The Top 20 Black Music Producers Of All Time
This is a nod to the producers, y’know the guys who’re really behind all those hits that the artists get all the credit for. In many cases they don’t just produce but write the songs too. Some prefer to stay in the shadows whilst others like to hog the stage with the artist, some stamp their style all over the acts they produce whilst others’ styles are almost unrecognisable aside from the one hit to the other. Either way, these are the key players that have been churning out all those memorable hits we know and love.
This is a list of the top 20 producers in Black music over the last 50 odd years, which is just about the length of time popular Black recorded music has been around. Black music in this case being Soul, Funk, R&B, Hip hop, Rap. Some of these producers make songs in Pop or other genres or have indeed crossed over but the ranking is based on material in the Black music arena. The list makes no distinction between single producers and production teams, it also takes into account all producers, dead or alive. It is not meant to be a biography about the producers, just some key facts about each one of them.
It hasn’t been easy ranking these producers, names have been in and out of the list and positions have changed many times. The list would probably have to be 50-strong to include all the top guys and for that reason, some honorary mentions are made at the end of the list. So here goes, a countdown from numero 20 to number 1:
20. NICK MARTINELLI
D.O.B: July 5, 1952 (Nicholas J. Martinelli).
Origins: Philadelphia, USA.
Style: Contemporary R&B/ post-Disco – Urban flavour influenced by “The Sound of Philadelphia”, early productions borrowed heavily from the Jam & Lewis TR808 drum beats.
3 Notable hits: Hanging on a String (Loose Ends); Let Me Be The One (Five Star); Joy (Teddy Pendergrass).
3 associated acts: Loose Ends, Five Star, Phyllis Hyman.
Legacy: Received the Philadelphia Music Foundation Award for notching the most Top 10 singles in one year in 1988; named Best Urban Producer by Philadelphia Music Foundation Award in 1990; achieved Quadruple platinum status with Diana Ross’ “One Woman Collection”; always included in the Blues and Soul magazine’s Top 10 producer list.
Most active years: 80s, 90s.
19. SEAN “DIDDY” COMBS
D.O.B: November 4, 1969 (Sean John Combs).
Origins: Harlem, New York.
Style: Hip hop/ R&B – Typically samples 80’s hits and beefs up the beats, overlaying with a rap or vocals.
3 Notable hits: One More Chance (Notorious B.I.G); Flava in Ya Ear (Craig Mack); I’ll Be Missing You (with Faith Evans).
3 associated acts: Mary J Blige, The Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans.
Legacy: Has won three Grammy Awards and two MTV Video Music Awards; three albums he’s produced appear on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time; President of Bad Boy Records; owner of Sean John fashion label; Fortune magazine listed at number twelve on their top 40 of entrepreneurs under 40 list in 2002; co-owns Cîroc vodka brand; has a major equity stake in Revolt TV.
Most active years: 90s
18. SCOTT STORCH
D.O.B: December 16, 1973 (Scott Spencer Storch).
Origins: Long Island, New York.
Style: Hip hop/ Dance/ R&B – Solid beats, similar to Dr Dre and heavily piano based, infectious piano rhythms with classical piano influences apparent on some songs.
3 Notable hits: Lean Back (Terror Squad); Let Me Love You (Mario); Lighters Up (Lil’ Kim).
3 associated acts: Beyonce, Chris Brown, 50 Cent.
Legacy: Named Billboard ‘s “Top Producer for 2005” in the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/hip-hop categories and ASCAP’s 2005 “Pop Songwriter Of The Year,” contributed to five of ASCAP’s most performed songs of 2005; received GRAMMY nomination; received Philadelphia Recording Academy Honors ; received ASCAP‘s Songwriter of the Year award; member of group, The Roots.
Most active years: 00s
17. DJ EDDIE F
D.O.B: March 25, 1968 (Edward Ferrell).
Origins: Mount Vernon, New York.
Style: New Jack Swing – Smooth R&B, keyboard based; Hip hop production style using a lot of samples, early works were similar to Teddy Riley but with his own distinctive, synth bass consisting of the root and octave notes in the same riff.
3 Notable hits: I Want Somebody (Heavy D), She’s Mine (Basic Black), U Know What’s Up (Donell Jones)
3 associated acts: Heavy D; Mary J Blige; Intro.
Legacy: Won one Grammy Award; founder and owner of Untouchables Entertainment Group, Untouchables Records, current president of President of the Georgia Music Industry Association ; former Executive Vice President of A&R at Motown Records; former Vice President of A&R for LaFace Records; created the theme song music for the television series In Living Color; one of the Boyz in Heavy D and the Boyz.
Most active years: 90s.
16. THE NEPTUNES
D.O.B: April 5, 1973 (Pharrell Lanscilo Williams); February 24, 1974 (Charles Edward Hugo aka Chad Hugo).
