106 posts categorized "BeatTips MusicStudy"

December 10, 2012

Flipping Samples Without Auto-Chop

Why I Prefer Manual Chopping, and Why an Over-Reliance on Auto-Chop Can Dictate a Limited Arrangement Path

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When is a short-cut just a “short-cut”, and when is it just a crutch? I find myself asking this question whenever I think of those beatmakers who believe that auto-chop has always been the primary way for chopping up samples. I also ask myself the auto-chop question whenever I see an online beatmaking video where someone works the auto-chop button, then arrogantly says that they "flipped" a sample. More importantly, I often wonder does process and tradition even matter to some beatmakers, or is it all just about speed? Workflow and final results aside, I still believe that much can be said for process and tradition.

Handcrafting a Japanese sword (dig it: I know beatmaking's not entirely parallel here, but stick with me on this analogy), or making a pair of quality Italian leather shoes. Sure, both the Japanese sword and the Italian leather shoes can be mass produced faster and much cheaper, and sometimes with similar results (or close enough). And even today, I’m certain that many of the traditional Japanese sword craftsmen and the hand-craft Italian shoemakers make some modern-day concessions in their creative processes. But whether it be materials used or a narrowing of the number of steps taken in the process, I doubt any of these concessions ever become a crutch to these artisans. This is because tradition and quality takes precedent over technology in their world. This does not mean that new technology is bad. On the contrary, technology serves at the disposal of the craftsman and his tradition. In other words, technology that helps the process and does not circumvent the role of the creative and experienced mind is good.

In the beatmaking tradition, core concepts of creativity echo and continue to permeate. Still, technology has naturally sped up the beatmaking processes for many beatmakers. And while I certainly believe that this is a good thing (generally speaking), I also believe that there’s one unfortunate side-effect: To some beatmakers, process is no longer a matter of tradition, but instead, it's a matter of speed and simply keeping up with an unsustainable pace of beat distribution.

Prior to auto-chop functionality, sample-based beatmakers relied on the predetermined chop schemes that were imagined in their mind. But for many beatmakers today, auto-chop serves as an artificial mind. And as artificial minds go, it’s worth mentioning that auto-chop does not come with any of the same kind of instinct or intuition exhibited before its advent. Instead of predetermined chop schemes imagined in the mind, many today are satisfied with utilizing the ridiculously long sampling times that modern samplers are equipped with to (1) simply sample larger portions of songs, (2) auto-chop them into 16-32 regions, and (3) come up with a chop and arrangement scheme based more on what auto-chop dictated to them than on their own predetermined chops. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this method (in fact, it can result in a dope beat), it’s worth noting that such a method requires all but no ear for music, i.e. diggin’ in the crates, and less skill or ingenuity on the part of the beatmaker.

I suspect that most beatmakers with developed ears don’t always use auto-chop like this. For those with developed ears, auto-chop is usually just a short-cut, not a crutch. Still, for others, I fear that auto-chop is increasingly becoming a sort of fools gold. Above, I mentioned that auto-chop often dictates the chop-schemes for some beatmakers. Here’s what I mean by this. Take a 4-bar phrase sample, auto-chopped into 16 regions on an Akai MPC. With the sample perfectly sliced up by auto-chop, you are presented with the sample as it's spread out over 16 drum pads. For many, the creativity begins and ends here, as randomly pressing and holding drum pads until something sounds like a possible arrangement becomes the process. Typically, this process doesn’t include the use of different sample-phrases from other source material or even the same record, as auto-chop dictates chopping schemes that utilize only what was thrown in the slicer—fast and neat. Incidentally, this process/method is one of the root causes for thousands of DJ Premier knock-off and sound-alike beats. But you won't find auto-chop functionality at the core of Premier’s process and method. On the contrary, his style and sound is more the product of a good ear and his unique manual chopping schemes and other individual tweaks and personalized nuances.

So this raises an important question: How does one distinguish the difference between random raps on MPC drum pads, and the predetermined arrangement pattern—a predetermined compositional vision—that usually accompanies a manual chopping skill-set?

In fact, I’m concerned that this auto-chop crutch “process” gives off the illusion that some great level of creativity or imagination is going on. And what happens next is a compound problem: On one hand, a false sense of skill, and on the other hand, an actual skills deficit. This is because when auto-chop is used as a crutch, it lowers the threshold of creativity, and things like understanding sounds, textures, and arrangements cease to be important for some, as auto-chop dictates all of the possibilities, and lulls one into believing that the random drum pad-punching of perfect sample slices will get the job done.

