Producer, Engineer or Beatmaker?
Wednesday April 07th 2010,
Filed under: Features,Feedback,Not Your Average,The Unkut Opinion
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Some things are hard to define. What exactly is the role of the ‘Executive Producer’ on an album? Is it the guy who paid for the record to be made? The dude who decided which beats to use and which guests to invite? Or the character who sat up the back and simply nodded his head in approval as each song was completed? Truth be told, it can be any of those things and more. Same thing applies to the credit of ‘Producer’ on a rap record. While songs recorded in a studio by a band would have somebody sitting at the mixing desk, yelling out, ‘Cut!’ or ‘Can you redo that guitar solo?’, hip-hop and dance music is a different beast altogether. While you might think that’s it’s simply a case whoever made the beat, it isn’t that simple a lot of the time.

Following the ‘house band’ sound of early Sugarhill and Enjoy singles in the early 80’s, drum machines and turntables became the dominant sound of rap records. You might assume that whoever programmed the beat would be the credited producer, but old habits die hard, so many independent records from the period continued to credit whoever paid for studio time or owned the label as the ‘producer’. That’s not to say that the hard work of beat makers always went unrecognized, however. If you check the labels of many of your favorite 80’s hip-hop singles, you’ll usually notice an ‘Engineering’ credit being given to people like Ivan ‘Doc’ Rodriguez (DJ Doc) and Paul C. McKasty (Paul C.). Turns out that that once sampling became commonplace, a lot of groups would turn up to a session with a couple of records James Brown records they liked and tell the engineer to make them a beat. Since samplers were still primitive and expensive, this often involved cut and pasting reel-to-reel tapes and technical studio wizardry to get the end result.

But what about the case of Juice Crew? Over the years, almost every member of rap’s greatest collective have made a point of mentioning that they didn’t get the credit they deserved on the music they released with Marley Marl. Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Kool G Rap and Masta Ace have all let it be known that they played a big part in the sounds of their debut albums, even though the credits may not reflect this. Kane explains:

“I would bring beats to the studio and basically tell Marley what part of the beat I wanted sampled, like ‘I wanna sample this part right here’ or ‘Can you make this part the first half and that part right there the second half?’, or ‘Make the 808 hit here’. Marley Marl was more or less acting as the engineer. But tracks like ‘Lean On Me’, ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ and ‘I’ll Take You There’ – those are tracks that Marley just did on his own. I had no input on those three.”

Ace mentioned a similar situation:

“In most cases with Marley, I would bring a sample from my mother’s record collection. I didn’t know how to produce as far as working the equipment – I knew kinda what I wanted it to sound like – but he knew how to work the equipment. So I would bring him a record, he’d listen to it – ‘Yo, this is hot’ – he would sample it, chop it up, add drums and all that stuff, then I would spit the rhymes. It was pretty much that way across the board with most of the artists on Cold Chillin’. Everybody contributed musically. I was the first artist on Cold Chillin’ to actually get co-production credit. Because all the projects that came out with Marley’s name on ‘em, pretty much they were co-produced by the artist, but at that time they weren’t gettin’ the credit for it. That’s why a lot of ‘em were mad at him – like Biz and other people. They felt like he was getting too much of the credit, when they were contributing a lot.”

So it seems that Ace was happy to be credited as a ‘co-producer’, since he was sourcing samples but couldn’t program. Diamond D championed this system too, as his amazing Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop credits co-producers on several tracks. I didn’t understand what this meant at the time – since he obviously was more than capable of making his own beats – but he would later explain that those credited (including Q-Tip, Lakim Shabazz, Large Professor and 45 King) had simply supplied the records for him to loop. Which brings me to my next point – how important is the programmer/engineer? Staying with the example of the Juice Crew alumni, the engineer is incredibly significant. When Marley has been quizzed on the subject in the past, he’s made an undeniable point – if these guys made those albums on their own, then how come the stuff that they recorded without Marley doesn’t sound anywhere near as good? While there are a couple of exceptions, he does make a good point. Compare A Taste of Chocolate to Long Live The Kane, or I Need A Haircut to Goin’ Off. Marley Marl and his patented ‘project sound’ are unmistakable and can’t be replicated by anybody else, even if you were to use the same records.

