The 2000s were filled with one hit wonders and jingly songs about Air Force One’s, but it was also stuffed with great production. As Hip Hop slowly moved from sample-based boom bap into the wide open air of Pro Tools and Fruity Loops things got a little bit hectic. It’s a good thing, then, that these 25 beatsmiths managed to stand out above the rest.
DJ Paul & Juicy J
DJ Paul and Juicy J will forever be known as the sonic backbone to Three 6 Mafia and possibly anything Hypnotized Mindz related. Let hardcore Southern Hip Hop enthusiasts say anything, they’re the reason why Atlanta’s crunk movement really had any legs. Helps that both became the second Hip Hop act to win an Oscar after Eminem for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” on the Hustle & Flow soundtrack. Adding the cherry on top was everything from When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1 to Most Known Unknown which could be considered pivotal classics in some circles.
Turning one’s breakout moment on Jay Z’s The Blueprint to being possibly of Hip Hop’s most successful rapper/producer of all time couldn’t have been an easy task. Yet, Mr. Kanye West managed to not only deliver some of the greatest productions of that decade but, albums as well. Even as Ye built G.O.O.D. Music, he helped revitalize the career of Common and put John Legend on the map. Chicago’s crowned king managed to be a part of nearly every Hip Hop conversation imaginable during the 2000s and has yet to let up yet.
While many tend to focus on Ye’s work on The Blueprint, the other story of Hov’s seminal work is Mr. Megatron Don himself Just Blaze. The anthemic evolution of boom bap was scarcely in the hands of the New Jersey native. He even produced Hip Hop’s biggest almost savior through “Exhibit C” with Jay Electronica. Then there are tracks that run the gambit from lyrical classics like Fabulous’ “Breath” to T.I.’s “Live Your Life” featuring Rihanna.
Even before Bangladesh, the guy who looks like he wears sunglasses to take showers finally got paid by Brian “Birdman” Williams he was an acerbic production deity. His work is filled with all the bells and whistles, and when he’s on it feels like Thanksgiving dinner, simultaneously clumsy and annoying and transcendent. You may have heard of a little track called “A Milli” or maybe you’d danced to Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” (arguably his best song ever) or you went lost your virginity to Ludacris’s “What’s Your Fantasy.” Whatever the case, all of that is Bangladesh.
It’s strange to believe how long the world waited for the eventually discarded Detox project. Thankfully, Dr. Dre used his newfound leverage with Apple to drop the flat-out phenomenal Compton album on the heels of the highly successful N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. There’s a level of musical mastery and depth presented on the album that’s sonically unparalleled; especially from a mixing perspective.
Pharrell and Chad Hugo crafted a slick sound that was pop, rock and a whole lot of Hip Hop. The way both explored the music realm with their synth-based production has become the stuff of legends. Let’s forget about their production for Britney Spears or N’SYNC for a moment. The Neptunes’ work with The Clipse, more specifically coke rap classic Hell Hath No Fury made them one of the best rap groups of the decade. Then there’s their hitmaking work with Snoop Dogg and Hov himself.
Timbaland could be considered an important figure who fused R&B and Hip Hop sonically to futuristic loops. Despite creating hits for Hov and Snoop Dogg among others, his greatest work is obviously with Missy Elliot. Supa Dupa Fly, Miss E So Addictive and Under Construction are commercial giants and critical classics still manage to sound beyond the sounds of today.
Considering how ridiculously good Premo’s 90s were, it’s hard to believe he had almost just as good a 2000s. He worked with everyone from Christina Aguilera to M.O.P during the decade and he continued to show his ability to dominate with a sound that is his signature.
Mannie Fresh’s rise through New Orleans’ Hip Hop scene actually stretches to around the early 80s. By the time he made his way to Cash Money, he was already a local legend. The house that Baby and Slim built became dependent on Fresh’s production through the label’s highly successful first generation. Juvenile, B.G. Turk, Baby and even a young Lil Wayne were able to murder his beats like no other.
The bouncy funk of Organized Noize didn’t just carry OutKast to the musical promise land but the entire Dungeon Family. For at least half a decade, Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown carried the Atlanta on their backs in terms of Hip Hop. And to think, all this started from the basement of Wade. While many in the early days of Atlanta’s rap movement tried desperately hard to emulate the East Coast, Organized Noize continued to curate their own sounds and everyone took notice.