But none of this should surprise anyone. After all, technology has long raised questions about musicianship, musicality, creativity, and imagination. And now it would appear that technology is reshaping what it means to have “skills” in beatmaking, especially in the area of chopping. So where does the skill enter into the equation when it comes to using auto-chop? Is it the source material selection? Is it simply the process of setting the parameters of an automatic 16 to 32-piece/slice/chop—a feet previously only achieved through a beatmaker’s careful selection, good ear, and meticulous manual chopping? I’m not sure where skill begins or ends when this now go-to functionality is used, particularly in the manner I described above. But one thing’s for certain: Auto-chop, and it’s ability to make some beatmakers appear to be doing much more than they actually are, has become more than just a tool for evenly chopping up samples—for some it’s become their main path to creativity.

With the Flip of a Bass Line, You Can Make Something Dope
How I Turned a Snippet of “Don't Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey Into a New Song…Without Auto-Chop

I’d heard “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey plenty of times before. When I was a kid, my father used to play it a lot (along with Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder). He (we) had the album Hang Together (1980) on vinyl, what else, right? When I grew older, I doubled up on Hang Together after seeing a good condition vinyl copy of it for $12 bucks at one of the record conventions that used to be held at the Roosevelt Hotel, here in New York…In other words, my ears were familiar with this record, especially its textures and tones.

So when I came across “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” one day while rearranging my record shelves to make room for new records, I took it for a spin (no pun intended). Soon as I heard the intro, my ear told me what textures would go with it, and what drum sounds would best compliment the core groove and tempo I imagined in my mind. Again, it was my ear—and equally important my sound reference, which has been built up from years of diggin’ in the crates—that immediately told me what bass parts would fit with the bass tone and style of the “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” bass line. So I stopped the record, spun it back, and sampled it.

All together, I sampled about 5 seconds of the intro, then I increased the pitch of the snippet by a couple of steps. Next, I further chopped the snippet, then I duplicated the new sample into to two copies of the same sample. One copy (“copy 1”), I left as is; the other (“copy 2”), I fine tuned the pitch (pulled back the pitch just a bit), and faded out the end. I filtered both copies to bring out the sample, but with copy 2, the slightly slower pitched copy, I filtered the bass—beefed it up—even more. Then I layered the copy 2 over the top of copy 1 and ran them through the same channel on my mixing console. This is how I made a fatter sounding bass line that had a dragging feel to it.

Next, I went to work on the drums. Because I understood the source material, I knew what kind of drum framework would go well with it; a simple fK--fS fK fK--fS pattern was all I needed for the base drum pattern. (In chapter 5 of The BeatTips Manual, I cover drum patterns in great depth and detail.) And although the base pattern for this beat is pretty straightforward, there is some complexity, as I used a combination of three different hats and tambourines in a couple different syncopated patterns. The main hat—1/8 notes—is flanked by my custom ride-tambourine hybrid hat, which moves along on the 1/4 notes, making the drum framework shuffle. Then, during the hook (chorus) section, I added another tambourine (lighter sounding and truncated) as ghost notes. I should also mention that for the hook, I altered the base drum pattern, and used a fK---fS----fK-fS---fK---fS pattern.

For the change that leads up to the verse and doubles as the hook section, I used a bass line from a reggae record that I chopped and sped up. I filtered this bass line to match the tone and texture of the bass snippet that grew from the snippet of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her.” Clearly, auto-chop couldn’t have helped me here, as I used an entirely different record—from a different genre and period—to match with the style and sound that I was creating. Thus, the point that I want to make here is that it’s important to develop an ear for music and sounds, and blends and textures, and cuts and ruptures. You can’t always just play a record, sample it, then slice it up over 16 drum pads, then do some random playing around without at least some level of intuitive creativity. No! You’re much better off when you have a pretty good idea of how you want to cut the source material, and how you want to blend and match everything into one cohesive arrangement. This is why taking the time to really listen to music outside of hip hop/rap music is an important part of your development, whether you make sample-based beats or non-sample-based beats. But if sampling serves as the diesel of your compositional outlook, then my friend, listening to music outside of hip hop/rap music—regularly—is an absolute must!

Next, I added a sub-change to the primary change, using a bass sound-stab made from another piece/section of the “copy 1” sample that I used for the core groove. Listen at the 0:28-:29 mark. It’s subtle, but it serves the transition back to the core groove well.

