Finding The GOAT Producer: Marley Marl vs. Rick Rubin. Who Is Better?

“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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Perhaps no two names embody the staying power of 1980s Hip-Hop production more than Rick Rubin and Marley Marl, two men who literally laid the foundation for every generation of producers since. Throughout the 1980s, Rubin laid down career-defining works for LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., and others – all while founding and operating Def Jam Records. At the same time, Marley Marl was producing equally seminal classics for the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, and a host of other artists whose names now appear in the annals of history. Together, Rick and Marley helped write the culture’s loudest, most expansive chapter of its blossoming career, ensuring Hip-Hop became recognized as more than just a fad. But whose iconic body of work earns him a pass into the next round of the competition?

Marley Marl

Marley Marl symbolically guided Hip-Hop into its Golden Era. The Queensbridge native has one of the genre’s finest ears for raw talent, which is indicative of his role in the careers and catalogs of Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Masta Ace, MC Shan, and others. Marley knew how to mold artists, and give them albums that were more than two handfuls of songs around a single. As early as 1987, Marlon Williams also forecast the a la carte production style. Through singles and remixes, from Heavy D & The Boyz, LL Cool J, 3rd Bass, and others, Marley could lend potency to albums even when he was not at the helm. Producing as much as 51 tracks a year (as he did in 1988 alone) Marley made various sample sources iconic. From The Honeydrippers’ “Impeach The President” to The Emotions’ “Blind Alley,” Marley’s ear and crates distinctly shaped Hip-Hop over the last 31 years. He did more than find dope sources, Marley made over the sources with his precise sampling surgery. The style of aggressive drum patterns, vocals used in beat-making, scratching, and layering samples is a Marley Marl convention. Even in the last decade, as simple as carefully book-ending a sample, as he did for Raekwon, Marley Marl knows how to capture the right vibe at the right time. Like the studio where he created most of his classics, Marley Marl’s catalog is a house of hits shrine.

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin, a Punk Rock-living, Hip-Hop-loving Long Island, New Yorker brought his passions together in the mid-’80s. Starting in 1984, Rick approached DJ Jazzy Jay to make a forward-thinking, forward-sounding 12″ hit in T La Rock’s “It’s Yours.” Within two years, Rick would be at the helm for smash albums by Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, and his own protege, LL Cool J. Rubin, the Def Jam Records co-founder, used the aggression of electric guitars to punctuate the power of the Roland 808 drum machine. By 1990, Rick laid careful hands on the music of Public Enemy and Geto Boys. For much of the next decade, Rubin chased passion projects outside of Rap, in addition to running his own American Records. Working with Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, it was little surprise that Rick would eventually return to straightforward Rap, thanks to Jay Z, Lil Jon & The Eastside Boyz, and super-collaboration “Better Than I’ve Ever Been.” In the 2010s, the mogul has sat cross-legged in studio sessions for Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail. Rubin’s role in today’s era may be hard to pin down, but based on the guitars, sample choices, and mischief at play on Eminem’s Marshal Mathers LP 2, it’s clear that the new style is same as it ever was. Rick is a two-time Grammy “Producer of the Year” award winner, however, none of those years were tied to his Hip-Hop chapters. Having cultivated two, arguably three Rock & Roll Hall of Famers from the Rap side, Rick did a lot with a little time, and his impact, like his drums, reverberates.

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