When Hip Hop began over four decades ago the producer’s job consisted of providing high energy percussion for powerful rhymes. These days the sonic landscape is vast so artists from all over the aural globe are calling on some of Hip Hop’s top hit makers to help give their songs some bounce. Why wouldn’t they? If Kanye West is to be believed, Hip Hop is the new Rock-n-Roll, and if you want to stay on top and relevant in a race as swiftly moving as this one then you arm yourself however you can.
While all that may be true, certain elements of Hip Hop are still considered too aggressive for mainstream. Not only that, but the idea of sampling still causes some old heads to consider Rap a niche genre lacking a certain artistic merit. We adamantly disagree. The likes of Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, Timbaland and the others on this list have been able to transcend labels, lanes and markets to become superstars in their own right. So much so that they were able to take their talents into some of the unlikeliest lanes outside of their musical sphere of influence, even if they didn’t all end the way they were supposed to.
So if you thought it was unusual when Aretha Franklin recently called on Andre 3000 to help craft some new records, then you may not be the only one, but Hip Hop is expanding rapidly into other spaces. Don’t believe us? Check out this list of unlikely producer/artist pairings that may even surprise some of the more devoted Hip Hop heads.
Dr. Dre & Burt Bacharach
Album(s): At This Time
Notable Tracks Produced: “Is Love Enough,” “Go Ask Shakespeare,” “Danger”
Somewhere between crossing the million dollar mark by making beats for West Coast legends, and crossing the billion dollar mark (before Uncle Sam’s Curse) with Beats Audio, Dr. Dre teamed up with composer/pianist Burt Bacharach to help produce several tracks from the six-time Grammy winner’s 2005 album, At This Time.
“We went to Dre’s studio one day with Steve and Dre laid a half a dozen loops on Burt,” Bacharach friend and songwriter Steve “Tonio K” Krikorian told songfacts.com in a 2013 interview. “And Burt wrote this stuff that I’ve never heard anything quite like. It’s somewhere between Stravinsky and Gershwin with Bacharach top line melodies and Dre loops.”
DJ Premier & Christina Aguilera
Album(s): Back To Basics
Notable Tracks Produced: “Intro (Back To Basics),” “Back In The Day,” “Ain’t No Other Man,” “Still Dirrty,” “Thank You (Dedication To Fans)”
From underground favorites like Jeru The Damaja and Pitch Black to commercial juggernauts like the heralded triumvirate Biggie, Jay Z and Nas, DJ Premier has represented Hip Hop’s classic sound for more than 20 years. But back in 2006, Pop sensation Christina Aguilera enlisted the Gang Starr producer to help with her fifth studio album, Back to Basics. Premo produced five tracks, including the LP’s lead single, “Ain’t No Other Man.” As it turns out, the songstress became familiar with Premier’s work via the Gang Starr track “Jazz Thing.”
“It had elements of Miles Davis and Billie Holiday and little horn pieces,” Aguilera revealed in a 2006 Billboard.com interview. “The way he combined that, I was like, ‘Hm. I bet he would get where I’m trying to go with this record.’ It was taking a chance. God knows if he would even do it because it was kind of his first time, I think, even venturing into the ‘pop’ world. I knew that it would be a different and new thing for him.”
The two linked up again for Aguilera’s follow up album, Bionic, though none of the tracks he contributed ultimately wound up on the album.
Rick Rubin & Johnny Cash
Album(s): American Recordings, Unchained, Solitary Man, A Hundred Highways, Ain’t No Grave, The Man Comes Around
Notable Tracks Produced*: “Solitary Man,” “Give My Love To Rose,” (Technically, Rick Rubin is listed as producer for the entirety of these albums, which are apart of Cash’s American Recordings series).
As the in-house producer and co-founder of Def Jam, Rick Rubin helped catapult Hip Hop from underground art form to Pop culture phenomenon. But after producing hit records for Hip Hop heavyweights like Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, the sonic guru took a break from Hip Hop to work with Country music icon, Johnny Cash on his critically acclaimed album, American Recordings.
The album, which took home the Grammy in 1994 for Best Contemporary Folk Album, was credited with helping the late legend reach a more youthful audience.
“He knew it was good while we were doing it,” Rubin said of the album in an interview with performing songwriter. “But it wasn’t until it came out and got the critical praise that it really sank in. The fact that young people were coming up to him, telling him how much they liked the album—that’s when he really knew,” he added.
