In the classic Jaylib song “The Mission,” Jay Dee spits: “Come see the Dilla lay with the fifth / Maybe you can write an article about how Jay play with them whips / And who said producers ain’t supposed to rap? / They don’t want the Ruger to bang well close your traps.” A lot of artists now learn the trades of rhyming and beat-making simultaneously, giving them an unprecedented versatility (see: J. Cole, Evidence, Blu, B.o.B., et cetera).
Then there’s the other group of artists who are primarily producers, or who made names for themselves as producers first, but then began dabbling in the art of spitting as a means to fill out their careers, and their corners in the industry. Most recently, North Carolina native 9th Wonder of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League ventured into the realm of rapping under the moniker 9thmatic, dropping a couple tracks (one produced by DJ Premier) featuring his skills on the mic:
9thmatic (9th Wonder) & Khrysis – It’s On [prod. DJ Premier]
Big Remo ft. 9thmatic – Go
It’s only natural for producers to feel the urge to spit, seeing as they’re constantly surrounded by emcees and surely have beats on deck that nobody could spit on correctly but themselves. Who are the best producers-turned-rappers? Hit the skip for the Top 5, then vote for your favorite.
5) Pete Rock
Pete Rock is widely considered to be one of the top producers of all time, but his lyrical endeavors are often seen as sub-par compared to his production. That being said, Pete Rock’s flow and vocabulary are superior to many emcees who get mainstream attention solely as rappers. After garnering a lot of acclaim from his work with CL Smooth, Rock dropped his debut solo album Soul Survivor in 1998, and it featured a group of the heaviest hitters in hip hop: Raekwon, Ghostface, Meth, Kool G Rap, Black Thought, Big Pun, Noreaga, Common, and more.
While certainly holding his own on the mic, to me it’s Pete Rock’s ability to collaborate that makes him one of the top producers-turned-rappers; he selects guest artists with perfection, and he really listens to the tone of their flow and then matches his to theirs. Check these two collabos off Soul Survivor that really solidified Rock’s place on this list:
Pete Rock – #1 Soul Brother (not to be confused with Pete Rock & CL Smooth – Soul Brother #1)
Pete Rock ft. Method Man – Half Man, Half Amazin’
Dilla-dog went by “Jay Dee” when he rhymed, and for those who were wondering Dilla assumed the moniker before Jermaine Dupri was on the scene in any substantial way. Jay Dee’s flow was uncannily unique; there is nobody who sounds like him, who spits with the same rhythm and syncopation. He was also extremely versatile on the mic- he could bless a track with an incredibly light touch when he wanted or just as easily drop a hard-hitting verse when it was called for.
Dilla’s prowess on the beats is well known and documented, but his lyrical undertakings often go overlooked. Peep these two tracks, one off Jay Dee’s Welcome 2 Detroit and the other a Dilla remix to Slum Village’s “Hold Tight”:
Slum Village – Hold Tight (Dilla Remix)
“You don’t pay attention man/that’s why your money is the size of your attention span”
Jay Dee ft. Blu (not this one)- The Clapper
At this point, Dre is going to be known as a prolific producer who drops a solo album once a decade. But the Doc’s solo albums have been the most official over the past 20 years. Although not the most dexterous on the mic, Dre always holds it down with a combination of brutal honesty and savvy streetwise slang. Even though we’ve endured countless push-backs and years of delays for Detox, I still can’t wait for it. These two songs don’t even need to be posted, but here’s the top dog on two tracks off 2001 that still bang even though I’ve heard them a couple hundred times:
Dr. Dre – Still D.R.E.
Dr. Dre ft. Eminem – Forgot About Dre
The RZA is infinitely famous for handling most of the production for Wu Tang (and more recently for his cameo in Vampire Weekend’s newest video), but as an emcee he catches a lot of flak from listeners who are put off by his off-beat style on the microphone. I appreciate that his rhymes are so different because it’s a testament to the RZA’s originality and disregard for commercial forces that influence a lot of rappers towards a mainstream flow that sounds no different from the next man.
Bobby Digital (the RZA’s alter ego) spit fire on his solo debut, Bobby Digital in Stereo. A mixture of fact and fiction, Bobby Digital in Stereo (which went Gold) showcases the RZA’s brilliant knack for creating compelling characters, and more generally compelling narratives on his albums. Check these two tracks, one off Bobby Digital in Stereo and another from the new BlakRoc project:
RZA ft. Method Man – N.Y.C. Everything
BlakRoc ft. RZA & Pharoahe Monch – Dollaz & Sense
1) Kanye West
Hip hop heads never forget, but the general public often doesn’t remember that Kanye started his career as a producer. First in the underground, and then as an in-house producer for Roc-A-Fella Records, Kanye’s resume is chocked full: Jermaine Dupri, Trina, Goodie Mob, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Dead Prez, The Madd Rapper, Lil Kim, HOV (The Dynasty, The Blueprint, etc.), Cam’ron, Nas, Scarface, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, T.I., Royce da 5’9″, DMX, Ludacris, Twista, Knoc-Turn’Al, Monica, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, and Janet Jackson- and that was all before the 2004 release of his debut solo album The College Dropout!
Since then Kanye has successfully transformed himself into, if not the top dog (the crown probably still rests with Jay Z), one of the top three rappers in the world. His rhymes are full of culturally relevant references and oft-intelligent wordplay and concepts. These two tracks are prime examples of Kanye’s style:
Kanye West ft. Ludacris – Breathe In, Breathe Out
“First nigga with a Benz and a Backpack”
Slum Village ft. Kanye West & John Legend – Selfish