Finding The GOAT Producer: J Dilla vs. Dr. Dre. 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.
The first battle of Round 4 is nothing short of a nail-biter. Dr. Dre and J Dilla worked separately on Busta Rhymes’ Genesis album prior to Jay Dee’s 2006 passing. At that time, Dilla was working on Busta’s Big Bang album, which released through Dre’s label. As creatives, their approaches are wildly different. Contemporary Dre often enlists an ensemble to help him create rich melodies, smoky Funk samples, and accessible rhythms to the masses. So little of what he creates does the public get to consume. Working alone (outside of The Ummah and JayLib), Dilla sought out dusty grooves and blended them with penetrating drums. Jay released a plethora of music in the decade before his death, and it continues to pour out in the 11 years since. While songs for Common, Q-Tip, and De La Soul reached the mainstream, his conversion rate is vastly different than Dre’s track record with Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent. Each of these artists emerged from underground groups, subsequently developed talent, produced entire albums, and a lot of other similarities. Their differences are what will drive the debate. This one will not be easy, but only one can be the GOAT.
Arguably the most lionized producer in Hip-Hop history, the late J Dilla (aka Jay Dee) has only grown larger in the years since his passing. 11 years later, his music continues to live on and influence new generations of fans and creators. Emerging out of Detroit, Michigan’s bleak-yet-vibrant underbelly, Dilla put on for his city at home and elsewhere, spending the 1990s working with hometown crews as well as acts as far-ranging as The Pharcyde and Busta Rhymes. With his multi-layered sample chopping, prolific use of drum machines, and keen ear for blending multiple genres into a cohesive story, the one-time mentor of Amp Fiddler grew into his own and went on to create hallmarks for A Tribe Called Quest, Common, De La Soul, Erykah Badu, and many more. By the time Slum Village’s Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1) dropped in ’97, Jay Dee was linking up behind the boards with the fledgling Ummah, a group of producers which included Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. However, he kept it unadulterated Dilla in his solo ventures like 2001’s Welcome To Detroit, 2003’s Ruff Draft, 2006’s Donuts and, to a lesser degree, 2003’s Champion Sound (recorded under the name Jaylib with Madlib); as well as in works found on releases by Chino XL, D12, Elzhi, Ghostface Killah, Royce 5’9, and Talib Kweli.
From his days with the World Class Wreckin’ Cru in the early 1980s to his Best Rap Album Grammy nomination for 2015’s Compton, Dr. Dre has been consistently present and influential throughout his career as a producer. With N.W.A., he brought reality raps to the forefront of Hip-Hop culture, helping create a soundtrack for what was Rap’s most impactful generation to date. Straight Outta Compton made him one to notice, The Chronic made him one to study, and records on Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP, and his own 2001 all made him one to beat – and that was before the 21st century. In the years since, his prowess has helped birth, enrich, or resuscitate careers for 50 Cent, Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes, The DOC, Eve, The Game, Jay Z, Nate Dogg, Warren G, Xzibit, and many others whose styles vary greatly. Nevertheless, Dre manages to make his unique imprint coalesce with whatever is put in front of him. From his Electro-Hop beginnings, his prescient sampling of “The Funky Worm” (not to mention The Winstons’ “Amen, Brother”), fluency with synthesizers, live instrumentation, and Soul-leaning sample material, Heads have been in The Doctor’s office for more than 30 years.
So who is the better producer? Make sure you vote above.