Origins: Virginia Beach, Virginia (Pharrell Williams); Portsmouth, Virginia (Chad Hugo).
Style: Hip hop/ Funk/R&B – Noticeable 80’s R&B influence on their productions; distinctive brand of off-kilter, stripped-down electronic funk with sounds from Middle Eastern and Asian music including percussion and woodwind; flat, punchy drum machine sounds with the use of module presets.
3 Notable hits: Drop It Like It’s Hot (Snoop Dogg), Rock Your Body (Justin Timberlake), Got Your Money (Ol’ Dirty Bastard).
3 associated acts: Snoop Dogg; Jay Z; Justin Timberlake.
Legacy: Received three Grammy Awards; scored twenty-four Billboard Hot 100 top 10 hits during the late 1990s and 2000s; in 2009, Billboard ranked as No. 1 on their list of Top 10 producers of the decade; Vibe Magazine named as the 3rd greatest hip-hop producers of all time.
Most active years: 90s, 00s.
15. NILE RODGERS & BERNARD EDWARDS
D.O.B: September 19, 1952 (Nile Gregory Rodgers); October 31, 1952 (Bernard Edwards, died April 18, 1996).
Origins: New York, New York (Nile Rodgers); Greenville, North Carolina (Bernard Edwards)
Style: Disco/ Soul/ R&B/ Funk – Soulful disco typified with simple drums, prominent rhythm guitars and funky basslines.
3 Notable hits: I’m Coming Out (Diana Ross), He’s The Greatest Dancer (Sister Sledge), Good Times (Chic).
3 associated acts: Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and Norma Jean Wright.
Legacy: Produced a lot of the popular disco hits that defined the late 70s/early 80’s era; produced many acts from Soul to Pop/Rock and had success in all the genres; production machinery unfortunately came to an end with the death of Bernard Edwards. Nile Rogers however carried on with the legacy as a solo producer; founding members of the group, Chic.
Most active years: 70s, 80s.
D.O.B: October 30, 1939 (Eddie Holland); June 16, 1941 (Lamont Herbert Dozier); February 15, 1941 (Brian Holland).
Origins: Detroit Michigan.
Style: Rhythm & Blues/Soul – Prominent and melodic bass-guitars, unique melodic and chord structures, tambourines emphasising the drums, Gospel style call-and-response singing style with carefully arranged background vocals ; orchestral string sections and charted horn sections.
3 Notable hits: Baby Love (The Supremes), Reach Out, I’ll Be There (The Four Tops), Can I Get a Witness (Marvin Gaye).
3 associated acts: Diana Ross & The Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye.
Legacy: Their productions defined the Motown sound;. wrote and produced over 50 Top 10 pop or R&B hits, many which reached #1 on the charts; Trustees Grammy Award, Recording Industry Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1998; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction, 1990; Dozier: Grammy Award.
Most active years: 60s, 70s.
13. JERMAINE DUPRI
D.O.B: September 23, 1972 (Jermaine Dupri Mauldin).
Origins: Asheville, North Carolina.
Style: Hip hop/ R&B/Soul – Typical Hip hop production with song samples, break beats and drum machines, however also produced many original songs with no distinct ‘sound’, one of those producers who you’d find out produced a hit and not known it was him.
3 Notable hits: Jump (Kriss Kross); Funkdafied (Da Brat); Confessions Part II (Usher).
3 associated acts: Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey, Usher.
Legacy: Founder of So So Def recordings; founder of Global 14, won one Grammy Award, won one ASCAP Golden Note Award; one of only a few producers to have four songs in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at one time; first recipient of the Billboard Otis Redding Excellence Award.
Most active years: 90s, 00s.
12. RODNEY ‘DARKCHILD’ JERKINS
D.O.B: July 29, 1977 (Rodney Jerkins).
Origins: Pleasantville, New Jersey.
Style: R&B/ Hip hop – Contemporary R&B productions with a clean sound, Soul, New Jack Swing, Gospel and Classical influences; early productions sounded like Teddy Riley without the swing.
3 Notable hits: The Boy is Mine (Brandy); You Rock My World (Michael Jackson); Say My Name (Destiny’s Child).
3 associated acts: Destiny’s Child; Michael Jackson; Brandy.
Legacy: Sold over 160 million records; has won four Grammy Awards; co-creator of Music Mogul; previous VP of A&R at The Island Def Jam Group; Executive Music Producer on movies (Confessions of a Shopaholic, Blue Streak, Honey).
Most active years: 90s, 00s.
D.O.B: March 10, 1972 (Timothy Zachery Mosley).
Origins: Norfolk, Virginia
Style: R&H/Hip hop – Heavy bass and skittering synths, often augmented by avant-garde touches like Indian table; snaking syncopated drum patterns, skittering hi-hats, plinking keyboards and strong, glutinous bass; creative and experimental production style.