Finally, the real test of the beat came when I wrote my lyrics to it and kicked my rhyme over it…

Bottom Line:
Your imagination is better than auto-chop functionality, so use auto-chop to your benefit when it can be helpful, but don’t rely on it as a crutch! Furthermore, developing your ear is critically important. And one of the best ways to do this is by listening to records, not just sampling them as you come across them. Finally, I have to point out that there’s no way that auto-chop could have helped me in the making of the beat below. For one, I was interested in the composite opening phrase itself of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her,” not micro-pieces of it. Also, if you notice, I cut one piece of the new sample and made it a stand alone sound stab that gets cut off every time the bass line plays. This chop and arrangement scheme (and other subtle cut-offs that were included in this beat) could have never been thought of had I simply auto-chopped the intro.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Odyssey - "Don't Tell Me, Tell Her"

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

October 05, 2012

BeatTips Presents The Imperial Beat Picks

3 Tracks that Beatmakers Should Listen To and Analyze

By DAVE WALKER (IMPERIAL)

It’s been said before that in order to make good music, you need to listen to good music. As a beatmaker, you always want to surround yourself with inspiration and be an active listener. Production analysis is a valuable tool, as it provides the answers to many of your questions, and inspiration for future projects. If you spot a production technique purely through listening, you are gaining a valuable insight into the producer’s world, which will enable you to hone your own skills.

The 3 tracks I have selected offer different lessons. Whilst there are many things that could be said from a production perspective on each of these tracks, I have picked out some key lessons from each track that I think are of value to all beatmakers.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Mr J Medeiros – "Pale Blue Dot 20syl Remix" ft. Shad (Pale Dot Blue EP)

If you haven’t heard of Mr J Medeiros, Shad or 20syl, do yourself a favor and check them out ASAP. Mr J has been a favourite emcee of mine for a little while now. He is one half of group The Procussions (Stro Elliot, the other half, mainly handles production duties). The good news for Pro’s fans is they are currently working on a new album that they hope to drop in early 2013. It’s powered by an indiegogo campaign, so support if you can. Both members of The Procussions have worked with 20syl (French producer/DJ/Emcee for Hocus Pocus and C2C) before and this remix shows off why he is worthy of all the plaudits he gets. 20syl combines sampled and non-sampled elements with ease. On the track presented below, notice how the sampled ‘chorus’ vocals harmonise with the sung vocals in the chorus and also carry their own hook. Through additional synth parts, filtering and drops in the drum pattern, the track keeps rolling and has a good dynamic ebb and flow. Also, peep how the arrangement is quite dense during the verses, but through good use of panning and EQ, no parts are competing for space in the mix.


Pep Love – "Hip Hop My Friend (Rigmarole)"

Pep Love has given us the one of the greatest Hip Hop tracks of 2012. The beat, the concept, and the production are flawless, and it encapsulate all that is good about hip hop and music in general. Produced by Scandal Beats, this track shows him to be a producer with an ear for a sample. Whatever your view on whether or not you should chop samples, re-arrange them, process them, detune them, etc., you have to admire how this track has been put together. The simplicity of the instrumental is a good reminder of the less is more philosophy in beatmaking. There can be a danger of over-complicating a beat and not leaving enough space for an emcee or even a hook. Too many chops can lead to a disjointed instrumental with no sense of groove or hook. Here, the drum programming works immaculately with the sample and the additional bassline is blended nicely with the sample. To achieve this, the slope of the high-pass filter applied to the sample is extremely important. A steep slope (36/48db per octave) will clean up the low end without affecting too much around the set cut-off point. Around 150Hz is a good starting point. Sometimes it pays to keep it simple.


Oddisee – "Let it Go (People Hear What They See)"

Anything Oddisee touches turns to gold! (Furthermore, the whole Mellow Music Group team are producing quality hip hop and are well worth following.) Oddisee, with a long list of production credits has already established himself as a heavyweight in the beatmaking arena. “Let It Go” is reminiscent of Isaacs Hayes’ 1971 theme tune for Shaft, as it builds from 16th note hi-hats and wah guitar, albeit at a slower tempo. Oddisee seamlessly combines samples with recorded instrumental parts, in fact, so much so, that it’s hard in places to pin point what is a sample and what is an original recording. The use of instrumentalists is something he has been focusing on recently in his production. He is both a beatmaker’s beatmaker and a traditional producer’s, producer. The inspiring lesson from Oddisee’s production is to break out of the bedroom with your MPC/Maschine/Logic/FLStudio and meet musicians who play physical instruments. Indeed, Oddisee reminds us of the importance of learning microphone technique—choice, position and placement; learning about acoustics and reflections; and learning about music theory. (The BeatTips Manual includes a great part on music theory.) Of course, all of this learning takes time, and it is not always practical or appropriate on every beat to add recorded musicians. However, writing music with other musicians will stretch and challenge you and you will be a more rounded producer for it.


