If there’s been one consistent in popular music across the first 20-plus years of the 21st century, it’s been the prominence of the producer, leading pop’s vanguard as much as any of its biggest recording artists. While super-producers have certainly existed since the days of Phil Spector and Joe Meek over half a century ago, in past decades, such behind-the-scenes hitmakers might’ve just as often slunk into the culture’s background — simply a name in the credits on the back cover. But in the ’00s and beyond, producers have consistently become household names in their own right, defining entire eras of popular music, and frequently becoming recording stars themselves.
As part of our digital cover package this week celebrating the producer, we’re counting down our staff’s picks for the 50 greatest studio mavens of this century: the most innovative, impactful and important knob-twiddlers since 2000. To keep the focus mostly behind the scenes, we tried not to include artists largely known just for producing their own work, and we tried not to weigh any superproducers’ work as a lead artist too heavily in anyone’s ranking. We also gave priority to producers whose peak falls squarely in the 21st century over recognizing the legends whose dominance simply continued through Y2K — though a couple 20th century icons have remained a little too towering to leave off entirely — and to those who’ve been working for most of this century over those who we’ve only recently been introduced to.
It was tough enough to to keep the list down to 50, and some names responsible for incredible bodies of 21st century work didn’t make the cut — including (but certainly not limited to) Bangladesh, T-Bone Burnett, Scott Storch, Jeff Bhasker, Patrick Berger, Mike Elizondo, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Dave Sitek, Markus Dravs, Jon Brion, Jake Sinclair, Danger Mouse, Calvin Harris, Butch Walker, Hit-Boy, No I.D., Skrillex, Lex Luger, Will Yip, J Dilla, Salaam Remi, Catherine Marks, Ryan Tedder, Watt, Finneas, David Guetta, Polow da Don and Omer Fedi. And while we tried to make our list as inclusive and wide-ranging as possible, we have to acknowledge that women in particular are still woefully underrepresented — while men who’ve been accused of abusing their power are unfortunately overrepresented — a sad reflection of a corner of the industry that, despite some great strides in recent years, remains overwhelmingly male-dominated, particularly at its highest levels.
Still, the producers who have made the cut all have bodies of work that speak for themselves, shaping the sound of popular music domestically and abroad. Many of them continue to push the envelope every time their fingers grace their studio consoles — and a special few of them have been doing so consistently since the ball dropped on 2000. Here are our choices for the 50 greatest.
Associated Artists: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj
Signature Sound: Steamrolling club beats and whooshing synthesizers that sound like they’re beaming you up into a glittery, alien disco.
Defining Work: Gaga put his name on everybody’s lips with “Just Dance” — “Oh RedOoooone” — but “Bad Romance” remains the pinnacle of their freak-pop concoctions.
Hidden Gem: The unimpeachable suite of dance tracks he co-produced for Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded — including the underrated “Whip It” and “Automatic” — are basically the best Britney Spears songs that Britney never recorded. — NOLAN FEENEY
49. Joey Moi
Associated Artists: Florida Georgia Line, Morgan Wallen, Nickelback
Signature Sound: Moi’s unpretentious productions are often big and loud and wide open, unafraid to combine rock, hip-hop and country styles in a way that has redefined country music over the last decade and invites all listeners.
Defining Work: Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” introduced the world to Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, and is considered ground zero for the Bro-Country sub-genre that celebrates simple pleasures set to an uplifting, easy-going sound that blends country, rock and hip-hop rhythms.
Hidden Gem: “Drinkin’ Songs” from MacKenzie Porter was a hit in Canada, but hasn’t resonated yet in the lower 48. The country-pop sparkler blends heartache with an irresistibly catchy chorus that demands you sing along. — MELINDA NEWMAN
Associated Artists: Travis Scott, Pop Smoke, Lil Uzi Vert
Signature Sound: Deep synths and deeper bass, with woozy, off-kilter beats that make you feel like it’s 3:00 in the morning in a different solar system.
Defining Work: Along with regular collaborator Travis Scott, WondaGurl helped add the extra thunder to Rihanna’s booming “Bitch Better Have My Money,” turning the non-album single from an easily forgotten in-betweener to something close to a signature hit for the pop megastar.
Hidden Gem: Meet the Woo 2 highlight “Christopher Walking” never garnered the chart success of Pop Smoke’s later hits but remains one of his most beloved cuts — largely for its hiccuping vocal stabs, eerie synth waves and skittering drill beat that feels like the late New York rapper swerving through traffic on the FDR. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
47. Chris Jedi & Gaby Music
Associated Artists: Anuel AA, Ozuna, Lunay
Signature Sound: The pair’s emphasis on strong melodies and carefully constructed vocal pairings, married to impeccable sound, make for songs that transcend well beyond the realm of reggaetón to become massive pop hits.
Defining Work: The almost melancholy melody of Anuel’s “Ella Quiere Beber” over the duo’s sparse beat, and the ensuing, beyond-clever remix featuring Romeo Santos (who is referenced in the original) — as well as the masterful vocal blend of Ozuna and Manuel Turizo in “Vaina Loca.”
Hidden Gem: “Jangueo,” from Anuel’s sophomore album, Emmanuel, was destined for history the minute it brought in legend Tego Calderón in a rare outing that became the ultimate homage from the new to the classic. A risk worth taking. — LEILA COBO
Associated Acts: Drake, Eminem, Nicki Minaj
Signature Sound: Booming, cinematic production allowing artists to dive deep and pen anecdotal rhymes and stadium-shaking anthems.
