Finding The GOAT Producer: Havoc vs. RZA. 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.
To close out the first week of the competition, two creators of iconic New York City Rap music will square off, with your votes ultimately deciding which moves on to the next round. Havoc and RZA hail from Queens and Staten Island, respectively, two outer boroughs in the city where it all began, and with Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep between them (as well as bodies of solo and collaboration work), there is no question the two have contributed an overwhelming amount of music to the culture. But which one should emerge from the belly of New York City’s grimiest cellars and into the next round?
Havoc got behind the boards as an act of necessity. Along with Mobb Deep partner Prodigy at the onset, the Queens, New Yorker produced because the duo was unable to consistently afford hired hands. Cutting his teeth in the early ’90s, the midpoint of the decade is where Kejuan Muchita cemented his legacy. Save for some assistance by Q-Tip and his Loud Records A&R Department, The Infamous is Havoc’s show. As an MC, he may have been eclipsed by Prodigy at times. As a producer, the ominous sounds of Hav’ were hard to top. At a time when P’s barbs may have sounded overblown, Hav’s sampling, use of effects, and thumping bass drums made the threats three-dimensional. Quickly after, Havoc’s talent was recruited by Nas, Biggie, and his own protege, Big Noyd. The multi-threat kept busy, even if his most menacing material always appeared reserved for M-O-B-B. As that group evolved, so did Havoc’s approach. Murda Muzik and Infamy grew with Hip-Hop, with Havoc refusing to stay in any one pocket too long. In the 2000s, as producers adapted to a la carte beat culture, Havoc has done so seamlessly. The producer linked with Jadakiss for the peak of introspection, worked with 50 Cent and G-Unit during the pinnacle of their popularity, and tapped into Eminem/Bad Meets Evil, Kanye West, and Puff Daddy. Whether kidnapping shook ones to the bowels of the ‘Bridge, or helping Jadakiss lure in the mainstream with lyricism, Havoc succeeds. Approaching 25 years in the game, Havoc is a true testament of survival of the fittest behind the boards.
RZA’s production evolved from his rapping. The Abbott of the Wu-Tang Clan applied his DJ fundamentals to an off-kilter style that would forever change Hip-Hop. Brooklyn, New York’s Bobby Diggs (aka Bobby Digital) celebrated urgency, Funk, and imperfection. Just as he kept the sniffles and gasps of Method Man and Ghostface Killah in the vocals he recorded, RZA (at his best) basked in distortions and filthy drums. Out of that, the artist (who also co-founded Gravediggaz) would concoct sonic canvases that wore stains like hunger pains. The pulsating drums of a Raekwon solo outing punch like an alleyway beat-down, while Underdog, Janet Jackson, The Dramatics, Joe Tex, and other elements aligned to make a crew sound as menacing as a swarm of killer bees. In time, beyond his collective, Diggs applied his formula for Biggie, Cypress Hill, Scientifik, and Big Pun. While RZA’s style and output has shifted greatly in the last 20 years, The Abbott still picks his spots. Even with acting, directing, and a host of off-shots, RZA has collaboratively injected his dirt into Kanye West’s and Jay Z’s polished repertoires in the 2010s. Although the producer seeks samples featuring horns, Soul vocals, and ominous synths, RZA remarried Hip-Hop to its percussion roots. Through “RZArecting” programming and live playing, this producer’s drums were the sturdy handrails on his journey through the smoky abyss.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.