FEATURE: Beats by the Pound

In recent years, Just Blaze has scored video games such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour and NBA Street Vol. 2 and produced music for Nike and USA Basketball. He has also booked more DJ gigs than usual. The 32-year-old producer still has a knack for creating hit records—credit him for Maino’s “All the Above” and T.I. and Rihanna’s “Live Your Life”—but it’s in his best interest to capitalize on other moneymaking ventures.

“Those little projects can generate a hundred grand for a couple of days’s worth of work,” he says. “All those little things keep me in business. I can DJ a corporate event and come back with 20 grand for an hour’s worth of work. You can’t throw all your eggs into one basket, just make beats for records.”

It’s Financial Planning 101: When the market turns ugly, it’s time to diversify your portfolio. And boy is it ugly out there in today’s music industry. Even for the so-called superproducers who’ve dominated hip-hop for the past 15 years.

In the past, producers fed at the limitless troughs of record companies. After all, a label could break a new artist merely by hiring a proven hitmaker (see: Just Blaze for Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up” or The Neptunes for Fabolous’s “Young’n”). Because of this power, superproducers received 50/50 label imprints and six-figure paydays. (Or seven figures. Remember the talk, back in 2005, that Nas had purchased a Neptunes beat for $2 million? Nas denied the rumor.) In some cases, they became bigger stars than the artists. In 2004, XXL’s parent company launched Scratch, a magazine devoted to covering beatmakers’s every move. Producers’s names were routinely featured on album packaging as a selling point.

These days, spotlighting a producer on a new release often seems useless—and not just because no one reads iTunes’ digital liner notes. There are no guarantees in today’s music business. And record labels no longer have bundles of cash to throw at the big guns. Instead, they are scouring the Internet for younger, hungrier (i.e., cheaper) sources for beats, trying to get more bang for their ever-dwindling bucks.

“Before, it would be mandatory to get certain [producers],” remembers Mike Heron, a former A&R for Rawkus Records who has also consulted for major labels. “Like, in meetings, [label execs would say,] ‘No way you can do a record without this guy.’ They would put money to the side for certain producers. It’s not like that anymore.” Mike Caren, executive VP of A&R at Atlantic Records, says the same: “The struggles of the music industry have made everyone careful. Money isn’t flying around like it used to be.”

Established superproducers such as Dr. Dre and Timbaland have therefore trimmed their output. And the next generation hasn’t fared much better—folks like Cool & Dre and Polow Da Don have had trouble sustaining the buzz surrounding their more recent breakthroughs. With a streak of ubiquity like the one The Neptunes enjoyed the first few years of the decade a distant memory, it’s not unreasonable to ask: Is the era of the superproducer over?

To read more of the Beats by the Pound feature, make sure to pick up XXL‘s September issue on newsstands now.

  • John Cauner

    No, I don’t think the era of the superproducer is over, but would depend on whether or not said producer can keep delivering the “hit record” to the label.

  • romil

    It is over I hope they enjoyed them big checks. http://www.myspace.com/thaheatseeker

  • tronthadon

    nah it aint ova..established artist still go to em and most of these new niggas whack so it would be a waste for em to hop on a good producer beat anyway..rich boy lucky that nigga whack ass fuck and he got polo tha don..wish i had a beat maker like him i would neva leave tha studio

    • http://www.myspace.com/aeroclef Aero

      @trontahdon

      I am a beatmaker, singer, songwriter. If you need a tight hook or a beat hollatme. I just added a fresh beat to my page at http://www.myspace.com/aeroclef.

  • Avenger XL

    No, the era of the superbeatmaker is over. Quincy Jones is a producer, Rick Rubin is a producer Just blaze makes hot beats.

    There is a difference between the two. A producer can pretty much take the talent of an artist and give them the sound bed they need to come off at their best. They also give pointers and act as a director/coach on projects(providing writers when needed etc…) This has always been a problem in hip-hop because it is so ego driven that nobdy wants to take advice from anyone really. If EM was allowed to work with a Rick Rubin and didn’t have to follow his formula for an album the out come would be much different than just spitting clever psycho punch lines to solid beats. A producers job is to not just provide a soundscape but capture the best performance and essence of what an artist is trying to portray.

    So short story long hip-hop has more super beatmakers than producers. Beatmakers are guys who make the hot beats and slings them out to the highest bidder. They are often not as involved as the producer in the artists performance to said beat or with the total project. It would be nice if we got back to one beatmaker one rapper again like in the gangstarr days that is the closest hip-hop ever came to producers besides DRE,PRIMO,The BOMB SQUAD, etc……

  • Terry

    I do not think the era of the superproducers are over. I do think that price to get them might be over. Someone like Dr.Dre or Tim will cost a quarter mill to get for one song. A Unknown producer that want to get in will take anything the label may pay them so they can get in. Example the guy that did lil waynes a millie was unknown. After that song hit people wanted to know who producesit and I bet he did not get paid what superproduces are paid.

    • jammahMusic

      well actually the person that did A Millie was Bangladesh..that foo has been in the game for a bit, so uh yea.lol…wrong example..terry.

