« September 2014 | Main | November 2014 »

9 posts from October 2014

October 28, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time

A Top Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose


NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, you can jump down to the rankings and click on the corresponding name for a helpful breakdown of each beatmaker.

Whenever lists of this sort appear, they’re generally presented with little or no serious discussion about the list beforehand. Perhaps that’s fine for pure entertainment purposes. But for readers to get the best learning experience from a review list of this kind, I believe there are a number of things that readers should know up front. Thus, I’d like to offer an important disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list and the criteria used to determine which beatmakers were added to it.

The Nature of this List

The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is one of the first sub-projects of the BeatTips Art of Beatmaking Education Project (ABEP) that I recently started. The fundamental purpose of the BeatTips ABEP is to help preserve, promote, and expand the beatmaking tradition of hip hop/rap music through a series of specialized projects. In this way, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is meant to serve as a discussion, MusicStudy, and general research portal.

Next, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time purposely omits the word “producer”, and here’s why. In the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, the term “producer” is often synonymously used to describe a beatmaker. But as I point out in my book The BeatTips Manual, this is not always appropriate particularly because the definition of “producer” can be murky: “Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. And although this description broadly covers every dimension of hip hop/rap music, the term hip hop production is used most commonly to refer to the making of the hip hop/rap instrumental — the beat. So technically speaking, a beatmaker, one who makes beats, is a hip hop producer; ergo, a beatmaker is a producer.” But “producer” is a loose term that can be used to describe anyone within the process of the final sound of a recording. Simply put, a beatmaker is someone who actually makes beats. A beatmaker can indeed be a producer; in fact, most double as both. (Further, being a beatmaker is not in anyway less noble than being a producer!) However, and this is a critical point, a producer need not be a beatmaker. Hip hop/rap music is littered with people who have “producer” credits, even though they never actually made (or assisted in the making of) any beats. Thus, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time List only includes beatmakers. Of course, each beatmaker on this list has also rightfully earned the title of producer.

There are four other important things to know about the nature of The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. First, the purpose of this list is to educate. Hopefully, new beatmakers will be introduced more appropriately to some prominent beatmakers that they’ve only heard about in passing. And beatmaking veterans will be reminded of just how far the beatmaking tradition has come. In either case, I’d like this list to prompt some serious exploration and reflection from readers. Preserving and expanding hip hop/rap’s beatmaking tradition requires historical examination, present-day review, future speculation, and, at times, constructive (helpful) debate.

Second, this isn't a list to appease anyone that I know personally. I can count a number of beatmakers as friends; and I’ve interviewed many well-known and lesser-known (but quite acclaimed) beatmakers. That aside, I’ve made no effort to show favoritism in the making of this list. My objectivity — and naturally subjectivity — in the making of this list was based on the catalog of work of each beatmaker that I seriously considered.

Third, this is not a list intended to be safe, so as to not offend anyone. Top lists of any kind tend to offend one group or another, so I'm all right with that. And certainly, a top 100 list would have given me enough coverage to include everybody’s favorite. Even a top 50 would have allowed more room for adding all of what many would consider to be the obvious names. Still, a top 30 list presents a challenge, especially when you consider beatmaking’s classic past and its mixed present. I’m not interested in gathering up an easy list of names. Instead, I want readers to seriously think, perhaps even broaden their own thoughts about how, why, and where they rank their favorite beatmakers.

Fourth, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time is not a "hottest in the game right now" list. I deeply respect longevity, particularly because it requires talent, drive, integrity, and hustle. I'm less interested on shining a light on just this moment in time. In fact, I believe all-time lists offer a better learning (and discovery) experience for readers. This is especially important for new beatmakers who are often less familiar with the names and critical works of earlier times.

The Criteria

When making the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list there were many different things that I considered, far too many to mention here. But there are eight main criteria that I used in making this list:

(1) Body of work. Without the work speaking for itself, there could be no serious consideration of any beatmaker who made this list. And while I did not deem it necessary that each beatmaker on the list had a massive catalog, the sheer number of beats (recognized and respected songs) of certain beatmakers could not be ignored. Therefore, a larger body of acclaimed work was appropriately given more preference. Also, special attention was paid to how many songs a beatmaker had within the cannon of hip hop/rap music, as well as whether or not a beatmaker contributed to the career of another pivotal hip hop/rap artist’s career. I should further add that the body of work that I've considered here is hip hop/rap only! Whether a beatmaker could or did produce music outside of the hip hop/rap genre had no bearing on where I ranked them with respect to hip hop/rap music. If I were ranking all-time horror film directors, it would be silly to include the comedic works of those directors as consideration in where they should be ranked. Likewise, neo-soul, drum-n-bass, dub step, etc. has no influence on a hip hop/rap ranking.

(2) Critical acclaim for a clearly distinguishable and/or signature sound. Preference was given (as I believe it should have been), to those beatmakers who either established their own well-recognized signature sound or contributed considerably to one or more of the eight distinct periods of beatmaking (In The BeatTips Manual, I examine and detail all eight periods).

(3) Minimum of at least three critically acclaimed (not just top sellers) songs, albums, collaborative works, etc. within the last 30 years. Part of being a standout in any art medium is recognition within the field. Sometimes this means big hits, other times it means well-respected songs that most skilled beatmakers know of or appreciate for what they are. And note: this particular criteria reflects the reality that some of the best in any given field are overlooked for various reasons. However, this does not diminish their work. Moreover, history is loaded with artists who didn’t get their proper appreciation until late in or well after their careers.

(4) The number of lyrically acclaimed rappers — in their prime — who rapped over their beats, and/or the subsequent “classic” songs created over the last 30 years. This is of particular importance for two reasons. First, it serves as proof as a particular beatmaker’s automatic place in the canon of hip hop/rap music. Second, it demonstrates the popularity and respect of a beatmaker among the best rhymers of their and other times.

(5) Real, not misperceived, impact and influence on other top beatmakers
of all time. Everybody has to be influenced by someone. But who influenced most of the beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list? Not surprisingly, many influenced each other.

(6) Real, not misperceived, overall impact (or likely impact) on the beatmaking tradition. In other words, what was their recognizable impact on the beatmaking tradition itself? For instance, what developments, styles, techniques, ideas, etc. did they contribute to the beatmaking tradition?

(7) Longevity. How long was a beatmaker able to maintain his career. For various reasons, some beatmaker’s careers were cut short, while others have continued to blossom since they first began. Thus, longevity wasn’t measured in a sheer number of years, but in terms of body of work within the frame of time a beatmaker made his name. Think of it this way: Jimi Hendrix’s entire body of work is just four years…

(8) Projected influence and impact on future beatmakers. Of course, this is speculation at best. No one can predict the future. Still, we can recognize the lasting contributions made to the beatmaking tradition by certain beatmakers.

