Finding The GOAT Producer: DJ Premier vs. Rick Rubin. 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.

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Round 2 sees one of the leading Hip-Hop producers of the 1980s face off against one of the genre’s top sound providers of the 1990s. Rick Rubin helped take Hip-Hop to the mainstream through his work with Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and Run-D.M.C. A decade later, Gang Starr’s DJ Premier helped re-cultivate a Rap underground, through his work with Jeru The Damaja, Biggie Smalls, and Royce 5’9. These two label heads and juggernauts of their respective movements would later work on the same song through a Nike collaboration, and each produce Jay Z and Scarface. These men are associated with some of the most crowd-moving records in Hip-Hop history. As DJ Premier won by one of the largest margins in Round 1 (against Large Professor), Rick Rubin was just a few votes ahead of Marley Marl. Make your vote count.

DJ Premier

Defeated Large Professor in Round 1 (91% to 9%)

For almost 30 years, the name of DJ Premier has been synonymous with “pure Hip-Hop.” From Guru to Biggie to Nas to Jay Z to Big L to Mos Def, Christopher Martin has been the silent partner who has transformed budding rappers into the greatest poets of the twentieth century. While the crisp scratches of other voices, accentuated sound effects, and steady tempos have evolved throughout the Gang Starr producer/DJ’s career, the penetrating percussion has been a constant. From the smooth, all-knowing Guru and Big Daddy Kane’s of Rap to the angst-ridden M.O.P. and Screwball’s, Preemo calculates the composition. His music naturally syncs to the bounce of urban train cars, the bops of street toughs, and the pumping heartbeat of B-Boys and B-Girls, globally. By the mid-1990s, the producer affectionately called “Preemo” had co-piloted several acclaimed albums and singles with Gang Starr. However, through outsourcing his sounds to Biggie, Jay, and Nas, he lifted a sewer plate that allowed curious ears a pathway to the fertile underground. Jermaine Dupri, Limp Bizkit, D’Angelo, Kanye West, and countless others would recruit that sound at the pinnacles of their own careers—each producers in their own right. The greatest lyricists within the history of Hip-Hop largely have this collaboration in common. With a new studio and a tireless work ethic (and a new group, PRhyme), Preemo continues to mount a legacy that is hard to earn.

Rick Rubin

Defeated Marley Marl in Round 1 (50.71% to 49.29%)

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.