60 posts categorized "Beat Breakdown"

May 17, 2014

BeatTips Beat Breakdown: The Game - "Old English," Produced by Hi-Tek

Crafted Like a Horror Flick Score; Groove Engages with Its Slow-Tempo Urgency


I was confused upon my first listen of "Old English" (Doctor's Advocate, 2006) by the Game, produced by Hi-Tek. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't comprehend how well put together the song was. It was haunting — figuratively and sonically. Nothing that I had previously heard from Hi-Tek prepared me for such a wonderful, powerful piece of music.

The beat is centrally characterized by the groove. First, you're welcomed by this milky smooth, deadly bass line. A measure perhaps better served for a suspense sequence in a horror flick, the bass movement that Hi-Tek goes with here is nothing less than sinister and instantly haunting. No doubt the bass line was played live originally, but I have a strong suspicion that Hi-Tek sampled it and "worked-it-over."

Then, sticking with the horror-flick theme, Hi-Tek paints in this three-note organ arrangement that crawls up the spine of the beat. Rather than over-playing the organ, a mistake most likely made by even the best beatsmiths and those inclined to overproduce, instead, Hi-Tek lets each stab sustain itself. With its singular tonal impact, it's clear that he saw fit not to corrupt its nature. Because of this, each stab of the organ — masterfully agreeable in pitch and mood with the bass — makes the bass line seemingly maneuver from side to side, weaving the groove in its own sort of rhythmic spell. And for added accentuation, Hi-Tek throws in what appears to be a sampled guitar phrase that fades at the end. (Like the bass line, I'm convinced that he sampled the live guitar phrase and worked with that.) He follows the guitar accentuation up with a desolate, spaghetti-Western style whistle.

For the drumwork, Hi-Tek sets out to remind you, in case you've forgotten, that this isn't a movie score, but instead a beat...in all of its defiant glory. His use of a short-truncated stomp-kick bookends all of the action, while the rim-shot snare knocks on the "2 & the 4" like a count down. And for the hi-hat, a difficult decision for many, here on "Old English" Hi-Tek uses a brushed half open hi-hat, which he floats politely across the entire arrangement — no gaps, no stutters, or drops.

As for the rhyme, Game (formerly the Game) rightfully so dives in for a story-style rhyme. Even though the groove is slow and steady, Game takes on the tempo and works in double couplets, i.e. four-bar rhyme schemes (abab acac). Finally, the hook, song by Dion, drags across the instrumental measure more like a cautionary tale than a hook on a hip hop/rap song.

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

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

January 21, 2014

Using Multiple Drum Sounds for Movement, Depth, Texture, Variation, and Masking

There Are a Number of Different Creative Uses for Drum Sounds and Drum Sound Arrangements


With the bevy of quantize (time-correction) features, plug-ins, and effects available in today’s EMPIs, the temptation is to over rely on them, especially when it comes to creating movement, depth, texture, and variation. But the truth is, there are a number of different ways to generate movement (particularly swing and shuffle) and to add depth, texture, and variation by creatively using multiple drum sounds. The key is to know and understand the different types of layering and arrangement schemes and the results that they’re likely to produce.

Working with Two or More Kicks for movement, texture, and knock
One of the most common methods for adding knock (a hard, dominate drum pulse) is to layer together two or more kicks. But this isn’t the only effect that two or more kicks layered together can produce. Two layering techniques that I frequently use are “punch and boom” and sound fattening.

Punch and boom scheme
The punch and boom scheme refers to a two-layer kick scheme involving a punchy kick in tandem with a boom kick. The effect achieved can be anything from a booming kick that punches through, to a rounded boom with prolonged sustain. Typically, this scheme involves layering a standard sounding kick over an 808. But even here, you’re only limited by your imagination. For instance, any kick, especially a sustained 808, can be adjusted in the sound envelope. Adjustments in, let’s say, the attack of each kick allows for even more stylistic customization.

But the punch and boom scheme is not only for creating unique sounds and texture, it can be used to create movement as well. When layered, the boom “moves” the punch. That is to say, the effect of the layering of the two kicks is that it increases the combined span of the kick sound. This means, even though there are actually two kicks present, they represent, in effect, one sound. And the manipulation of the sound properties of each kick (separately) effects the combined sound property of the two kicks together. NOTE: whether you use this layering scheme during the making of a beat or not, you can save considerable time by simply making the kick before hand. For example, I have a kick called “PB Kick”, which stands for “Punch Boom”. Whenever I’m making a beat that I think calls for a punch/boom layer effect, I just use my PB kick, and adjust its velocity and/or ADSR to the specific beat that I’m working on.