One final note about this list: It’s not static. That is to say, the beatmaking tradition is constantly expanding, therefore, this list will necessarily need to be adjusted to account for new production output by beatmakers, as well as new research by myself. Thus, each new year, in September, a new BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list will be generated.

(Homage to DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa — the grandfathers of modern beatmaking.)

#30 • Statik Selektah

#29 • Dame Grease

#28 • True Master

#27 • Bink

#26 • The Beatnuts

#25 • DJ Khalil

#24 • Havoc (of Mobb Deep)

#23 • Rick Rubin

#22 • 9th Wonder

#21 • Alchemist

#20 • Buckwild

#19 • Madlib

#18 • Nottz

#17 • Prince Paul

#16 • DJ Paul and Juicy J

#15 • Kev Brown

#14 • Showbiz

#13 • DJ Tomp

#12 • Just Blaze

#11 • The Neptunes

#10 • Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest)

#9 • J Dilla

#8 • The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Keith Shocklee, Chuck D)

#7 • Kanye West

#6 • Dr. Dre

#5 • Large Professor

#4 • Pete Rock

#3 • RZA

#2 • Marley Marl

#1 • DJ Premier

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 24, 2014

Nottz - “Shine So Brite,” An Illumination of Beatmaking's Impenetrable Force Field

Song Punctuates Beatmaking's Ability to Suspend Hip Hop/Rap Music in Time


Here's a simple truth: Within the beatmaking tradition (of the broader hip hop/rap music tradition), the more beatmakers who make beats, the more fluid the notions become about what constitutes a dope beat. But hip hop/rap music, perhaps more than any other twentieth-century American popular music form, has the incredible power to reuse, retool, reconceptualize, and recontextualize the very fundamentals that gave rise to its existence. Because of beatmaking, hip hop/rap music's chief compositional process, hip hop/rap is one of the only popular Western music forms that can rotate in new generations of music makers who feature sounds that authentically span any of its pivotal styles and eras.

This means that any serious student of the beatmaking tradition can reproduce any one moment in hip hop/rap's history (particularly its most soulful moments), in the exact style, sound, sonic template, feel, mood, and texture. Thus, for all intents and purposes, hip hop/rap music has an impenetrable force field. One in the form of a legion of beatmakers (now and in the future) whose commitment to hip hop/rap's core musical processes, protects (in effect) against its own demise.

By perpetually reusing and recalibrating beatmaking's most unique processes and methods, in the finest, dare I say truest manner, these beatmakers ascend towards the graces, and sometimes ranks, of beatmaking's most important architects and pioneers. To be certain, these beatmakers that I speak of (both masters and novices) may not always get the recognition from the mainstream — or even the underground — that they deserve. However, all of these beatmakers embrace and enjoy their personal role in helping to preserve the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. This is why I've always appreciated Nottz and the music that he makes.

Nottz Makes Timeless Hip Hop/Rap Music

It is from the basis of this context that I was compelled to breakdown Nottz' song, "Shine So Brite." Nottz, who's music is by and large both a fine example of and homage to the soulful "boom bap" sound of the hip hop/rap music tradition, is acutely tuned in to the essence of using recorded music in his creative process. And his mastery of the art of sampling (as well as the art of arrangement) is on full display in his song "Shine So Brite."

From the first note, "Shine So Brite" aims to intimidate. The "1" drops, and over the aggressive, mid-pitched guitar sample is a fist-full-of kick that makes the "twang" of guitar strum spring forward like a countdown to a nefarious missile launch. In fact, this is why "Shine So Brite" bounces so hard: the punch of the primary sample phrase lands on the "1," "2," "3," and "4." Over the top of the kick is a truncated crash-cymbal that stalks the full measure, stabbing, in lock step with the chromatic pattern of the primary sample phrase, at the quarter points of each bar.

As for changes, the organ parts that Nottz works in are absolutely stone cold! Eerie and deadly serious, the organ phrases skip over the core rhythm, sounding like Jimmy Smith in a 1960s Harlem rib shack. Then there's the sampled vocal harmonizing, a spiritual musing that directly reinforces the soulful casing and arrangement of the beat. Finally, the "scratch-hook," a fundamental mainstay of hip hop/rap music, is used here in conjunction with Nottz' rapping of a refrain, which is itself doubled-up with a high-pitched vocal rendering of the same refrain. And to round out the hook section, Nottz goes with a very light (barely audible) melody synth line that glides and fades in and out almost without notice.

With "Shine So Brite," Nottz is not taking hip hop/rap "back" to a glory time any less or more than he is helping to take it forward. This is the beauty and real genius of what Nottz is doing with "Shine So Bright." He's tapping directly into the energy and essence of one of beatmaking's (hip hop'/rap's) most notable schools of sounds, staying within its fundamental parameters, and giving it a fresh and entirely respectful interpolation. The result: A timeless sound that engages on its own merits and terms — a sound that both old and new beatmakers can enjoy, study, and appreciate alike.

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

Nottz – “Shine So Bright”

Nottz – “Shine So Bright” (Official music video)

Nottz "Shine So Brite" from Raw Koncept on Vimeo.

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 21, 2014

John King and the Story of Chung King Studios

Pioneering Recording Studio and Its Owner Helped Give Hip Hop/Rap Music New Dimension


John King, Founder/Owner of Chung King Studios (Photo by Amir Said, Copyright © 2007, 2014 Amir Said)

Chung King Studios is quite possibly the most important commercial recording studio in rap’s history. Indeed, before D&D or Unique, or any other top flight New York City recording facility, it was the Mighty Chung King that mostly paved the way for rap music's commercial studio potential. Yet today, very little has been written about the Chung King story and the man behind it. So to help preserve the significance Chung King, of one hip hop'/rap's flagship commercial recording spots, I interviewed its creator, John King, and wrote a piece about it. Check this out...

It's 1979. Sugar Hill Records owner, Sylvia Robinson, records a make-shift trio of unknown rappers she dubs, the Sugar Hill Gang. The song they recorded in that afternoon studio session was “Rapper’s Delight,” a song that would go on to become the first mainstream hit record—and the second commercially recorded rap song (by mere months)—in hip hop/rap music history.

Meanwhile, in that very same year, musician/engineer, John King starts his own label, Secret Society Records. Within a short time, King morphs his label into Chung King House of Metal (later simply Chung King Studios), an upstart recording studio in New York City’s Chinatown.

If Sylvia Robinson’s fateful Sugar Hill Gang recording session opened the door for hip hop/rap music, then what took place early on inside of Chung King Studios, specifically, the collaboration that took place between John King, Steve Ett, and Def Jam records, blew the door off. And if Sylvia Robinson gets the credit for first realizing the commercial viability hip hop-rap music, then perhaps John King should get the credit for first realizing rap’s commercial recording studio potential.

