A valiant attempt at trying to decide what were the top ten all time hip-hop beats popped up in this section of the site last week and caused much interesting debate. You can’t please all the people all the time and there were some notable absentees as there are bound to be when limited to just ten beats from a whole genre of music. It did spark an immediate personal quest for me to try and identify my favourite ten hip-hop instrumentals; the beats were always the principal draw for me but rather than try and identify the best I’ve played it safe and gone for a personal collection of what I consider classics in their own way. Most hip-hop heads will probably be aware of the majority of these but hopefully some won’t and can take some brilliant music away with them.
I have borrowed Rory’s original criteria and not used the same producer twice although I haven’t been quite as balanced in a true representation of what the Genre has to offer, this is a very selfish list. Most shocking of all there is still no Dr Dre, Neptunes, DJ Premier, Q-Tip or Alchemist and Kanye has again found himself out in the cold. It’s the beats we are talking about remember! Here goes...
Deltron 3030 – 3030 (Dan the Automator)
It’s not often you hear a hip-hop beat and struggle to quite believe or understand what is coming through the speakers, the first time I heard this I had to double take. Daniel Nakamura better known as Dan the Automator of Kool Keith fame probably produced the track of his career with this title cut from the collaboration concept album Deltron 3030 with California based mc Del the funky Homosapien. You can imagine Roy Batty’s accounts of attack ships on fire being sound tracked by this monster.
MF DOOM – Doomsday (MF DOOM)
This is the track I try and point people in the direction of whilst getting to know this mighty artist. A man so prolific since the turn of the century he’s released nine albums and a catalogue of epic instrumentation entitled special herbs, it’s hard to find a suitable place to start! This was before the Doom who could get away with half assed verses and still be a sought after feature, before the Doom who started sending lookalikes to his live shows. This was basic with a hungry artist coming out of a five year hiatus after the death of his brother. A lovely sample inspired by Sade’s Kiss of Life it has a real nostalgia about it. I went to his Doomsday show in Brixton a few years ago and he didn’t even play it, me and my sister were gutted.
GZA – Living in the world today (RZA)
It’s a debate that could go on forever and has raged since Wu-tang dropped classic album after classic album throughout the 1990’s but what RZA managed to achieve on his cousins debut LP Liquid Swords was exceptional and for me will always be his best work. The atmospheric sounds of Gold, Cold World, Hell’s Wind Staff and in particular Duel of the Iron Mic is what separated Wu-tang from the rest at that time. To narrow it down to just one RZA production is almost impossible, whilst this may not be his best or most creative the two combine to create a masterpiece here.
Jedi Mind Tricks – Sacrifice (Stoupe Enemy of Mankind)
In truth it could have been a number of tracks from JMT’s second album Violent by Design. Retaliation, I against I and Deerhunter are all equally well put together but there is something about the anarchic qualities sacrifice brings. It’s one of the best produced underground hip-hop albums which planted these Philadelphians firmly on the map when it dropped back in 2000.
Quasimoto – Axe Puzzles (Madlib)
To overlook the treasure trove of Madlib production found on Madvillainy was an extremely painful decision but there is just something about these old dusty, warped sounds of Quasimoto’s debut album The Unseen which I’ll always go back to, even more so than the Madvillain project. The self proclaimed loop digga puts together a 24 track ensemble of dream like jazz samples and obscure vocals all delivered as ‘Quasimoto’, Madlib’s high-pitched, stoned alter-ego.
J Dilla – Trashy
I wasn’t up on J Dilla’s work when he was alive and only really got acquainted with his music after his untimely death in 2006. He seems to be every hip-hop producer’s favourite producer, MF DOOM and Madlib included. It is hard not to be drawn to the more sombre side of his catalogue and this simple piano loop and heavy drum combination is up there with his best.
Styles P – My Life (Ayatollah)
Little known (to me anyway) East coast producer Ayatollah gave us all a taste of what was to follow with Just Blaze and Kanye West in the early noughties with the final track on Styles Gangster and a Gentleman album. It was the pick of a solid debut featuring the ever impressive Pharoahe Monch on chorus duties. A flipped soul sample is nothing new but when done right you get stuff like this.
Killarmy – Wu-Renegades (4th disciple)
Killarmy were one of the finest spin-off’s under the Wu-tang imprint which spawned hundreds of cobbled together groups trying to forge a career on the back of the clan’s success. That’s not to say they were all rubbish, the likes of Sunz of Man, Killah Priest and Killarmy became established due to their own talent. Killarmy were a decent bunch of rappers but it was always the production which set them apart, their 1997 debut Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars was considered by some a better album than the Clans own ‘97 offering Forever. Ohio based producer and long term Clan affiliate 4th Disciple was similar in style to the RZA with more of a dark edge, highlighted perfectly on Renegades.
Mobb Deep – Shook ones part 2 (Havoc)
It was close between this and Last Days by Onyx, both tracks which happened to appear as part of the 8 Mile soundtrack. Havoc and Prodigy’s Infamous album of ’95 was littered with memorable moments as the fledgling duo played their part in the East coast rap renaissance led by Wu-tang, Nas and Biggie. Havoc created the perfect backdrop for Prodigy’s confrontational style; haunting, hard hitting beats with distinctive, echoing drums. Using part of the intro in Herbie Hancock’s Jessica on loop throughout, this has to go down as one of the greatest hip-hop beats ever made.
Ice Cube – It was a good day (DJ Pooh)
This has been a very east-coast heavy selection so what better way to wrap things up than with a west-coast classic from the g-funk era? He didn’t have to use his gun, he played basketball, had sex, smoked some drugs, got drunk, ate fast food and watched yo!MTVraps at his mates house. He also saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp and it read Ice Cube’s a pimp. It all sounds pretty rad as does the beat which samples Isley Brothers Footsteps in the Dark, a pillar of 90’s hip-hop.