Dave Walker (Imperial)
imperialbeats.co.uk

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

September 08, 2012

BeatTips Sample Flip Award: Eric “Vietnam” Sadler: Leaders of the New School – “Sobb Story”

Poly-Sample Sound Collage Laced with Agreeable Rhythms

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

James Brown’s album Black Caesar (the sound track to the motion picture Black Caesar) is a staple in many DJs and beatmakers record collections. (I have three copies of this album myself). And no matter how many times I listen to it (every once and a while, I take it for a straight-through spin), I always learn and hear something new. I suspect this has been the case for many beatmakers over the years, as the songs on this album have been sampled and flipped numerous times.

Now without mentioning the name of the actual song that was sampled (find the album and listen for the song), this BeatTips Sample Flip Award goes to veteran beatmaker (producer) and Bomb Squad (Public Enemy) alum Eric “Vietnam” Sadler for his beatwork on the Leaders of the New School song “Sobb Story.”

Sadler’s beat features the Bomb Squad’s signature poly-sample collage sound. There’s the ever-present break-beat running in the background , sound effects, ruptures, and cuts. And, of course, there’s the primary sample for which the beat is built around. True to the Bomb Squad’s signature, Sadler combines the primary sample and the backing break-beat in a way that has
two distinct rhythms merging as one. This is DJ style beat matching at its best—no software program correcting the tempo (“Sobb Story” was released in 1991) and stretching everything to fit neatly, just Sadler’s great sense of timing and a knack for blending or creating cross rhythms.

Leaders of the New School – “Sobb Story”

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

August 31, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Isaac Hayes' "Soulsville" Drives Home Feeling

A Reminder to Incorporate Feeling

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

"Soulsville," from the movie Shaft. That's my favorite Isaac Hayes joint. The scene in Shaft where this song plays is so appropriate. The images—which are certainly no Hollywood props, but instead, real glimpses of early 1970s impoverished Harlem—are heartbreaking and encouraging at the very same time. And what makes this montage rise and resonate is Hayes' "Soulsivlle."

"Soulsville," an incredibly poignant song, teeming with depth and force,
is one of the songs that has had the most effect on the ways in which I strive to underscore my music with feeling. The collective (often meticulous) processes of making beats can lead a beatmaker to create music that's audibly pleasing, yet devoid of feeling. And so to guard against this pitfall, I'm mindful of giving every beat that I make a "soul." In fact, I embrace the notion that every piece of music that I create is, in some way, an extension of me. Therefore, every sound that I craft and/or use, even down to the most truncated hi-hat, must fit within my own style and preferred audio composite. For when I do so, I know that I am indeed injecting soul and genuine feeling into my music.

The music video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Isaac Hayes - "Soulsville"

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

August 22, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

Early Funk From Obscure, Little-Known Band

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

One of the things that makes digging for "new" music so exhilarating and rewarding is the fact that you never know exactly what you're going to discover. Even if you're searching within a specific genre of music, the sheer number of recordings that may exist is staggering. And when it comes to funk music—particularly early funk, ca. 1965-1974—, the recorded output of music runs deep. A fact that's further made even more impressive when you consider the number obscure and lesser-known early funk bands who made only a few recordings during that time.

Bobby Boyd Congress certainly fits the category of "obscure" and "lesser-known" funk bands. To my knowledge, the only recording of the band is a 1970 self-titled album that they recorded in France. (You ever notice how France has always maintained a deep reference for quality American music, especially musics in the black American music tradition?) Still, I'm convinced that Bobby Boyd Congress, a quintessential New York funk band, made more recordings in or around New York City at the same time. Therefore, I believe (I gotta believe!) that somebody somewhere has something else of this superb funk outfit. And as long as I'm "diggin'," I won't give up trying to find it.

Finally, I'm compelled to mention that several months ago, a music professor (someone whom I hold in great regard) asked me about the relationship between the drum patterns of modern beatmaking and that of those of the early funk music typified here by Bobby Boyd Congress. Specifically, he believed that the relationship was less apparent in beatmaking in the early 1990s. I strongly disagreed. As I pointed out to him (and in my book, The BeatTips Manual, I show the link in greater historical detail), it was precisely the drum patterns of funk songs like Bobby Boyd Congress's "Dig Deep In Your Soul" that pioneering beatmakers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock drew their inspiration from.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

March 31, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Johnny Pate's "Bucktown" and the Drum Lessons of Soul, Funk, and Disco

To Understand Key Elements of the Drums in Soul, Funk, and Disco, It's Important to Be Familiar with those Music Forms

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

While many beatmakers might be aware of the connection between soul, funk, and disco to hip hop/rap music, it's not always so clear to see, or better yet to hear, exactly how soul/funk set the foundation for hip hop/rap music and beatmaking. Well, within the overall rhythmic influences of these musics, lies the most glaring connection: the drums.

