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  Jazzy Hip-Hop Producers  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

December 2004:

There are many rappers who are embarking on jazzy joints today.  The Neptunes (who I know personally) are jazz minded musicians who produce some of the best hip-hop today. This Virginia Beach-based duo consists of Pharrell Williams, who plays the drums, and Chad Hugo, who plays jazzy tenor sax.  Pharrell makes the beats and Chad works on the harmonies.  They have produced tracks for everyone from Britney Spears to Mystikal, although they are probably best known for their work with Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z.  Look out for their upcoming work with Snoop Dogg and Clipse.  Also try to check out their own rock band called ‘N.E.R.D.’ (No One Ever Really Dies).  The band’s 2001 album In Search Of… features the slamming opening track Lapdance, where Pharrell calls politicians “strippers” (pay attention to the addictively jazzy line that Chad plays on muffled keyboard towards the end the song).  You got to feel empathy for Pharrell when in the music video to the track he says “It’s So Real” while surrounded by scads of strippers.  Don’t miss this group.

Another jazzy producer who is based in Virginia Beach is Timberland.  His best known work is with Missy Elliot, where he used Indian percussion in making 2001’s So Addictive album.  Recently he produced LL Cool J’s best-selling club anthem Head Strung.  Timberland loves putting together quirky beats that embrace the history of jazz percussion.  Look out for his duo albums with Magoo. 

One of my favorite hip-hop producers is Rza from the Wu-Tang Clan.  I gave a well known jazz musician a copy of Wu-Tang’s 2000 album The W because it had so many jazzy tracks on it (like The Gravel Pit and Protect Ya Neck).  Yet his jazziest joint is from the 1999 compilation Rza Hits, which features the track Ice Cream.   Also check out the classic C.R.E.A.M. from Wu Tang’s first album.  My favorite jazzy stuff that Rza produces is from the Jim Jarmisch motion picture Ghost Dog.  Keep an eye out for the jazz loving Rza.

An article about jazzy hip-hop producers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Dr. Dre.  Most recently, in 2002, he produced the platinum selling Busta Rythmes song Break Ya Neck.  Dre was one of the founders on 1980s West Coast hip-hop collaborative ‘N.W.A’.  When he released The Chronic in 1994, Dre was immediately proclaimed one of hip-hop’s top producers.  There are quite a number of tracks on this album that have jazz feels to them, yet The Chronic 2001 has even more (like Guilty Conscious featuring Eminem).  There is a really cool guitar line that he used when producing Tupac’s California Love.  Every listener should check out Dr. Dre’s jazzier productions.