Defining Work: In 2009, Boi-1da set the table nicely for his next decade of dominance with the thrilling creation, “Forever.” A hip-hop superteam consisting of Drake, Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Kanye West feasted on the cinematic landscape for basketball wunderkind LeBron James and his More Than a Game documentary soundtrack.
Hidden Gem: Though Kendrick Lamar remains a Billboard Hot 100 behemoth despite his recent hiatus, 2015’s “The Blacker The Berry” wasn’t an instant showstopper, unlike his touted catalog. Despite’s peaking at No. 66, Dot’s evocative message of appreciating one’s Blackness over Boi-1da, KOZ and Terrace Martin’s staggering, rumbling beat trumps any numerical value that could have come with the record. — CARL LAMARRE
45. Raphael Saadiq
Associated Artists: Kelis, Solange, Mary J. Blige
Signature Sound: A soulful, crisp, relaxing sonic fusion that brings a soothing ambience — and often strikes an emotional chord.
Defining Work: The timeless, genre-bending, mid-tempo groove from Solange Knowles’ Grammy-winning “Cranes in the Sky” helped make it one of the year’s most acclaimed songs — and a top 15 Hot R&B Songs hit — when it was released in 2016.
Hidden Gem: Anthony Hamilton’s thought-provoking “Ain’t Nobody Worryin’” is a near-tearjerker — yet it also makes listeners want to dance with its beautiful Saadiq beat and emotional message. — DARLENE ADEROJU
44. The Matrix
Associated Artists: Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair, Hilary Duff
Signature Sound: The team of Lauren Christy, Scott Spock and Graham Edwards served up ravenous guitar anthems with enough gloss to rule top 40 — the epitome of early-2000s pop-punk (with the emphasis on “pop”) and the inspiration for a whole generation of indie-rock queens.
Defining Work: She was an angsty Canadian teen, they were an adult L.A. trio ready to cement her as a superstar — can I make it anymore obvious?
Hidden Gem: Shakira’s “How Do You Do,” a soaring rocker about grappling with faith from 2005’s Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 that turns the “Our Father” prayer into a blistering bridge. (Yes, really!) — N.F.
Associated Artists: fka Twigs, Bjork, Kelela
Signature Sound: An often spiritually leaning fusion of the organic and digital, with electronic-derived sounds pulsing, writhing and breathing (sometimes heavily) with life, and a corresponding spaciousness giving productions a sense of vastness and grandeur — in many cases tethered to the earth by plodding, nearly industrial beats.
Defining Work: FKA Twigs’ 2013 “Papi Pacify,” on which the languid delicacy of Twigs’ voice juxtaposes against beats that sound like they’re emanating from a large piece of heavy machinery located underwater.
Hidden Gem: Kelela’s stunning “Enough,” from her 2017 LP Take Me Apart. Here the vocals float diaphanously over a celestial production that gives light Pure Moods vibes, with prismatic tones, a skittering beat and a choir of Kelelas building to something at once delicate and grand. — KATIE BAIN
Associated Acts: Drake, Travis Scott, Future
Signature Sound: Pounding piano, bass so low it almost defies notation, and enough empty space for the menace to really seep through — plus, one of the most instantly iconic producer tags of the last decade.
Defining Work: That producer tag arrives about three minutes and two beat switches into Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” announcing the climactic Drake section that takes the song into the stratosphere with its twinkling organs, hissing hi-hats and one-note bass thrum.
Hidden Gem: “Don’t Come Out the House,” a Metro Boomin co-production in which Tay-Keith’s key-plunking adds Andrew Lloyd Weber-sized melodrama to break up guest rapper 21 Savage’s devilishly whispered malice. — A.U.
41. Andres Castro
Associated Artists: Carlos Vives, Ricky Martin, Prince Royce
Signature Sound: Guitar-built, acoustic, melodic pop and tropical music wedded to roots and rock, with a versatility that’s appropriate for a broad range of genres, from reggaetón and rap to salsa and pop.
Defining Work: Many of Carlos Vives’ signature hits, from his comeback Hot Latin Songs No. 1 “Volví a Nacer,” which blends Vives’ Colombian vallenato with pop and rock, to global hit “La Bicicleta,” a Vives-Shakira collab that marries vallenato to dance hooks.
Hidden Gems: Colombian group Bacilos’ “Perderme contigo” didn’t even get a video. It still counts over 60 million views on Spotify, thanks to a soulful melody that, blended with Castro’s signature mix of roots and pops invites listeners to dance and sing to. — L.C.
40. Paul Epworth
Associated Acts: Adele, Florence + The Machine, Bloc Party
Signature Sound: A trebly, pristine instrumental balance that allows guitars and drums to cut through with maximum detail and sharpness, offering pop sheen to rock acts and rock heft to pop acts.
Defining Work: Adele’s ubiquitous “Rolling in the Deep” is the rare pop breakup ballad you really need to listen to on headphones to properly appreciate; there’s as much frayed-nerve rawness to be found in the plucked acoustics and stomp claps as there is in Ms. Adkins’ all-timer vocal.
Hidden Gem: The Daft Punk-like horn and drum loops that see Friendly Fires’ “Blue Cassette” in and out aren’t necessarily a known specialty of Epworth’s, but the heart-punching might of its chorus certainly is — and only such a master deck-manner would know the perfect time and place to deploy the song’s requisite tape sound effects. — A.U.
39. Yoo Young-jin
Associated Acts: Super Junior, Shinhwa, EXO
Signature Sound: A crucial cog in the SM Entertainment machine, Yoo Young-jin’s blaring keys and insistent dance beats have helped propel Korean pop acts to stardom for well over 20 years now.