Below I've included Johnny Pate's "Bucktown (Main Theme)," a song from the 1975 action ("blaxpoitation") flick Bucktown. I chose this song because it straddles soul, funk, and disco all at once; a sound that, in 1975, sat as a unique mix of the three forms right before the complete onslaught of disco. For our purposes here, with this song what you want to focus your attention on is the drum framework; you can hear the drums best between the 0:17 - 0:49 marks. Notice what it sounds like? If it were just the drums, wouldn't most describe it as a hip hop/rap drum beat? And therein lies the point...

Which brings me to this: I receive a number of emails and private messages in The BeatTips Community (TBC) from people concerned about making their drums "funky", "funkier", or "more soulful". Invariably, I always ask, "Well, are you listening to any funk or soul?" In every case that I've replied back with this question, the answer reply has always been the same..."No." Further, in every case, the answer have also included this, "I want my drums to sound like..." DJ Premier, Pete Rock, J Dilla...and so on.

Imagine wanting to talk (sound) like a supreme court justice or a successful corporate lawyer without ever studying jurisprudence (law theory, philosophy, etc.). Although the art of beatmaking and making music in general is altogether a different practice and culture, I find it just as ludicrous to want to make "funky" or "soulful" drums without ever studying or listening to funk or soul music.

When someone says that they want to make drums that sound like some of beatmaking's most notable pioneers, I get it. For many, it's just a reference point for the style and sound that they like; it's the zone in which they'd like to work from. Understandable. But what's usually lost in this oft-repeated statement is the fact that all of beatmaking's notable pioneers studied and listened to funk, soul, and disco. Though each pioneer ultimately emerged with their own unique style and sound (of course, they are all collectively representative of the same fundamental understanding), they did not arrive without clear guides from funk, soul, and disco drum arrangements.

But beatmaking pioneers notwithstanding, it's misleading to believe that one can understand how to inject soul music's influence into their beats, or make something funkier, or add a disco backbeat, while being completely unfamiliar with soul, funk, or disco. (How can one know to include key elements and stylings of musics that they've never listened to before?) Such a prospect is so fundamentally flawed that it can produce a false sense of musical understanding— something that can certainly disrupt the development of any beatmaker.

And while some beatmakers can perhaps clone a DJ Premier or Pete Rock drum pattern, this type of mimicry does not serve as a substitute for the original thing! For one, obviously mimicked styles stand as clear and unabashed cheap knock-offs of someone else, just mere shells of ideas without the essence or subtle nuances of the original creators. But worse, this form of mimicry mostly exists devoid of the caliber of knowledge, understanding, and general music appreciation that produced the original benchmarks.

This is why I believe that it's important that beatmakers not lose a sense of the fundamental connection that hip hop/rap music and the art of beatmaking has with the soul, funk, and disco music forms, especially when it comes to the drums in hip hop/rap music. With a strong sense of this connection, your production repertoire—no matter how varied, whether you're sample-based or not—will always retain its link to hip hop/rap's foundational elements. But without a sense of this connection, your production repertoire runs the risk of losing this crucial link.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

March 24, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles are "Inspired" to Be Dope

As DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles Prepare to Release their Heavily Anticipated Album Kolexxxion, Here's a Closer Look at One of their Recent Gems

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Feeling, more than anything else, is what draws me into a piece of music. Beats and lyrics can do many things, but if they don't have feeling, they're missing something crucial. Over the years, there's only been about a handful of beatsmiths and rhymers that consistently offer feeling in their music. Among those, DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles (AKA Freddie Foxxx) have always stood at the head of the class. And by all indications of their pre-album EP and pre-drops of songs from their album Kolexxxion (due for release this upcoming Monday, March 26th), Kolexxxion will not only be smoldering with feeling, it's poised to be one of the strongest releases in recent years.

In honor of the forthcoming release of Kolexxxion, I wanted to do a MusicStudy of one of the pre-album EP (Stoodiotyme) cuts, "Inspired By Fire". After the MusicStudy, I've also included the Bumpy Knuckes f. Nas "Turn up the Mic" DJ Premier remix that was just leaked.
Here's the MusicStudy...

