Is Marley Marl The Most Important Producer In The History Of Hip-Hop?

Once upon a time, around 1985 at Unique recording studio in New York city, Marley Marl accidentally sampled a snare drum. It was a mistake, initially, as he’d instructed the engineer to grab a vocal snippet for the Captain Rock song he was remixing at the time. When he played the sound on the keyboard and heard that snare come through, it dawned on him – no more shitty DMX and Linn Drum sounds! Once he realized that he could program drums using real drum sounds, he loaded up the kick, snare and hat from ‘Impeach The President’ and started making history. ‘Eric B. For President’, ‘The Bridge’, ‘Make The Music With Your Mouth, and ‘Stunt of The Block’ were all produced using that drum kit.

It’s impossible to imagine how hip-hop would have sounded without that break-through, although it’s a fair bet that after a few more years of drum machines over replayed TV show themes somebody would have figured out that sampling drums was a good idea. But beyond this innovation, the other major contribution to the hip-hop cannon was the collection of great albums that Marley was involved in (regardless of whether or not he had co-producers). Long Live The Kane, Road To The Riches, Goin’ Off, Take A Look Around, Down By Law, Mama Said Knock You Out…the list goes on. The only other producer who can approach that kind of track record at the time is The 45 King. Many will make a case for Dr. Dre since he’s made so many careers happen, but he’s been more about making hits and artists than great albums. Pretty much every great Dre album has a fair amount of bullshit on there, with the exception of The Chronic. Even Efil4zggin had a fair amount of filler in terms of skits.

As great as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Ced-Gee and the D.I.T.C. collective are, they are all in the shadow of Marley Marl’s legacy, because the most significant quality that Marlon Williams brought to hip-hop was bigger than the sampling techniques or the albums – it was bringing that grit to the studio. The perfect antidote for the clean, sterile Sugarhill disco sound and the drum machine/keyboard sound that came after it was the ‘Project Sound’ that ‘The Bridge’ gave us. Marley was able to capture that raw feeling that you get from listening to old Cold Crush tapes recorded from parties on the records he made, and that will forever be more powerful than making careers or selling millions of CD’s.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrDigg thisShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

62 Comments so far
Leave a comment

45 King? The only producer that approaches Marley’s record? Seriously?

I’m not oblivious to his work, but more so than Dre or Premier or Pete Rock or even RZA? Nnnnnah.


Comment by DANJ! 09.03.10 @

Just to clarify:

“The only other producer who can approach that kind of track record at the time is The 45 King”


Comment by Robbie 09.03.10 @

yeah it really takes a real artist to be able to create new music instead of just recycling old samples, there is an art to sampling too, but doin it off the dome is whats up

Comment by gstatty 09.03.10 @

Must we mention Dr. Dre in every conversation??? He is so overated and I’m not convinced that he actually did any real production by himself….

Comment by dlp 09.03.10 @

Art of Noise sampled the When the Levy Breaks drums for Beat Box in ’83. Yes did it again with Owner of a Lonely Heart later that year. Anyone who messed with the Fairlight or Emulator had a good chance of figuring it out, just due to the stock libraries available and the inspiration that would evoke.

Comment by haroon 09.03.10 @

“Many will make a case for Dr. Dre since he’s made so many careers happen, but he’s been more about making hits and artists than great albums.”

^Great point. This could be a post in itself.

Comment by hl 09.03.10 @

He is one of them without a doubt, I am not sure if he is the most important, I will have to think on that one, good comment haroon.

Comment by Jaz 09.03.10 @

One of the most important if not THE most; imo.
Marly’s catalog included some of the wickedest hip hop dubplates ever put to wax – the Nia Records 12 inch catalogue comes to mind – the Superkids, the Aleems (b4 they went to Atlantic Records) – great article Robbie.

Comment by em2wice 09.03.10 @

I agree with Marley’s importance, though disagree about the Dre comment…

I think part of what Dre did was make great coherent albums, especially Chronic and Doggystyle, as well as DOC’s debut and the NWA records. I think those are pretty flawless in terms of creating a mood and overall sound and sticking to it

Comment by J-Oh 09.04.10 @

good point, J-Oh. Though to a lesser extent, you could also add the Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers albums to that list.

Comment by digglahhh 09.04.10 @

…Sorry, just to expand on that a little more. Dre is really good at the “an album isn’t just a collection of songs thing.” Many of the albums he produced, or executive produced, do a very good job of portraying the artists as a person, not just the creator of the product you are listening too. In industry terms, Dr. Dre creates brands. Of course, from Snoop, to Eminem, to Eazy and Cube, he’s had the fortune of working with some very charismatic artists, which certainly makes the mission of bringing forth an artist’s personality much easier.