In the beginning, John King’s tiny, cramped, one-room conclave was a mainstay for local rock and punk acts. But after he hooked up with Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, the brainstorms behind Def Jam Records, everything changed. Affectionately dubbed the “Chung King House of Metal” by Rubin (a nod to the old Chinese restaurant that stood below the Secret Society Records headquarters, King officially changed the name of his company in 1986), the graffiti-walled high-energy spot was the de facto musical home for Def Jam Records in its humble beginnings.

In the 1980s, Chung King Studios was where artists like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC cooked up the sounds that would propel rap music and hip hop culture on to the main stage of America, in a way that was aggressive and overpowering, not to mention lucrative for the studio’s founder. Thus, by the mid 90s, the demands of success and the need for expansion prompted King to relocate his establishment from its Chinatown digs to its present day location on Varick Street in New York’s chic-hip Soho neighborhood. Building off of it’s pioneering position as hip hop/rap’s music first powerful commercial recording studio, in the 90s, Chung King quickly became one of the most (if not the most) sought after recording studios for both the elite and rawest street artists of hip hop/rap music.

Gold Room, Chung King Studios (Photo by Amir Said, Copyright © 2007, 2014 Amir Said)

More than a decade later, Chung King Stands as one of New York City’s most infamous recording studios. The multimillion dollar facility, which boasts no less than five state of the art rooms, is one of the world’s premiere recording facilities. And the spot still remains as one of hip hop/rap music’s most celebrated recording homes.

But even with the Manhattan space of a large scale corporate law firm, the eclectic clientele list of industry darlings and burgeoning indies, and a technology arsenal that of a mini NASA, the heart beat of the original small, cramped space still echoes throughout the new spot. And there’s no one more responsible for that then the studio’s creator and owner, John King.

Genius and music have always been linked together. But what’s unique about the eclectic genius of John King is the fact that it comes coupled with a forward-thinking cultural sensitivity. From the beginning, King had an affinity for good music. In the mid 1980s, the major record labels’ wholesale stance on rap music (and hip hop culture in general) was dismissive and disrespectful, to say the least. But king, a musician and entrepreneur who championed indie fervor as well as quality music, found rap to be fresh and magnetic, sincere and powerful. In fact, he saw at that time what the majors could not, would not see: That hip hop/rap was a musical and cultural revolution that would never be turned back.

As with most geniuses, there is a non-stop motor of energy. John King is no different in this regard. When we got together to discuss everything from the history of Chung King Studios to the future of the global music industry, he was buzzing with excitement over future endeavors and his recent leveraging of New York’s collapsed music scene. Candid and swift with his words and thoughts, King’s excitement was pure and reassuring. And I found his understanding of the
early blue print of beatmaking to be exceptional. Below is the first part of our discussion. (Editor's note: To date, my interview of John King is one of my most rewarding.)

John King: I was there when the first LL record was made… I was working with a group of people the other day, and they were like, ‘hey, John, where do you think it’s going?’ And I said, ‘it’s going everywhere it’s ever been.’ It’s going to hip hop. It’s going to have some rock in it. It’s gonna have some funk music in it. It’s gonna have some reggae in it.

BeatTips: Yeah, the initial eclectic mix that hip hop has always been.
John King: The thing is… it’s also songs. Straight hip hop… I went back to listen to Raising Hell [Run-DMC] the other day, cuz I worked on that record like everyday, you know, for like 5 months.

BeatTips: As a producer or engineer?
John King: I was just owner of the studio at that point in time, but I was the one in there like, ‘come on, let’s turn up the bass drum… let’s use this sound; let’s use that sound.’ Rick Rubin was working with Steve (Ett) and I on the beats and doing this and putting together the ideas and everything else. And at that point in time I was kind of an engineer/ producer.

So I was getting the sound. The reason that we did it in the first place is because I wanted a more heavy bottomed beat on top of rap music. Rap at that point was an 808, boom tish boom, boom… I was just somewhat determined. When I started doing what I was doing, basically chasing away all the music… cuz New York City is… you know, now, it’s just all about money, now, I mean, damn! What happened to New York? I don’t wanna move to another place just to have a studio. I spent 7, 8 years of my life building this joint… I built this place by hand, myself.

BeatTips: Talk to me about the time before you started your record label, Secret Society Records.
John King: You know what it is, I had a studio in my bedroom when I was 8 years old. I had a Roberts Crossfield tape recorder. And I was like overdubbing and making sounds… I’d skip school and go see Jimmy Hendrix at Manny’s [Manny’s Music Store], cuz I knew they were coming to do a record signing, so I’d skip school and come in and see ‘em. I saw the English invasion and the whole Motown thing when I was a kid, and I never wanted to do anything else, but fly jets.

BeatTips: What about your parents, did you come from a musical background?
John King: My father was a musician in Nashville when he was a kid. And I was always in the basement creating projects, when everybody else was doing their homework, I was out building big projects. So my father, he was a great man, he looked at me and said, “John, I don’t think you’re going to be a school kid. You’re working at like five times the speed of all the other kids. You’re creating things, I don’t even know what they are.” Every time the car didn’t work I’d be like, “Dad, let me take a look at it.” Then he try it and it would turn over and he be like, “Get out of here. He’s 9!” I mean I just loved stuff. I loved cars, I loved electronics. I had the whole house wired so my t.v. would shut off if my parents came down the hallway. I’d be watching T.V. with these little headphones, and I’m supposed to be asleep because it’s a school night, right. And so they walked down the hallway and this relay would click and it would turn off my T.V., then I’d pretend like I was asleep. I mean I was going to the junk bucket and finding parts and things, and building stuff. And I got bored with that. Right now, technical is not as exciting to me as it use to be when I was younger. Now, I like being a full blown John Hammond/Barry Gordy. That’s what’s going to make me proud of my life, when I finally reach that point, where I’m doing lots of different kinds of music, and I’m allowing new artists to flourish. That’s the part that’s going to make me proud… You know there’s really two kinds of artists right now: really successful and nobody else. That’s not right. That’s not right! I wanna undo the undo, and put it back the way it was back when I was a kid.

BeatTips: What was going on in your life in those years leading up to ’79, when you first opened up your studio?
John King: Those were the early days of the thing. That was like the inception of all this stuff. It was exciting, it was new. It was a different sound because it was a different sound!

BeatTips: But did you have that vision… Did you know what you wanted to do? Like around that time, and even before in the early 80s, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do with your record company, as it morphed into what it was: Chung King?
John King: Yeah, I pretty much always had a forward vision. Now, what I’m doing is going to a full blown record label. I’m going full blown Chung King Records. I’m going to do a multiple of things. It’s going to be at tiered level. See what happened was, all these record companies got to a point where only certain artists could be put out. I want to put out the rest of the artists. You don’t have to spend a million dollars on artists to do what they’re doing. You know, it’s crazy, the Temptations wouldn’t get signed today! It takes a Barry Gordy… Give me the songs, give me the performers, give me this, give me that, give me a lot of different stuff going on, and let me put out a lot of different stuff. Throw things against the wall and see what sticks.