    • unkown

      lol..bang didn’t get paid at all for making “a milli”… true story watch the vid on world star hip hop where he’s talking about it..bird man shit on that dude..lmao

  • akatok1

    Respond to Terry,

    I agree with what you say but at the same time…you might want to research a lil more… no disrespect or anything. Just stating the facts. The person who did lil wayne’s a millie was bangaldash. He been in the business for a minute, but he’s known now. He did alot of things when he came out. He’s the one that produce Ludacris first single What’s Your Fantasy. He proudce the majority of Ludacris first and second albums. He did Kelis Im bossy record. I just feel that he went left and started doing old school percussion style beats. I mean it starts with a millie, then diva, then mario’s break up, then that Jay Rock song……its the same thing…lol Im sorry he’s in it for the money now and not for the love of producing. I like producers that can switch their style up anytime and bring something new to the game or bring it back to where you love producing

  • http://www.myspace.com/atlatino404 El Tico Loco

    I agree with Avenger on the fact that they are beatmakers and nothing else, a producer will oversee a whole project eg (Quicy Jones “Thriller, Dr Dre “The Chronic”,Gangstarr’s discography) all the albums nowadays are like what exclusive freestyles are to mixtapes but with a beatmaker, nowadays they’re no different than a guest featured rapper on an album. And another thing since Terry brought up Bangladesh/Shondrae he’s not new if you in 8ball and MJG you’d be familiar with his work but now that he’s in demand, he’s selling the same beat to everybody (Sean Garret, Gucci Mane, and Mario joint/A diva)and think we don’t notice. Which reminds me recycling and plagliarism also killed the superproducer.

  • The_Truth

    **Bangladesh is FAR from “unknown”. . .stop listening to Justin Timberlake. Co-Sign AVENGER XL!

  • Ace

    It’s over R.I.P. to the era of

    Dr. Dre
    Swizz Beatz
    Just Blaze
    Kanye West
    Neptunes
    Timbaland
    Even Lil’ Jon

  • MEAT MONCREEF

    THE WHOLE INDUSTRTY IS A CLUSTERFUCK (C.E.O’s, LABELS, and ARTISTS INCLUDED). IT IS VOID OF DIRECTION, SUBJECT MATTER, AND ORIGINALITY-THANX 2 THE GAY-T-L

  • money mitch

    Avenger is dead on especially in dre’s case he is a better producer than beat maker that’s a fact!!! Dj paul and Juicy j are real producers as well lol half the old rappers that diss them they just diss em’ back by sayin’ bitch we taught you niggas how to stay on beat!!!

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  • Shawty J

    Yeah, the era of the “super producer” is dead. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t gonna get work or anything like that, it just means they aren’t running things like they used to.

  • RDS

    Not a big fan of 50s music, but dude kicks some ill knowledge. I remember reading an interview with 50 (I actually think it was in XXL too) and I believe the question was asked why there aren’t very many big named producers on his records? 50 (or whoever) said he didn’t need to. Why pay “$XXXXXXXXXX” amount for a beat when an unknown is hungry and wants to be heard, willing to sell a beat 50 thinks is good enough for his album for “$XXXX”? A lot of dudes are just trying to eat–literally. Quite frankly, I don’t blame rappers for buying from lesser known producers. If I were in that position, I’d either do the same or produce for myself and use as few samples as possible. Some of these artists like Kanye pay a fortune just trying to clear a sample. And very few songs on Kanye’s album contain samples (I can only think of two or three).

    The end of the superproducer isn’t quite over, but the end of the hottest beatmakers are. Everybody’s got Reason or FL Studio now. Hell, even Souljaboy has hits with the stock FL Studio sounds (on the flip 9th Wonder uses FL Studio too…and shows how it can be done well).

  • Quan

    1. A Millie was a lo-key trash beat.

    2. When EVERYBODY makes beats/raps/produces; there is to big of a pot to choose from. let alone the people who engineer their sound to mirror a just blaze/kanye type.

    3. My honest opinion; the hottest beats are the Non-Industry sounding beats.

  • Ash

    look at who makes alot of money in hip hip..

    Dr dre
    Timbo
    Pharrell

    You need big money get these guys and they are still doing very well.

  • Joe

    This article is terribly off base.

    They failed to mention the primary way ‘super-producers’ are making money these day: going pop. Timbo, Neptunes, Scott Storch before he was broke, makin them ‘NOW Music 8′ type songs..they aint thinkin bout rap forreal. Timbo laid that blueprint.

  • abdulnasir

    @avenger xl, great point!

  • balaramesh

    all good points by everyone……finally

  • /\/athan

    The greatest producer I know has his own little market two streets from me. The best and cheapest goods are in the season it is harvested. Like Spring you got your apricots, pineapples, and strawberries. Summer you got blueberries, nectarines, and peaches. Autumn you got apples, grapes, and pomegranates. Winter you got clementines, lemons, and grapefruits. And hell, some greats are seasonal year-round like onions, lettuce, and spinach. His name is Ray Raddicchio, keep an eye out for this up and comer.

    • unknown

      lol…too funny

  • sb

    there will always be a demand for producers…if you don’t have the music there’s no business to be ran…by the way the game is wide open…there’s a lot of trash that’s out right now hip hop and r&b

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  • http://www.dynamicproducer.com dynamicwayne

    Good Read…

  • ib1

    once again the elitist art snob is trying to define the undefinable here. fuKKK hiphop