With hip-hop albums like Kanye West’s “Graduation,” Timbaland’s “Shock Value,” Three 6 Mafia’s “Last 2 Walk” and many others, the year 2007 has been dominated by producer/MCs. The term producer/MC refers to an MC that also creates or “produces” his/her own music and beats.
Kanye West, Timbaland, DJ Paul & Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia, Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Lil Jon, Akon, David Banner, Jermaine Dupri, the RZA, DJ Quik and MF DOOM are all popular rappers that produce their own music.
The producer/MC fits into the more classical model of a musician who writes, sings and plays most, if not all, of their music, much like Bob Dylan or James Brown. For critics that say, “Hip-hop is dead,” it’s the producers that are keeping the industry’s heart pumping.
During hip-hop’s beginning, the MC, which stands for “master of ceremonies,” would rap over their DJ’s beats, boasting of how skilled the DJ was. This eventually evolved into the typical model of one or a group of lyricists that rapped while a DJ would handle the turntables.
This model became the norm and the importance of the producer or person that created the music faded away. Most of today’s popular rap from artists like 50 Cent and G-Unit, Jay-Z and T.I. all required production from artists other than themselves. In fact, Jay-Z used to rely heavily on Kanye West for his musical skills and production.
Today’s producer/MCs are some of the most successful musicians in the industry. Seven out of the 10 most downloaded songs on iTunes this week are all from artists that produce their own music: Kanye, Timbo and believe it or not, 17-year-old Soulja Boy.
The negative effect of the digital music era on the music industry has not made
the business more lucrative. Producing your own music saves you money. Every time 50 Cent makes a song, he has to pay someone to produce the song’s music for him, while Kanye produces the music himself.
Timbo, Kanye and other producer/MCs like Pharrell, Eminem, and Three 6 Mafia, all have their own production labels, and rake in money by producing beats for artists other than themselves.
Producing your own music also proves effective for the long run. Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Three 6 Mafia, Lil Jon and Jermaine Dupri are veterans in the rap game, releasing music for over 15 years.
Occupying two roles as a producer/MC puts an artist in a unique and advantageous position that gives them far more control over their music and finances. In a time where hip-hop is also full of one-hit wonders and fame is fleeting, stability in the hip-hop industry is especially impressive.
In recent years, producer/MCs have enjoyed a resurrection of sorts thanks to their production abilities. DJ Paul and Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia soaked up the spotlight at 2006’s Oscars for their production of the “Hustle & Flow” theme song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” and the group also plans to release their ninth studio album, “The Last 2 Walk.”
Timbaland, who became famous for his production work for fellow Virginian rapper, Missy Elliott, produced all of Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds” and released a solo album this summer, “Shock Value,” which will enjoy four Billboard toppers.
Dr. Dre never really stopped making music, but his next album, “Detox,” can be considered the most anticipated rap album of the decade.
Artists like Wu-Tang’s RZA have taken Three 6’s idea of writing songs for movies to the next level. Besides the nine albums he produced entirely, the RZA has also scored five films and a popular TV mini-series, “Afro Samurai.”
Film directors like Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch specifically sought out the RZA to score their films. Do not fret, though, the RZA is planned to return to his spot as the sagacious MC/Producer for Wu-Tang with their next album, “8 Diagrams.”
Successful producer/MC’s are the true renaissance men of hip-hop, because only they have full control over the final sound of a song. Underground artists like MF DOOM, the late J Dilla, Madlib, and Black Milk have been known to employ unorthodox production methods to achieve unprecedented sounds that border the line between hip-hop and alternative music.
In 2006, producer Danger Mouse collaborated with Cee-Lo of the dirty south hip-hop group, Goodie Mob, under the group name Gnarls Barkley and created “St. Elsewhere,” an innovative and highly produced album that won two Grammy’s and transcended the hip-hop genre entirely.
Even Kanye and Timbaland have developed a signature sound that avid listeners recognize immediately when listening to their music. Thanks to the creative minds of these producing geniuses, hip-hop, which many claim is dead, has a chance both to live on and to evolve into something even more unique.