You know, you gotta give people a chance. Cuz the thing is that… you know, New York City is not doing a good job of keeping the arts here. It’s so expensive to be here. It’s ridiculous. The landlords are a pain in the ass. Nobody will let… Nobody says this shit but there’s a certain amount of, I call it “music prejudicism”, going on with the landlords in New York City. They don’t want studios anywhere near them. I like the music world. And unless I plan on moving to LA and being an LA music person, I’m sticking with New York. I’m sticking with what we did originally. I’m kind of going back to the roots.

BeatTips: How did the relationship with Def Jam and Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons come about?
John King: It was actually Russell [Simmons] and I. It wasn’t Rick Rubin so much. Russell and I got together on the stuff early on, and I was working it for him for the right price. You know, Russell’s a good promoter. He knew when somebody knew what they were doing, for the right price. Price was important, we didn’t have a lot of money back then. And then Sony came along and then everything just blew from there… I don’t even remember much from those years… We were that busy. It’s not that I was drunk or high, I was just busy. I was fun… the thing is if you’re really good at what you do, you don’t notice it, cuz you’re busy doing it. You know like somebody says, "Did you go to the party last night?" And I’m like, "What party?" I don’t know… I was busy…

BeatTips: Even though nowadays you can do everything at home, what is it about the mystique of a studio of Chung King's stature…
John King: It’s also… there’s certain things that you do at homes… It’s the same thing as having a home office. You find yourself staring at the refrigerator. You know, you turn the T.V. on and stuff. I mean, it’s a different thing. When you’re in a studio like this, it’s not just the equipment. It’s just this, it’s not just that… but you do notice a difference when you’re dealing with high-tech equipment. When you got real high-tech professionals working the equipment. When there is no noise; when you need a certain sound. And the keyboard’s 25 feet away from you and you can bring it in. There’s a certain magic. And with a lot of the new artists that are doing stuff, just because they’re new doesn’t mean they’re not sharp, you know. All these guys that are top-notch, you know like, Timbaland, they were new artists at one point in time… You gotta give ‘em a chance, you gotta bring ‘em up. You can’t have the same artists… America’s famous for having the same artists for 50 years. And that’s bullshit! And what’s happened now is it’s gotten worse. Because there’s only like two or three little funnels that people are feeding through.

BeatTips: Speak to me about this: how did you approach attracting both rockers and rappers at the same time.
John King: The thing is…the truth of the matter is, you know, first we took a track off of a rock album. I just took the drum beat and Steve Ett and I put it all around the room on mic stands, and put clips, you know, and it was just tape (2” tape). There was a Studer machine in one end of the room, and we had the tape wrapped all the way around the room, so we had about a 30 second loop. And we looped the thing, then we played to it. [Editor's note: What John King describes here is clearly an early form of sampling!]

BeatTips: This was live drum hits?
John King: Then we put some cymbals, and then I got my DMX drum machine… I mean I was the drummer… This was back when Heavy D’s first record; this was back when you know The Beastie Boys, you know, License To ILL… boomp – pap-bb-boomp boomp… That was those two fingers [pointing to his fingers].

BeatTips: Give me a grand picture of the studio back then, describe the size.
John King: It was smaller, it was simpler, it was a single room facility over on Centre Street. It was a little more private. There wasn’t a front desk or anything. It was just me and… Well, there wasn’t any staff. It was me and then I had an assistant… Back then, we didn’t even have assistants. It was me, then I had another engineer working with me.

BeatTips: So when did you make the move from the old spot to what we know now?
John King: Well, we worked that spot for a long time. And then uh, 14 years ago, we moved in here.

BeatTips: You were mainly responsible for most of the acoustic design right?
John King: Oh, I designed and built every stitch of it.

BeatTips: What in particular made Chung so suitable for hip hop/rap?
John King: It’s not just suitable for hip hop. It’s suitable for everything. But the thing about it is that you have to be able to… first of all, you have to be able to accommodate a lot of people in the control room, that’s one big thing. All of the control rooms were a lot smaller. There’s more people on hip hop sessions. And because there’s more people involved there’s more people grooving to it. And it’s more of a groove oriented thing. Therefore, you got your “thermometers” all over the room. You know when it’s working. And like this room (Gold room) was built for me. And then once I finished it, I never got in it again because it was booked solid for 7 years.

And 9/11 really got in the way of the music business. It was just… I mean the major labels were crunching… Everybody was crunching after that. I worked my ass off, and I did real estate deals to keep this place open. Otherwise I would’ve been open. Cuz… I don’t know if you remember the business back then, but you know, all of your clients were $400 cash clients, some dudes on the corner, you know...

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 16, 2014

BeatTips Inside the Beat: Creating an Arrangement to Fit an Idea

Using Your Composite Idea as a Guide to Capture the Essence and Feel You Envision


Eight years ago, my father died. He was the first person to introduce me to music... Because of his interest in "hi-fidelity" stereo systems, premium speakers, and recording equipment in general, I suppose you could say he was also the first person to introduce me to audio recording. But his love for music and audio equipment aside, he's also responsible for producing some, let's say, rather turbulent times when I was a kid. So while working on a new beat one day, I was playing back some of those times in my head, and it helped me to come up with a composite idea for beat.

I like to use the term composite idea to refer to the complete picture, i.e. the framework or blueprint that I get in my head for a beat/song. It's like a photographic snapshot that I both see and hear. Perhaps you could say that it's a little more than intuition. But for me it's a special moment in my creative process. So I like to dignify that moment by giving it a name.

For the song "I Remember My Dad," included below for study, the composite idea that I had was for a beat with some sort of overall challenging pitch/tempo scheme. Something that could audibly parallel the real shifts in happiness, anger, and disappointment that my father provoked when I was a kid. And, because above all, he really was a kind-hearted, no-nonsense sort of man, I wanted the framework of the beat to convey this conflict while honoring him as much as I could. I wanted a sound that not only expressed his tragedy, but a sound that also authentically reflected both the good and bad of those times, and how they filtered through to help shape who I am today.

With this in mind, I immediately thought about sampling some strings. So I went through a couple of albums that I have with female jazz vocalists. (Incidentally, there are some terrific string arrangements to be found with female jazz vocalists.) Among the records I listened to, I didn't find anything that quite fit my composite idea. But by listening to those records, I did get a clearer picture of it. And now with a sharper focus, I stuck with the female vocalist theme, and shifted my diggin' search from jazz to soul, where I found exactly what I needed to begin the foundation of my composite idea.