Defining Work: “Sorry Sorry,” a 2009 comeback single for Super Junior released at turbo-pop’s international apex, whose synth blasts were about as deniable as a 90-knot gale, and which became one of the group’s biggest chart successes.
Hidden Gem: Red Velvet’s “Butterflies,” a cooing, soft-but-bright disco jam from 2018 that would actually sound right at home on the radio in 2021 between Doja Cat and Dua Lipa smashes. — A.U.
38. Linda Perry
Associated Artists: P!nk, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Osborne
Signature Sound: With clean, crisp yet punchy studio precision, Perry fans the inner rock god flames with her collaborators, whether the genre is pop, R&B or classic balladry.
Defining Work: Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” might’ve been a stately ballad in different hands, but Perry gives it a percussive heft with gently rising strings, firm drumming and a sonic warmth that serves to emphasize the resilience in Xtina’s voice.
Hidden Gem: Kelly Osborne’s musical career has been quiet since 2005’s Sleeping In the Nothing, but album track “Uh Oh” is an irresistible, surprisingly durable mixture of propulsive new wave drumming and the moody dance-rock popular in mid-aughts NYC clubs. — JOE LYNCH
37. Shane McAnally
Associated Artists: Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves, Old Dominion
Signature Sound: Somehow, McAnally’s productions sound urgent, yet unrushed, a nearly impossible combination. Given his talent as a songwriter, McAnally puts the vocals upfront, but usually has them floating over big beats that are far more interestingly shaded than the typical country fare.
Defining Work: The combination of Sam Hunt’s languid spoken and sung vocals in “Take Your Time,” laid over an insinuating rhythm that picks up slightly as Hunt’s desire rises, makes for an unforgettably sexy track.
Hidden Gem: Walker Hayes’ “Mind Candy” is a sly confection that combines a ‘70s soulful feel with a bouncy, toe-tapping beat bolstered by an organ winding its way through. — M.N.
36. Benny Blanco
Associated Artists: Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran
Signature Sound: Mainstream pop, and its many iterations. After starting out as a protege of Dr. Luke at the turn of the 2010s, Blanco has transcended his turbo-pop beginnings and cooked up smashes of various styles and tempos for most of the past decade’s A-listers.
Defining Work: Blanco’s has production credits on “Moves Like Jagger,” “Payphone,” “Maps” and “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5, another pop act who has managed to shape-shift through mainstream movements and remain a radio staple for well over a decade.
Hidden Gem: “Say You Love Me,” Jessie Ware’s exquisite 2014 soul-pop torch song, was produced by Blanco alongside Two Inch Punch, as the duo BenZel. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
35. Louis Bell
Associated Artists: Post Malone, Camila Cabello, Miley Cyrus
Signature Sound: Bell brings spare hip-hop beats to pop hits and earwormy melodies to rap songs, blurring genre lines and seemingly cracking the Hot 100 code.
Defining Work: After crafting the majority of the tracks from Post Malone’s first two LPs, the rapper went all in with Bell for 2019’s blockbuster Hollywood’s Bleeding, with the hitmaker producing everything but “Saint-Tropez” (though he did co-write it) on the Grammy album of the year nominee.
Hidden Gem: The synth line of Charlie Puth’s “Mother” is begging to be a bigger hit. It has a lot of the elements that worked so well for Bell with 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” and “Easier,” but never connected like those pop radio success stories. — KATIE ATKINSON
34. Missy Elliott
Associated Artists: Monica, Jazmine Sullivan, Aaliyah
Signature Sound: Electric, galactic and multi-dimensional instrumentals — plus catchy ad-libs and vocal punctuations — have defined Missy’s unique sound since her mid-’90s emergence, with her productions taking on a more classic soul warmth deeper into the 21st century.
Defining Work: The fiery guitar, timekeeping cowbell and smooth transitions in Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink’s No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit cover of “Lady Marmalade” all scream classic Missy Elliott.
Hidden Gem: Beyoncé’s “Signs” — from her 2003 debut solo album Dangerously in Love — is all about the romantic wonders of each zodiac sign, and is one of Missy’s most sultry tunes. — D.A.
33. Joel Little
Associated Acts: Lorde, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons
Signature Sound: Alternative-baiting dark-pop — at least at the start of his career, when the songwriter-producer was working with fellow New Zealanders like Lorde and Broods. Since then, Little has become a jack-of-all-trades mainstream collaborator, helming rock (Imagine Dragons), R&B (Khalid) and pop (Jonas Brothers) alike.
Defining Work: Lorde’s 2013 debut album, Pure Heroine, which Little produced in full. When Little met the Auckland native, she was a young teen who had never written a song; by early 2014, they were standing onstage together at the Grammys to collect the song of the year trophy for “Royals.”
Hidden Gem: In 2014, Little teamed up with two Scandinavian pop stars, Sweden’s Elliphant and Denmark’s MØ, for the delightfully moody banger “One More.” — J. Lipshutz
32. Mike Dean
Associated Artists: Kanye West, Jay-Z, Travis Scott
Signature Sound: Distorted, fuzzy guitars — often provided himself — with hazy synths, growling bass and/or regal horns, depending on what his collaborators (including Kanye for his past 15 years’ worth of albums) need.
Defining Work: “Power,” lead single from 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, features Dean playing guitar, bass and keyboards — mixing them (along with Kanye and co-producers Jeff Bhasker and S1) into a thick, boiling sonic stew that helped the rapper turn the page on a new sound for a new decade.