Comment by digglahhh 09.04.10 @

He is. There should be no debate on this one. The man is responsible for the sonic soundscape hip hop has followed for the last 25 years. Any questions on credibility came from those that maybe should have deserved a “co-producer” credit (i.e. k-def for the world reknown and LOTUG shit) at one point in time. His creations from 85-91 saved hip hop. Ask those that have spent a great deal of time with Marley (Chuck D, Pete Rock, Primo, fuck, even Chuck Chillout and Red Alert) and they’ll tell you this is the man that created the music for the culture.

Comment by mecbar 09.04.10 @

Ghetto Vader

Comment by Ghetto Vader 09.04.10 @

hell yeah but fuck no… true marley’s a key to that city but in the name of the fame, pete rock will be forever timeless n mo eva even tha dilla…

Comment by DONALESKI 09.04.10 @

Peeped the clarification… now yeah, that makes more sense.

It’s pretty hard to argue with Marley’s track record in his prime years. I’d line that up, easily, with any of the other greats in their prime. For whatever reason, I’ve seen Marley get left out of those greatest producer discussions way too often lately. It’s usually done by those who’ve conveniently taken the ‘Golden Age’ title and slid it over to the mid-90s, like the late-80s ‘Golden Age’ never happened, so maybe that explains it. But when the smoke clears, you take Marley’s ’86-’90 resume, and it goes toe-to-toe with anyone past or present when it comes to classic tracks.


Comment by DANJ! 09.04.10 @

Marley Marl is one helluva man.

Comment by Mreman 09.04.10 @

^ I agree with your assessment there!

Comment by H 09.04.10 @


Comment by H 09.04.10 @

Hats off to Marley but no ones mentioning Rick Rubin for the same time period? sure Marley worked with more artists but RR certainly wasnt a slouch back then either

Comment by D.Baskett 09.05.10 @

Do celebration pieces always have to be based around comparisson? Dre and Marley are different arenas..strange to even lump them together. Also omits people like Davy DMX who experimented early with DMX and oberheim prommer..Anyway still good to give Marley his due props

Comment by Tom Dice 09.05.10 @

do all celebration pieces need to compare artists?

Comment by Tom Dice 09.05.10 @

Must we mention Dr. Dre in every conversation??? He is so overated and I’m not convinced that he actually did any real production by himself….

Comment by dlp 09.03.10 @

^^^ nah, insert dilla instead of dre. mad overrated all the time. i didn’t hear shit about he’s the best until he died.
dre on the other hand, nwa..c’mon now.

Comment by way-off 09.05.10 @

..but yeah, marley marl, no premier or none of that shit w/ out him. before him it was like that futuristic synth bullshit. with super high bpm type drums and shit LoL.

Comment by way-off 09.05.10 @

Marley’s one of the most important, but depending on your age- I’m 38 (lived through the Golden Age rather than did it by proxy)- I’d say, pound for pound and, in terms of diversity, Mark “the 45” King was and is the most important producer in rap music, ever! Arguable, of course, but he was more diverse and more creative in many ways than Marley. Not hating on Marl, at all- he had tracks locked down over and over again, but the “45 King”, for me, will always be the best, as much as I love Pete Rock, Primo and the rest of those talented cats.

Comment by andrew 09.05.10 @

Rick Rubin was pretty much done with hip hop by 87, and I can’t think of any ‘Rick Rubin remixes’ of the top of my head either, but yeah, while he was on it, dude was a beast.

Comment by Downstroke 09.05.10 @

BTW…Marley is the illest…

P.S. Screw a Dr. Dre…

Comment by dlp 09.05.10 @

“Give the man behind the wheels some credit-Marley, can we here funky fresh scratchin’ again”… the man to be the first to flip “Blind Alley” sample is without a doubt a living-legend…

Comment by maad 09.05.10 @

My vote would be for The 45 King over Marley Marl-his production was more creative, less obviously sample-based. Besides, The 45 King never really got the respect and due he deserved. He was around in the true Golden Age (from 1988 onwards), producing and putting out product that was classic, month after month. But, having said that, Marley is a legend. The original 12″ mix of Master Ace’s “Letter to the Better” and Road to the Riches” by G Rap will always move me, and be remembered as classics for years to come.

Comment by mutual 07 09.05.10 @

And the original 12″ mix of Craig G’s “Take the Bait” was and is timeless.