There was this really uplifting choir & harps section on this one record. By itself, it was light. But I knew that after I sampled it, I could add weight, i.e. bass, boom, dirt, etc., as well as some "color" to it. This way I could make it sound haunting and robust. Of course, part of boosting it up came before I even sampled it, when I adjusted the EQs on my mixing board, where I have my DJ mixer routed to before it hits the inputs of any of my samplers.

Having sampled this choir & harps spare-part phrase (I discuss compositional phrases in The BeatTips Manual) via my Akai MPC 4000, I chopped it (manually, not auto-chop) to spec. Then, I filtered it using my MPC's high-pass filter. Once I had the feel and the sound in place, I duplicated the sample and created two versions of it, one at the original pitch level that I sampled it at, and the other several pitch levels down. So now I had, C&H (choir & harps) pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2.

With the two choir & harps phrases, C&H pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2, I created a 2-bar sequence with C&H pitch 1 starting the first bar and C&H pitch 2 at the opening of the second bar. Together, this 2-bar sequence made up a "break" (in The BeatTips Manual I explain this concept of the break in greater detail).

At this point, half of my composite idea was already set. What I needed to do now was to work in the right drum framework. In keeping with the theme of contradiction (or contrast), I wanted to build a drum pattern that was solid enough to rock on its own. I didn't want anything soft or deferential to the choir & harps sound. Also, I wanted to use hi-hats and rides in a way that helped to push and shuffle the beat along as I rhymed to it. Note: I only used one hi-hat and one ride, BUT I used them in at least four different ways, ranging from different velocity and duration settings on the hi-hat/open hat to elongation and truncation on the ride hits.

After I created the drum pattern on my MPC, I recorded it into Pro Tools. In Pro Tools, I quickly added some reverb and light EQ to each of the drum sounds, then I sampled the pattern — not the individual drum hits — back into my MPC. Once back inside my MPC, I assigned the entire drum pattern to one drum pad. This is what I used as the drum framework: a drum break created and customized by me. Note: This didn't take long at all, because I only recorded about two bars worth of the drum pattern into Pro Tools. Once I sampled back inside the MPC, I chopped it down and looped it. Now the framework was nearly complete!

But I still wanted to add in some stylistic changes.... First, I sampled a vocal part (from the same record as the Choir & Harps) that had some bass behind it. I did this on purpose, because I knew that I was going to turn it into an elongated sound-stab that could play and rise up at certain parts of the verse section of the arrangement. Once I sampled it, I chopped it down. I wanted to make it rise and to sound somewhat brighter, so I filtered it with the MPC's notch filter and turned up the volume on it.
(I should point out that when I had the entire beat tracked into Pro Tools, I had to slap a limiter on this sound-stab so that it didn't rise too much.)

Next, I sampled a piano & guitar riff, which I chopped down and filtered with my MPC's high-pass filter. I had to cut a lot of the original treble to make it much warmer, and to make it blend with the fade of the choir & harps sample.

Finally, I worked in my customized floor tom. Here's where knowing your sounds really comes into play. I used my floor tom, at two different pitch levels, not as percussive elements but mostly as bass support for the choir & harps sample. When you hear the song below, listen carefully to how I arranged the floor toms. You will notice that the timbre of the floor toms work like a bass when pitched, arranged, and combined with the fade of the choir & harps sample. Because I know my floor tom sound, I know what it's capable of and how it can be used like a bass-stab.

When I was finished with the beat, my composite idea was realized. And the only thing then left for me to do was to write and record the composite rhyme that I had....

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

Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "I Remember My Dad" by Sa'id

Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" beat breakdown

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 09, 2014

BeatTips MusicStudy: Stevie Wonder's Version of "We Can Work It Out" Meatier than Beatles Original

Stevie Wonder Gives Popular Beatles Tune Some More Soul; Adds New Punch and Feel


Although the art of sampling is usually not a complete reinterpretation of someone's work in the same way that a traditional version is (i.e. in sampling, snippets and phrases are literally extracted, recontextualized, and refashioned into a new musical piece), I still see a link between sampling and the ways in which one musician is inspired to reinterpret the work of another. For me, this point is illuminated even more when you consider that the art of sampling is rooted in the long-held tradition of versioning (in The BeatTips Manual I cover this connection extensively).

Indeed, as a beatmaker, particularly one with a strong affinity for the art of sampling, I appreciate when great musicians do their own versions (covers) of equally impressive musicians. Mostly, I'm engaged by one musician's ability to convert the work of another into their own style, feel, and scope, without losing the core themes and structures of the original. More specifically, I'm impressed when one's version (interpretation) remains respectful to the original and adds new nuance and dimension to it as well. This is the case with Stevie Wonder's remake of The Beatles' hit "We Can Work It Out."

As far as creative license goes, Stevie Wonder takes grand liberty with his version of one of The Beatles' most popular hits. There are numerous instances where rock groups have dipped into the blues/soul well, pulling out tunes and reworking them with "rock pop magic." But with his version of "We Can Work It Out," Stevie Wonder is doing the reverse. He's taking a rock number—in this case, a 1960s folk pop tune—and dipping it back into the blues/soul well. And what emerges in Stevie's version is a song that respects the original, while going beyond, adding an entirely new scope, essence, and vibe.

While Stevie Wonder shadows the basic structural framework of the Beatles' original, there are a number of new dimensions that he adds for his version. Stevie's remake starts with an 3-bar organ intro (a signal that Stevie's signature will be all over this version), then the drums crash in. And while the original actually has a nice rhythmic pattern (albeit tucked low in the mix), the Stevie version amps up the drum scheme, making the drums, as well as the entire piece, sound more "meatier" than the original. The kick and snare drums punch and pounce, springing off of each other, while the hi-hat and tamb shuffle throughout.

For the rest of the arrangement, Stevie Wonder makes two other standout changes. First, he strips out the strings that stream through original. This "tightens up" the groove of "We Can Work It Out," effectively making Stevie's cover edgier while rendering the original almost tranquil in comparison.

Second, Stevie Wonder incorporates a milky bass line that "walks" in deference to the priorities of soul more than it does to rock. This, along with the drums as described earlier, also adds to the urgency and aggressiveness of Stevie's version, which makes the original, folksy as it is, sound much more passive aggressive. Here, I'd be remiss if I didn't also highlight Stevie's harmonica solo at the midway of his version.

Finally, Stevie Wonder's treatment of the vocal arrangement is as impressive (if not more) as everything else in his cover of "We Can Work It Out." Six bars into Stevie's cover, and we hear a voice belch out "Hey!" This "Hey!," an added background vocal element that's non-existent in the original, alternates in pitch, giving Stevie's cover a unique swing nuance not found in the original. And with the rising gospel background vocals turn up in the latter half of Stevie's cover, the tune slides briefly into the Black church music tradition.

