The Produce Section | 13 top Trackmasters hits that will forever be dope
Let’s celebrate Trackmasters’ illustrious career and highlight 13 of their most iconic beats.
Revolt TV presents “The Produce Section,” a column where we put the spotlight on the men and women behind the beats we love so much and their contributions to the culture as a whole. From profiling and interviewing the hottest producers of today, to acknowledging the greatest producers of all-time and delving deep into their discographies, “The Produce Section” is the hub where beats, rhymes and life connect.
Producers have long been the backbone of rap music, providing emcees and rappers alike with the sonic backdrops over which they bare their souls and share their stories. Rap artists may get much of the fanfare and are front and center. However, without the producer toiling away behind the scenes and crafting the instrumentals, the lyrics would be reduced to spoken word and hip hop would be nonexistent as we know it.
With the passage of time, the producer has become more ubiquitous than ever, as the most successful boardsmen rivaling many of the artists they work with in terms of visibility and popularity. However, in many cases, the producer fails to get their just due or recognition for the vital role they play in helping keeping hip hop alive.
With over nearly three decades in hip hop under their belts, the Trackmasters are widely recognized as arguably the greatest production duo of their generation. Comprised of New York City natives Poke (Jean-Claude Olivier) and Tone (Samuel Barnes), the duo separated themselves from the pack with their ability to create hits for R&B and rap artists alike. This made them one of the more indispensable figures in the 90s, a decade that ushered in hip hop soul. Working separately on occasion, the Trackmasters’ were ubiquitous during their prime, as their name is mentioned for creating the hottest rap records from some of the greatest artists of all time. These accomplishments cemented them as living legends and put them on the Mt. Rushmore of producers from the 90s.
While the Trackmasters aren’t as active on the production tip as they once were during their heyday, their reputation continues to precede them, enabling Poke and Tone to remain relevant long after their biggest hits reached the upper echelon of the charts.
In our latest installment of “The Produce Section,” we celebrate Trackmasters’ illustrious career and highlight 13 of their most iconic beats that define their excellence behind the boards.
1. “Ill Street Blues”
Trackmasters’ first classic composition can be traced back to 1992. At this time, the duo scored the backdrop to “Ill Street Blues,” Kool G Rap’s single from him and DJ Polo’s third and final studio album, Live and Let Die. They reworked multiple elements from Joe Williams and The Jazz Orchestra’s 1966 cut “Get Out of My Life.” By doing so, Tone and Poke crafted the backdrop for what is arguably regarded as Kool G Rap’s definitive song.
2. “Be Happy”
Trackmasters member Poke helped entrench the duo in the world of R&B with his production credit on “Be Happy,” the lead single to Mary J. Blige’s acclaimed sophomore album, My Life — which many deem as the singer’s magnum opus. In addition to giving Curtis Mayfield’s 1979 “You’re So Good to Me” song a facelift on “Be Happy,” Poke also does work with riffs from Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” utilizing each to create one of the timeless selections that have come to define hip hop soul.
Having the bragging right of producing one of the greatest rappers of all time’s breakout hit and signature signal under your belt is a major coupe. But, Poke earned this with his work on “Juicy,” the lead single from The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album, Ready to Die. Adding Trackmaasters’ signature sheen to a sample of Mtume’s classic 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit (Fruity Instrumental Mix),” Poke — along with Puff — created one of the most recognizable beats in rap history that will never be forgotten.
4. “Candy Rain”
In 1995, Trackmasters joined forces with Heavy D to produce “Candy Rain,” the hit single from Uptown Records’ teenage R&B quartet Soul for Real. Utilizing drums from A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory jam “Check the Rhime” and pairing it with live instrumentation, Tone and Poke turned in one of the hottest R&B jams of the mid 90s, a testament to the duo’s versatility and musicality.
5. “I Shot Ya”
In 1995, the Trackmasters made their ascension to the upper echelon of rap producers with their work on Mr. Smith, LL Cool J’s multi-platinum comeback album that reasserted the legend’s dominance on the charts. On “I Shot Ya,” the album’s hard-boiled posse cut, and its accompanying remix, piano keys and synths get lifted from Lyn Collins’ 1975 ballad “Put It On The Line.” By Tone and Poke pairing hard-hitting percussion, they comprised one of the more rugged selections in the duo’s catalog.