Comment by mutual 07 09.05.10 @

man, Primo cites Marley as his main influence. anyone else got a better co-sign?!

Comment by step one 09.05.10 @

marly brought sampling to the for front so he should always be in the top five his work with the following proves his dominance in the 80’s to the early 90’s 1. the juice crew (all of them)
2. 3rd base
3. Rakim
4. King T
5. Chub rock
6.ll cool j
7.l.o t.u.g.


Comment by derrick 09.05.10 @

Just becuz Marley was the first to chop samples and make em bang like he did, doesn’t make him the most important. He was ground-breaking no doubt but, no more important than every other great producer who came after him.

Comment by Kid Captain Coolout 09.05.10 @

I remember copping Sucker D.J.’s by Dimples D and Marley Marl and I was a fan ever since. Marley had a way of switching things up so the records didn’t sound so formulaic. Nobody else at the time was doing what he was doing. Not Rick Rubin, Spyder D, Mantronik, nobody except maybe Paul C. The 45 King’s production just didn’t have the same impact. All the producers mentioned have have some noteworthy songs but, where are their Symphony’s, Set It Off’s, Dropping Science’s, Take the Bait’s, Men at Work’s (best use of Apache in my opinion), Enter the Dragon’s etc.???

Comment by Brooklyn 'Lo 09.05.10 @

Marley Marl produced many hot tracks, but DJ Premier produced many more

Comment by Trickykid 09.06.10 @

Come on now, Delia Derbyshire was way before everybody else!;) Check this out:

Comment by PAS 09.06.10 @

The 45 King actually produced Kane’s “Set It Off”, which was a slower incarnation of the one Kane actually used, as Marley sped the beat up from the “Be Black, Baby” break by Grady Tate from the “Hi Mom!” soundtrack. The 45 King wanted to produce it, but politics meant that Marley was given production duties on the track. The 45 King was paid “a nice sum of money” in compensation for the decision. Just goes to show that The 45 King had hidden talents, and if it wasn’t for his drug habit, and being dropped by Warners, he’d probably have been far more prolific than Marley (not hating on Marley, before anyone starts moaning!)

Comment by mutual 07 09.06.10 @

word this is the Ghetto Vader sampler GURU
the 45 king has mad Talent so did MArly,
RESPECT the ART of Sampling

Comment by da Ghetto Vader 09.06.10 @

DJ Premier is, in my humble opinion, the BEST producer that ever did it. That being said, Marley Marl most definitely is the most important producer because without him no one else that was mentioned (including Premo and Dre) wouldn’t have had that blueprint to base their sound on. Listen to Dre’s early work. He was as much a fan of east coast Hip-Hop as anyone else. As far as the 45 King goes, me being originally from Jersey (14B, y’all), I gotta stand up for dude. If not for that dust gettin’ a hold on him, we’d be talkin’ about dude much the same way we’re talkin’ about Marley right now. 45 King’s style was more musical than Marley’s and a precursor to Pete Rock’s in terms of his usage of horns (Shout out to Kool & The Gang, 14B stand up, again). Back to the point: no Marley, no (insert your favorite producer here.)

Comment by oskamadison 09.07.10 @

goddamn right.

Comment by garofalo 09.07.10 @

Primo himself said that Marley Marl is the best producer and that he wanted to be like him

Comment by Stillwaters r.d. 09.07.10 @

good read and the comments are interesting also. marley is mos def one of the illest. doc dre is overrated and mark the 45 king is the only one on marley marls level. im sure theres more, though.

Comment by dmfslimm 09.07.10 @

NOW as i sit here at an air port somewhere in the GREAT USA and read some off the comments i still cant understand why some people cant GIVE ME MINE. GOD KNOWS I HAVE MADDDDD RESPECT FOR THE GAME AND EVERY HIP HOP PRODUCER THE FOLLOWED MYYYYYYYYY BLUEPRINT ON HOW TO MAKE A DOPE HIP HIP/R&B TRACK. But i understand i will have haters till the end of time an after that.ITS ALL GOOD # 45 KING DID NOT MAKE SET IT OFF. YES K DEF DID WORK WITH ME and we made joints but funny thing THOSE SONGS DONT EVEN MAKE PUBLISHING MONEY FROM ASCAP LIKE MY HITS DO. AND thats word to EXIT 14B WHERE I USE TO LIVE NEXT STORE TO THE GRAVEYARD ON EASTEREN PARKWAY NJ. AL i can say is let history be history and get of that B.S. i have MORE CLASSICS THEN ANY PRODUCER IN THE GAME FOR NOW RESPECT THE HISTORY AND IT WILL RESPECT YOU M2 09/07/2010

Comment by MARLEY MARL 09.07.10 @

I was going to give my biannual rant on the impact of layered sampling and Paul’s Boutique, but Marley should have the last word.