Then of course, there's Stevie's lead vocals. A comparison of Paul McCartney's or John Lennon's vocals to Stevie Wonder's is perhaps an unfair or misleading one at best, inasmuch that Stevie Wonder and the two Beatles front men are approaching the song from two different traditions, with two entirely different vocal priorities and styles of vocal inflection. Still, it's worth mentioning that Stevie's soulful reworking of the original—no doubt powerful in its own glory—makes it sound more searing; indeed, converting it into a freedom song/black power amalgamation.

In short, Stevie Wonder's version of "We Can Work It Out" is nothing short of a magnificent transformation. And to a certain degree, you could say that Stevie Wonder "flipped" the Beatles original. Does that mean that Stevie Wonder's version of "We Can Work It" is better than the original? I'm not sure if that's a question worth entertaining. Both The Beatles original and Stevie Wonder's version are great
music works. Each shine in their own regard, and each travel along the paths of their creative priorities and influences.

So a far better question at this point might be what do you think enables any musician to pull off a quality version of a fellow musician's work? Well, I'd say that along with music performance skills as well as a broad based knowledge of music history, various musical processes, and music forms, a fundamental respect and reverence for the musician(s) whose music you rework is key. I think Stevie Wonder covers all of these variables. And that's exactly why his version works so well.

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

Stevie Wonder - "We Can Work It Out"

The Beatles - "We Can Work It Out"

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 07, 2014

K-Def Interview Feature with ReDef's John Notarfrancesco

With His New Beat Tape, 'Back to the Beat', Produced Along with The 45 King, This Beatmaking Vet is Proving Why He's Still on the Rise


Photo courtesy of Redefinition Records

The New Jersey based hip hop producer K-Def established a solid following under the wing of the father of modern beatmaking and Juice Crew founder, Marley Marl. For K-Def, the learning curve was steep, but he was quickly catapulted into the spotlight when he served as a key producer on The Lords of the Underground’s classic LP, Here Come The Lords.

Well-versed in the art of manipulating samplers to craft just about any boom-bastic sound he wanted, K-Def earned a reputation as one of hip hop’s finest producers with an ear for hard-hitting and catchy beats. He has produced for the likes of Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, El Da Sensei, Diddy and KRS-One. Additionally, his group Real Live (with rapper Larry-O) released The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama (1996), a widely respected album that featured the song “Real Live Shit.” Below is a featured interview with K-Def, as told to John Notarfrancesco of Redefinition Records. (Interview Intro by Zach Cole, Edited by Amir Said)

K-Def: I first learned about sampling through the Casio SK5. The SP…that machine was crazy man. I remember I went to Power Play studios in like 88 with my cousin Larry O. I think Biz, Extra P (Large Professor), Roxanne Shante were there. We were there at the time with KRS (KRS One). I remember seeing the SP (12, not the SP 1200) hooked up with the slave running off of it. I would see what they were doing and I would hear my boys talk about it and started to see what I could do with it. That was before I got it. Anyway, some time later, I had an SP and I didn't have it long, because it got stolen, I think it was the 12 that was stolen. After that, I went and got the 1200 (SP 1200). But the 12…yeah, it had the big ol' Commodore floppy connected to it. It was ugly. It was big and ugly. I went down to Rutgers (University in NJ) to a party or whatever and they stole it outta the car. I only had a few tracks that I was messing with on the 12, I didn't have it long before I got that 1200.

You know, at first I was happy with it, but then I started getting pissed off because I had to push the record speed up really fast so I could get enough time in there, and then still had to add drums. It had very limited time, and it was in mono. The great thing though, the illest thing about the SP1200 was that it had the cut offs. If I take Nautilus and chop that up (hums bassline). Instead of trying to chop each note, you can take the second downbeat and tap it twice on a pad, and it will still play out the rest of the sample after the second tap. You could do some good stuff with that. That was the greatest feature, because when it cut, it really cut. Pete Rock was really good at that. If the down beat was off, or it didn't flow right with the drums, he was good at getting it to work for him. Those little things started frustrating me about the SP.

A few of my boys had it, and I would watch them make miracles out of it, it was like they had unlimited time, but then I started seeing how much they had to mess with it to get the sounds in, and that’s obviously part of why it had that gritty sound. It was 12 bit or whatever, it wasn't even 16. That grainy gritty sound…it would sound hot on some particular drums or even some loops, but at the end of the day, you would either use it for drums or some horns or something short and simple, and you could make it work. I think Hip-Hop was the way it was back then, because of the limitations of the SP. If you had access to a studio and could record multiple passes, then you know, that was great, but many of us, I know myself, I just had a lil four track recorder. It wasn't like I could go too far. But I wont front, it was fun for drums. It helped me understand how things worked. The SP didn't let you do too much, but you had to do a lot. I've seen dudes fill up all the banks on there, on one disc. I’m not knocking it, but at some point, the word 'Stereo' came into play and maybe that's why they didn't make more after that. The rack mounts like the 950, 1000, 1100, 3000, and all that. They added functionality.

After the SP, I got the MPC60 and then the 3000. When the MPC3000 first came out, the whole hip hop community was begging for a new SP, but EMU never did it. Just like when Roger Linn left Akai and Akai got stuck, and after that I don't think they were the same.

Pete Rock was nasty with the SP and so was my boy Nate from Patterson (NJ). Those were the best guys I've seen rock the 1200. They could chop stuff up so fast like it was second nature. People said that about me on the MPC3000, but man, if anyone were to ask me? I will say that Pete Rock is the Don Master of the SP. Anything anyone could ever wanna know about the SP, Pete is the guy for that. Excluding Pete Rock, a lot of beats on the SP just didn't have that studio vibe, that thick sound. Guys could use it in their bedrooms, but when they took it out, it didn't have that quality sound, it wasn't gonna work. Pete was around guys who knew what to do with sound. Like Eddie F. And Marley? Marley was the 1200 master! He had stuff that he did on the 1200 that inspired other guys to get the 1200 and do their own thing with it.

Pete was meticulous, he amazed me because whatever he picked…he already knew what he would do before he brought it into the machine. When he did the Champ MC Remix for “Keep It On The Real,” he chopped those drums up and man, if you play the original break he sued, it was going 100 miles an hour, but his was around 86 and it had a feel that when you play the original record, it was low, it was fast, but Pete just tuned it down, tapped it out. He owned the drums he sampled, he made them his own. He could take 2 sounds and program it in a way that it was like he was playing it. I'll tell you something, I think he was doing what I was doing, he would compress stuff or EQ it before he sampled it in. That's what a smart dude would do. Even if I did a beat CD, I would EQ or run it through a compressor to get it to sound right.