Hidden Gem: “Good Drank,” a rare solo production for Dean, in which 2 Chainz and guests Quavo and Gucci Mane trade boastful bars over a hypnotic piano riff and brain-tickling drum spits, resulting in one of the most sublime trap singles of the 2010s. — A.U.
31. Ariel Rechtshaid
Associated Acts: Haim, Vampire Weekend, Charli XCX
Signature Sound: Fluorescent indie-pop: the former singer-guitarist of The Hippos has worked with critical darlings like Sky Ferreira and Cass McCombs, as well as superstars like Usher and Madonna, but has always sounded most at home while concocting left-of-center confections for artists who straddle the line.
Defining Work: Although Rechtshaid worked closely with Haim on all three of the trio’s studio albums, 2020’s Women in Music Pt. III was a particular triumph for all involved, earning the group an album of the year Grammy nod. “Summer Girl,” one of the set’s advance singles, was even addressed to Rechtshaid as he was undergoing treatment for stage I testicular cancer during the album’s creation.
Hidden Gem: Can you count a No. 1 single as a hidden gem? It’s always a treat when the indie elite remembers that, prior to earning endless amounts of hipster cred, Rechtshaid produced the Plain White T’s chart-topping 2006 sing-along “Hey There Delilah.” — J. Lipshutz
Associated Artists: MF Doom, Freddie Gibbs, Quasimoto
Signature Sound: Soulful sample-based beats, often relatively light on percussion but heavy on melody, emotion and, uh, interstitial dialogue.
Defining Work: Madvillainy, his lone full-album team up with kindred spirit MF Doom, but one of the most fully realized rapper-producer teamups in hip-hop history — an entire universe of comic book-style mythology, inside jokes, and brilliant sonic reappropriations from just about every genre imaginable.
Hidden Gem: “Umm Hmm,” an ecstatic co-production with Erykah Badu for her New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh album, whose groove doesn’t necessarily need to be taken higher, but which Madlib does anyway by occasionally blending in an obscure 30-year-old R&B lift. — A.U.
29. Nigel Godrich
Associated Artists: Radiohead, Beck, Air
Signature Sound: A spacious and spectral blend of instrumental warmth and electronic chilliness, helping some of the biggest names in alternative to dream bigger over the first decade of the 2000s.
Defining Work: Radiohead’s Kid A, an album so successful at removing the guitar from the core sound of one of the world’s most beloved turn-of-the-century rock bands that many wondered at the time if it sounded the death knell for the instrument altogether.
Hidden Gem: Here We Go Magic’s “How Do I Know?,” a masterclass in rock song layering — beginning with just a two-chord acoustic riff and drums and swelling into a swirling mini-epic of questioning and wonderment. — A.U.
Associated Acts: Future, Gucci Mane, Migos
Signature Sound: Unadulterated trap, which he perfected thanks to a deep Rolodex of Atlanta rappers, hoisted up to the mainstream, and changed the direction of how hip-hop percussion (and a heavy dose of piano) can influence modern pop.
Defining Work: Future’s 2015 mixtape with Zaytoven, Beast Mode, doesn’t have the chart hits of Future’s prior oeuvre, but helped reshape the rapper’s focus during a phenomenal run of projects leading up to the Billboard 200-topping DS2. The set’s opening run is like a shot of adrenaline that not even its very good 2018 sequel could match.
Hidden Gem: “MFN Right,” from the 2016 2 Chainz-Lil Wayne project ColleGrove, in which Zaytoven teamed up with Mike WiLL Made-It and delivered a pan flute hook that should have been hypnotizing the world well into 2017. — J. Lipshutz
27. Mauricio Rengifo & Andres Torres
Associated Artists: Carlos Vives, Luis Fonsi, Sebastian Yatra
Signature Sound: The Colombian producer duo’s work is defined primarily by the artists they collaborate with — but notably, since 2015, Mauricio Rengifo and Andres Torres have given Latin pop a refreshing and edgy twist, always fusing live instruments with technology.
Defining Work: The song that not only created an identity for the pair but also opened the doors for Latin music on a global scale was Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” whose remix Justin Bieber later helped propel into the stratosphere. The infectious tropical reggaetón banger made history on the Billboard charts becoming the first Latin song (and just the second song overall) to top the Hot 100 for a total of 16 weeks.
Hidden Gem: Mauricio and Andres’ Latin pop essence can be heard in Silvestre Dangond and Nicky Jam’s “Cásate Conmigo,” a track that perfectly combines traditional vallenato music with reggaetón. The romantic song, which translates to “Marry Me,” has become a timeless anthem at engagement proposals and weddings. — JESSICA ROIZ
26. Dave Cobb
Associated Artists: Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Brandi Clark,
Signature Sound: A simple, uncluttered sound that often relies on well-placed mics and traditional instrumentation instead of modern-day wizardry. Cobb’s productions always sound classic, yet never outdated, with an emphasis on vocals.
Defining Work: Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, influenced by the artist’s father’s death, blew Stapleton’s career wide open with Cobb perfectly capturing Stapleton’s plaintive growl on “Nobody To Blame” and his bluesy cover of “Tennessee Whiskey,” while creating a new template for country-tinged southern rock.
Hidden Gem: Lindi Ortega’s “Tin Star” is about as gorgeous a track as one can ever hope to hear, between Ortega’s yearning vocals and Cobb’s rockabilly-tinged, low-key production — but if you need a good cry, check out John Prine’s final song, “I Remember Everything.” — M.N.
