Timbaland produced "Big Pimpin." I did not.
Timbaland has won multiple GRAMMYs. I haven’t.
Timbaland knew Aaliyah. I didn’t.
Timbaland thinks there are no more producers. I don’t.
It’s weird to hear one of hip-hop’s most renowned producers deny his own kind. It's like a T-Rex saying dinosaurs never existed or someone who lives on this very earth and calling it flat. It didn’t seem to make sense, but in an interview on Hot 97, when asked which producers are blowing his mind right now, he answered:
"I don’t think we have producers anymore,I think we have great programmers. Beats are not made how we used to do em, I think they come as a package. The looping is for you to figure out which program to run it through to trick it out and to make something that once was be something totally different. I take patterns, layers and blend the colors. People don’t even know how to make their own snares anymore."
When I heard those comments my eyebrows went higher than Wiz Khalifa at a Grateful Dead concert. It didn’t feel right, but at the same time, Timbaland knows so much more about the technical aspects of production that I couldn't even possibly list how much more he knows. But there aren't any producers anymore? As in none? It doesn't take a producer to know that's fundamentally wrong.
I may not know how to make music, but I damn sure listen to a lot of it. I write about it. I live and breath it from that cup of coffee in the morning to the glow of my computer screen illuminating my room at 3:30 AM and I make sure to not just listen but really learn the music. I live vicariously through producers telling me about their process. I relish in discovering what goes on behind the scenes and I spend hours entrenched in liner notes, tracking down names of session players, producers, and even family members.
I craft those liner note pieces because I think it’s important for the people whose faces aren't on the cover to get acknowledgment for their art. I learn the albums this way, but I also pick up trends. I don’t know how to make music, but I've interviewed so many producers, I have a good sense of how their music is made.
So when I hear Timbaland say “I don’t think we have producers anymore” I’m a little taken aback, because I feel like we are amidst a paradigm shift, a renaissance of sorts, where there is a strong emphasis on true production. Did Timbaland miss To Pimp A Butterfly? Did he not hear how ornate and diverse that albums instrumentals were? He must not have read the liner notes. He must not know how Kendrick brought in Josef Liemberg to play the horns or that Robert Searight literally played real-life drums on “For Free.” These aren’t “programmers” plugging things into a machine and sending them over email, these are creative minds coming together in the studio and building from scratch. The same goes for 2014 Forest Hills Drive, A.L.L.A, Love Story, Malibu, Surf, Cadillactica, the list goes on and on.
Or what about Dr. Dre? He’s a different kind of producer. The big takeaway from Compton for me was that production is more than live or programmed drums, it’s finding a space for those drums, it’s finding a voice that matches those drums, it’s asking questions, taking input and building something together. That’s what makes Dre a legendary producer, not whether his snares are live or programmed. And these aren’t small, underground examples either. These are major label artists, Platinum albums, and GRAMMY-award winning producers. How crazy is it that a major label, the ones we think of as spitting out those programmable, cookie-cutter beats, is letting Kendrick do jazz, or Yelawolf do country music. Live instrumentals with a real emphasis on composition and production are running right alongside the programmable beats side of the production game, and to say otherwise is to not give those people their just due.
Don’t get bogged down in the details, don’t get lost in the major label vs. "real" music dichotomy. We're in an era where artists are being allowed the freedom to do what they want. Sure programmable stuff exists, and that's fine - Metro Boomin had a hell of a year and he uses programmed drums - but it’s not the only thing that's out there. When Timbaland says there are no more producers, only programmers, he’s doing a disservice to the art he's dedicated his life to. He’s setting up a this or that scenario when we're living in an this and that world. Here, in this specific case, he's just wrong. Period.
But I still love "Big Pimpin."