Once the dust had settled after Nas dropped his scathing Jay Z diss “Either,” his comeback album Stillmatic revealed that the Queensbridge emcee wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For his follow-up God’s Son, he utilized Salaam Remi for hit singles “Made You Look” and “I Can.” To this day, there isn’t an emcee alive who hasn’t tried their hand at the “Made You Look” instrumental. Then there’s the classic material he also created with Amy Winehouse’s albums Frank and Back To Black proving his versatility.
We’ve all heard the random woman who says Justice L.E.A.G.U.E. at least one time in our lives. While Rick Ross gained a reputation for cherry picking beats, the Florida-based production team gave the Miami emcee some of the best beats of his career. Most importantly, they kicked off Rozay’s “Maybach Music” series which would eventually inspire the name of his label.
Shame Scott Storch spent much of his million dollar fortune on drugs and other high priced luxuries as he’s responsible for some of the biggest hits the 2000s had to offer. 50 Cent, Lil Kim, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce all earned platinum plaques from the Long Island native. Then there’s his biggest single to date in Fat Joe’s “Lean Back.”
For the 2000s’ later half, Lil Jon managed to control Atlanta with an iron fist production wise. All by finding inspiration from a sound originated by Memphis outlet Three 6 Mafia. While starting specifically in the south by churning out hits with The Ying Yang Twinz and Youngbloods, his reign was solidified through anything involving The Eastside Boys. Kings Of Crunk and Crunk Juice gave the world “Get Low” and “Real Nigga Roll Call.” Taking things further, he was even instrumental in E-40’s late-year success.
Madlib may never have a radio single under his belt but, what he represents is something far more important. When he wasn’t producing and rapping under his Quasimoto, he’s responsible from some of Stones Throw Records greatest production. Of course, one included arguably one of the greatest albums of the decade with MF Doom through Madvillainy.
9th Wonder introduction to Hip Hop’s consciousness through Little Brother. Those who’ve followed the North Carolina producer know he may subversively be one of Hip Hop’s most diverse beat makers. While many try to stay far away from sampling, he’s one of the few who embraces it wholeheartedly. That’s, of course, helped him land outstanding tracks including Jay Z, Murs, and Jean Grae. Thankfully through his Jamla imprint, he’s given the world high-class spitters ranging from Rapsody to Big Remo.
What Hi-Tek and Talib Kweli did as Eternal Reflection on Train Of Thought was nothing short of amazing. On his own, his days producing tracks for Rawkus Records’ Soundbombing series is some of the best underground Hip Hop productions one will hear. Then again, he’s also had some successful commercial fair with 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, and The Game.
One of Hip Hop’s most lauded producers created some of the best Wu moments of the aughts. Supreme Clientele’s “Buck 50” and Ol’ Dirty’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” But over the years he’s worked with some key collaborators. Yeezy on both Watch The Throne and MBDTF as well Earl Sweatshirt on Doris.
One of our favorite Dilla productions is off Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2. “Untitled/Fantastic” felt like watching the earthrise from the surface of the moon. At his best, Dilla was inspirational in his way of making a sample sound as though he found the secret to making the original sound like just one part of the orchestra in his celestial creations. From Ruff Draft to Welcome To Detroit as well as Jaylib, Dilla went out much, much too soon.
Everyone knows about Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens, but the producer has done far more than that. His work with Blu aside, he’s been integral to the careers of the likes of Fashawn. Plus, let’s not forget the sheer amazingness of his own work, even as Aloe Blacc went his own way after the 90s.
What more can you say about El-P? His resume reads like a “best of” for underground albums in the 2000s. Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, Aesop Rock’s Daylight, his own work like Deep Space 9mm and Fantastic Damage. Then there’s The Weatherman, and, well, El-P might be the best “underground” producer of the aughts.
Did “Lollipop” help you bag that candy lipped shorty in your English class? Did “Whatever You Like” allow you to do that thug two-step at your end of year dance? Thank Jim Jonsin. The man formerly known as DJ Jealous J has been the soundtrack to some of Hip Hop’s best moments in the aughts.
A lot of folks say Swizzy’s been making the same beat since his Ruff Ryder days. We say he’s been building a brand that you can hear a million miles away. He’s been a part of almost every major East Coast album since 2000 and if he can bring DMX back, then he’d have cemented his place in the Hip Hop imagination for all-time.
Alchemist may not have a thousand Billboard 100 records, but it’s better that way. He excels in the album minutiae known affectionately as the choice cuts. Sure he’s created hood classics like Jada’s “We Gonna Make It” and Styles P’s “Black Magic,” but it’s his trippy production style and flawless technique that really separates him from the pack.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.