25. Teddy Park
Associated Artists: 2NE1, Blackpink, Big Bang
Signature Sound: Explosive, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bangers that draw frequently from hip-hop and EDM but have dabbled as far as reggae and country, too.
Defining Work: The unrelenting, endlessly hooky “I Am the Best” by 2NE1 lives up to its name a decade later — and helped pave the way for K-pop’s U.S. takeover.
Hidden Gem: Collaborations between American artists and K-pop stars are less novel than they used to be, but the raucous team-up of G-Dragon and Missy Elliott on 2013’s “Niliria” hinted at the fun to come. — N.F.
24. Dr. Luke
Associated Artists: Katy Perry, Kesha, Doja Cat
Signature Sound: Explosive guitar- and/or synth-led pop-rock productions that helped define the sound of mainstream radio around the turn of the ’10s. (Some of the artists he came to prominence producing for have since publicly declared a desire not to work with him again — including Kelly Clarkson and P!nk — after Kesha, a former collaborator, accused him of sexual assault and physical abuse in a 2014 lawsuit to be freed from her contract with Luke’s Kemosabe Records, which was ultimately dismissed in New York in 2016 and denied on appeal in 2018. He subsequently countersued for defamation — in a case that is still ongoing, with Kesha pursuing a counterclaim — and has since returned to prominence via disco-inflected hits for newer artists Doja Cat and Kim Petras.)
Defining Work: Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” the 2004 Max Martin co-production that launched Dr. Luke’s hitmaking career — setting the precedent for a near-decade’s worth of top 40 hits that streamlined maximum rock punchiness through a pop filter, for a sound that FM was absolutely powerless to resist.
Hidden Gem: Australian sister duo The Veronicas couldn’t quite break America with either of their two perfect singles off 2005 debut album The Secret Life Of…, “4ever” and “Everything I’m Not,” but their chugging guitar grooves and immaculate chorus harmonies deservedly made them stars in their home country. — A.U.
23. Metro Boomin
Associated Artists: Future, 21 Savage, Travis Scot
Signature Sound: Earsplitting trap bangers with earthquaking low end that helped bolster Atlanta’s dominance in the 2010s.
Defining Work: When rap superheroes Drake and Future joined forces for their 2015 collaborative effort, What a Time to Be Alive, Metro Boomin supplied the duo with his thunderous beats, mainly “Jumpman.” Oozing with slick one-liners and crafty ad-libs, six years later, “Jumpman” is still a must-play at practically every event.
Hidden Gem: Solange’s “Stay Flo” is a pleasant step outside of Metro’s trap wheelhouse and provides a lush lullaby sound for those looking to get faded every Friday night. — C.L.
Associated Acts: Beyoncé, Ne-Yo, Rihanna
Signature Sound: Though adept at everything from dancehall-flavored R&B (Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”) to throbbing dancefloor bangers (“Only Girl in the World,” also Rihanna), the Norwegian production duo of Tor E. Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen is best known for softly mournful odes to staying strong while moving on, set to acoustic guitars and shuffling beats.
Defining Work: Building on what they started with Ne-Yo’s Hot 100 topper “So Sick,” Stargate tapped the same strummy, spacious, snappy palette for another trend-setting No. 1, Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”; that sonic template was so effective that other producers — as well as Stargate themselves — were often accused of copying it.
Hidden Gem: Stargate augmented their characteristic rhythmic snaps with throbbing, sub-zero synths on Keri Hilson’s mesmerizing “Lose Control (Let Me Down)” with Nelly, which deserved a much bigger dancefloor presence in the States.– J. Lynch
21. Rick Rubin
Associated Acts: Johnny Cash, System of a Down, Dixie Chicks
Signature Sound: More of an advisor who helps an artist find their creative center than a knob-twiddler in the studio, Rick Rubin is most associated this century with two seemingly contradictory modes: stark, stripped-down acoustics and conspicuously loud, hyper-compressed hard rock.
Defining Work: Rubin single-handedly returned Johnny Cash’s career to relevance in his later years with a series of bare-bones albums recorded partly in Rubin’s home; the most breathtaking fruit harvested from that nearly withered vine was Cash’s cracked, dusty take on Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” which Rubin gently convinced the Man in Black to record despite initial reservations.
Hidden Gem: For ZZ Top’s 2012 album La Futura, Rubin pulls off the trick of producing something loud and back-to-basics, coaxing ZZ Top into their smirking, sleazy sweet spot on gems like the crunchy, spry “Chartreuse.” — J. Lynch
20. Rob Cavallo
Associated Artists: Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Paramore
Signature Sound: A full-band attack loud, clean, resounding, and dramatic enough to fill your average arena, stadium or coliseum, and to make rock music still sound as big as rock music used to actually be.
Defining Work: Green Day’s American Idiot and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, two of just a handful of total 21st-century alternative LPs legitimately sized to prime Pink Floyd or The Who proportions in terms of sound, stakes, and commercial reception.
Hidden Gem: “Music Again,” the stomping glam-pop opener to Adam Lambert’s 2009 debut album For Your Entertainment, penned by Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins, which should’ve been as big a hit as anything the classic rock revivalist wrote for his original band. — A.U.
19. Dr. Dre
Associated Artists: Eminem, 50 Cent, Eve
Signature Sound: Beginning at the end of the 20th century, Dre moved on from the warm soul samples and piercing synths of his ’90s-defining G-Funk sound for a sound that was more clipped, more tense and more nocturnal, with minimalist staccato hooks and drums that suggested fewer hands in the air and more hands locked on the steering wheel.