The two would go on to make five more albums together in total. Three before Cash passed away in 2003, with A Hundred Ways, and Ain’t No Grave released post-humously.
Rubin continued his country run in 2006 when he hit the studio with The Dixie Chicks to produce their multi-platinum album, Taking the Long Way. In addition to commercial success, the album also earned the controversial trio five Grammys including the coveted Album of the Year.
Rubin would go on to win Producer of the Year and return to Hip Hop overseeing albums by Jay Z, Eminem and Kanye West, but continues to broaden his musical spectrum, working with artists like Adele, Linkin Park and even Neil Diamond.
Salaam Remi & Amy Winehouse
Album(s): Frank, Back To Black, Lioness: Hidden Treasures
Notable Tracks Produced: “Me and Mr. Jones,” “Tears Dry On Their Own,” “Some Unholy War,” “Addicted,” “Fuck Me Pumps,” “Stronger Than Me”
With a body of work that includes The Fugees’ seminal 1996 album, The Score, as well as countless hits by artists like Nas, Cee Lo and Big Boi, Salaam Remi by many accounts, is Hip Hop royalty. But in 2003 Remi lent his talents behind the boards to an up-and-coming singer from the UK named Amy Winehouse.
The two collaborated on more than a dozen songs, including “Stronger Than Me” and “Tears Dry On Their Own.” After Winehouse’s untimely death in 2011, at the age of 27, Salaam used some of the eccentric songstress’ unreleased recordings to create two posthumous collaborations, “Cherry Wine” and “Like Smoke” with Nas.
“It was all very fluid,” Salaam said of recording “Cherry Wine” in a 2012 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I had the drums up, was playing guitar and she’s singing, it was just another day in the office for us. We’d done different versions of it over the last couple years when we kind of messed around with it, playing with it in different types of arrangements, but this version was always what felt right at the heart of our original inception.”
Scott Storch with Paris Hilton & Brooke Hogan
Album(s): Undiscovered, Stripped
Notable Tracks Produced: “Fighter,” “Turn It Up”
From 2000-2006, Philadelphia native Scott Storch Storch established himself as one of Hip Hop’s undisputed hit makers. Under the tutelage of Hip Hop heavyweights Dr. Dre and Timbaland, the former keyboardist for The Roots crafted huge hits including “Baby Boy” for Beyonce, “Poppin’ Them Thangs” for G-Unit, and “Lean Back” for Fat Joe as well as some of that era’s hottest artists like 50 Cent, Game and Nelly.
But in 2006, the somewhat reclusive Storch decided to try and help socialite Paris Hilton (who he was dating at the time) start her music career, producing seven songs on the Hotel heiress’ eponymous debut album. The album was met with mixed reviews by critics and as of 2011, had only sold 197,000 copies.
Later that same year, the mega producer signed reality TV star Brooke Hogan to his label Storch Music Company and helped produce her debut album, Undiscovered. Like its title suggested, the album never took off and Storch and Hogan parted ways less than a year after the albums release. In an interview with Details Magazine, Storch said he only did the album because he was on drugs and felt pressured by Brooke’s father and pro wrestling legend, Hulk Hogan.
“I love Brooke, but I did that shit because her father was putting all sorts of pressure on me,” Storch admitted, adding, “Sure, it was fun. But the thing is, I didn’t make one good bit of music when I was high on coke. Not one bit.”
Pharrell Williams with Adam Lambert & Swedish House Mafia
Notable Tracks Produced: “One (Your Name),” “Trespassing,” and “Kickin’ It,”
As one half of seminal production duo The Neptunes, Pharrell helped boost the careers of artists like Mystikal, Snoop Dogg and Noreaga and helped put up-and-comers (at the time) like Clipse and Slim Thug on the map. And though the Star Trak CEO had already proven his ability to flourish in the Pop world by producing hits for artists like Britney Spears, Madonna and Justin Timberlake, he showed a whole new level of versatility when he teamed up with EDM heavyweights Swedish House Mafia on their 2010 remix to “One (Your Name).”
The song, which came out just before the EDM boom on Pop radio, only made a mild splash in the US but was a massive hit overseas. The “Frontin'” singer broadened his sonic horizons even further the following year, linking up with American Idol star Adam Lambert.
Pharrell wound up producing the songs “Trespassing” and “Kickin’ It,” both of which were featured on the flamboyant singer’s 2012 album, also titled Trespassing.
