15 Of The Greatest Rapper-Producer Duos Of All Time
For the most part, this means that the duo has worked together for more than one album; we've made exceptions to include dynamic twosomes such as Marley Marl and Big Daddy Kane, who laid the groundwork for Kane's fantastic solo career, as well as KRS-One and Scott LaRock, who were the minds behind Boogie Down Productions before LaRock's untimely death robbed them of further collaboration. But when it comes to this list, we made one major distinction: the two must have, at one point in their careers, been synonymous with each other. 9th Wonder may be more well-known from his work with Jay Z and Little Brother, but his five albums with Murs can't be ignored, either. Timbaland and Missy Elliott may have gone their separate ways, but without Timbo's beats we would never have had Missy's flair; Snoop and Dr. Dre, for all their collaborations on The Chronic and Doggystyle, always identified as individuals first, rather than partners.
With that in mind, here are XXL's 15 greatest rapper/producer duos in hip-hop history, left unranked for our readers to decide the order. Once again, let the debates begin. —XXL Staff with Layne Weiss
rapper producer duos lead
Eric B and RakimHometown: Long Island, NY
How Long They Were Together: 1986-1993
How They Met: Eric Barrier was a DJ at WBLS in 1985 looking for someon to rap over his beats, and Rakim fit the bill.
Biggest Albums Together: Paid In Full, 1987; Follow The Leader, 1988
Biggest Singles Together: "Eric B. Is President," 1986; "I Ain't No Joke," 1987; "Paid In Full," 1987; "Follow The Leader," 1988
Current Status: Broken up
Why They Were Dope: The duo was legendary because Rakim helped set a standard for hip-hop lyricism while Eric B helped create a foundation for hip-hop production. Without these two, the hip-hop landscape would have been forever different.
eric b and rakim
Gang Starr (DJ Premier and Guru)Hometown: New York, NY via Houston (Premier) and Boston (Guru)
How Long They Were Together: 1989-2003 (Ed Note: Guru originally formed Gang Starr in 1985 with other members, before reforming the group with DJ Premier)
How They Met: After the first iteration of the group disbanded in the late 1980s, Guru met DJ Premier, who had moved to Brooklyn from Houston, and re-formed the group as a duo under the original Gang Starr name.
Biggest Albums Together: Step In The Arena, 1991; Hard To Earn, 1994; Moment Of Truth, 1998
Biggest Singles Together: "Ex Girl To The Next Girl," 1991; "DWYCK," 1992; "Mass Appeal," 1994; "You Know My Steez," 1997; "Full Clip," 1998
Current Status: The duo broke up in the early 2000s, and Guru died of multiple myeloma in 2010
Why They Were Dope: Guru's socially conscious lyrics melded beautifully with Primo's unique, organic beats, defining a style of New York hip-hop that would go on to have an enormous impact on artists such as Nas, whose 1994 debut Illmatic featured three songs produced by DJ Premier.
Blackalicious (Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel)Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
How Long They've Been Together: 1992-Present
How They Met: Blackalicious was formed until 1992, but Gift of Gab and DJ Xcel met in 1987 while attending John F. Kennedy High School. Neither was originally from Sacramento; rapper Gift of Gab is a native of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, while Xcel is from the Bay Area. By the time they reunited in 1992, Xcel was a student at UC Davis, and Gift of Gab moved to Davis to form Blackalicious with him.
Biggest Albums: Nia, 1999; Blazing Arrow, 2002; The Craft, 2005
Biggest Songs: "Alphabet Aerobics," 1999; "A to G" 1999; "Powers," 2005; "World Of Vibrations," 2005
Current Status: Together
Why They Were Dope: Gift of Gab and DJ Xcel formed Blackalicious during a time when hip-hop was making a sharp turn toward gangsta rap, and Gift of Gab graced minds with positive, complex rhymes, while DJ Xcel treated our ears to classic, unique beats. But it wasn't until the early-mid 2000s that the duo truly came into their own, with back-to-back powerhouse albums Blazing Arrow and The Craft laying the groundwork for their catchy hooks and Gab's lightning-fast flow that could go toe to toe with Twista for most breathless in the game.
Pete Rock & CL SmoothHometown: Mount Vernon, NY
How Long They've Been Together: 1991-1995, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2010-Present
How They Met: "Me and CL have been through so much together," Pete Rock told Wax Poetics. "We went to high school together, you know. He rhymed back then, and his voice was so distinctive. He sounded like no one out there. You couldn't say he sounded like another rapper, and that's what attracted me. I thought, let's see what we can do. We made like seventy demos and got signed."