It’s not all as straight-forward, though. What of the case of ghost producers and under-studies? K-Def, Joe Fatal and J-Force have all told of beats they’ve created that were credited to Marley Marl when they were released. K-Def isn’t too concerned though:

“It’s kinda like paying dues. I felt like as many songs as I did come out at that time, I had like sixty-something songs with Marley, so I could deal with maybe three or four getting a little screwed-up.”

Once you’re on the level of Dr. Dre, you can justify having other people sharing the work-load by explaining that they simply play keyboards and bass under your direction, and beyond that there’s the previously-discussed ‘hands off’ technique of Rick Rubin, who acts in an advisory capacity without even touching a mixing console. Are these two less deserving of the title of ‘producer’ than the kid slaving away over his MPC all night, trying to chop his sample just right? Or is the guy tuning his snares for hours and selling tracks to rappers on Myspace simply a ‘beat-maker’? Or should the title of ‘producer’ be reserved for those who see a project through from beginning to end, including being involved in recording the vocals and even helping with developing the hooks and song structure?

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36 Comments so far
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My rule is simple: if you contributed to the creative part of a beat, you get production credit. Period. If you help on the actually laying of the beat, you get engineering credit. The problem is that people nowadays get TOO much credit for doing absolutely jack shit. Just ask Missy Elliot and Derrick “D-dot” how they bought beats from Spike and Jamal, then slapped their names on the production credits when they haven’t touched one goddamn pad on any equipment pertaining to the making of those beats! Even cats like Kanye West is guilty of beat jacking, and as long as people hide behind the “legal channels”, this fake shit will continue.

And Biz’s I Need a Haircut had some BANGING beats on it. While Goin’ Off had some undeniable classics, as an album it’s almost un-listenable. Ask Marley Marl about In Control Volume Two…and the first song’s hook is “Marley Marl will never make no bullshit”. LOL. That whole ALBUM was bullshit, and so is half his career.

Comment by The_Soulution 04.07.10 @

There’s a documentary on Tom Dowd, who was basically the first super producer per-se.

Right from the start he says something to the effect that there’s some producers who can’t play a note of music, some producers who just play with the faders, some producers just sit around and do nothing. This isn’t a situation unique to Hip-Hop really.

The title isn’t so important. I think reputation and presence explains who does what indirectly. If you hear a Primo track you know that he’s in control of the sound; he made the beat; he gave the artist direction; he was behind the boards.

A Kanye or Puffy track? Eric B? You never know what’s going on.

Then you have someone like Rubin who might not play the music, but he’s got full creative control. Take Phil Spector. Sound on sound has a whole piece on the making of the Ronettes “Be my Baby.” He was behind the boards, and also running out after a zillion takes moving mics, telling a player he’s not doing something quite right — just making sure he brings out the best in whoever is there.

So I guess I’m saying you have to take it on a case by case basis. You know who the beat makers are, and you know who the fuckers are who just want part of the royalties. You don’t fool anyone — or at least the people who would be impressed if you succeeded in doing so. If Puffy put his name on “Unbelievable” you’d know he didn’t compose it — ’cause things tend to shine through.

Comment by haroon 04.07.10 @

Only in hip hop is the guy who makes the music called a producer instead of a musician. Somehow, being a ‘beat-maker’ is now less impressive than being a ‘producer’. Even though somebody like Puffy, who is legitimately a very good record producer, couldn’t make a beat that anybody would want to spit on. Add in the fact that around 80% of tracks today being emailed in, it makes even less sense…

Comment by Frost Gamble 04.07.10 @


Right on about the ‘beat maker’ title. I actually prefer it over saying, “Oh, I produce” — produce what? I make fucking beats in my bedroom. No shame in the term bedroom producer either — ’cause nearly everything you hear nowadays (and probably the last 20+ years) started in someone’s home studio . . .

Comment by haroon 04.07.10 @

My view used to be that the producer is the guy who physically made it, point blank period.