Important note about ADSR: Every sound (dynamic tone) has three components: attack, sustain, and decay. Taken together these three components (parts or dimensions) are known as the sound envelope. (I should also point out that I like to extend the definition of sound envelope to mean: the entire span—from start to go—of a sound.) With regards to synthesis techniques — synthesizers/samplers — there is a fourth component, release; taken together these four components are known as the ADSR envelope. When you modify or remove any one or a combination of these ADSR components, the sound’s properties change, rendering an array of different effects. Thus, it’s important to understand what each component within the ADSR envelope represents, if you’re to modify them in ways that best serve your beats’ arrangements. (In The BeatTips Manual, I discuss the ADSR and drum arrangement in even greater detail.)

Also, you should note that while there are various ways to blend/mix a punch and a boom, one general idea to follow is that the boom should remain at a low velocity and the punch should be light on the high and high-mids.

Sound Fattening
Sound Fattening refers to a two- (or three) layer kick or snare scheme wherein a weak or shallow kick or snare sound is fattened or rather “beefed up”. Often, like with the punch and boom scheme, sound fattening layering techniques are usually done to create more knock. However, this is not why I typically fatten up sounds. Instead, I use a sound-fattening layering scheme whenever I what my kick in the drum pattern to be more out in front, particularly when the volume of the non-drum sounds is too low. Think of a the effect of a louder break-beat inspired drum pattern. I also use this scheme when I’m thickening up a sample (part or whole) or the entire texture of beat. For instance, if I fatten up a sample or non-sampled sounds and I want the drums to match the weight and texture, I’ll fatten up the drums as well, or a I might just fatten up specific parts of a primary sample or the non-sampled sounds that make up the core groove.

Multiple Drum Sounds Arrangements

Syncopation is a mainstay in beatmaking. But lesser known is the many different ways in which drum sound arrangements can effect everything from the swing to the overall feel of the beat. For example, using the same hi-hat at two different pitch levels and filtered/EQ’d differently — one high, the other low — can push, shuffle, or pull a beat, depending on the actual hi-hat arrangement and other sounds within a beat.

Drum sound arrangements can also be used to mask gaps in sounds, loop-glitches, and pitch-shifts. Furthermore, they can be used to effect the feel of the tempo without actually changing BPM settings. This is especially helpful, as it’s an alternative to using quantize features to fix or correct unwanted blemishes. Personally, I try to avoid quantize features because I like my arrangements to be blended and cut together as natural as possible, something akin to a DJ cutting, mixing, and blending different sounds and rhythms together. This, plus other techniques and customized — NOT STOCK — drum sounds, help me maintain my own style and sound.

Below I have a included a beat that demonstrates some of the schemes and effects that I’ve discussed earlier in this tutorial. I recorded the beat to play through for about 40 seconds with all of its elements, 8 tracks, then for specific elements to drop out so that you can hear the changes and the immediate effect that each dropped element has on the beat. This way, you can reverse engineer the beat and get a better idea and understanding for why I added particular drum elements and structured the arrangement the way that I did. The 8 tracks include: kick, snare, hat 1 (“hat X”), break (primary sample), hat 2, clap, bass-stab (boom), and a tambourine.

Particular things to listen for:
How the clap alternates where it hits.
How hat 2 seems to play quarters, but there's never a fourth hit in the sequence.
How the tambourine shadows hat 2.
How the bass-stab (boom) fattens the front of the primary sample, giving it a rounder sound and thus sustaining its effect.
How hat 2 and the tambourine layered together shuffles the beat along, which creates a great pocket to rhyme in.
How "hat x", which is something like a crash, effectively represents a change.
How all of the variation gives the beat one solid texture and nice depth.

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

"Cut 1013" - Produced by Sa'id

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

October 03, 2013

Rhythm Blending and Masking Constrasts vs. Timestretch

Creating Cross Rhythms to Lock Up Timing


In The BeatTips Manual, in the section on timestretch, I discuss why I don’t rely on timestretch as much as I do on rhythm matching and contrasting. One of the biggest problems dealing with any sampled phrase of 2-bars or longer is the tempo change. Let’s remember, when you sample a song, you’re usually sampling a group of live musicians that played in real time when they recorded the song. As such, the tempo ebbs and flows. Humans are not machines, so natural timing moves slightly. Thus, a song moving at let’s say 90 BPMs (Beats Per Minute) may actually move between 89.7 – 90.3 BPMs over a measure of four bars or more. So the shorter the sequence, the tighter the BPM will be. Conversely, the longer the sequence, the more the BPM is likely to move slightly up or down. All told, tempo change within a sample creates a sequencing and arrangement challenge, especially when it comes to building drum patterns.

