Finding The GOAT Producer: The Neptunes vs. Just Blaze. 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.
The battle that ends Finding The GOAT Producer’s second week of the first round features true contemporaries. Just Blaze and The Neptunes made side-by-side hits on Jay Z’s The Blueprint, Nelly’s Nellyville, and Snoop Dogg’s Paid Tha Cost To Be The Bo$$ albums. Their sounds could not be more different in theory. Just Blaze applies over-the-top sample slices and exceptional interpolations to carefully placed drums and guitar accents. Meanwhile, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo laid out inventive rhythms, body-snatching choruses, and hand-delivered hits across the Rap industry. Both of these musical outfits delivered 2000s-era Hip-Hop from its ’90s conventions (while each were of that class). As producers, Just Blaze and The Neptunes could break an artist, sell an album, or re-direct a superstar career in mid-stride. Now comes the question of who is the greater force behind the boards, the Roc star, or the Star Trak commanders? Only one can move forward in pursuit of The Greatest of All Time badge.
Two kids from Virginia Beach made it cool to be different and applied that thinking to Hip-Hop production through their ingenious combination of minimalism and oomph. Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, aka the Neptunes, guided artists like N.O.R.E., Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Fabolous, Foxy Brown, Ludacris, LL Cool J, and Nelly into the stratosphere to score some of the highest-charting singles of their careers throughout the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. Some of their most iconic work would come in the form of long-term musical partnerships; with Jay Z, The Neptunes gave Hip-Hop “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me),” “Excuse Me Miss,” and “Change Clothes” (among others). With Snoop Dogg, “Beautiful” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” became juggernauts, thanks to The Neptunes’s otherworldly ear for hits, and that same formula made magic with artists like Mystikal. But, perhaps The Neptunes’ signature creation came in the form of two unknown brothers also from VA. Clipse would stampede onto the scene with “Grindin’,” arguably the most popular beat to ever be recreated atop lunchroom tabletops and desks in classrooms across America. From their beginnings under the tutelage of Teddy Riley to their redefining what it meant to be a crossover success, The Neptunes made the stripped-down sound the go-to aesthetic for a generation of artists who today are embodying the Star Trak influence.
In conjunction with Jay Z’s Rap takeover, Just Blaze was one of the key drivers of the R-O-C space shuttle. The Paterson, New Jersey native born Justin Smith sampled like his influences. However, the Roc-A-Fella Records hit-maker processed his sounds differently. Using pitch adjustments, multi-tracking, and drum overlays, Just made so much of what he touched in the 2000s sound anthematic. Records like Jay’s “U Don’t Know,” Fabolous’ “Breathe” and Freeway’s “What We Do” all had drama built into the beat. Whether from Rock & Roll or Soul, Just mined jewels in records. While other producers kept the beats behind the MC, this producer competed with the rappers he tracked. Jay Z’s “PSA” felt like propaganda because it was. At the peak of this period, Just refused the “chipmunk soul” pigeonhole. He flipped the script in the late 2000s. Whether injecting T.I.’s commercial zenith with Euro-Dance-Pop, or affording street vet’ Maino a mainstream breakthrough, Just could do it all. He evolved alongside Jay, from the jersey to the button-up era, and stayed the course to mogul. Meanwhile, the producer has proven instrumental to the development of Jay Electronica, Saigon, and The Game. Just Blaze is true to his name for the last 20 years, when it’s coming to upholding tradition and ignoring convention at once.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.