In a divided world of weekly Diaspora Wars, Manosphere podcasts (aka misogynistic men who scrounged up just enough funds to purchase a microphone but not enough to get a half-decent line-up), a book or a therapist appointment, Divine Femininity channels and The Shade Room ‘thoughts’, nothing unites the African diaspora like music.
Whether it’s Reggae, Dancehall and Soca from our people over in the Caribbean, Afrobeats and Alté from the continent, Drill and UK Garage from my blokes or R&B, Soul and Hip-Hop from the States, the diaspora’s global influence on music creation and consumption is undeniable and everlasting.
Unfortunately, following the same fate as many diasporic innovations like Fulani braids falsely credited as ‘Bo Derek Braids’ or Elvis Presley being treacherously crowned the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ when he jacked most of his swag from hardworking and underappreciated black artists like Big Mama Thornton and Little Richard, these styles have been stolen and mercilessly misappropriated.
Sadly, another thing that unites the diaspora is our shared history of being stolen from. Whether it is through the atrocity of Chattel Slavery, colonialisation, police brutality, segregation or other barriers that try to keep us from spinning gold out of this hard life, it is no wonder why we have to guard the gates of what’s ours.
Enter the Producer tag.
What is a Producer tag?
A producer tag is an integral element of many songs, especially in R&B and Hip-Hop affairs. The producer of the song will insert a short sound (typically at the beginning) meant to familiarize the listener with who is responsible for the production. It also makes mapping out a producer’s oeuvre easier as their audio watermark is featured on the tracks they handle. Lucas Garrison of DJBooth wrote: “When you send out a beat, you have little to no control over what happens to it. Someone could very well use it without giving you credit, or even worse, claim it as their own. One way producers can prevent this from happening is through a drop. Adding a catchy little snippet at the beginning is like a watermark, it ensures everyone knows who the beat belongs to.”
It experienced a massive rise in the late 2000s and early 2010s with the newfound prominence of the trap subgenre of Hip-Hop.
A producer tag usually includes someone saying a short, memorable phrase announcing their presence on the track; an example of this might be Young Chop’s (Chief Keef) producer tag ‘Young Chop on the beat’. Another example is Lil Ju who is most known for his acclaimed work with the rapper and activist Megan Thee Stallion. ‘And if the beat live, you know Lil Ju made it’. Alternatively, it can be a notable audio idiosyncrasy like Pharrell Williams’ (SWV, Jay-Z, Pitbull, Britney Spears, Beyoncé and others) signature ‘four count start’.
Due to the trailblazing work of Black Americans, the art of forming producer tags has extended outside of the African diaspora with Murda Beatz ‘Murda on the beat, so it’s not nice’, DJ Khaled ‘We The Best Music!’ and more.
The History of the Producer tag
Producer tags originated in the 1990s, emerging naturally at the intersection of Hip-Hop music’s growing mainstream appeal and the common practice of rappers loudly announcing their names over the instrumentals, which was known as ad-libbing.
They were initially used as a form of protection against somebody stealing the beat; the musical equivalent of an artist signing their art.
Out of necessity grew a culture with producer tags eventually evolving into brands and slogans. They help leave a positive impression on the listener both consciously and subconsciously. Furthermore, as we are in the Streaming Age and people are finding music less through radio and physical purchases and more through playlists and online searches on platforms such as Apple and Spotify, producer tags make it easier for potential fans to find work from their favourite hitmakers.
Are Producer tags gendered?
Noticeably absent from this conversation are female producers. And that’s not because women haven’t made significant contributions to urban productions. Quite the contrary. Just like with the Civil Rights Movements of the past and present, black women are the backbone, heart, soul and sprinkle of R&B and Hip-Hop.
There are many reasons for this like the lack of female role models in STEM fields as well as the bias and ostracisation many women face in male-dominated workplaces, even after shattering their fraction of the glass ceiling.
In 2017, music producer Drew Dixon alleged that record executive and Def Jams Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons violently raped her in 1995, breaking a difficult 22 years of silence. Sadly, her story is not an isolated incident but indicative of the violence women face for daring to tuck in their seat at the table.
There is still hope with acts like Missy Elliot who has worked with everyone from legends like Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, TLC, Aaliyah and Whitney Houston to rising stars like Chlöe, FLO and Anitta. Her and others are inspiring generations of young black girls to get in the driver’s seat of their own artistry.
What’s your tag?
The concept of putting your distinctive magic on the work you do is not unique to the field of music production. Whether you’re a writer, dancer, scientist, teacher, athlete or anything in between, it is important you bring You everywhere you go. This can be as simple as vowing to be honest with yourself and others. And if that manifests in a striking catchphrase… then so be it.
So now tell me... what's your tag?