Comment by greg 09.07.10 @


Comment by RBi 09.08.10 @

Marley is the man. I’m sick of people not mentioning the earlier producers but yet keep bigging up the latest or most recent especially Dilla. Yes he had some good beats but he’s not the best.

Comment by Carl 09.08.10 @

I grew up on Marley. The first toon of his I heard on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show in London was “Pickin’ Boogers”- but I still have love for the 45 King. But as Maley himself has spoken, I feel humbled. Whilst everyone bangs on about the “Jingling Baby” remix, which is amazing, people forget the wicked B side remix of that single of “Illegal Search”, which doesn’t get the props it deserves. The 12″ mix of “Take the Bait” is in my all-time top ten. No one is hating on you Marley Marl, especially if you grew up listening to quality hip-hop and you’re 35 years plus (we’re luckily enough to listen to hip-hop when nearly every track for months and years on end was top draw).

Comment by mutual 07 09.09.10 @

The first real hip hop song I heard, on the college radio show “fantastic voyage” dj ron nelson, was m.c shan’s the bridge. I heard rap records before run dmc ect. but the bridge was something different and new to my ears. I thought at that time maybe this is the sound of nyc. For some reason, the early cold chillin’ records made it’s way to canada not too long after its u.s release and I payed the import price almost $20 for “down by law”. Today, the overall tone of that record is still the sound of original hip hop, sound of my youth. Much like the 45 king, marley early on created a consistent sound as a self taught producer and engineer. I’m sure around this time there were underground records using similar techniques, probably produced by certified engineers, but were unable to produce an already established studio sound like marley. The way marley recorded vocals should be noted, real professional and seamless in the mix and the use of delay effects. I think it was very essential for hip hop to have some sort of conventions for longevity and to have a producer with marley’s background already by the mid-eighties producing serious music paved the way for many. Marley did all this at a time when rock techniques was the norm and probably did not get the respect then. He is for sure one of hip hop’s original studio producers and engineers.

Comment by neegeoson 09.09.10 @

I’d say Marley was the most important to the industry and to the over-all aural shape of Hip-Hop, and me personally…

I heard Marley Scratch on local radio in Ireland and was hooked [McShan? Best Hip-Hop typo ever?]. I was addicted to that drum sound. Copped the MC Shan alblum on Mail Order and never looked back, followed Marleys sound and career ever since. Even enjoyed the West End comps he did of Raw Silk and Loose Joints etc.

What I want to know is, why wasnt Marley Marl feat Rappertaire – ‘You Cant Get with Me’ ever released? Was that part of the Steering Pleasure Sessions? Anyone know it?

Comment by IRISH 09.10.10 @

Yeah Marley may have been the hottest single producer of the Golden Era.

But I’m suprised nobody has mentioned The Bomb Squad yet. I mean seriously, Listen how dope their first 3 albums are. Especially It Takes a Nation of Millions. I mean, Long live the Kane is probably Marley’s best LP and it was hot but It Takes a Nation of Millions came out the same summer and there’s really no comparison.

Having said that, The Symphony and Ain’t No 1/2 Steppin were also out that summer. Marley Marl was definately a beast but lets not forget about the Bomb Squad.

Respect due to 45 King. Queen latifah’s album was perfect Chill Rob G’s album was almost perfect (except for that Hip House track).

Dr Dre definately gets a shout out as far as Golden Era producers go. Eazy E, NWA, DOC. He produced 4 classic albums and an EP and represented a whole coast from 88-91. Boys In The Hood (Remix) Always into Something, It’s Funky Enough, Express Yourself (Remix). You can’t front on Dre. In fact you could argue Dre was better than Marley.

Comment by 5 grand 09.13.10 @

Anybody putting Dilla on that level needs to be slapped with some reality! Not even close … Dre is, like Premo and BDP and EPMD, responsible for at least 8 classic HipHop albums worth of HipHop music … That is the creme of the crop … People who are responsible for at least five or more classic albums are what it’s ALL ABOUT! Not SELL-OUTS who sold their soul for pop music industry … the Gang Starr legacy is the RICHEST in HipHop history … NOTHING surpasses their status, and they are the model of how it should be done. NOT sell-outs like Busta, LL, Cube, Jig, Fat Joe, etc. etc.

