Ballerstatus has a great interview up with one of my favorite producers, The Alchemist. In it, he describes what motivated him early in his career and talks about how things have changed. He says,
“I was just trying to get respect from people I respected like Premier, just to get the stamp in that world. I didn’t give a f— about pop or masses, or this whole image of how producers are… That’s why my career is what it is. It was definitely a grind, but it was more organic than I feel it is with producers nowadays. Nowadays, I feel producers got managers, lawyers and all these pressures, but back then for me, it was nobody. It was me in a f—ing room. I don’t think I had a manager or a lawyer. I would make beats for a CD and cassette, I’d find out who was in the studio at the time because I was in with a couple of people and I’d call, make arrangements and see who wanted to play my sh–.”
I gotta appreciate the simplicity of the way he approached it back in the 90s. It was strictly about making something dope. It was about having something of quality, something that people who were the so-called pioneers of the production game would respect, something a dope artist would want to rhyme to, before it was about having something a whole team of people could be eating off of, regardless of whether the music sucked or not.
Al continues, and inadvertently describes his own progression as a producer while making a point that I’ve been trying to hammer home to folks for like two years now. He says,
“As the years progress, the line is thinning between producer and an artist, and I really don’t think there’s much of one anymore. Sh–, Snoop’s making beats? Great! That’s gotta be crazy. I know Kanye West is very talented. I think the line is thinner, but it’s great because it gives artists the opportunity to expand and create, and take sh– a little further and not doing something everyone is accustomed to.”
That’s what it is in 2008. It’s producer as artist, or artist as producer. It’s songwriter as producer. Songwriter as artist. Artist as songwriter and producer. It’s no wonder why rappers who just seemingly get beat CDs and rap over pre-made beats are being marginalized both in terms of creative content and record sales. The reality is, it just doesn’t take much talent to do that, and it’s displayed by the final product. Look who’s running the game right now on both mainstream and more niche levels.
Mainstream: Timbaland, Akon, T-Pain, Wyclef, Kanye West
Underground: Black Milk, Alchemist, Terrace Martin
I mean, there’s plenty more to name on both levels, and that’s not even going into other niches of hip-hop, but do you see a common thread? All these dudes- whether they are straight up hip-hop heads or more R&B-influenced (I argue that T-Pain and Akon are actually rappers)- are artists, songwriters, and producers. Meanwhile, the one hit wonder ringtone rappers are the dudes who can’t sit there and concoct hit after hit for themselves. So at the end of the day, whether you like these rapper/producer/songwriter cats or not, it does make some sense that the more you can do and the more you have to offer people (particularly fans), the more upside you have of making a career for yourself on any level in 2008.