Extra P (Large Professor) was nice, too. He did a beat with Spinnin Wheel. The “Its a Boy” remix for Slick Rick. It made me really say, like…wow. I was like what is THAT? Then when I heard how he took all the drum pieces from the different sections of the original, I was like that’s genius. Extra P was another one of those guys. He did some stuff that sounded so clear and clean. I think the "Resurrection" Remix, that took me to another plateau. He took one loop, "Spirit," and chopped it up and to this day I still can’t figure out the parts that he used to make it because with the 1200, there’s a way you can get it to blend cutoffs in a smooth way, and I haven't seen too many guys master that or that machine in that way.

Oh yeah, Buckwild. When I heard Buckwild's “C'mon Wit' The Git Down” Remix (for the Artifacts), I was like “Those drums ... man!” When I heard those drums I thought it was so hot. It made me say this guy knows what he's doing. His shit sounded harder than the record that he sampled it from or anyone else who ever used it since. That break, even though his was mono and the original was stereo, the 1200 was so gritty that it gave it certain dynamics that just made it so great. I gotta give Buckwild credit for that one. But after a while, at some point, you gotta move forward. The people dictated that they had enough of that sound, not so much the man using the box, but the audience responded to different sounds. But when it was relevant, when it had its day, man, that was IT.

DJs have an advantage when they make beats. The instincts of the DJ is to get the best sound quality and understand how the listener receives it. Pete Rock had that. He would put the drums in your face first and anything else, he made it fit and sound the way it needed to fit with the drums. He was the first to chop up "Brethren" and just make em smack you in the face. The stuff he did on his second album, that stuff was not even normal. "I Got a Love" and all of that? Not normal. Those songs were crazy. Pete Rock was a special identity because he could take all these lil sounds that weren't meant to go together, or in the same key, and he could make 'em fit. He could track and track and track and just keep loading sounds and adding new layers. Most guys would just use whatever came out of the machine and that was it. Some of the gifted ones could do it all in the machine, to the degree where you would think they used other equipment or multiple tracks, but not too many could really do it like that.

Now there's a different sound and style, but at the time...man, those guys that were doing it. Diamond D and them, they would be reigning terror nowadays. But now the sounds and technology is so different, and the audience as a whole, they want a different sound. The 12 was a good piece but by the time it got its due, it was on its way out.

Everyone was laughing at me when I had the MP. Me and Marley bought the MPC 3000 at the same time, we went to the store and bought em. I think Pete moved to the MP much later when he got a deal with Akai. When I was using the MPC60, I had plenty of arguments with guys that I lost until I got the 3000. Then, people heard that and would say, 'its in stereo?! And it has cut offs?!' I was like yup, stereo, cut offs, filters, modulation AND you can assign what to cut off or not. You had options, the 16 levels, and all of that. I figured out some tricks that I could benefit from the 1200 and that I could make it work on the 3000.

K-Def's Equipment Through The Years

• Casio SK5 – I think I got that in 87, 88
• SP12 – It was just stupid, like 2 seconds of sampling time
• SP1200 – I rocked that for a short period of time, 10 seconds was better but not enough
• MPC60 – I grabbed that in '89 and then I added the S1000 in 92
• MPC3000 – I got on that in '94, with the S3000 too
• Cubase – I moved on to that in '97 and ever since then i've been doing all of my music on

Cubase. It does whatever I need it to do. When I first started guys would knock it and say “Yo, that’s not real, that’s not the way its supposed to be,' but look at it now? And I would tell them, “Yo, you're using a sampler, its a machine, with a computer chip inside. Your ears dictate what your music sounds like, not what you use.” When I jumped on the computer I was like a kid in the candy shop and it just keeps growing, I just keep getting better and adding on to my capabilities. I feel lucky that I started early as opposed to jumping on the bandwagon later. Strictly hardware manufacturers will need to make a new machine every year just to keep up with the potential and new functions. I just wanna say, don’t knock the technology because you prefer a certain machine, because you're going to limit your self to that one piece as opposed to learning new things and getting better and mastering the full range of music production. I'm a one man band, but it pays off because the more I do, the better I get and I can do it all own my own. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'll never go back to hardware. I can say to each his own, and do what you feel works best for what it is that you want to accomplish.

Some of K-Def's favorite tracks produced on the SP1200

• Buckwild – "C'mon Wit Da Git Down (Remix)"
• Extra P - "Resurrection (Remix)", "Fakin The Funk"
• Biz Markie - "Just A Friend"
• Pete Rock - "I Got A Love," "Escapism," "For Pete's Sake," "Can't Stop The Prophet (Remix)"
• Beatminerz - "Who Got Da Props," "I Gotcha Open,"" (and a few others from those albums)
• Diamond D - "Flow Joe"
• A Tribe Called Quest – "Lucien", if that was done on the SP. They had a lot of good music
• Marley Marl – Forget about it man, I could name a thousand songs. Oh, but check it, the beat for “The Bridge” – that wasn't done on the SP. That was done on the DigiTech. A DigiTech sampler and an 808 drum machine. To this day I still wonder how he was triggering it, but man, he did it. The TR-808 to the DigiTech sampler. He had four of them. [Editor’s note: In Marley Marl’s interview in The BeatTips Manual, he details how he did it.]

More K-Def:
• Stream the 'Back to the Beat' Beat Tape on BeatTips
• Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-Def
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/DJKDEF
• Instagram: http://instagram.com/djkdef
• Redefinition Records: http://www.redefinitionrecords.com/collections/k-def

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

Beat Tape Notable™: 'Back to the Beat' by K-Def and The 45 King

Enjoyable Beat Tape That's Consistent Throughout


Consummate pros do what they do best.

No fuss. This is what comes to mind when listening to Back to the Beat (Redefinition Records), the sonically pleasing and refreshing new beat tape by the well-respected beat vets K-Def and The 45 King. With this collection of beats, K-Def and The 45 King — both sample-based stalwarts with DJ backgrounds — focus on grooves that highlight warm, lush, and aggressive sample-based phrases and drums that knock but never over power.

The knock factor of the beats on this collection is one of the things that I find most refreshing. Because of contemporary music’s volume wars, sound dynamics have often been squeezed out of the audio picture — literally and figuratively — in favor of over compressed, master-blaster like levels; and drum sounds have all but become casualties of this audio clusterfuck. Fortunately, this is not the case with the beats on Back to the Beat, where the drums are clearly distinguishable and crisp, and the non-drum sounds are full of character.

As for my picks on the beat tape, the entire 12-beat offering is solid throughout, but “Lion,” “Tiger,” and “Changing Keys” are the clear winners. (Incidentally, “Tiger” and “Changing Keys” hold the distinction of being the joints that I want to rhyme on. K-Def, 45 King, let’s make that happen…)

Beat tapes often leave you wondering how much better the project could have been if it had rhymes on it, or who would have sounded great over which beat. Such speculation is fun and it does make the listening experience more bearable. But as beat tapes go, Back to the Beat is quite enjoyable without vocals. I think this is both because of the various vocal snippets that lace a number of the beats on here, but also because of the high quality of the beats. An achievement that I would expect nothing less of from two consummate pros like K-Def and The 45 King.

