The best hip-hop is a team effort, and that idea is epitomized by the producer-rapper relationship. While there have been instances of an artist doing the heavy lifting for a song and vice versa, the best tracks are found at the intersection of comfort and rapper-producer synergy.
Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre are both dope separately, but together they made rap magic that's rarely approached. They first connected on Dre's self-produced 1992 single "Deep Cover," a track that introduced the world to Snoop Doggy Dogg, a lithe, nimble wordsmith that would soon take over the globe with his skill and charisma when he dropped his Dre-produced debut album, Doggystyle, in 1993. His alignment of talents was expertly framed by Dre's G-Funk production, and their collaborations led directly to Death Row Records' 1990's takeover.
Years later, in 2009, Drake and Noah "40" Shebib continued the tradition of dope rapper-producer combos. That's when Drizzy dropped So Far Gone, a mixtape that introduced the world to 40's atmospheric and moody production style. That audio aesthetic would become the ideal canvas for the eventual 6ix God's troubled thoughts on romance and fame. Together, they concocted some of the very best songs of the 2010s while helping shape the sound of popular music.
Everywhere you look in hip-hop there are superstar rapper-producer tandems that remind you that the best connections are symbiotic and well-honed through years of experimentation. Now, we highlight some of the best. Here's a look at 15 rapper-producer pairs that prove two talents are better than one.
When Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg pulled up with the soon-to-be-considered-classic 1992 single "Deep Cover" nearly 20 years ago, it was clear hip-hop had its newest rapper-producer super duo. After Snoop helped Dre usher in the G-Funk era by appearing on two singles on Dre's 1992 debut album, The Chronic ("Fuck Wit Dre Day" and "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thing"), fans got their biggest taste of what Dre and Snoop had to offer as a pairing on Snoop's 1993 debut album, Doggystyle. Pairing Snoop's agile flow and laidback drawl with samples from George Clinton and others from the P-Funk era, the album presented tracks like "What's My Name" and "Gin and Juice," which are some of the most iconic West Coast songs of all time. A G thing indeed.
21 Savage and Metro Boomin
There's a reason why 21 Savage and Metro Boomin continually get spammed with comments about the whereabouts of Savage Mode 2. That's because their 2016 EP, Savage Mode, was pretty much the hardest thing to drop that year. Laced with some ominous Metro production, 21's icy monotone and equally chilling bars, the project framed 21 in the best light possible, helping catapult Savage to rap star status a short while later. Metro also landed production credits on 21's subsequent projects ("Bank Account," from Issa Album, and "ASMR" on I Am > I Was), and 21 delivered one of the very best verses of 2018 on Metro Boomin's Not All Heroes Wear Capes cut "10 Freaky Girls." Getting questions about where SM2 is all the time could definitely be annoying, but in this case, it doubles as a sign that 21 and Metro are doing something right.
For the last 11 years, Drake and Noah "40" Shebib have made some of the most iconic songs in hip-hop. At the outset of their musical journey together, Drizzy was looking for a very particular sound to frame his thoughts, and he found it in 40, whose atmospheric, brooding instrumentals are perfect from the 6ix God's conversational style. Songs like "Successful," "Dreams Money Can Buy" and "Marvin's Room" are just a few standouts from 40's lengthy list of produced Drizzy collabs. This duo has one of the most commercially successful producer-rapper catalogs in rap history.
At their peak, Mobb Deep created some of the most iconic street tunes in rap history. A big reason for their creative accomplishments was the way Havoc's haunting soundscapes complemented Prodigy's chilling, matter-of-fact lyricism. Havoc could rhyme for sure, but his production should also be considered part of his lasting legacy. With his aptitude for sampling, Hav could turn Herbie Hancock's casually emotive "Jessica" into a desolate soundtrack for a hood Mad Max with "Shook Ones Part II." Prodigy's razor-under-tongue bars paired with Havoc's inventive production prove it's no wonder the world was stuck off the realness.
Juvenile and Mannie Fresh
It doesn't get more New Orleans than Juvenile and Mannie Fresh, a rapper-producer pairing that combined the dialect of the Louisiana streets with the spirit of N.O. bounce. Juvenile's 1998 breakout single "Ha" and his legendary 1999 single "Back That Azz Up" epitomize their peak effectiveness as a tandem that sold millions upon millions of records as living emblems of their area. Salute.
Blu & Exile are one of underground rap's most acclaimed pairings, and their synergy is the reason why. With his endlessly dexterous rhyming, Blu serves as a sort of West Coast Mos Def. Exile's soulful brand of boom bap allowed Blu's thoughts to breathe on the tracks. Over the years, the two have released five projects together, with 2007's Below the Heavens being deemed an underground classic.