Biggest Album Together: Mecca And The Soul Brother, 1992
Biggest Single Together: "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y)," 1992
Current Status: Last toured together in late 2013
Why They Were Dope: Pete Rock's soul and jazz-driven beats were a beautiful complement to CL Smooth's philosophical rhymes. "They Reminisce Over You" is probably one of the best hip-hop songs of all time, and is a staple when it comes to the most emotional and heartfelt songs in the genre's history.
pete rock cl smooth
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh PrinceHometown: Philadelphia, Penn.
How Long They've Been Together: 1985-1994; "partial" reunion in 1999; brief reunion in 2013
How They Met: Jeff met Will Smith at a party in 1985, and began working together immediately after that.
Biggest Albums: He's The DJ...I'm the Rapper, 1988
Biggest Singles: "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," 1986; "Parents Just Don't Understand," 1988; "Summertime," 1991
Current Status: Broken Up
Why They Were Dope: The duo was best known for their comedic, yet catchy rap tunes. We can still recite the lyrics to "Parents Just Don't Understand," and we will always remember DJ Jazzy Jeff's production creativity and inspiration. Plus, have you seen The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air? The two of them bringing hip-hop culture onto the television sets of millions of Americans at a time when it was still very much being considered as on the fringe was a landmark of the era.
Macklemore and Ryan LewisHometown: Seattle, Wash.
How Long They've Been Together: 2006-Present
How They Met: Macklemore met Ryan Lewis in 2006 while Lewis was his photographer, before they began collaborating on a musical level.
Biggest Albums: The Heist, 2012
Biggest Singles: "Thrift Shop," 2012; "Same Love," 2012; "Can't Hold Us," 2012
Current Status: Together
Why They Are Dope: When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came on the rap scene with "Thrift Shop," few took them seriously, especially in the hip-hop world. When it was time to decide who would be nominated for Grammys in the hip-hop categories, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came under even further scrutiny. But Heist won Best Rap Album and "Thrift Shop" won Best Rap Song, and the fallout would continue from there. The duo also won Grammys in non hip-hop categories, but that night, they cemented themselves amongst the leading names in hip-hop—at least as it pertains to the mainstream. Their sound might not be "traditional" hip-hop, but the duo continues to create smart and innovative music with a message.
Madvillain (MF DOOM and Madlib)Hometown: DOOM is from London, UK and Madlib is from Oxnard, Calif.
How Long They've Been Together: On and off (though mostly off) since 2002
How They Met: Madlib and DOOM met at the Stones Throw headquarters in Los Angeles in 2002
Biggest Projects: Madvillainy, 2004
Biggest Singles: "America's Most Blunted," 2003
Current Status: Unclear. In August 2012, DOOM claimed the sequel to Madvillainy was almost finished; we hadn't heard much since. Then, in a Jan. 2014 interview, Madlib was asked about the Madvillainy sequel, saying, "I'm about to go see him right after this and figure that out. I'm not forcing him to do it; I just want to know where we are at with it because we recorded like 10, 13 songs, but out of those, we probably only used 4. I want to see how the recordings are going. It's not close to finished because it has to be a contiuation. It doesn't have to be better or worse, but it has to be a continuation."
Why They Were Dope: In 2004, DOOM and Madlib released one of the most unique and influential hip-hop albums of all time. It was totally unconventional with short songs and no hooks, combining two of the brightest but most secretive minds in hip-hop at the time. Its lyrical themes often required more than one listen, but that was part of the beauty. Just over a decade since its release, the album continues to generate both praise and controversy.
KRS-One and Scott LaRockHometown: South Bronx, NY
How Long They've Been Together: 1985-1987
How They Met: Scott "LaRock" Sterling was a social worker by day and a DJ by night, while KRS-One was a homeless grafitti artist who was staying at the shelter where LaRock worked. The two formed a group called Scott LaRock and The Celebrity Three. Later, LaRock and KRS-One would join forces with Derrick "D-Nice" Jones, and the three went on to form Boogie Down Productions; their debut album, Criminal Minded, was the product of LaRock and KRS' combined genius.
Biggest Albums: Criminal Minded, 1987
Biggest Singles: "South Bronx," 1986; "The Bridge is Over," 1987
Current Status: KRS-One's relationship with Scott LaRock was cut way too short due to Scott's shocking and untimely death in 1987.
