pete connected some of the most lyrically-innovative Hip-Hop ever made with sounds of the 1960s and early ’70s. Like Hip-Hop’s pioneering DJs, the Mount Vernon, New Yorker possesses an other-wordly knowledge of records. In turn, songs like his group’s own “They Reminisce Over You” and “Escape” as well as Nas’ “The World Is Yours” pack a portal to a deep musicality in Hip-Hop. The “Chocolate Boy Wonder” was all mellow moods though. Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down (Remix)” packed a punch that eclipsed the original, while Rahzel’s “All I Know” shuffles its sound in a manner as charismatic and quirky as the beat-box master. More than just an a la carte producer, Pete has thrived in the remix and taking on whole albums. Whether AZ or Bumpy Knuckles, Ghostface Killah or Rakim, Pete is a master of the boards.
Before he was one of the most widely-known MCs in the history of Hip-Hop, Kanye West cut his industry teeth as a producer. First under the tutelage of No I.D. and also D-Dot (from The Hitmen), West began circulating album cuts on late ’90s releases. By the time he laced Beanie Sigel’s Y2K title track “The Truth,” the proof set in that this was a sonic technician. West sampled, and treated those excavations with care. He (along with Just Blaze and Bink!) helped create an in-house flavor for Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella Records. These artists injected a Soul into Rap, without compromising its grit. Hits for Jay, Scarface, Cam’ron, and Talib Kweli felt dramatic and melodic at once. West’s music had a sense of style, urgency, and a rich connection to musical ancestors. For his own The College Dropout campaign, West’s mere choosing of records (Luther Vandross to Aretha Franklin to Chaka Khan) was excitement. He harnessed this wave to re-brand Common, give Dilated Peoples a crossover assist, and showcased Lil Wayne’s musicality. By the late-2000s, Kanye drove out of his first period by becoming one of the pioneers of the Auto-Tune era. ‘Ye forecast Drake, Future, and much of the 2010s sound on his 2008 808’s & Heartbreak. In addition to adding to his celebrated solo catalog, he made anthems for Jay (of a new variety), Dreezy, and his own Watch The Throne monarchy. In the last five years, West has returned to sampling, blended Trap with EDM, and targeted the charts, bringing Pusha T, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Paul McCartney with him.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.