DJ Premier is at his best with these type of beats. Here, as he's done so well in the past, he captures the urgency that’s embedded in street-level rap music. Working from a formula of converting beauty to gritty back to beauty, he masterfully takes a beautiful string passage and converts its harmonic, sonically warm quality into a rhythmic chamber that echoes sinisterly every time it repeats. Keep in mind, no two beatmakers loop sounds the exact same way; listen closely to how the main sampled phrase lands with the start of the drum measure. That looping style and sense of timing is a staple of all of Preem's beats.

And with such a complete composite execution of the arrangement of the samples (and cut-offs), you almost miss the raw perfectness of the mellow bass EQ on the samples, and, of course, the drums. The drums feature a hi-hat in sprinkling mode, almost like it’s chiming in back and forth. And the snare sounds like a rock rain dropping on a glass surface. Please understand: You can not emulate this sound with quantizing or some other plug-in or similar effect or some one-size-fit all stock sound; this sound is customized and part of Premier’s whole style, rhythm, repertoire, and sound.

The next thing that struck me about "Inspired by Fire" was the swing of the beat. The Swing on this joint is severe, it moves along with a shuffle and pull feel. Each time the snare lands, it draws you in even more. This is especially worth pointing out because Premier doesn't rely on any special quantize effects or the like for the sense of swing that all of his beats contain. Premier's sense of timing and, subsequently, swing, comes from his training and understanding as a DJ—mixing, blending, cutting records together, etc. (In The BeatTips Manual, I extensively discuss how DJ'ing fostered the art of beatmaking.)

Incidentally, this is just one reason that I always champion the DJ and the legacy of the art of DJ'ing. A background in DJ'ing gives a beatmaker, particularly a sample-based beatmaker, a tremendous advantage in every area of the art of beatmaking. But even if you have no experience as a DJ, you can still improve your timing by closely listening to records with multiple rhythms like early funk, soul, British ska, etc. Either way, keep in mind that an over reliance on timing correction and similar effects will make your music sound quite mechanical and forced, less natural and devoid of a strong sense of swing.

As for the rhyme on "Inspired by Fire"...
Here's what you get with every Bumpy Knuckles rhyme: Straight talk and skill. Bumpy's wordplay is never obscure, he always aims to be understood. Sure, it's "stick-up-kid-smooth", but it's never hallow machismo. Every line is a sure-shot piece of who he really is. That's the refreshing thing about any verse that Bumpy spits.

Furthermore, Bumpy's rhymes are always non-pretentious; and he's not concerned with punchlines for punchlines sake. He doesn't try to represent anything he doesn't have a solid, real-life understanding of. Plus, Bumpy rolls through each verse, never looking backwards or gawking at the power of the previous line. Instead, he treats each line as a reference to his life and hard-earn career status. He’s been there before, and like any professional knows, with every solid achievement, you act like you been there before—no need for overstatements... Again, this is another refreshing quality about a Bumpy Knuckles rhyme. And this especially important now, a time where many contemporary rappers pause and stare at their own punch lines...

Finally, there's the flow. It's actually a well-skilled, clever mish-mash of mutiple flows and wordplay, tempered with a late ‘80s survivor's confidence and Bumpy’s own unique method of suspending the speed of his delivery. And we're not just talking street smart but broad intelligence:
“…pen a career like Dunbar/one bar, grown man tone/nobody does it alone/”
Trust your ability to not trust/But should never fall victim to not trustin'/...
That's a Jewel.

—Sa'id

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles - "Inspired By Fire"


Bumpy Knuckles feat. Nas - "Turn Up the Mic" (DJ Premier Remix), from the DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles album Kolexxxion

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

January 27, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Elvis Helped Me Become a Better Beatmaker

Homage to Black American Music Tradition: Part of the Secret to Elvis' Success

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

For the better part of the last 15 years, I've encountered people who either adore Elvis or hate him. This has always struck me as an odd scheme of understanding. I mean, how and why can one individual cause so much polarization? Of course, you never hear anyone say (publicly at least) that they hate The Beatles. And at last count, Michael Jackson's album, Thriller, still seems to draw favorable consensus. So what is it about Elvis that causes such disdain, especially among purveyors of hip hop/rap music?