Why They Were Dope: In 2010, Violator Records CEO Chris Lighty, who passed away in 2012, told XXL, "Scott would have been Puff before Puff, no question. But without the dancing." LaRock understood the business side of music at a time when people just wanted to "be down and make records." KRS-One said, reminiscing about LaRock and BDP, "Scott gained a freedom hanging out with us. And being around him made us feel important." LaRock and KRS-One's music was both gangsta and conscious. In their short time together, LaRock and KRS were an unstoppable force in hip-hop.
Big Daddy Kane and Marley MarlHometown: New York, NY
How Long They've Been Together: 1987-2001
How They Met: Marley Marl met Big Daddy Kane through Biz Markie while Kane was ghostwriting for Biz.
Biggest Albums: Long Live The Kane, 1988
Biggest Singles: "Raw," 1988; "Set It Off," 1988; "Ain't No Half Steppin'," 1988
Current Status: Big Daddy Kane was featured on Marley Marl's 2001 album Re-Entry. Marley Marl suffered a heart attack in 2007. He recovered quickly, but it has been years since he and Big Daddy Kane have collaborated together.
Why They Were Dope: Marley Marl and Big Daddy Kane were both originators and innovators. Marley Marl was one of the first super-producers as the backbone of Queens' Juice Crew and put sampling on the map for those who followed. Big Daddy Kane's lyrical genius and swag helped make him a hip-hop legend. Marley Marl's funky heavy sampling and Big Daddy's Kane clever lyrics made them one of the hottest hip-hop duos of the late 1980s, and one of the most influential of all time.
marley marl big daddy kane
Atmosphere (Slug and DJ Ant)Hometown: Minneapolis, Minn.
How Long They've Been Together: 1997-Present
How They Met: Slug formed the Rhymesayers collective while in high school, and met Ant with his friends through the local hip-hop scene after they started performing around Minneapolis.
Biggest Albums: The Lucy Ford EPs, 2001; When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, 2008; The Family Sign, 2011
Biggest Singles: "Trying to Find A Balance," 2003; "Guns And Cigarettes," 2001
Current Status: Releasing a new album, Southsiders, May 6
Why They Are Dope: Fans can relate to Slug's deep, poetic, and personal lyrics while Ant's production is inventive and sparse. Together, the duo continues to obliterate the boundaries of how far indie hip-hop can truly go.
Murs and 9th WonderHometown: Los Angeles, Calif. and Winston-Salem, NC
How Long They've Been Together: 2003-2012
How They Met: “It was the year 2002 or 2003 when I first heard 9th,” Murs said in an interview in 2010. “Well, someone had played me ‘Speed’ by Little Brother before, but I don’t think I was hearing 9th. I was more hearing Phonte and [Rapper Big] Pooh because I’m more of a lyrical person. But, my best friend pushed me because I don’t have good taste in beats...He said, ‘You need to get with this dude [9th Wonder]. This is the dude.’ So, I tracked this dude down.” Murs asked 9th to remix his EP, 9th offered to do an entire album with Murs, and the duo started working.
Biggest Albums: Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition, 2004; Murray's Revenge, 2006; Sweet Lord, 2008; Final Adventure, 2012
Biggest Singles: "H-U-S-T-L-E," 2004; "Bad Man!," 2004; "L.A.," 2006; "It's Over," 2012
Current Status: Broken up
Why They Were Dope: When Murs explained that 2012's Final Adventure would be his fifth and last collaborative album with 9th Wonder, fans were heartbroken to see the partnership end. But it was the perfect title; an end to their incredible adventure. The duo had an explicably harmonious chemistry, keeping their albums short, soulful, and creative, with the fans always yearning for more.
Blu & ExileHometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
How They Met: Blu met singer Aloe Blacc—he of the currently-ubiquitous "The Man" campaign for Beats Music—who at the time was one half of the hip-hop duo Emanon alongside Exile. Blacc introduced to the two, and they immediately began working together, resulting in Blu's debut album Below The Heavens being entirely produced by Exile in 2007.
Biggest Albums: Below The Heavens, 2007; Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them, 2011
Biggest Singles: "Show Me The Good Life," 2007; "Growing Pains," 2011
Current Status: Together
Why They Were Dope: With flawless delivery, deep lyrics, and "laid back soul" vibes, Blu & Exile are one of the most gifted hip-hop duos in Los Angeles and around the world. Lyrically, Blu has been compared to Jurassic 5 and Pharcyde, and from a production standpoint, Exile has been influenced by legendary producers J Dilla and Madlib. Their style has set the indie rap world ablaze, taking inspiration from the old school and adding their own touches, with the effect often resulting in a rainy day-type sound, not unlike the muted, muse-y depths of a Miles Davis or John Coltrane record. Consider it deep jazz for the hip-hop age.