3 Notable hits: Pony (Ginuwine); SexyBack (Justin Timberlake); One in a Million (Aaliyah).
3 associated acts: Aaliyah; Missy Elliott; Justin Timberlake.
Legacy: Won one Grammy Award, nominated for five others; won one BET Hip hop Award, nominated for another; Executive Music producer for the hit TV series Empire; changed the face of hip-hop and R&B in the late 1990s and early 2000s;
Most active years: 90s, 00s, 10s.
D.O.B: December 26, 1959 (Michael Jones).
Origins: Venice, Los Angeles.
Style: R&B -Solid beats, dancing bass lines and full, rich vocal production; heavy use of synthesizers, somewhat similar to Leon Sylvers III but with moogs and synths.
3 Notable hits: I’m In Love (Evelyn King); Inside Love (George Benson); So Fine (Howard Johnson).
3 associated acts: Evelyn King; Melba Moore; Kenny G.
Legacy: Received 4 Grammy nominations, created the Contemporary Record Production With Kashif course as part of the UCLA Extension Program; wrote the book Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry; was the first to use the synclavier for the “flying in vocals” technique on Howard Johnson’s ‘So Fine’; had successful solo career as an artist; member of Brass Construction.
Most active years: 80’s.
9. DR DRE
D.O.B: February 18, 1965 (Andre Romelle Young).
Origins: Compton, California.
Style: Hip hop/Gangsta Rap/ G-Funk – Bass heavy productions, uses musicians to recreate music rather than sample, influenced by 70s Soul and Funk, G-Funk in particular is recreated P-Funk; lately productions use classical piano rather than keyboards and handclaps instead of snares.
3 Notable hits: F*** Da Police (N.W.A); Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang (Snoop Dogg); In Da Club (50 Cent).
3 associated acts: Snoog Dogg; 50 Cent; Eminem.
Legacy: Owner of Aftermath Records; co-founder of legendary Death Row Records; co-owner of Beats headphones which made him the ‘richest man in Hip-Hop’; has received 6 Grammy Awards; member of World Class Wreckin’ Cru and N.W.A.; widely accepted as the greatest rap producer of all time.
Most active years: 80’s, 90’s, 00’s.
8. KENNY GAMBLE & LEON HUFF
D.O.B: October 14, 1943 (Kenneth Gamble); April 8, 1942 (Leon A. Huff).
Origins: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Gamble); Camden, New Jersey (Huff).
Style: Soul – Thumping basslines, lush string arrangements, sliding hi-hat rhythms, usually with sweeping strings and piercing horns, a subtle vibraphone often in the background; jazz influence in its melodic structures and arrangements.
3 Notable hits: Wake Up Everybody (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes); Ain’t No Stoppin’ us now (McFadden & Whitehead); When Somebody Loves You Back (Teddy Pendergrass).
3 associated acts: The O’Jays; Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes; Teddy Pendergrass.
Legacy: They were the in-house creative team for Philadelphia International Records and pioneers of Philadelphia Soul; inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; made music that addressed political and social issues, many of their songs were about black pride and heralded the Black Power Movement; Disco music is widely believed to have its origins in their Philly Soul sound.
Most active years: 70’s and early 80’s.
7. NORMAN WHITFIELD
D.O.B: May 12, 1940 (Norman Jessie Whitfield – Died September 16, 2008).
Origins: Harlem, New York.
Style: R&B/Soul/Psychedelic Soul/Funk/Disco – Heavily orchestrated soul music, longer songs, distorted guitars, multi-layered guitar rhythms, multi-tracked drums, big reverbed handclaps, druggy synths, punchy brass, moody strings and inventive vocal arrangements.
3 Notable hits: Car Wash (Rose Royce); Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone (The Temptations); War (Edwin Starr).
3 associated acts: The Temptations, Rose Royce, Marvin Gaye.
Legacy: One of the creators of the Motown sound as well as late 60’s Psychedelic Soul; has written or co-written 92 hits in the US charts, won two Grammy Awards.
Most active years: 60’s and 70’s.
6. LEON SYLVERS III
D.O.B: March 7, 1953 (Leon Frank Sylvers III).
Origins: Memphis, Tennessee.
Style: R&B/Soul/ Disco/ Funk – Busy melodic basslines on top of a disco beat, with rhythm and lead guitars, strings and harmonised vocals; progressive dance music infused with Disco and Soul; sounded just as good on up-tempo and down-tempo songs.
3 Notable hits: And The Beat Goes On (The Whispers); A Night To Remember (Shalamar); Show Me Where You’re Coming From (Carrie Lucas).
3 associated acts: Shalamar, Dynasty, The Whispers.
Legacy: Main in-house producer for Solar Records responsible for pretty much all of their hits; created the sound we recognise as the Solar sound; was mentor to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; received a Grammy nomination; member of family group, The Sylvers; many of his songs have been sampled by rap artists.