6. “Loungin (Remix)”
The year 1996 was the first in a succession of summers that saw records produced by the Trackmasters dominating the pop charts, “Loungin (Remix)” being among them. Built around an interpolation of R&B singer Bernard Wright’s 1985 hit “Who Do You Love,” “Loungin (Remix)” — and LL Cool J’s acknowledgement of the duo at the end of the song — made it clear that Trackmasters were the new wonder-kids when it came to servicing your favorite rapper with a surefire hit.
7. “The Message”
Trackmasters continued their streak of helping to revive the careers of Queens’ finest in 1996 when Tone and Poke went in the lab with Nas to create It Was Written, the lyrical messiah’s sophomore album, and the one that elevated him into the consciousness of die-hard and casual rap fans alike. While the album was bolstered to double-platinum status due in large part to seismic hits like the Lauryn Hill-assisted single, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” the album was rife with offerings that spoke to the streets, one of the more notable being “The Message.” It Was Written‘s flawless introductory salvo featured a prominent sample of Sting’s 1993 release “Shape of My Heart.”
Trackmasters work on Nas’ It Was Written album is credited for being more sleek and polished in comparison to the fare featured on Illmatic. However, the duo prove to be fully capable of entering that chamber with “Shootouts.” It’s littered with cryptic keys, synths and percussion, over which Nas turns in a spellbinding rhyme spill centered around crooked cops and retribution. The backdrop to “Shootouts” kicks off with a sample of “Theme From The Avengers.” It’s largely powered by sped-up riffs lifted from Al Green’s “I Wish You Were Here,” and stands as one of Tone and Poke’s more dreary, yet masterful compositions.
Known for their live instrumentation and flipping samples of popular records from yesteryear, Tone and Poke went an alternate route in 1998 with their work on “N.O.R.E.,” the title track to Noreaga’s solo debut. Powered by kicks, snares, synths and other elements; “N.O.R.E.” may have been a departure from Trackmasters’ signature sound. But, it proved equally effective because it helped establish Noreaga as a rising star and one of the streets’ favorite rhymers.
10. “Hate Me Now”
Legend has it that Foxy Brown’s brother, Gavin Marchand aka Pretty Boy, was responsible for unearthing the Trackmasters heat-rock that is “Hate Me Now,” Nas’ defiant single from his highly anticipated third studio album, I Am…. Reworking German composer Carl Orff’s legendary medieval poem “O Fortuna,” and pairing it with thunderous kicks, snares and other wrinkles; Tone and Poke lit the streets and radio on fire with “Hate Me Now.” It’s now a triumphant number that is as epic as anything production they’ve laid their hands on.
11. “Ghetto Qu’ran”
“Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye gets looted by Trackmasters in their creation of “Ghetto Qu’ran,” a song originally intended for 50 Cent’s shelved 2000 debut, Power of the Dollar. Aside from the song being controversial for its content detailing the lives and times of figures within New York City’s underworld, “Ghetto Qu’ran” has endured in part due to its soul searing composition. The track may be unsung in comparison to their string of hits. But, it deserves to be acknowledged as one of Tone and Poke’s best thus far.
12. “Best of Me (Remix)”
Trackmasters buttered their bread by creating smash records for rap’s elite during the latter half of the ’90s. But, after the turn of the millennium, Tone and Poke put the focus back on delivering bangers to the biggest stars in R&B. Among them was Mya, whom tapped the duo to produce the remix to her 2000 single “Best of Me.” Lifting samples from the Biz Markie classics “Make the Music With Your Mouth, Biz” and “Nobody Beats the Biz,” Trackmasters supplied Mya with a beat that would outshine the original and score Mya a summer-ready hit, while also inspiring one of the greatest guest verses of JAY-Z’s career. This was a win for all parties involved.
13. “Fiesta (Remix)”
After teaming up with JAY-Z on “Best of Me Pt. 2,” Trackmasters crossed paths with Hov once again in the following year when R. Kelly brought both parties together for the creation of his “Fiesta (Remix).” Putting the samples aside and relying strictly on live instrumentation, Tone and Poke craft a Latin-tinged soundscape that helped birth the Best of Both Worlds concept as we know it today.
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