Prodigy and AlchemistHometown: Queens, NY and Beverly Hills, Calif.
How Long They've Been Together: On and off from 1999 to the present
How They Met: Alchemist moved to New York and began working with Infamous Mobb through DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill, he told XXL last summer. During a studio session, the Infamous Mobb called up Prodigy and asked him to come by to hear some of the music they were working on with Alchemist. He began playing beats for both Prodigy and Havoc separately, and they all began working together from there.
Biggest Albums: Return Of The Mac, 2007; Albert Einstein, 2013
Biggest Songs: "Give Em Hell" 2013
Current Status: Together, for the most part
Why They Are Dope: Prodigy and Alchemist have a flawless creative chemistry. Alchemist's beats stay true to Mobb Deep's sound, even in Havoc's absence, and are an outstanding complement to Prodigy's clever lyrical style. Six years after their first collaborative album, they released a second that was just as immediate, and have plans to follow up Albert Einstein with a third album some time in the near future.
Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek)Hometown: Brooklyn, NY, Cincinnati, Ohio
How Long They've Been Together: 1997-2001, 2009-2011
How They Met: Talib Kweli met Hi-Tek while visiting Cincinatti in 1994, and then appeared on a track for Hi-Tek's group Mood.
Biggest Projects: Train Of Thought, 2000; Revolutions Per Minute, 2010
Biggest Singles: "Fortified Live," 1997; "Move Somethin'," 2000; "Midnight Hour" 2010
Current Status: The two have not collaborated since Revolutions Per Minute, but have gone on hiatus before to do their own thing, so there is no telling when they could get back together.
Why They Were Dope: When you take a wordsmith like Talib Kweli and add a remarkable producer like Hi-Tek, you get one of the most amazing rapper/producer duos in hip-hop history. Despite being from the Midwest, Hi-Tek's sound was heavily influenced by New York's finest such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Large Professor. Reflection Eternal were one of the first acts to put Rawkus Records on the map, and will be remembered for their combination of smart lyricism, charisma, and the awesome ability to capture one's emotions through beatmaking.
Timbaland and Missy ElliottHometown: Northfolk, VA
How Long They've Been Together: 1996-Present
How They Met: In the early 1990s, Timbo was a teenager performing in a band with fellow Virginians Magoo and future Neptunes producer and rapper Pharrell. Meanwhile, Missy Elliott was a member of the all-girl group Sista, signed to Devante Swing, a member of Jodeci. Timbo and Missy formed a friendship, and Timbaland and Magoo followed Missy to Suffern, NY when she was eventually signed.
Biggest Albums: Supa Dupa Fly, 1997; Miss E...So Addictive, 2001
Biggest Singles: "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," 1997; "Hot Boyz," 1999; "Get Ur Freak On," 2001; "Work It," 2002
Current Status: Missy Elliott has been out of the spotlight for most of the 2000s. In 2011, she announced that she was battling Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder, which affects the thyroid. Symptoms include dizzy spells, moody swings, hair loss, and more. The illness forced Missy to take a break from music. In 2012, Missy and Timbo released two new singes ("9th Inning" and "Triple Threat"), and also spoke out about Drake's plans for a posthumous Aaliyah album, saying they were never contacted about the project and would not be involved.
Why They Were Dope: Missy Elliott's image was creative, stylish and sexy, defying the stereotypes of what a female could accomplish in the hip-hop world. Meanwhile Timbaland's production methods are often imitated but never duplicated. With tracks like "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," "Hot Boyz," "Gossip Folks," and more, Missy and Timbo ruled the late 1990s and early 2000s hip-hop scenes.
Filed Under: 9th Wonder, Alchemist, atmosphere, Big Daddy Kane, Blackalicious, Blu & Exile, CL Smooth, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Premier, Eric B, Feature, featured, Gang Starr, Guru, Hi Tek, KRS-One, Lists, Macklemore, Madlib, Madvillain, Marley Marl, MF Doom, Missy Elliott, Murs, Pete Rock, Prodigy, Rakim, Ryan Lewis, scott larock, Talib Kweli, The Fresh Prince, Timbaland