Comment by ACthePD 09.13.10 @

And, pardon me for not mentioning the man of the hour, but this post is all about Marley, and so of course he is a part of the creme …

Comment by ACthePD 09.13.10 @

Marley’s status isn’t a question, at least among true heads, but Marley’s legacy comes from his singles. His albums were alright but nothing really conceptual or cohesive. The best album he rocked from beginning to end wasn’t even a Juice Crew album: Mama Said Knock You Out gets that. Master Ace’s Take A Look Around would have gotten second place but Mister Cee rocked 4 joints on there. Still and all: Marley Marl is the blueprint for ALL who came after him.

Comment by oskamadison 09.14.10 @

I wouldn’t mind at all if people considered Marley Marl the greatest producer of all time. And in addition to those breakthrough albums in hip-hop his work with bringing in Lords of the Underground needs to mentioned as well.
However, Extra P. deserves mention, up there with Pete Rock and Preme and whoever else. Can’t forget Da Beatminerz either.

Comment by Teddy-the-Bear 09.14.10 @

Great piece, by the way.

Comment by Teddy-the-Bear 09.14.10 @

Although Marley is not my all time favorite, you can’t deny that his contribution to production by flipping drums before anybody (in Hip-Hop at least) was one of the ULTIMATE GAME CHANGERS. And 45 King though genius does NOT match Marley’s track record of hits in my opinion. Although if 45 King made SET IT OFF he gained a ton of points in my book for that alone.

All in all there are a dozens of producers I think are better in my book currently but for the place and time and EFFECT Marley had on Hip-Hop at the time. HE IS BAWSE!!!

Comment by Cresno Fresh 09.17.10 @


DJ Premiere I think has the greatest legacy for COMPLETELY producing dope if not classic albums.

And yes…DRE is overrated but only in the last decade. He’s still the reason for at least 7 or 8 CLASSIC albums don’t let his current status make you forget that.

Comment by Cresno Fresh 09.17.10 @

Robbie, as you know, in my book, The BeatTips Manual, I point out that Marley Marl is the father of modern beatmaking (I even provide a flow chart of pivotal beatmakers and their connection to him). And I’m sure reading my interview with him, you were able to see just why he is so important to the hip hop/rap and beatmaking traditions.

But does that make him the most “important” beatmaker (producer) in hip hop? Perhaps, he certainly presents a strong case. But not because he was the first to sample drum sounds. Afrika Bambaataa—along with assistance of Arthur Baker (who also was influential in Marley Marl’s earliest days)—sampled music before Marley, albeit not drum sounds though. Difference is, however, is that Marley made a key innovations upon an earlier sampling *discovery*. And more important than that, Marley served as the lead voice in the resistance to “live-band” (studio-band) *hip hop* and other sounds that got away from the music that laid the foundation for hip hop/rap music. Furthermore, Marley Marl was most instrumental in redirecting the music back to its source: the use of the break in records. And his lead in this area—along with its uses of sampled drum sounds, breaks, and other phrases, was of the ways in which he instituted the formula that gave way to modern beatmaking going forward.


Comment by Sa'id 09.20.10 @

Hip Hop’s Hero w/ Nikal Fieldz

Comment by Duchess 01.11.11 @

Marley wins. The Tragedy Dub is NAAASTY!! The original is great, but that dub mix is an amazing and inspired work of art.

Comment by D 04.03.11 @

It all depends on what’s meant by ‘important’

Comment by Online Hip Hop Beats 05.08.13 @

Marley was the best at the time hands down!! its a demo..are u serious! killed the funky drummer..eric b is pres is a classic..I hate hearing about how Shan and Marley laughed at Rakim during the session while recording that song, but with that being said, give me Marleys golden era of hip hop any day!!

Comment by cleezy 07.01.14 @

There was lots of great producers before Dre, I always felt that Marley and Herbie Luv Bug had a big influence on Dre…. I also feel that Marley Marl is indeed the most important producer in Hip Hop, and that statement doesn’t down play other producers. Marley chopped drums and years later we have beat battles to see who chops the best. I practice choppin on an iPad and a drum machine with full knowledge of how it came about. And I always tell people “my chop game is tight” knowing full well the history and origin. Pete Rock is one of my favorites, I feel he’s a Master with a capital “M”…. But Marley Marl is the God Father of the chop game in my opinion.

Comment by DJ Spoon 05.30.15 @

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>