Maybe it's because Chuck D declared him a racist two decades ago; remember the Public Enemy song "Fight the Power," where he Chuck D rhymes: "Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me you see Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain..." Or perhaps the disdain for Elvis by some in hip hop/rap stems from the misperception of Elvis as some sort of "culture vulture," who stole his sound from black American musicians in the Mississippi Delta. Wrong! That's a bogus argument even on the face of it. Less one forgets (or doesn't know), Elvis is from the Mississippi Delta. Therefore, he has as much a native claim to any and all musical developments that occurred there as anyone else who was born and raised in the region. Moreover, it's been widely reported that the teenage Elvis spent considerable amounts of time taking in the blues scene of Memphis' Beale Street. Add to that the fact that he grew up listening to the regional radio stations like Memphis' WDIA, the nation's first radio station to feature an all-black format and on-air staff (1949). (Stations like WDIA played what was then known as "race records.") So by all serious accounts, it's rather obvious what Elvis' early musical influences were: blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, and rockabilly—all components of the Black American music tradition. Moreover, these early musical influences from the Black American Music Tradition were largely a part of Elvis' success.

Thus, when hip hop/rap aficionados (or any other groups) reject Elvis, they are actually rejecting a musical icon who earned his stripes through the serious study of the musical tradition that laid the foundation for all American popular music in the twentieth century. Moreover, those who reject Elvis's musical validity, also, in effect, turn their backs on the musical scholarship that he provides. For less we forget: Every musical artist is a gateway to others...and the more critically acclaimed the artist is, the more enriched the gateway is.

By listening to and studying Elvis, I was prompted to listen to and study Big Joe Turner, the iconic bluesman who helped create the template for rock and roll (rock n' roll). Perhaps I would have studied Big Joe Turner even if I didn't take a more serious look at Elvis. But listening to Elvis' earlier work prompted me to A/B his style with Big Joe Turner. MusicStudy of this nature has been and is incredibly important to understanding of all music, not just hip hop/rap music.

Certainly Elvis doesn't need any marketing help; you don't get much higher than him in the scheme of American pop culture. And there's certainly not doubt that his career benefited tremendously from the fact that he was white; many of the Black artists that influenced him could never access the platform that he was afforded. But Elvis, who I at one time refused to listen to (for whatever reasons), does represent the complexity and beauty of how music traditions and cultures can, at times, transcend negative racial attitudes. But all of this aside, 'What can his music teach or do for me,' I once asked myself. Well, it taught me a lot and it did more for me than I could have imagined. Ironically, or perhaps not, through an honest study of Elvis, I discovered Sister Rosetta Tharpe; became more interested in Big Joe Turner and B.B. King; and I meticulously traced the business roots of rock n' roll.

Bottom line:
If you're going to contribute to any music tradition or culture, if you're going to go after a career in music, the more musical understanding that you can draw from, the more enriched your music will be, and, subsequently, the better your chances at having a career in music.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Elvis Presley - "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (Elvis' first televised appearance.)
Note. "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was originally recorded by the bluesman, Big Joe Turner.


Big Joe Turner - "Shake, Rattle and Roll"
The original recording of "Shake, Rattle and Roll."


Elvis Presley - "Heartbreak Hotel"
The song below is unmistakably blues.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe - "Didn't Rain"
Sister Rosetta Tharpe had a seminal influence on Elvis.


Elvis Presley - "A Little Less Conversation"
Although it's from Elvis' later catalog, it's my favorite Elvis recording. If you know Mack Davis (singer-songwriter), you can hear him in the lyrics. Also, peep the drumwork at the intro of the song!


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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

December 19, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Led Zeppelin's Approach to the Blues; A Lesson for Beatmakers

Committing to a Music Tradition On Its Own Terms—from Its Foundation, Perspective, and Sensibility

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Considering the approaches that some new beatmakers are increasingly taking to hip hop/rap music and beatmaking, specifically, the approach to beatmaking through the guise of other music traditions, I can't help but be reminded of the brilliance and genius of Led Zeppelin. Instead of trying to change the blues to fit rock 'n' roll, Led Zeppelin used the blues as their core musical influence to formulate their own sound—a sound that helped to usher in a new dimension in rock 'n' roll in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In Led Zeppelin's musical example, I find a good lesson for beatmakers, particularly those who attempt to interpret hip hop/rap music and beatmaking not from its own perspective and on its own foundation but from the perspective and foundation of other music traditions.

