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One of the most frustrating trends to emerge in hip-hop during the late eighties was the emergence of the ‘producer compilation.’ These strange beasts sought to cash in on the popularity of a particular producer by throwing on as many rappers as humanly possible in an attempt to simultaneously capitalise on as many pre-existing fan bases as possible. Sure, it makes a lot of sense on paper, but sadly, the results have been almost universally underwhelming.

It all started with Marley Marl’s first In Control album in 1988, which Cold Chillin’ must have viewed as a license to print money. The idea of showcasing both current rap stars and some up-and-coming talent over beats from the hottest producer of the era made sense, and thanks to anthemic songs such as ‘The Symphony’ and ‘Dropping Science,’ the project was a success and still holds up as a great listen to this day. The bad news is that it was all downhill from there.

In Control, Volume 2: For Your Steering Pleasure sought to capitalise on the impact of Marley’s work with LL Cool J on the enormously well-received Mama Said Knock You Out album, but suffered from a lack of focus, a mixed bag of new talent and the unfortunate decision for Marley to try his hand at rapping. This was best encapsulated by ‘The Symphony, Pt. 2,’ which was a mere shadow of the original.

Over in New Jersey, The 45 King was including guest MCs from his Flavor Unit crew on his albums, but these tended to mix straight instrumentals with a handful of vocal tracks, but it was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic in 1992 that cemented the rap producer compilation as a winning formula. As with the first In Control LP, Dre filled the guest spots with his new crew, rather than trying to snag all the biggest names at the time, and as a result provided the launchpad for Snoop, The Dogg Pound and Lady of Rage to make a name for themselves.

By the time that Pete Rock released the first volume of Soul Survivor in 1998, the concept of A&Rs at record labels attempting to fix the odds by jamming as many ‘hot’ rappers and producers onto an album was an industry standard, first witnessed on Run-DMC’s Down With The King LP which saw them rapping over beats from the reigning crews of the era such as EPMD, Naughty By Nature, A Tribe Called Quest and Pete Rock himself.

Soul Survivor features some quality tracks, and Pete was still in top form, but its appeal on a track-by-track basis is somewhat limited by how much the listener enjoys the wide range of guests. While Marley and Dre kept things ‘in house’ and kept it consistent with the features from the Juice Crew and the Death Row family respectively, Pete Rock has enlisted a collection of MCs who he personally enjoyed and wanted to work with. This isn’t a problem in theory, but the sheer number of guests means that only a handful of listeners are going to enjoy every track to the same degree.  

This problem is far more apparent on albums such as DJ Clue’s The Professional from the same year, which featured everyone from Ja-Rule to Missy Elliott to the Boot Camp Clik, giving it a ‘jack of all trades but a master of none’ feel to it. Clearly, Clue was just looking to apply the same techniques that had made his mixtapes so popular, but the difference there is that a mixtape is a collection of the best songs of the moment, whereas this album sounds more like throwing every big rapper and beatmaker into a pot and hoping that something sticks.

By the year 2000, the indie rap scene saw a massive influx of these producer albums, as European producers began recruiting the likes of Dilated People, Mos Def and MF Doom to contribute vocals to their albums to showcase their beats, resulting in records that were part business card and part vanity project. As technology has progressed and thus eliminated the need for the rappers to be in the same studio, this trend has skyrocketed, with increasingly bizarre combinations of rappers thrown together on songs with little coherence. Where your enjoyment of a track on one of these albums may have rested on whether or not you were a fan of the guest vocalist, many modern producer albums seem to feature at least four rappers on every song, thus reducing the chance that you will give a shit about everyone on the track even further.

The rap producer compilation isn’t going away in a hurry, but ask yourself, when was the last time one of these albums were great all the way through, rather than having four or five great tracks and the rest being skippable? Might I suggest that in the future we try to limit the guests to one MC or group per song instead of shovelling us twenty half-baked posse cuts? Or, even better, just work with your own crew and resist the urge to call in favours from every two-bit rapper dude on the east coast.

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.

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