TSL’s Black Music Month Flow: Hip Hop’s 90s Symphonic Savants 

The 90s are considered by many to be the close of an era, the pinnacle of track production that drew heavily from the diaspora of Black music that preceded it. In this era, samples were used liberally. Gone were the times when a producer would simply sample a hook, a bridge or loop a small portion.

This era saw producers use entire tracks, and sometimes vocals, that brought past versions of black musical expression to the fore and utilized them for the enjoyment of then contemporary Hip Hop fans.

Though lyricism in the era was considered to be the hallmark of a dope song by many who loved the genre, others felt that the tracks were all important because of their ability to transmogrify funk, soul, R&B, jazz and blues into a form that not only was new and hot but acted to re-energize interest in those original practitioners of soul from decades past.

Here’s a list of some who were among the very best in the era. We will only be mentioning those who physically laid tracks rather than individuals who produced in name only.

So, come along for this fantastic voyage into a bygone era when simply listening to a 30 second snippet of your favorite track is enough to take you way, way back.

DJ Premier

Primo is responsible for creating what is commonly known as the Hip Hop sound of the early 90s. Soul and jazz were among his favorite ingredients. He has worked with Jay Z, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Brand Nubian, KRS One, and alongside the late Guru in the duo Gang Starr.

Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre aka Andre Young invented the quintessentially west coast sound beginning with his time as a member of NWA, perfected it when he moved to Aftermath, and crystallized it for immortality after that. He has worked with Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Xzhibit, Kendrick Lamar and many others. He was heavy on funk and the usage of synthesizers at the time.

Trackmasters (Tone and Poke)

Trackmasters were responsible for dominating a portion of the ’90s with a string of commercial mega-hits, but Tone and Poke had been making a living in the business since ’89, working with Kool G. Rap, Roxanne Shante, Big Daddy Kane, Third Base and LL Cool J. After Trackmasters signed to Colombia the real “winning” began as they worked with Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and Heavy D, among others. Hits with Will Smith, P. Diddy and many others raked in millions. This was the sound of Bad Boy through many of their early years.

Jermaine Dupri

Jermaine Dupri is responsible for showing the world the south was fertile ground to true school Hip Hop that was loyal to the genre in every aspect, yet had the special southern ingredient. After honing the careers of Kriss Kross, Da Brat, and Xscape, Dupri smoothed out and versatile productions were used by Mariah Carey, TLC, Bow Wow and Nelly, among many others. Additionally, he has had his fair share of solo success as well.

RZA aka Robert Diggs aka Bobby Digital

No description is necessary but I’ll give you a sample. Wu Tang is indeed forever and Bobby Digital made it that way. Not only did he bless each Wu Tang group album, he laced most of the group’s solo offerings as well – including the many affiliates. He is considered by many as one of the top producers in the history of recorded music. True story.

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