There is no clear sort of route to opinion superior in taking when it comes to discussing and debating the most talented and influential producers of all time. Beat makers, regardless of what genre or styling that the artists they tend to produce for call home to, are by and large the underappreciated, unsung heroes that safely and courageously guide the direction of music as a whole with more congruent and overall influence than any other members of the music industry. Their roles are often intentionally drawn behind the curtain, sometimes - especially in the modern hip-hop realm - appreciated parallel to the fronting artists, and increasingly, their roles are a combined dualistic effort behind the scenes and in the limelight existing as multi-talented individuals capable of every aspect of sound creation from conception to finalization.
These are the modern-day composers who have such a grasp on music theory and such bold creative streaks, that they need not the influence of other artists to aid in the creation of their music. But it doesn’t mean that collaborative efforts are non-existent or unwelcomed. The opportunity to work with a talented producer at any level, especially if they possess skills unique beyond production, provides reach to new creative shores for both parties.
But what about if two of these talented producers were to work together? Collaborations of the kind have of course happened and do increasingly happen all the time. An artist like Travis Scott who simultaneously exists as a producer and fronting artist for his own vision seems to collaborate with anyone and everyone talented enough to get in contact with him. An up-and-coming artist like Yaeji exists in a similar arena – producing and providing the vocals for her tracks while freely on the lookout for collaborative efforts with others. The list is endless and surely thanks to technology and the internet age where music can so easily be crafted and shared, the list will simply and eternally become more so.
But what we’re on the lookout for here is a collaboration between a more classically defined producer and one of these new-age production / instrumental / vocal multi-dimensionalists so often sprouting from the SoundCloud forum and erupting at a mainstream scale. Let’s start with the former.
There is no clear sort of route to opinion superior in taking when it comes to discussing and debating the most talented and influential producers of all time, but there are those names that are included on most, if not all lists. Among such company is undoubtedly the name of James Dewitt Yancey, more easily recognized as J Dilla. The late Detroit producer who passed at the age of 32 in 2006, is one of the most well-known and well-respected sound engineers who not only helped to craft the modern texture of hip-hop, R&B, and electronic music, but is also one of the most celebrated names across music’s vast stylistic and epochal expanse. Seldom is there a past name credited more by modern fronts and producers alike than that of J Dilla.
A list of his collaborative efforts includes hall-of-fame worthy names like Slum Village, Common, Bilal, Mos Def, Questlove, Erykah Badu, A tribe Called Quest, Madlib, MF Doom, Dwele, D’angelo, Black Milk, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, and many, many more. When we take into account his work that has been sampled or outright used posthumously, J Dilla’s reach is extended tenfold if not more so. Since his death and with the continued release of Dilla-produced tracks on the mainstream by artists of the then and now, his influence has become clearer and more well-known as one of, if not the most important producer in hip-hop history with incredible reach extending far beyond the genre’s borders.
There is a certain aspect of indefinable relatability to which his production was and still is able to capture and deliver human emotion. Take into account the sonic texture of his sexually-stirring So Far To Go. The instrumental which has a foundation delineated by an Isley Brothers sample was reworked again and again by a series of artists who connected with the track’s raw emotion. The most well-known release of the production is a version containing vocals and verses from D’Angelo and Common. Though it was included in Dilla’s posthumous release of The Shining in late 2006, the track is perhaps the strongest living example of Dilla’s transcendently relatable sound that lends its ear to so many with the skills to seek it. That is the essence of his composition and thus, his legacy.
In the wake of J Dilla’s immeasurable influence have been born the careers of so many other producers. One of these producers, who is more accurately defined as a new era multi-dimensional talent, is Houston’s Bobby Earth, whose approach to music can be seen and credited as an extension of the emotionally relatable encapsulation of raw humanity so vividly described by Dilla’s sound. Bobby Earth is a young entrepreneur if ever there was one. The gifted producer boasts a parallel level of talent across the board. Whether it be songwriting, silky vocals, or the creation and continued management of his own label, Milky Wayv, he is a dynamo.
Steering from his alternative ventures, Bobby Earth’s music is what we like to imagine J Dilla’s music might sound like had he been born 20 years later and also sang. Earth’s unparalleled ability to sonically demonstrate the complexities of love and sexuality are best on display in his recently released Mood, where his penmanship and vocalism are every bit as impressive as the creative, innovative production that could only come from a producer who also engineers an entire label predominantly focused on soul and R&B. Truly, past this, it’s hard to put into wards just how perfect a track like Mood is without making comparisons to some of the most notable baby-makers throughout history – most accurately – So Far To Go.
Obviously, a living collaboration between the two architects of the sonic landscape is impossible, but, with the vast availability of J Dilla’s entire canon existent in the public realm, it would be intriguing to see Bobby Earth take on, rework, and provide the vocals to the production that in some semblance, helped to define and further his own career.