A fellow musician and music history enthusiast once said to me that the "brilliance of Led Zeppelin was due to their firm understanding and grasp of rock 'n' roll." My reply was (and still is) this: Sure, Led Zeppelin had a great grasp of rock 'n' roll, but in my view, their brilliance (and genius) was, above all, due to their embrace of, and commitment to, the Black American blues music tradition. What made Led Zeppelin's music so distinguishable was, in great part, each members' affection and admiration for, and deference to, the blues. Musically speaking, the members of Led Zeppelin were less interested in early 1960s rock; they were more into 1940s and 50s blues and the aesthetic preferences that it carried with it. Led Zeppelin's unique sound was the result of their approach to playing—fundamentally—the blues; rock 'n' roll was a secondary aesthetic for them. Indeed, early on they did not draw their core ideas from rock 'n' roll; instead, they drew heavily from the blues—
it was the core musical influence and inspiration for their first couple of albums, especially Led Zeppelin I.

Since Led Zeppelin’s arrival in 1968, there have no doubt been other rock bands who have drawn from the blues (The Rolling Stones also drew from the blues, at least in their beginning). But in a lot of those cases, those bands approached the blues through the perspective and prism of rock 'n' roll rather than through the perspective, prism, and sensibility of the blues. Here, Led Zeppelin stands out again, because their approach proceeded from the foundation of the blues outward. That is to say, they approached the blues from its own tradition rather than trying to interpret it through the guise of another tradition, a common mistake some beatmakers make by trying to look at hip hop/rap music and the art of beatmaking through the lens of other music forms and traditions rather than first coming to terms with hip hop/rap music's and beatmaking's own perspective and sensibility.

Bottom Line

Despite a musician's ultimate musical goals, if he or she is intent on effectively using elements of a particular music tradition—in this case, the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions—then, clearly, one should go about learning at least the fundamental elements and aesthetic priorities of that tradition. They should not settle for, or attempt to create, misguided interpretations of the tradition's fundamentals—misinterpretations, I should add, that are based on perspectives outside of the tradition they purport to use.

Finally, there's one more thing that seems appropriate to be mentioned here, it's about sampling and non-sampling. Thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with either sample-based or non-sample-based beats; both styles are well-represented and supported within the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. However, it must be noted that beatmakers who dismiss the art of sampling as a second-rate, non-creative process also disrespect the foundation of the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. Further, such dismissals discount the inherent value of MusicStudy that sampling offers. In fact, for many, groups like Led Zeppelin (and the music gateway that they provide) would be missed, if it were not for the curiosity in new music that sampling processes—like diggin' in the crates—provokes.

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Check out Led Zeppelin's commitment to the blues tradition. Their use of repetition and delta blues-inspired rhythm and lyrics would become paramount factors in their ultra successful and influential music career. Enjoy this rare footage of a stripped down Zeppelin in rare form.

Led Zeppelin - "I Can't Quit You Baby"

Led Zeppelin -"Whole Lotta Love"

Led Zeppelin - "Dazed and Confused;" Lost Performances [early performance, ca. 1969]

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

October 11, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

Early Funk From Obscure, Little-Known Band

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

One of the things that makes digging for "new" music so exhilarating and rewarding is the fact that you never know exactly what you're going to discover. Even if you're searching within a specific genre of music, the sheer number of recordings that may exist is staggering. And when it comes to funk music—particularly early funk, ca. 1965-1974—, the recorded output of music runs deep. A fact that's further made even more impressive when you consider the number obscure and lesser-known early funk bands who made only a few recordings during that time.

Bobby Boyd Congress certainly fits the category of "obscure" and "lesser-known" funk bands. To my knowledge, the only recording of the band is a 1970 self-titled album that they recorded in France. (You ever notice how France has always maintained a deep reference for quality American music, especially musics in the black American music tradition?) Still, I'm convinced that Bobby Boyd Congress, a quintessential New York funk band, made more recordings in or around New York City at the same time. Therefore, I believe (I gotta believe!) that somebody somewhere has something else of this superb funk outfit. And as long as I'm "diggin'," I won't give up trying to find it.

Finally, I'm compelled to mention that several months ago, a music professor (someone whom I hold in great regard) asked me about the relationship between the drum patterns of modern beatmaking and that of those of the early funk music typified here by Bobby Boyd Congress. Specifically, he believed that the relationship was less apparent in beatmaking in the early 1990s. I strongly disagreed. As I pointed out to him (and in my book, The BeatTips Manual, I show the link in greater historical detail), it was precisely the drum patterns of funk songs like Bobby Boyd Congress's "Dig Deep In Your Soul" that pioneering beatmakers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock drew their inspiration from.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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  • Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law


    "Sampling is piracy."
    WRONG! Piracy describes the wholesale, verbatim copying and distribution of copyrighted works. That is not sampling; that's something entirely different.
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