K-Def & The 45 King - 'Back to the Beat' (Redefinition Records)

October 06, 2014

To Loop, or Not To Loop Individual Sounds?

Prolonging Sounds May Be the Answer to the Question


When it comes to modifying individual sounds, there's one common question: Should you loop individual sounds? Here's my take: I rarely loop any individual sounds, hits or stabs, other than maybe a snare that I want to give a roll-effect to. Instead, what I do is, I aim to "prolong" sounds by duplicating (copying) them, and then either splicing them together or layering them (programming them) to play either as: (a) slightly overlapping sounds; or (b) as blended (layered) sounds with different beginning/start and end chop points, and with each sound having a different velocity and/or volume level.

When I make beats, there's two fundamental concepts of arrangement that I may use. For some beats, I try to approach arrangement and structure as closely as possible to how a typical 1970s era groove (soulful rhythm section) would have been arranged. In keeping with that, the only way a sound can be extended and/or looped in a traditional live band setting is through the actual playing and prolonging of the notes (sounds) of particular interest. The other concept of arrangement that I use is more along the lines of a mid-1990s era, up-front drum programming. So for me, when it comes down to it, the looping of individual sounds in beatmaking is actually more about the prolonging of individual sounds, not the looping of them. And, therefore, when I want to prolong or sustain a sound, I opt to use more natural techniques to achieve that effect.

Let me be clear, there isn't anything particularly wrong with looping individual sounds. But I often find that the looping of individual sounds can often sound more artificial. This can make the overall beat sound unbalanced or overly modified, usually devoid of feeling and a nice swing. Also, for me, I've always felt that the looping of an individual sound limits its spacing and "fit" within a beat. That is, once a sound is looped to itself, it's "sound potential" (what the sound could be) is capped and locked into a burdensome loop. In other words, the loop of the individual sound can cause the sound to stand out throughout the beat in a way that does not necessarily compliment the beat.

For example, let’s say you have a saxophone phrase and you want the last quarter of it to repeat. There’s two ways to do this. One way to do it is, you loop the part of the saxophone that you want to repeat. This gives you the sample with its tail end looped to itself. Consider for a moment how that would sound….

Another way to repeat the last quarter of the sax phrase is to duplicate the original sax, then use the two samples — the original and the duplicate — together. What you do is chop the last quarter from the original sax, then chop the duplicate down to ¾ of its duration, essentially leaving only the last quarter of the original saxophone phrase. At this point, you can play the repeat of the last quarter of the sample—wherever you like in the arrangement, not just at the end of the saxophone phrase, because you’re not locked into the looped version of the sample. Note: By using this method and technique, you play (arrange) each sampled phrase in a way that feels more real and less synthetic, artificial, or contrived.

Still, all of this having been said, there are some occasions where looping an individual sound is helpful. For instance, let’s look at that same hypothetical saxophone phrase. What if you didn’t want to use the entire phrase itself; what if you just wanted to use it to make sax sound-stabs? In that case, chopping the sample down to small stabs and looping them can be helpful, depending, of course, on how you intend to use the stabs. For example, you could loop a sax-stab so that it rumbles, then you could combine that rumbling sax-stab with another sound stab. The possibilities for sound-stabs, from everything to texture to variance to vibe to feel, is endless.

Bottom Line
When deciding upon whether or not to loop an individual sound, always consider the overall feel of the beat that you’re working on. In most cases, duplicate an individual sound first, then combine it with it’s original. This will often put you closer to the sound that you’re going for. But if that doesn’t work, sure, you can also loop the part of the sound that you want to repeat (or give off a chorus effect, etc.)

Also, remember that merely looping the end of a phrase does not necessarily give the feel of the phrase repeating naturally. Think of a guitarist repeating the same riff over and over. Now think of that guitarist prolonging one part of the riff before he returns back to the riff’s beginning. Imagine how this human loop sounds; imagine the feel, nothing artificial! Incidentally, this is a great guide to use when thinking about chopping down lengthy phrases or multi-bar measures.

Finally, as beatmakers, we work in a world of electronic music production, wherein we can program EMPIs (Electronic Music Production Instruments) to do things that a human can’t. In some ways, this is an advantage, in some ways, it’s a disadvantage. Either way, we shouldn't deliberately sacrifice a human feel and sensibility just because production technology presents us with endless possibilities.

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 05, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 6

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds


I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still as always, I invite discussion. So any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome.

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

The Bar-Kays - "Humpin'"

Kick and snare at 0:00-0:04 mark. Break at 0:07-0:09 mark. Another break with organ over the top at the 1:11 -1:14 mark.

Bernard "Pretty" Purdie - "Funky Donkey"

You can never go wrong with drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie's stuff. Here, on "Funky Donkey" you kick and snares at different tones and velocity as well as heavy, airy reverb. Everything fromm 0:00-0:09 is great.

Rufus Thomas - "Do the Funky Penguin"

Kick, snare, and break from 0:00-0:07 mark; open hi-hat at 0:08.

Ohio Players - "I Want to Be Free"

A classic joint worth listening to in heavy rotation. But for the purposes of drum sounds, check: Crash snare to open the cut, then a drum fill, tom toms: 0:01-0;05; kick, snare, hat at 3:28.

Dennis Coffey - "Scorpio"

0:00-0:02: quick snare and tom fill; 1:08-2:00: kicks, snares, long breaks.

The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

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

Your email address:

  • Donate Sidebar

  • BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers

  • Build Your Skills

  • 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.
    Read more

    "You can legally sample and use any recording up to 1, 2, 3, or 4 seconds."
    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
    Read more

    "If you use samples on a free mixtape, it’s perfectly O.K."
    WRONG! A free mixtape does NOT permit you to use samples from copyrighted recordings without the permission of the copyright holders.
    Read more

    "Sampling is easy; there’s nothing to it. Anyone can do it well."
    WRONG! Sampling is an art form that requires technical skill, imagination, and artistic understanding.
    Read more

    "Sampling involves the use of pre-recorded songs only."
    WRONG! While the art of sampling is most commonly understood to include the use of pre-recorded songs (traditionally from vinyl records), source material for sampling includes any recorded sound or sound that can be recorded.
    Read more

  • BeatTips
    Essential Listening

    BeatTips.com is a website dedicated to music education, research, and scholarship. All the music (or music videos) provided on this site is (are) for the purposes of teaching, scholarship, research, and criticism only! NOTE: Under U.S. Code, Section 107 “Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use” of the Copyright Act of1976: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching… scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright." (U.S. Code)