Singers and rappers may get all the love on-stage, but having a good producer on your hip-hop track or slow jam can jack up your chances of a gold single better than any front-page sob story… unless you’re Rihanna. The evolution of the way songs are made and marketed is earning the people behind the beats some well-deserved attention. With services that’ll set you back upwards of a hundred grand per song, there’s a good reason these five producers are still in business.
Getting his big break thanks to earlier connections with Jermaine Dupri and Beyoncé, B. Cox is one of those producers who regularly see their songs catch fire. Having cemented himself firmly in the hip-hop industry based on wildly successful partnerships with artists like Usher (“U Got It Bad,” “Burn,” “Confessions Pt I & II”) and Mary J. Blige (“Be Without You”), there is no shortage of work for this Miami-born, Houston-bred producer. He’s won Grammys for both producing and songwriting, and with new R&B artists such as Sterling Simms and Johnta Austin scrambling to get a piece of him (along with a shot at that hit single), Bryan-Michael Cox might just take over the spot of lead money-maker for So So Def.
The Neptunes, aka. Pharrell and Chad Hugo, aka. two-thirds of N.E.R.D., is one heavyweight duo. Their productions are shoved tentatively under the hip-hop genre, but it’s definitely a different kind of hip-hop; there’s a little eccentric flavour that most other producers don’t embrace as fully and satisfyingly as the Neptunes. It might be the synths, it might be their funk, or it might be Pharrell’s falsetto, but really, who cares? The Neptunes pretty much made Justin Timberlake when he broke off from NSync, and their reputation for offering something more than your typical gangsta rap has earned them love from Jay-Z, Common, and even Madonna. The coolest Star Trek geeks around? Oh yeah.
Possibly the biggest production duo outside of North America, Stargate hails from Norway, and has been churning out hits in Europe since way before Ne-Yo. Originally working almost exclusively within the pop genre, Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Erik Hermansen made massive headway into the States’s R&B market after “So Sick.” While they’ve received some criticism for allegedly reusing material, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, as a Stargate track seems to be a guaranteed hit either way. Just ask Rihanna, Beyoncé, Ne-Yo, and Lionel Richie (who got his first number one in ten years thanks to Stargate). It would be interesting to see if this team decides to break into hip-hop, a genre that might be more resistant to their Euro-pop sound, but seeing as how they’ve already worked with rappers like Flo Rida and Nas and have a joint record label with Jay-Z, they might just have a chance at taking over all of urban music.
Who knew? The Louis Vuitton Don may talk annoyingly big sometimes (okay, all the time), but thankfully, he has shown that he can back it up. Using samples that span an impressive range of genres and time periods in the history of music, Kanye’s flair for the eclectic is almost comparable to the Neptunes, except Pharrell and Co.’s sound is much more defined and recognizable. His favourite collaborators include Talib Kweli, Nas, Jay-Z (he’s producing almost all of the soon-to-be-released Blueprint 3), and of course, himself. Ego problems aside though, Kanye West has a knack for knowing not only what people like to hear, but more importantly (judging from his timely collab with Jay-Z, “Death of Autotune”), when they get tired of it.
Undisputed hip-hop royalty, Timothy Mosley, or as you know him, Timbaland, rose through the ranks of hip-hop together with Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, and the late Aaliyah in the nineties. It’s safe to say that everyone who’s anyone – or wants to be anyone – has worked with Timbo; his efficiency with the beats and willingness to experiment with new sounds has not only helped hip-hop evolve, but also completely changed the pop genre, luring it effortlessly into the R&B/hip-hop sound. He’s ventured into uncharted territory with M.I.A., Duran Duran, and Bjork, but has always returned home to hip-hop, where his roots are firmly established. Apart from artists who are “heavyweights” in their own right (like Jay-Z, Missy, Beyoncé, and Luda), you’re more likely to hear the DJ introduce a Mosley Music collaboration as a “Timbaland track” rather than an <insert artist name here> track. While it is slightly disappointing that Timbaland is expanding his list of references all the way out to bubblegum-pop land (the Jonas Brothers? really?), there is no doubt that his touch is literally gold.