Defining Work: 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” produced alongside fellow West Coast icon DJ Quick and longtime right hand man Mike Elizondo — which rode a bellowing faux-string hook that makes more use of the space in between notes than in its own simplistic melody, but still sounded mighty enough to feel like 50’s very own superhero theme music.
Hidden Gem: Dre didn’t get a lot of neo-soul work in, but he did contribute a highlight to Soulquarian singer-songwriter Bilal’s 1st Born Second debut with the strobe synths and bleating bass of “Fast Lane.” — A.U.
18. Greg Kurstin
Associated Artists: Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Sia
Signature Sound: Bombastic ballads, sing-along rock and guitar-forward pop, running the emotional gamut from a party girl’s cautionary tale (“Chandelier”) to a heartbroken pep talk (“Stronger”) — always with powerhouse pipes front and center.
Defining Work: He had us at “Hello.” OK, he had us a few years before that, but Adele’s 2015 blockbuster single was emotionally driven by Kurstin‘s ever-building production, on which he played almost every instrument and is solely credited.
Hidden Gem: With six singles released from Harry Styles’ Fine Line, it’s criminal that the jangly, island-ready “Sunflower, Vol. 6” wasn’t one of them. This seamless marriage of rock and pop shows off exactly what Kurstin has been doing best for everyone from Taylor Swift to Foster the People for the past decade-plus. — K.A.
Associated Artists: Charli XCX, Vince Staples, Let’s Eat Grandma
Signature Sound: Frenetic, scraping, metallic productions that made for electronic music as alien and uncomfortable as it was visceral and irresistible, giving 2010s pop a healthy dose of otherness and paving the way for the hyperpop movement at the turn of the ’20s.
Defining Work: QT’s “Hey QT,” a standard-setting co-production with fellow PC Music all-star A.G. Cook that folded bubblegum pop in on itself a couple times with brain-blasting synths, conspicuously pitched-up vocals and a chorus that could level the Chrysler building.
Hidden Gem: “9 (After Coachella),” in which SOPHIE’s alarm-clock percussion interrupts the dreamy post-fest haze of Cashmere Cat and Benny Blanco’s verses like the most back-to-reality hangover you’ve ever experienced. — A.U.
16. Swizz Beatz
Associated Artists: DMX, Beyoncé, The LOX
Signature Sound: Jagged synth hooks, massive treble, slapping drums, and more whistles than a Nets-Bucks playoff game, an attention-grabbing mix that’s kept Swizz a fixture in popular music from his radio days at the turn of the century up to his reinvention as a Verzuz co-curator this decade.
Defining Work: “Party Up (Up in Here),” the 2000 smash that gave DMX the biggest Hot 100 hit of his lifetime with a beat that detonated instantly on impact — sending shrapnel of horn-like synths, ticking drums, and those gleefully tasteless whistles hurtling in every possible direction.
Hidden Gem: “Ass on the Floor,” from Diddy’s Dirty Money collective’s 2011 album Last Train to Paris, a chart flop but reliable club killer for its Major Lazer-sampling beat, glacial synths, and shoutalong hook — provided by Swizz himself — “Them haters can’t tell you NOTHIN’!” — A.U.
15. Lil Jon
Associated Acts: Usher, Pitbull, Petey Pablo
Signature Sound: Crunk, a party-ready strain of Southern rap that Lil Jon rode to the top of the charts in the mid-2000s with the East Side Boyz — but his real skill as a producer was translating the aesthetic across the pop spectrum in a way that didn’t sound forced or jammed-in, whether it was for David Banner or Britney Spears.
Defining Work: “Yeah!,” Usher’s enormous 2004 single, in which hip-hop, pop, R&B and crunk collided into one immaculate dance floor filler in which Ludacris correctly points out that “Lil Jon got the beat that make your booty go *SNAP*”.
Hidden Gem: Snoop Dogg’s 2004 album R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece is best known for hits like “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Signs,” but “Step Yo Game Up,” a deep cut featuring Lil Jon and Trina, is pure, exuberant crunk that deserved just as much shine. — J. Lynch
14. Jay Joyce
Associated Artists: Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, Miranda Lambert
Signature Sound: Joyce is a chameleon who brings out the best in every artist he works with by bringing a fearless inventiveness that allows him to create a studio out of a restaurant, as he did for Eric Church’s Heart & Soul, or tackle new sonic and lyrical terrain on Little Big Town’s career-defining “Girl Crush.”
Defining Work: Eric Church’s third album, Chief, catapulted Church’s career with Joyce’s rock-edged production on the swampy “Creepin’,” the anthemic “Drink in My Hand” and nostalgic “Springsteen,” but it’s the bold confidence that Joyce brings to each track that sets the album apart.
Hidden Gem: “Martha Divine.” From it’s military rat-a-tat opening to its propulsive guitar-driven beat that never stops, this creepy, yet funny, murder ballad from Ashley McBryde is a non-stop roller coaster ride that can’t help but invoke a smile — despite the subject matter. — M.N.
13. Mark Ronson
Associated Artists: Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Bruno Mars
Signature Sound: Brassy soul and cracking hip-hop drums, with a little bit of ‘60s girl group flair.
Defining Work: Technically the Bruno Mars-fronted “Uptown Funk!,” with its 14-week run atop the Hot 100 and its permanent slot in a lifetime of wedding-DJ playlists — but really, could it be anything other than his instantly iconic, soul-stirring work with the late Amy Winehouse on Back to Black?