Playboi Carti and Pi'erre Bourne
The murmurings done by Playboi Carti are better described as bits of energy than "rapping," and that electricity is put to best effect by super-producer Pi'erre Bourne. Bourne produced Carti's breakout 2017 single "Magnolia" as well as five other tracks on Carti's eponymous debut released the same year. Electric and bouncy, Bourne's instrumentals fuse with Carti's ad-lib-like bars and choruses to make for tunes without a beginning or end. Let's hope Bourne and Carti cook up for Whole Lotta Red.
Missy Elliott and Timbaland
Near the end of the 1990s, Timbaland introduced the world to a sound it'd never heard before, and Missy Elliott was the most frequent user of his futuristic beats. Together, they linked up for classics like "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," "Get Ur Freak On" and more, turning clubs upside down in the process. With Missy's off-the-wall combination of raunch, tight wordplay and outright vocal dexterity combined with Timbo's extraterrestrial beats, the two artists left an indelible imprint on rap culture. As a bonus, they also worked together as a dope producer-songwriter team that crafted some of Aaliyah's best songs.
If you were looking for an image of peak boom bap, it would look a lot like Gang Starr, a rap duo comprised of wordsmith Guru and the legendary DJ Premier. Preemo's deft scratches and inventive soul samples defined peak New York rap purism, and Guru's deliberate flow made for rap classics like "Mass Appeal," "Moment of Truth" and more. With four critically acclaimed albums completed before the end of the 1990s, it's clear Gang Starr's got a special place as one of rap's best duos.
There can be no discussion of great rapper-producer tandems without a mention of Eric B. & Rakim. For his part, Rakim pushed the then-boundaries of rap lyricism with more intricate rhyme patterns and a stoic delivery. Eric B epitomized early boom bap with clever James Brown samples and his incorporation of jazz. Together, they became one of rap's first super duos. Their Paid in Full album remains a classic.
Chief Keef and Young Chop
Chief Keef and Young Chop simply make magic. Chop's signature bells and crisp percussion helped define the drill sound while Keef became the face of the Chicago rap movement with his blunt, boastful bars and knack for melody, which is the stuff of hits. To date, their biggest collaboration is "I Don't Like," an emblematic tune released back in 2012. The pair have also collaborated on tracks like "Love Sosa" and many more that will slap till infinity.
"They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" remains one of the most poignant statements of mourning rap's ever seen and an example of just how dope a combo Pete Rock and CL Smooth could be when clicking on all cylinders. Pete Rock had a knack for infusing his beats with soulful loops that acted as a perfect vessel for a range of emotions. CL Smooth's knack for packing in autobiographical detail filled the space. Together, they prospered with multiple acclaimed projects, including Mecca and the Soul Brother, The Main Ingredient and All Souled Out.
Kendrick Lamar and Sounwave
When K-Dot and Sounwave get on a track, good things tend to happen. Luckily for fans, Kendrick Lamar and Sounwave link up a lot. With a versatile production style, Soun has laced Kendrick with tracks for every occasion, whether it was a frantic recollection of childhood trauma on the streets of Compton for "M.a.a.d City," a flat-out love song with "Love" or an iconic protest anthem in "Alright." Being one of the world's best rappers, K-Dot has never failed to make a Sounwave production even better.
After getting poor reviews and seeing limited commercial success with his 2002 album, Electric Circus, Common was in a bit of a slump. Three years later, he helped fans and critics forget about the experimental album with Be, a universally acclaimed LP he dropped in 2005. It was produced by none-other-than Kanye West, and it served as the beginning of a fruitful partnership. For the album, Yeezy laced Common's philosophical bars with production that ranged from meditative to dark to hopeful. These two got along so well that Kanye also produced Com's 2007 album, Finding Forever. Common compares Yeezy to a production lesson on the album's single, "The People." "My daughter found Nemo, I found the new Preemo/’Ye, you know how we do, we do it for the people." Word.
Over the last several years, Freddie Gibbs has become one of the most respected artists in hip-hop. While he can rap on any beat, he's definitely benefited from the great Madlib, a producer with whom he's recorded with since their 2014 project, Pinata. The combo works so well because Madlib's beats offer a quirky, nostalgic flair that coats the unrelenting grit of Gibb's grizzled street raps with a sound just as unique. They most recently collaborated for their 2019 project, Bandana, and we can only hope they've got more on the way.