The Virginia native continued his reign of terror on the pop charts the following year with his own single “Happy,” from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, as well as his Grammy winning work on Daft Punk’s critically acclaimed Random Access Memories. Pharrell later cited his work with Lambert as the inspiration behind his current sound.
“I’ve actually been flirting with this sound since 2011. I made this song for Adam Lambert called “Trespassing,” the N*E*R*D frontman recalled in a March interview with HipHopDX. “There’s a bunch of records I did that predate that music, and I guess it just wasn’t the right time,” he added.
Timbaland & Duran Duran
Album(s): Red Carpet Massacre
Notable Tracks Produced: “Zoom In,” “Skin Divers,” Nite-Runner”
Virginia producer Timbaland made an immediate mark on Hip Hop in the late ’90s from his work with artists like Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and Jay Z. When the 21st century rolled around, Timbo switched up his sound, drawing from other countries and cultures to create something that superseded genre confines.
The hit maker put his adaptability to the test when he was asked to produce legendary Glam Rock legend Duran Duran’s 2007 album Red Carpet Massacre.
Despite high hopes, the album was met with bad reviews and even Duran Duran themselves would later call working with Timbaland “a fucking nightmare.”
“When Timbaland saw the guitar and the bass and the drums come in to the studio, I think he was mortified because everything’s in a box for those guys,” Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes said in an interview with the Quietus.
Though Red Carpet Massacre may have been just that: A massacre, Timbaland silenced those criticisms when he dropped his second studio release, Shock Value that same year. The album ran the gamut sonically, with artists like Fall Out Boy, Justin Timberlake, The Hives and an emerging One Republic all contributing vocals.
Easy Mo Bee & Miles Davis
Album(s): Doo Bop
Notable Tracks Produced: “The Doo-Bop Song”
As one of the early in-house producers for Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, Easy Mo Bee was the driving force behind the New York sound that helped artists like Craig Mack,The Notorious B.I.G. and even Tupac’s rise to prominence.
Before Mo Bee was helping the fledgling label become a dynasty, he was approached by late legend Miles Davis to help infuse some Hip Hop “flava” in the ears of Jazz fans. The result was Davis’ last original album, Doo Bop, which dropped shortly after the iconic trumpet player’s death in 1991.
Mo Bee would later help produce and arrange Miles Davis: 1986-1991 The Warner Years compilation. Davis, who is the subject of a soon to be released biopic in which he will be played by Don Cheadle has consistently retained a status as a Pop culture icon, but in a 2005 interview with MTV Mo Bee spoke on his later work with Davis saying there’s a lot about the late musician the world should know.
“With Jimi [Hendrix], his estate remains so active to this day,” Easy said in a 2005 MTV.com interview. “Miles Davis’ estate, there’s a lot more stuff that should be released. People should really know more about him. Maybe with an effort like this, we can achieve that.”
Afrika Bambaataa & Boy George
Notable Tracks Produced: “Something He Can Feel”
In the minds of the younger generation, the fusion of Hip Hop and electronic music is a recent phenomena but long before cats like Skrillex and DJ Snake were welcome on urban airwaves, Afrika Bambaataa was blending the two worlds in a way that would forever impact both genres.
Earlier this year the Zulu Nation chief hit maker teamed up with another ’80s icon, Boy George to make the song “Something He Can Feel.” While George comes from the world of Pop, the troubled singer said in an April interview with Rolling Stone that the Hip Hop community helped him realize how far his reach extended when Roxanne Shante mentioned his name on the song “Go on Girl.”
“Oh, believe me, that didn’t go over my head,” Boy George said of the shout out. “I suppose it means I permeated everywhere.”
Just Blaze & Bauuer
Notable Tracks Produced: “Higher”
As one of the in-house producers for Rocafella Records Just Blaze became one of Hip Hop’s biggest names making hit records for artist such as Jay Z, Kanye West and more recently Kendrick Lamar.
In 2012 the New Jersey native teamed up with European DJ/Producer Bauuer after he created the infectious hit “The Harlem Shake,” and brought him on board for the Hov-assisted “Higher.” While “Harlem Shake” went double platinum in both the US and Australia, “Higher” received a chillier reception, though the two would end up touring together.
“One of the questions I get a lot is, ‘What is the transition like?’ But for me there is no transition,” Just Blaze said in a 2013 interview with HipHopDX. “I’ve been deejaying and making Electronic Music just as long as I have Hip Hop; it was just never something that I had the outlet for before. I’m from Northern New Jersey, so we’ve been on the Deep House thing since the beginning. It’s just a different style that I get to express now.”