But as I’ve gotten older and given further consideration to the creative process, there’s definitely a lot more to it. In some cases, there’s no telling what something might’ve sounded like minus the input given by a person credited as the producer. A lot of people talk about Dre and Puffy in that aspect, but most of the people they’ve worked with have noted that their creative input definitely added to the tracks in question. In Dre’s case, most of the time, the people who took part in the tracks are credited in the notes, and yet everyone acts like he took credit for their shit. And just the same as Marley- some of those dudes who say they did all the work haven’t matched that without Dre behind the boards. D-Dot also addressed this when Kanye said he was ‘ghosting’ for him… he noted that Kanye got credited, and that at the time, he wasn’t as much of a producer in the sense of arranging and directing the songs. Ultimately, that counts for a lot. It’s not always all about who tapped the buttons, it’s also about who made sure that shit sounded right when it was complete.

The only time I think it’s outright foul is when the credited producer did absolutely nothing, provided no ideas, and just slapped their name on someone else’s work and gave them no credit. But if someone is adding major creative input on how the track/song is heard by us once it leaves the building, they def. deserve to be credited as the producers.


Comment by DANJ! 04.07.10 @

a great “Producer” to me should be able to make a song stand alone. Like a story. He will use the different pieces and shuffle and shape, like pottery, until the shit stands strong and sounds great. In the case of Premier and Dr.Dre, I have noticed that they both minimize the amount of ingredients added to the mix to make it better, instead taking and muting for effects. Cold 187um, Shock G and Prince Paul create real stories with songs. A beginning, a high middle and an ending. I have heard so many tracks that just loop, without much more being added or taken away. Those I call “beatmakers”.

Comment by CENZI 04.07.10 @

also.. when I spoke with Doc Rodriguez a while back, he mentioned to me how should have been the producer for “Self Destruction”, however the title went to D-Nice.

It’s a fine line when someone comes in with the ideas but the engineer does the actual work. I think in this case, Co-Production must be given.

Comment by CENZI 04.07.10 @

It all depends on the individual.Im trying to master all elements of the music making process beacause i trust my ears and my brain to make the sounds and tracks i want in my own specific style and way.
The modern producer has the technollogy at his or her fingertips theses days..times have changed(i know because i started with 2 tape machines and a turntable.)
If i give music to an engineer i all ways think i could have done a better far.


i make a beat..with music and progression,mix it,produce it.give it out.

get vocals back..remix it to specification and go from there….im very particular.

its allways different with anybody who makes music..DONT WATCH THE INDUSTRY

Comment by Awkward 04.07.10 @

generally in non hip-hop music, the engineer handles the equipment and works with the producer to set everything up and get ‘sounds,’ which is just that: the sounds of the individual parts on a song. the producer will then tweak these sounds, coach players on parts and takes, add and/or subtract effects, and usually do mixing. if someone brought a record to marley with part x and part y in mind in a certain order, and marley then did the technical work as well as the ‘sound’ work, i would consider marley both the producer and engineer; whereas whoever gave him the record might more accurately be considered a song writer rather than a producer. it is like if a guitar player brought in a song on guitar i.e. think of the sample source as an instrument and its order as an arrangement. executive producer just usually means someone who oversaw the whole project, put up the money, puts up his name, and gives the final yay or nay on things usually only in big name situations. does this help?

Comment by Mia 04.07.10 @

kind of remind of eric b and rakim’s album let the rhythm, large professor did most of the beats but never got credit for it, and when you think about if u hear the albums that he produced like kool g raps wanted dead or alive, breaking atoms etc you can tell it was produced by him, it sucks but what can you do

Comment by immobilarity 04.07.10 @

THe beatmaker is the producer and everyone else is a co-producer. If you turned some knobs (no homo) like Dr. Dre does, you are the engineer…. it’s that simple..The Juice Crew, I love ’em, but, they didn’t produce ish, Marley did….

Comment by dlp 04.07.10 @

Mia probably makes the most sense out of everybody

Comment by mercilesz 04.07.10 @

I’ve seen engineers who sat absolutely silent waiting to be told what to do. Then when the “Beat Maker” tells him everything he needs the engineer to do to finish the track, the engineer turns around and says he should get producer credit…….I don’t think so. I say………would the song be different if you were not there? If so, you should get some producer credit. I think some songs should have had 2 producers listed equally, like Produced by Marley Marl and Big Daddy Kane for example.

Comment by Kenny Parker 04.07.10 @

The Biz Never Sleeps > Goin’ Off

Comment by Magnetic 04.07.10 @

problem solved, all those involved in making the beat should have co-production credits.

if it was made by one dood, everything, he produced it.

if 3 cats helped make the beat in whatever way, they all co-produced it.

pretty damn simple.

