Finding The GOAT Producer: DJ Premier vs. RZA. 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.
What signifies a distinctly East Coast Hip-Hop sound? For decades, the handiwork of DJ Premier and RZA are key elements in what it means to have high-quality production in Rap music. Both celebrate reigns dating back nearly 30 years, during which time these two icons brought magic to the music, redefining what musicality meant in the era of sample-based creativity. Preemo has heralded success for emergent artists as recently as 2016, his finger firmly on the pulse of what’s next ever since forming the ever-influential duo with Guru, Gang Starr. In a somewhat similar fashion, RZA introduced the world to an entire family of future Rap icons when he formed Wu-Tang Clan (and, to a lesser degree, Gravediggaz), each of whom continue to leave impressions on generations of Hip-Hop artists. Furthermore, RZA’s proclivity for the grimy and ominous became the signature element of the New York sound. Both Premier and RZA are masters of chopping, looping, and layering – but whose work do you believe is greater?
Literally meaning “first in importance,” Premier is consistently touted as one of music’s preeminent producers, regardless of genre. Stretching back nearly 30 years, Premo’s production discography reads like a map for Rap’s sonic growth; from his 1990 work with Jazz great Branford Marsalis to his release with R&B singer Miguel just this month, DJ Premier has never shied away from pushing the limits of Hip-Hop beatsmithing. Of course, his work with Gang Starr reigns eternal, and the master sampler created groundbreaking records with Nas on Illmatic, The Notorious B.I.G. on Ready to Die and Life After Death, Bahamadia on Kollage, Jay Z on Reasonable Doubt, Rakim on The 18th Letter, and Mos Def on Black On Both Sides. In short, it’s difficult to find a year in the 1990s in which Premier did not have a formative role. Since 2000, he has produced hits for everyone from Common (“6th Sense”) to Anderson .Paak (“Animals”), not to mention collaboration projects with Royce 5’9 (as PRhyme) and countless remixes. Whether it’s his expert sense in looping, the uncut rawness of his groove, or the keen attention paid to background elements, there’s no question that DJ Premier is indeed one of the greatest of all time.
As the Abbot, RZA is the self-anointed spiritual leader of The Wu-Tang Clan, arguably one of the most important and influential groups in Hip-Hop history. With Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) serving as his first full masterpiece, he also fostered success for solo members and is considered a visionary influence in the formulation of the dark, gritty sound that came to define New York Hip-Hop. With Method Man’s Tical, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, RZA’s cinematic approach to producing albums elevated Rap production from a skill to a fine art. Outside of the Wu, he built memorable landscapes for Cypress Hill, (“Killa Hill N****s”), The Notorious B.I.G. (“Long Kiss Goodnight”), Big Pun (“Tres Leches”), Talib Kweli (“Rocket Ships”), and Earl Sweatshirt (“Molasses”). Regarded as one of the best at manipulating the speed of samples, RZA has undoubtedly influenced many of Hip-Hop’s biggest producers, evidenced by much of the chopping found in the discographies of Kanye West, Just Blaze, and others. However, RZA’s influence extends far beyond the studio; from slang to street style, he has produced entire cultural eras in Hip-Hop’s history.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.