Finding The GOAT Producer: Pete Rock vs. DJ Premier. 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.
DJ Premier versus Pete Rock is an appropriate battle for the Final 4. From (previous GOAT winner) Illmatic to Blue Funk, The 18th Letter to The Big Picture, these DJs-turned-producing giants of sound have worked on the same albums, giving New York Hip-Hop an identity, a swagger, and an everlasting ruggedness. From Bumpy Knuckles to Non-Phixion, J-Live to Screwball, these men stood up for the underground just as much as they did for their classics that climbed the charts and the consciousness of a Hip-Hop generation. Each producer has made contributions as part of legendary groups where they handled it all in-house, and had enough in the tank for side projects. “Preemo” and “The Chocolate Boy Wonder” are the epitome of prolific perfectionists. Today, they take this very battle on the road often, with corresponding plans of a Premier vs. Pete Rock album in the works. One artist is recognized for perhaps the best drum programming in Hip-Hop history, while the other mastered the rhythmic scratch. Each keep their fingers dusty, and have cult-like status after more than 50 combined years in the music. This battle will be hard fought by two men that are cornerstones of the culture.
To be called “Soul Brother #1,” one has to earn it. Since 1989, Peter Phillips has done just that. By virtue of producing his cousin (Heavy D) and then his own partner (C.L. Smooth), Pete Rock made the smoothest leap from radio to production, with the hardest drums and smoothest samples. Deliberately, Pete connected some of the most lyrically-innovative Hip-Hop ever made with sounds of the 1960s and early ’70s. Like Hip-Hop’s pioneering DJs, the Mount Vernon, New Yorker possesses an other-wordly knowledge of records. In turn, songs like his group’s own “They Reminisce Over You” and “Escape” as well as Nas’ “The World Is Yours” pack a portal to a deep musicality in Hip-Hop. The “Chocolate Boy Wonder” was all mellow moods though. Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down (Remix)” packed a punch that eclipsed the original, while Rahzel’s “All I Know” shuffles its sound in a manner as charismatic and quirky as the beat-box master. More than just an a la carte producer, Pete has thrived in the remix and taking on whole albums. Whether AZ or Bumpy Knuckles, Ghostface Killah or Rakim, Pete is a master of the boards.
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.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.