Comment by D O T H E M A T H 04.07.10 @

marco polo ruste juxx best album of 2010 for 13 bucks dont care buckshot and dru suge knighted it.

Comment by pmac 04.07.10 @

i make a beat.
if i record, arrange, edit the vocals i’m “engineering”
when i put the whole thing together and master it, it becomes “production”

hearing all the juice crew alumni complain bout how they brought records to the session, had marley loop it etc,need to remember that all those records had producers, engineers and musicians, so if they want to talk about money..gethefuckouttaherewiththatbullshit.
they should be happy they were a part of some classic rap records, and hope they invested their royalty cheque wisely.which they didnt which is they are complaining.

Comment by steezolini 04.08.10 @

For my sins I’ve got the “Wu Massacre” CD sitting in front of me with 4 executive producers and 8 co-executive producer credits ! Not quite sure what all those guys got up to as the CD is about 30 minutes long with 12 tracks, 2 of which are skits.

Comment by CrateDigga78 04.08.10 @

Only one thing.
Paul McCasty, not McNasty!
R.I.P. Paul C.

Comment by Antonio 04.08.10 @

So the Juice Crew members had ideas for songs? Good for them! You think when a rock band goes into a studio with a producer like Steve Albini they don’t already have their songs written and put together???

So for helping with the music and arrangement they get songwriting credit. And when a producer does a beat, he should (and usually does) get songwriting credit.

And regarding Marley’s value…

You think anyone else could mic vocals the way Marley did for Kane and Biz on “Just Rhymin with Biz” or Kane on “Raw’ or Shan on “Marley Marl Scratch” or “The Bridge.” How about the sound of his drums? Just the beat programming alone with SICK. C’mon, Marley is one of the best producers ever! Th

Comment by Jason Howlin 04.08.10 @


Comment by mercilesz 04.08.10 @

You think anyone else could mic vocals the way Marley did for Kane and Biz on “Just Rhymin with Biz” or Kane on “Raw’ or Shan on “Marley Marl Scratch” or “The Bridge.”

Yes…Marley is great, but its a well known fact he didn’t produce alot of those great records. The MC’s he was working with definately deserve some credit. I don’t think Kane, Masta Ace, etc have any reason to lie.

Comment by hl 04.08.10 @

If you’re on the mpc or laptop or whatever, its not automatic that you’re the producer or co-producer. But you are the writer. Because you’re writing the material at that point. Only reason its not seen that way is because its on a machine, but it is actually writing. If you make the beat and see the project all the way thru as “the boss”, than yeah the beatmaker is the producer, but not because he made the beat, its simply because he saw the project thru himself. But even beatmakers need a producer. If the general public is confused about what a producer is, that’s on them. Authors have editors, filmmakers have editors. Beatmakers got editors to (if they know what’s good for them).

Comment by bgbg884 04.09.10 @

Marley Marl is correct in being credited at sole producer. I love Kane, Biz and them but they are mixing up writing with producing. Kane brought in the sample, had input on what parts to sample and 808 placements and what not, so he’s writing, not producing. Marley produced, period. If we want Kane to get his props, well then its up to us to start seeing the writer how we have so long visioned “the producer”. Its our bad. Plus in music publishing and ascap and shit. The writer is the one who benifits in the long run, not the producer unless he parlays it somehow in a contract. Its our fault in hip-hop by misunderstanding what a producer is. We’re supposed to know that the producer is NOT the writer and if you wanna give props on it, look at who wrote it and there it is. I mean the players who made up those sick riffs in Isley Brothers songs didn’t get mad cuz they didn’t get production credit, and Kane shouldn’t either. There’s no reason to cuz coming up with the riffs and shit, don’t have anything to do with producing. Its writing.

Comment by bgbg884 04.09.10 @

I think that a producer is anyone who had any type of creative input into a record or album. Everyone even the artist should be listed as co-producers on it. I think that in rock the artist should get the co-producer credit because they created the actual songs and put their input into them. Whoever the producer of the album is gets credit for putting in their opinion and changing parts or even creating whole tracks on their own for the band to play. In hip-hop I think that anyone involved in the creative process should be considered a producer. The artist would be considered a producer for writing the lyrics which is part of the production. Whoever had the idea to create the sound of a beat and the different parts of it and also how the song should sound all together would be considered a producer. In both of those genres anyone who works behind the boards and does the literal chopping of samples, drum programming, looping, adds the synthesizers etc., and puts the song in sequence based on how the producer wants it is an engineer. The only thing they would be doing is literally creating the track, but they wouldnt have any influence over its actual sound. Basically you should be able to get any engineer to make the track and it would still sound the same because its up to the producer how the track should actually sound.

