Any producer who the average hip-hop fan can name has had to labor over dozens, if not hundreds, of beats. And after they’ve made the beat, they have to convince an MC, usually someone far more famous than them, that this is the track they need to be on right now. The legends, the ones that have worked this hustle the most successfully, building a body of work that spans decades and key tracks on several classic albums, have more perfect beats than you can count. But every catalog has gems that stand out, that demonstrate exactly what made one beatmaker into a super-producer, what separates them from their peers. These are the Best Bests by Your Favorite Producers.
Honorable mention(s): N.O.R.E. “Superthug” (1998)
The first time Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo recorded an album with a pair of hard-boiled brothers they grew up with in Virginia, the debut Clipse single, “The Funeral,” didn’t make enough noise to get the album released. A few years later, however, the Neptunes had become an unstoppable hitmaking brand, and the production team decided to flex their industry muscle by launching their Star Trak label with a boldly minimalist Clipse street single. The song became a slow-burning sleeper hit over the course of 2002, as radio slowly caught on to the thudding drums and hard voices of “Grindin’” at a time when the Neptunes were known for splashy club songs.
But the song’s potential was evident to its creators from the jump; Pusha T has recalled that Pharrell threatened to give away the beat to Jay Z if they didn't come to the studio immediately. Clearly, they got there on time.
Honorable mention(s): Jay Z “So Ghetto” (1999)
“Mass Appeal” stands alongside EPMD’s “Crossover” as a rare paradox in hip-hop: a song that sneers at the idea of catering to the mainstream that ends up being a major commercial breakthrough for the artist. The single from the 1994 classic Hard to Earn ended up being Gang Starr’s first and biggest Hot 100 hit in a career that was fueled more by respect than radio play, and they didn’t have to sell their souls to have mass appeal. Instead, it was the naggingly catchy descending keyboard bleep that proved to be the song’s killer hook.
DJ Premier is justly revered for his drums and for his ability to chop up and recontextualize samples, but “Mass Appeal” demonstrated his ability to craft an original melody that carried the track.