Hidden Gem: Nikka Costa’s 2001 funk jam “Everybody Got Their Something,” one of his earliest productions — and a spare, low-key trial run of his retro fixations. — N.F.
Signature Sound: With samples culled from crate-digging through deep cuts from South America, Africa and the Caribbean, rendered into textural productions occupying a space between playful, raunchy and often boundary pushing, Diplo has helmed dozens of hits across multiple genres over the past two decades. (In the past year, Diplo has been accused in lawsuits of the dissemination of “revenge porn” by one plaintiff and sexual misconduct by another — he has refuted both claims, and in the latter case, the woman has withdrawn her lawsuit.)
Defining Work: M.I.A’s “Paper Planes,” in which Diplo layered up a sample of The Clash’s 1982 anthem “Straight to Hell” with shuffling beats, the sound of gunshots and one perfectly placed cash register “cha-ching!” and used the indelibly hyphy amalgamation to thrust M.I.A., and himself, into mainstream consciousness.
Hidden Gem: Pabllo Vittar’s 2017 single “Então Vai,” on which the Brazilian drag queen (whom Diplo kisses in the song’s video) sings over a breezy, beachy production rendered from guitar and flute that expands joyfully with the addition of a horn section. It would have been right at home on the last Major Lazer album. — K.B.
Associated Acts: YG, Roddy Ricch, Ella Mai
Signature Sound: One of the most instantly identifiable producers of 21st century hip-hop, Mustard loves to open a track with a minimalist, descending bass line before deploying 808 kicks, background chants and chiming melodic counterpoints.
Hidden Gem: The rumbling synths and Exorcist-adjacent xylophone riff Mustard lent to Tyga’s “Pop It” should’ve turned more heads back in 2011. — J. Lynch
Associated Artists: Bad Bunny, J Balvin, Wisin & Yandel
Signature Sound: The ever-experimental Tainy has become Latin music’s top producer today by blending old-school reggaetón beats with contemporary, mainstream elements from trap, pop and even rock, from Neptunes-inspired harmonies to Timbaland percussion.
Defining Work: Cardi B, J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s bilingual version of “I Like It’ topped the Hot 100 by staying true to its boogaloo roots while exploding into contemporary rap and trap, and made Tainy a crossover hitmaker to watch.
Hidden Gem: Wisin & Yandel’s “Pam Pam,” an early Tainy hit from 2006, sampled the Lambada theme to become a precursor for a fusion sound. — L.C.
9. Jack Antonoff
Signature Sound: Antonoff’s skill has less to do with technique than trust as a collaborator: since forging his own path post-Fun., he has helped superstars solve the puzzle of the next phase of their careers, earning critical and commercial acclaim for both sonic change-ups (like Taylor Swift’s pivots, first to pop, and then to alt-folk) and fine-tuned visions (like Lorde’s post-“Royals” maturation).
Defining Work: Although other projects included bigger radio hits, Lana Del Rey’s 2019 LP Norman F–king Rockwell may endure as Antonoff’s biggest production accomplishment, a distillation of the pop artist’s strengths as a songwriting and vocalist that earned her the best reviews, and first major Grammy hoopla, of her career.
Hidden Gem: “Julianna Calm Down,” from The Chicks’ underrated 2020 studio return Gaslighter, carries an affecting message that’s highlighted by Antonoff’s unobtrusive production, flecked with viola, violin, banjo and organ. — J. Lipshutz
8. Noah “40” Shebib
Associated Acts: Drake, Lil Wayne, PartyNextDoor
Signature Sound: In 2009, 40 became an architect for the “underwater sound” he mastered on Drake’s magnum opus So Far Gone. The project’s first three songs (“Lust For Life,” “Houstatlantavegas,” and “Successful”) were a gateway for countless producers and rappers to experiment in hopes of achieving the Drake Effect on their respective projects.
Defining Work: So Far Gone was 40’s stepping-stone, and in 2011, he bloomed into a perennial producer when he masterminded Drake’s sophomore jewel Take Care. His signature sound was on steroids, as tracks such as “Over My Dead Body,” “Marvin’s Room,” and “Crew Love” deftly straddled the lines of hip-hop and R&B.
Hidden Gem: 40 added a big, lovely gold star on his Hall of Fame resume when he whipped up Beyoncé’s “Mine” in 2013. He went Scorsese mode and scored an ethereal gem powered by Bey’s relationship strife and Drizzy’s guest appearance. — C.L.
7. Just Blaze
Associated Artists: Cam’ron, Jay-Z, Freeway
Signature Sound: Pitched-up vocal samples with sweeping strings, roaring horns and crashing drums, setting the standard for magisterial hip-hop for the past 20 years.
Defining Work: The racing beats, rising synths and quivering vocal sample of the epic “What We Do,” triangulating the street-hustle rhymes of Freeway, Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel into Roc-a-Fella’s very own “Across 110th Street.”
Hidden Gem: Young Gunz’s instant party-starter “Friday Night” missed the Hot 100, but remains a weekend classic — and instituted its producer as something of a modern-day Grandmaster Flash with its “Superrrappin”-updating hook: “It wasn’t long ‘fore everybody knew/ JUST BLAZE was on the beatbox!” — A.U.
6. Kanye West
Associated Artists: Jay-Z, Common, Pusha T
Signature Sound: For most of the ’00s, West made pitched-up soul samples over knocking beats one of the default sounds of popular music — then he embraced Auto-Tune at decade’s end, got really into soundscapes that split the difference between ’90s industrial and Chicago drill, and never looked back.
