J Dilla

Frequently and rightly placed in the same context as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Kanye West, J Dilla (aka Jay Dee) built and sustained a high standing as a producer's producer while maintaining a low profile. When Pharrell Williams appeared on BET's 106 & Park in 2004, he excitedly declared that Dilla was his favorite producer and told an audibly stumped crowd that it had probably never heard of the man. At the time, Dilla had been active for well over a decade and had netted enough beats -- including the Pharcyde's "Runnin'," De La Soul's "Stakes Is High," Common's "The Light," and several others with production teams the Ummah and the Soulquarians -- to be considered an all-time great. Dilla never produced a mainstream smash and, in many cases, his presence has to be confirmed with a liner notes scan. (And even then, that might not help; he occasionally went uncredited.) He never marked his territory like Just Blaze ("Just Blaze!") or Jazze Pha ("This is a Jazze Phizzle produc-shizzle!"), and he never hogged the mike like P. Diddy. He let his music, and its followers, do the talking. Rather than provide immediate (or fleeting) thrills, he was hooked on working the subconscious as much as the neck muscles. He was so focused on his work that it took a severe toll on his health.