Most active years: 70’s and 80’s.
5. NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN
D.O.B – April 23, 1952 (Michael Walden).
Origins: Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Style: Funk/Soul/R&B/Jazz – Rich production with a big sound, using a lot of live instruments and big reverbs; like Quincy Jones uses a lot of the top session musicians.
3 Notable hits: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston); All American Girls (Sister Sledge); I Love Your Smile (Shanice).
3 associated acts: Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Regina Belle.
Legacy: The ‘go-to’ man for diva’s; won one Grammy Award; named as one of the ‘Top 10 Producers with the Most Number One Hits’ by Billboard magazine; had successful solo career before turning producer.
Most active years: 70s, 80’s.
4. LA REID & BABYFACE
D.O.B: June 7, 1956 (Antonio “L.A.” Reid); April 10, 1959 (Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds).
Origins: Cincinnati, Ohio (LA Reid), Indianapolis, Indiana (Babyface).
Style: R&B/Soul/Funk/New Jack Swing – Typical R&B production style with rich chords, sustained electric piano taps, strings playing the same chords as the taps; brass or horn to complete arrangement; strong with ballads; recognisable Cameo, Prince and Calloway Brothers influence in early works.
3 Notable hits: Roses are Red (The Mac Band), Don’t Be Cruel (Bobby Brown), End Of The Road (Boyz II Men).
3 associated acts: Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton.
Legacy: Owners of LaFace Records, 51 Top 10 pop singles, 26 R&B chart-toppers, 10 Grammys, three straight producer of the year honours from 1996-98; members of The Deele.
Most active years: 80’s and 90’s.
3. TEDDY RILEY
D.O.B: October 8 1967 (Edward Theodore Riley).
Origins: Harlem, New York.
Style: New Jack Swing/R&B/Hip hop – Early productions sounded like a fusion of Hip hop and the Gap Band; uses a lot of samples, breakbeats and song extrapolations; heavy emphasis on the beats using drum machines and hardware samplers, pioneered the triplet hi-hats pattern.
3 Notable hits: Remember The Time (Michael Jackson); My Prerogative (Bobby Brown); I Want Her (Keith Sweat).
3 associated acts: Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Wreckx-n-Rffect.
Legacy: Created New Jack Swing sound which was adopted by pretty much all of his peers, in so doing, had a massive effect on contemporary R&B; won one Grammy Award; member of R&B groups Guy and Blackstreet.
Most active years: 80’s and 90’s.
2. JIMMY JAM & TERRY LEWIS
D.O.B: June 6, 1959 (James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III); ; November 24, 1956 (Terry Steven Lewis).
Origins: Minneapolis, Minnesota (Jimmy Jam); Omaha, Nebraska (Terry Lewis).
Style: R&B/Soul/Funk/New Jack Swing – Use a lot of bass and keyboard synths, drum machines, percussions, orchestral style string arrangement and feathery vocals; made the TR808 drum sounds their trademark sound back in the day.
3 Notable hits: What Have You Done for Me Lately (Janet Jackson); The Finest (The S.O.S. Band); Encore (Cheryl Lynn)
3 associated acts: Janet Jackson, The SOS Band, Alexander O’Neal.
Legacy: Owners of Perspective Records; more billboard #1’s than any other production team; 16 Hot billboard #1 hits, 26 Billboard R&B #1 hits, more than 100 gold, platinum, multi-platinum and diamond albums; five Grammy Awards; most nominations for Producer of The Year (11); members of the group The Time.
Most active years: 80’s and 90’s.
1. QUINCY JONES
D.O.B: March 14 1933 (Quincy Delightt Jones, Jr.).
Origins: Chicago, Illinois.
Style: Soul/Funk/R&B/Jazz/Big Band – Purist sound working with only the best songwriters, musical talent and session musicians, uses mostly live instruments.
3 Notable hits: Thriller (Michael Jackson); Stomp (Brothers Johnson); Give Me The Night (George Benson).
3 associated acts: Michael Jackson, The Brothers Johnson, Ray Charles.
Legacy: Widely recognised as the greatest producer of all time, works with only the best musicians, numerous film and TV music scores; nominated for a record 79 Grammys and won more Grammys than any living musician (27); produced the best-selling album of all-time (Michael Jackson’s Thriller) & the best-selling single of all-time (We Are the World); produced, composed, conducted, arranged or performed on more than 400 albums; into social activism.
Most active years: 60s, 70s, 80s.
So there we go. Everyone couldn’t make the list and many kept dropping in and out of the lists but honorary mentions must go to the following producers who are equally gifted, Dallas Austin, Larry Blackmon, Salaam Remi, Foster & McElroy, DJ Premier, The Bomb Squad, J. Dilla, RZA, Pete Rock, Randy Muller. Nuff respect.