As we celebrate Black Music Month, it’s important we recognize the beat makers, the captains of sound, otherwise known as music producers, whose talents sometimes go overlooked. Producers have a critical role in developing a song or album, from arranging vocals, booking musicians and engineers, and creating iconic sounds. They can do it all. Some of our greatest legends have produced their own music, as well as generations of artists, each with their own individual sound.
Here are 17 Black producers who have changed the music industry and pushed Black artistry forward.
The New Jack Swing sub-genre creator, Teddy Riley, has produced music for several legends, including Michael Jackson, Doug E. Fresh, Keith Sweat, Heavy D & The Boyz, and so many more. The Harlem native has over 1,000 credits to his name and helped form the R&B group Blackstreet. He was inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame and earned the Soul Train Legend Award.
Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams has made some of music's most iconic and distinct sounds. In the early 1990s, Pharrell formed The Neptunes with his close friend Chad Hugo before becoming the lead vocalist for N.E.R.D. in 1999. The Virginia Beach native released his solo album, In My Mind, in 2006 and has produced hits for Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Nicki Minaj, Busta Rhymes, and so many more.
The Motown Records founder is credited with launching an entire era of music that laid the blueprint for Black musicians and artists for generations. The record executive also helped produce albums for legends like The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and so many more. In 1991, Gordy received the Grammy Trustee Award for his pioneering production.
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, helped pave the way for Black women in music through her business-savvy artistic vision. The late diva was known only to accept cash payments for her performances and pushed to get her due credit as a producer of her music. More women artists have authority over their sound and art thanks to her and others' efforts.
Singer and record label founder Sylvia Robinson is credited with creating the very first rap single, Rapper's Delight. The Love is Strange singer and Harlem native reportedly drove around Englewood, New Jersey, one night in August 1979, looking for rappers. After completing her search, Robinson's passengers formed the renowned Sugar Hill Gang. Under Robinson's direction, the group recorded the 14-minute breakout hit in one take, and the rest, as they say, is history. Robinson died in 2011 at the age of 75.
Known professionally as "DarkChild," Rodney Jerkins is considered to be one of R&B's most influential producers. He's worked with Destiny's Child, Toni Braxton, Brandy, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, and many more. In 2001, Jerkins won the Grammy for Best R&B Song for "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys.
An epic figure in hip-hop and R&B production, Timbaland has produced some of the most highly recognizable records in the industry. With a prominent futuristic sound, Timbaland helped shape the sounds of Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Coldplay, and more.
Rapper-producer and trailblazer Missy Elliott has spent her career leading the pack in sound and visuals. The icon has produced her own hits like "Work It" and "Get Ur Freak On." The star also discovered and produced for acts like 702 and was a huge influence on Aaliyah's sound, much like her fellow Virginia Beach native Timbaland.
At 88 years old, music legend Quincy Jones has worked for decades, changing the music industry one hit single and album at a time. The Chicago native started out as a trumpet player, playing alongside Ray Charles in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he became one of the first Black music label executives and helped arrange albums for Frank Sinatra and several films. In 1982, Jones produced Michael Jackson's Thriller album before going on to make several more major marks in music history.
Between the early 2010s and now, Mike Will Made-It rose to prominence for delivering hits like "Black Beetles," "Formation," "Body Party," "No Flex Zone," and so many more. The Marietta, Georgia native helped bring Southern trap sounds to the charts and gave us some instant classic hits.
DJ- producer and LA native Mustard's breakout came in 2011 with Tyga's "Rack City" anthem. Since then, the record exec has delivered three solo albums and hits for Roddy Rich, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz, the late Nipsey Hussle, and many more.
Xavier Dotson, known professionally as Zaytoven, is a German-born producer who grew up in Atlanta. He's worked with Gucci Mane, Usher, Future, and Lecrae, and is credited for helping to bring the trap sound of the South worldwide.
If he don't trust you... well, you know the rest. The St. Louis native rose to prominence during the last decade and soon became a trusted figure in hip-hop. Since high school, he's grinded to create with rap legends. He's worked with shaping the sound of rappers like Future while delivering collabs with 21 Savage, Drake, Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert, and more.
New Orleans native DJ, producer, and rapper Mannie Fresh has delivered classics since the 1990s. The Cash Money Records producer helped bring the bounce sound to the global airwaves and still has us running to the dance floor when "Back That Azz Up" comes up.
Known for a reggae influence, producer, and Queens, New York native Salaam Remi is known for his creations with Nas, Amy Winehouse, Fugees, and Miguel, and Black Thought. The producer earned a Grammy nomination for his work.
Atlanta native Sonny Digital broke out in 2011 with YC's hit single "Racks." Since then, the producer has delivered hits like "Tuesday," 2Chainz's "Birthday Song" and the XXL Freshman Cyphers in 2017 and 2018.