Finding The GOAT Producer: J Dilla vs. MF DOOM. Who Is Better?

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“Finding the GOAT Producer” begins. 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 will consist 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) will be 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 will be an editorial about each producer that contextualizes the match-up, as well as sample songs, to help voters in their consideration. There also will be a poll in which votes will be cast, and readers will be 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 will 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.

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In many ways, today’s matchup is a true battle of the underground, with two icons who in life and death remain some of Hip-Hop’s most enigmatic spirits. J Dilla’s legacy has grown to legendary proportions since his 2006 passing, and his influence as a producer continues to be lionized. Starting out as a progenitor of Detroit’s nitty gritty sound, he broke through in 1995 with the Pharcyde, and eventually made signature records for A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common, Erykah Badu, and countless others. MF DOOM enjoys a similar embrace from Heads who prefer to explore Hip-Hop off the beaten path, and he has arguably one of the most identifiable production styles of anyone. Along with his expansive solo discography, Metal Face is responsible for 21st-century work from Ghostface Killah, TiRon, Joey Bada$$, and Masta Ace, just to name a few. Two icons with devoted fanbases come head-to-head today, but only one can move closer to being called the greatest of all time.

J Dilla

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.

MF DOOM

From the onset of his career with group KMD, MF DOOM was a double-threat MC and producer. Like his transformation as a rapper, DOOM’s beats found a niche around the mid-’90s Black Bastards sessions. There, DOOM (who divided the LP’s production with his late twin brother Subroc) would find a whimsicality. Sampling Jody Whatley for “What A Niggy Know?,” the producer punctuated the arrangement with piercing boom-bap drums, and a very specific slice of his source. Upon his solo breakthrough, Operation DOOMsday, that approach held. While battling homelessness and reported addiction, the producer carried a crate of records with him. Records by Steely Dan, Cerrone, Isaac Hayes were laid out in unique ways. DOOM’s stream of consciousness as an MC matched his whimsical beats. With a sonic boom in popularity (and lots of interest from other beat-makers), DOOM would go on to use beats (sometimes several times over) with Ghostface Killah, Masta Ace, MF Grimm, Bishop Nehru, and his short-lived Monsta Island Czars collective. DOOM’s sound is as mysterious and unique as his life. The quirky arrangements and simplistic loops may seem effortless at the surface. At a distance, the veiled genius lurks, a villain at the sampler.

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So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.