The Role of the Producer in Hip-Hop: An Ethnographic and Analytical Study of Remixes

Analytical publications on hip-hop have been few and have tended to focus on the skill of the rapper while overlooking the contribution of the DJ/producer. This bias has led to a misunderstanding of the creative process in hip-hop. While Adams' analyses are a welcome step in the development of analytical studies in hip-hop, he makes the erroneous assumption that a completed musical track is given to the rapper, who records onto this track. He therefore credits all text-music interaction to the skill of the rapper.

In contrast, the 60 hip-hop artists I have interviewed have said that the rapper receives a simplified track. After the rapper and the producer try different versions in the studio, the producer refines the track, adding instruments (or deleting sounds) to emphasize the rapper's words or scratches and fills when the rapper pauses. Some producers also change the key of the track to fit the pitch contour of the rapper. With the advent of easy editing through ProTools, the producer's control over the work has increased. Hence, the musical aspects of the rapper's timing are often the result of the producer.

My paper will show the central role of the producer in hip-hop recording through a combination of ethnography and close musical analysis. I will first provide an overview of the creative process through quotes from my interviews with Pete Rock and DJ Krush. I will then provide an analytical comparison between versions of "Only the Strong Survive," where DJ Krush fitted CL Smooth's rap from 1995 to a completely different musical track in 2006. Through analysis, I demonstrate that the creation of a hip-hop track does not end with the rapper, but with the producer who edits the work.