Comment by burd 04.09.10 @

The producer is the one who actually makes the beat; if someone provided a record to sample from he doesn’t deserve the credit, otherwise we would have 4 or 5 producers for each song (just imagine all the people that floats around the studio and give imputs in some way).
The executive producer in my opinion is the guy who ovesees the entire project, the one who takes all the tracks and make an album, leaving tracks outside the final tracklist, putting them in order, etc.
The engineer is the guy who takes the rough track (not every producer knows how to mix) and transform it into the one we listen on the actual record.

Comment by Steve 04.09.10 @

^Co-sign with Steve

Comment by Bigg Boss Luciano 04.09.10 @

in an interview i read premier said that for the first gang starr record he brought his engineer the records he wanted to sample and the guy did most of the work, showing primo how to do it. so we gotta thank him for getting preemo started.
pmd produced most of the first 3 epmd lps, way before erick sermon became the “hot” producer.

Comment by southern elitist 04.09.10 @

I tend to agree with Kenny Parker in terms of an engineer’s credit as a producer. Let’s use Paul C. (RIP) as an example. The classic “Do The James” by Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud credited them as producers but in retrospect, it’s obvious Paul C. held that down, track and all. Even if he didn’t make the track himself, the effect that he put on “Impeach The President” gave that break a distinct sound and feel not heard in other uses of that break (especially that echo/shuffle towards the end. Sick to this day.) In that case, he should have been listed as a producer even if he didn’t make the track.

Comment by oskamadison 04.09.10 @

A Bedroom Beatmaker – That’s me. Maybe one day I’ll actually get good at it and I can move the beats from the bedroom to the real world!

Anyway, good article Robbie, keep this kind of shit coming because it’s really interesting.

Comment by Mag7Music 04.10.10 @

…These same debates and gripes going in in terms of authorship/lead authorship on academic research/papers.

What you really see in hip hop’s failure nowadays (I mean, one of the many things) is the lack of the executive producer so to speak, the influence who makes an album a consistent piece of art and not simply a collection of tracks. It’s all the rage to get beats by tons of hot producers on your record nowadays, but classic ALBUMS often have much more consistent production credits. With so many of these cats on their on their own shunning an Executive Producer, this is just amplified. A gifted executive producer is often what turns a “rapper” into a legitimate musical artist.

Comment by digglahhh 04.10.10 @

A week ago I heard Pete Rock at Pete Rosenberg’s Noisemakers interview how the ATCQ ‘Jazz’ record was basically jacked by Qtip. Pete Rock was making that beat and Qtip eventually went off and re-created it for ATCQ, but never giving Production or co-Prod credit to Pete Rock. He seems still mad, which I understand to be fair. Another case…

Comment by Eedem 04.11.10 @

@ Eedem

Yeah I read that same story In Waxpoetics,Pete claimed he and Tip were listening to the then unnamed beat.Pete stated that his phone rang,he went an answered it,returned and Tip had left with the track.When”we Got the jazz”dropped,you hear”Pete Rock for the beat/ya don’t stop’.Pete said he was heated because Tip didn’t give him credit or even get permission.

Comment by R.Jones 04.13.10 @

u don’t invite singed artists/producers with deals, up to your house and play em hot breaks,then walk over to the phone. U might get played.

Comment by richdirection 04.15.10 @

Beat maker plays a big role of producing a great music and I always wanted to make my own beats. I don’t care who ever will be the producer or executive as long as I do my passion and then released it so that people can hear great beats. I guess the producer and executive have a difficult job and I don’t want to be like them. hehehe. lol. 😉 Thank you.

Comment by Ty Peters - Make Beats Online 04.17.10 @

Ya you said it bro Spike n Jamahl got raped by Missy. I did the the Demo recording for the so gone track that got it placed by John Monopoly.They got no royalties at all.

Comment by 12tones 04.27.10 @

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