If We Go by the Numbers Over Three Decades, Can there Be Any Consensus?
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
In major league baseball, numbers don’t lie. Just look at the Yankee’s sure-shot first-ballot Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, who in 2011 season recorded his 603rd save, giving him the all time major league record (one that will likely stand forever…)
Just as numbers don’t lie in baseball, I believe that they shouldn’t lie in hip hop/rap music either. Take for instance the greatest beatmaker (I prefer to use beatmaker, “producer” is too often misused and misrepresented) of all time debate. Ask someone who the greatest beatmaker of all time is, and they’re more likely to give you an answer that reflects their personal favorites than they are to give you an answer that objectively considers the available facts. For instance, Mariano Rivera is the best closer in baseball history, it’s a fact. Period. Ask a knowledgeable baseball person who’s the greatest closer of all time in Major League Baseball, and they’ll reply: Mariano Rivera. But does that mean Rivera is the best pitcher in baseball? Some say yes; some say no because he was a closer.
In baseball, the closer usually enters the game in the 9th inning (sometimes the 8th) when the game is on the line, when a team needs to save a victory from defeat, or when a team needs the score to remain close (usually tied), preserving the opportunity for their team to win. Thus, the role of the closer is very different from that of the starting pitcher, who usually pitches roughly 6 or 7 innings (the bulk of the innings). And because of this, closers aren’t typically in the final discussion about greatest pitchers of all time. But Mariano Rivera isn’t your typical closer. For starters, 603 saves is nothing to sneeze at; but then there’s his post season wins record—42 wins! Again, in the post season—when it counts the most, no? This is made even more amazing when you consider his ultra low ERA (Earned Run Average). In other words, the guy is basically un-hittable all the time but especially when it counts the most! That’s why when Mariano Rivera enters the game, it’s usually lights out for the opposing team. Numbers don’t lie…
Yet when it comes to the question of Who’s the Greatest Beatmaker of All Time, I’ve found that many people either ignore the numbers, or they believe that numbers do indeed lie. For instance, if you examine hip hop/rap music from 1985 (roughly the start of the Modern Rap era) to the present, how many people can realistically lay claim to the “greatest” beatmaker title? If we go by the numbers—in this case, the sheer catalog, the number of quality songs with quality lyricists; the reach of influence on future beatmakers; the number of years and consistency; and similar metrics—can we draw a consensus? I believe so. But I’m interested to learn what others believe.
Also, after considering the many conversations that I’ve had with various people—across geographic, race, and age spectrum—about this question, and reading some “greatest” lists online, I’m often left asking three questions: (1) What criteria are most people using to determine who the “greatest” is? (2) Are most people loosely broadening the definition of “greatest” in favor of an interpretation that merely allows for inclusion of their favorites? and (3) How much history do most people know about hip hop/rap music?
That said, from 1989 to 2011 (and still going), has there been anyone who’s dropped—chronologically and consistently—a larger overall body of acclaimed beatwork than DJ Premier? Clearly no disrespect to Marley Marl, The RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Just Blaze, J Dilla and a few others who all certainly deserve to be in the discussion for who’s the greatest. But in terms of the numbers—quality wins and impact songs and albums; and work with key lyricists; and range of influence over other beatmakers (many acclaimed in their own right)—over the longest period of time (not just five years), is DJ Premier the greatest beatmaker of all time?
Opinions vary with questions like these. Of course everyone has their personal tastes and biases. Moreover, it’s understandable that many people will favor the beatmakers that are linked to their age and era. And as I mentioned previously, there are a handful of names that should no doubt be in the discussion—for various reasons. So frankly, I don’t know if there ever will be complete consensus on the “greatest beatmaker of all time” question. But one thing’s for certain, when you consider the inception of beatmaking (more than 35 years ago), and then scan year by year with a cold, objective eye, all the way up to the present, examining the catalogs of each beatmaking icon, patterns—and sometime indisputable anomalies—inevitably emerge.
For this BeatTips Readers’ Poll™ I’m interested in seeing everyone’s honest and objective take on this question.
Articles, Beatmaking Pioneers, DJ Premier, Editor's Choice