Finding The GOAT Producer: Just Blaze vs. Kanye West. 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.
In the early 2000s, Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella Records transformed from an elite force in Rap music to making some of the most meaningful popular music of the times. Albums like The Blueprint, The Black Album, and The College Dropout were not only weighted highly by those in the know, they were portals of the best music coming from Hip-Hop. Kanye West and Just Blaze were two key players in that movement. For others, and then West in his own right as a vocalist, these men created a renaissance in production through soulful sampling, evocative recycling of vocals, and deeply dramatic songs. When the Roc crumbled, each evolved differently, from Auto-Tune to EDM, Pop to Dancehall, as well as trips back to the foundation that made these men juggernauts. These men collaborated on a litany of albums, and even several songs. They plausibly competed for singles, and jockeyed for top Roc rank. Just Blaze narrowly defeated another close Jay collaborator in The Neptunes for Round 1. Will he do it again, against another person his songs have been beside? Or will ‘Ye’s “Power” make him “Stronger”? Your vote may be the decider.
Defeated The Neptunes in Round 1 (52% to 48%)
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.
Defeated Scott Storch in Round 1 (69% to 31%)
Before he was one of the most widely-known MCs in the history of Hip-Hop, Kanye West cut his industry teeth as a producer. First under the tutelage of No I.D. and also D-Dot (from The Hitmen), West began circulating album cuts on late ’90s releases. By the time he laced Beanie Sigel’s Y2K title track “The Truth,” the proof set in that this was a sonic technician. West sampled, and treated those excavations with care. He (along with Just Blaze and Bink!) helped create an in-house flavor for Jay Z and Roc-A-Fella Records. These artists injected a Soul into Rap, without compromising its grit. Hits for Jay, Scarface, Cam’ron, and Talib Kweli felt dramatic and melodic at once. West’s music had a sense of style, urgency, and a rich connection to musical ancestors. For his own The College Dropout campaign, West’s mere choosing of records (Luther Vandross to Aretha Franklin to Chaka Khan) was excitement. He harnessed this wave to re-brand Common, give Dilated Peoples a crossover assist, and showcased Lil Wayne’s musicality. By the late-2000s, Kanye drove out of his first period by becoming one of the pioneers of the Auto-Tune era. ‘Ye forecast Drake, Future, and much of the 2010s sound on his 2008 808’s & Heartbreak. In addition to adding to his celebrated solo catalog, he made anthems for Jay (of a new variety), Dreezy, and his own Watch The Throne monarchy. In the last five years, West has returned to sampling, blended Trap with EDM, and targeted the charts, bringing Pusha T, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Paul McCartney with him.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.