Defining Work: A pair of classics produced for Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Takeover,” more or less plot the paths for West’s respective next two decades — the former, a triumphant celebration over a joyous Jackson 5 sample, the latter, a growling missive launched from a menacing, drunken Doors lift.
Hidden Gem: As the final West-produced G.O.O.D. Music release from his infamous Wyoming period of 2018, R&B singer-songwriter Teyana Taylor’s blissed-out mini-LP KTSE had a messy rollout and an underwhelming chart showing, but was arguably the most refined and complete of the seven-track sets — and the most rewarding to return to. — A.U.
5. Mike Will Made-It
Associated Acts: Future, Rae Sremmurd, Miley Cyrus
Signature Sound: Just like his glitched-out producer tag, Mike Will Made-It loves twisting the familiar into something far weirder and more rewarding. With muffled vocal loops, vaguely robotic synths and knocking beats that shake you like a mildly menacing 5.0 on the Richter scale, the ATL super-producer has helmed everything from club-rattling hip-hop to bedroom R&B to thumping pop anthems since his early ’10s breakthrough.
Defining Work: A decade after Gucci Mane helped him get his foot in the industry’s door, Mike Will took Gucci to the top on Rae Sremmurd’s Hot 100 No. 1 smash “Black Beatles,” which beautifully paired Sremmurd’s off-kilter melodicism with Mike Will‘s affinity for vaguely menacing, oddball production flourishes that subtly but surely lodge into your brain.
Hidden Gem: “Drinks on Us” — an all-star collab boasting Future, The Weeknd and Swae Lee — is a zonked-out, skittering jam that conjures up that post-midnight moment when you should probably go home, but order another round instead. — J. Lynch
4. The-Dream & Tricky Stewart
Associated Artists: Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Beyoncé
Signature Sound: If there were any walls still separating pop and R&B in the late ’00s, you wouldn’t have found them in The-Dream and Tricky Stewart’s chart-conquering jams, which fused the two genres at an atomic level with zooming keys, gentle-but-insistent percussion, expansive soundscapes and the era’s most lethal toplines.
Defining Work: “Umbrella,” which might’ve swiped its opening drum loop from a GarageBand preset, but whose slamming beat, synth showers and bass bombs were gigantic-sounding enough to cement Rihanna’s presence as an emergent A-list superstar — basically before she even came on the track.
Hidden Gem: Mariah Carey’s “Up Out My Face,” whose single version featuring Nicki Minaj somehow just barely scraped the Hot 100 at No. 100, but whose playful piano bounce and clapping beat provided the perfect backdrop for the eventual Idol frenemies to find common ground in dismissing trifling exes-to-be. — A.U.
Associated Artists: Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake
Signature Sound: Fourth-dimension funk, with rattling drums, squelching bass, unrecognizable and disembodied vocal hooks that somehow all added up to productions whose obvious, vanguard-setting futurism didn’t keep them from being properly appreciated as radio and club smashes in their own time.
Defining Work: Miss E… So Addictive, his and musical soulmate Missy Elliott’s all-time full-length masterpiece, and a collection that’s spent 20 years sounding wildly ahead of not only its own time, but whatever time you happen to be currently listening in.
Hidden Gem: Timbaland helmed Petey Pablo’s most obvious classic in 2001’s “Raise Up,” but he also gifted him with 2005’s even wilder “Get on Dis Motorcycle,” an almost unconscionably cacophonous banger featuring Bubba Sparxxx that still connects on a chest-punching level. — A.U.
2. Pharrell Williams / The Neptunes
Associated Artists: The Clipse, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg
Signature Sound: Liquid guitars, clanging percussion, and the most intoxicating synth tones you’ve ever heard — usually kicked off with a four-stab count-off, and often punctuated with a keyboard sound like a dying firework — which played as big a part as anything in hip-hop taking complete control of popular music in the ’00s.
Defining Work: Take your pick between Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and The Clipse’s “Grindin’,” two unassailable 2002 classics that showed off Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo’s staggering simultaneous aptitude for pop-conquering maximalism and streets-locking minimalism, respectively.
Hidden Gem: Slim Thug and Bun B’s “I Ain’t Heard of That,” an addictive shuffle built around its layered percussion, with no more synth whooshes than absolutely necessary — a signature beat for 99% of hip-hop producers, but just one more MTV2 classic to throw on the pile for the mid-’00s Neptunes. — A.U.
1. Max Martin
Associated Acts: Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd
Signature Sound: Pop — the hooks we crave, the choruses we want to belt out, from the stars that have defined the mainstream over the past two decades. The Swedish producer born Karl Sandberg helped mold the teenybopper explosion at the turn of the century and then never let up, giving us hit after hit through different permutations of popular music, leading the way for all of popular music with zero end in sight. (Case in point: 20 years after *NSYNC performed a Max Martin song at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2001, The Weeknd highlighted his own Super Bowl showcase with a smattering of Martin-helmed hits.)
Defining Work: Taylor Swift’s 1989, one of the biggest albums of the 2010s, convincingly finishing the job that Martin had started with Swift on the Red singles “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” — turning a country superstar into the biggest pop artist on the planet. With three Hot 100 No. 1 singles (all co-produced by Martin) and an album of the year Grammy, 1989 was a monumental achievement for all achieved, and highlighted Martin’s run of dominance.
Hidden Gem: “Release You,” Megan and Liz’s 2013 post-breakup anthem that should have been the YouTube duo’s crossover hit. Even Martin sometimes misses the charts… but as a fist-raising shot of pop, this was no miss. — J. Lipshutz
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