There's No Rule in Beatmaking that Says You Have to Use Timestretch: Rhythm Blending

Whether you like to call it rhythm blending (as I do), beat matching, or beat blending, the concept is all the same: combining/blending/mixing two or more rhythms to make one new rhythmic structure or sound wall. So instead of relying solely on timestretch to solve the arrangement and timing problems that can arise from tempo changes within a sample, utilize creative rhythm structures to achieve similar and often even better (more natural sounding) results.

BeatTip: Work on developing an ear for picking sounds, rhythms, or even melodies that go together or contrast nicely. This is better than forcing sounds and rhythms to fit simply because you have an idea (inclination) and the power of timestretch. Every idea that you have is not supposed to work. And if you’re not careful, timestretch can become a means for forcing some ideas that might have been better left alone.

In the song below, I use a 4-bar phrase that pounds on the initial hit (start of the sequence) then dips and rises three times before it gets to the loop point then loops over again. Instead of using timestretch to manage the shifts in tempo, I used three different hats—in three distinct ways—to shuffle and drag the flow of the beat and to keep the rhythm steady. I used a kick-drum scheme (six tumbling kick-hits) that seems to go against the flow. Finally, I used a straight forward snare on the “2”, which I heavily syncopated near the end of the fourth bar in anticipation of the entire four-bar structure starting (looping) from the beginning. Collectively, I used all of the drumwork to create cross rhythms and a contrast structure that masks the primary sample’s tempo and pitch changes.

Sa’id – “Remember Me” (produced, rhymed, & written by Sa’id)

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

September 09, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: "Keep It Thoro;" Prodigy and The Alchemist

A Menacing Apparatus; Song Personifies How Light and Heavy Textures Co-Mingle and Combine, Giving Beat a Powerful Sonic Impression


When particular names in beatmaking get tossed around with praise, it's not always easy to pinpoint exactly what all of the acclaim is for. But then, there are some names where it ain't hard to tell. For me, some names are heavy weight for a collection of songs, while others are big time for just one song in particular. Such is the case with beatmaker/producer, The Alchemist. Although The Alchemist has an impressive catalog, my favorite Alchemist beat is the joint that underscores Prodigy's (of Mobb Deep) "Keep It Thoro."

"Keep It Thoro" is an absolutely menacing audio composite. Aside from Prodigy's heavy New York slang-laced phrasings and dead-pan, masterfully confident delivery, it's the beatwork of The Alchemist that makes the song so defiantly hard. The core groove is built around a dusty, lounge-act sort of piano sample that jabs the exact same tone—in 1/8ths—for a count of 7 times, before there's a change in the phrase—a loose note kicks off, and moments before the sample loops back to itself.

For the bass parts, Alchemist doesn't go with a bass line. Instead, content with the rhythm of the hypnotic piano sample, he uses just three bass sound-stabs to anchor the groove. Two of the three bass-stabs are simply low- and high-pitch versions of the same exact sound stab; the third bass-stab—which Alchemist uses to slide into one of the others—has a slick, boom texture to it. Here, I want to point out that even though this third bass sound-stab is "different" from the others, its own texture and sonic qualities actually makes it fit perfectly with the other two bass-stabs. Alone, these other two bass-stabs are very understated. But by balancing out their spacing, and NOT overusing them, Alchemist positions them as vital pieces of the overall sonic composite.

Historical Analysis and Experience

Some beatmakers might not—at first—understand The Alchemist's arrangement of higher tones with lower ones, but reality is, this technique of clashing textures and levels is one of the most fundamental mainstays of the beatmaking tradition. Such a technique was first (necessarily) implemented with hip hop/rap's earliest DJs, who were charged with the task of mixing songs—using turntables and a DJ mixer—with varying tones, textures, and tempos. In order to mix such songs in what was then known as the "hip hop DJ style," these early sound architects learned to highlight the use of repetition in the songs they were playing and mixing, focusing specifically on the "breaks" of each song that could further be extended through even more repetition—that is to say, looping, via various turntable tricks like the "backspin" or "the spin-back."

So on "Keep It Thoro," The Alchemist is acutely aware of the fact that it is the repetitive nature of the sampled piano phrase that actually makes the bass parts sound even more pronounced; which, in turn, gives the overall track a "booming" sonic impression.

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 for the purpose of education.

"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy, produced by The Alchemist

"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy (Official music video)

August 28, 2012

It's Never *Just* a Loop

Truth Is, Creating a Loop is Only Part of the Equation


With regards to sampling, no statement is more misguided (and irritating to me) than someone saying, "It's just a loop." Whether sampling and then looping a 2- or 4-bar phrase of music, or piecing together spare-part phrases and sound-stabs, there's much more going on in the total creative process than some beatmakers care to acknowledge—or that some hip hop/rap bloggers even realize.

The gleaming misconception about sampling is that it's easy; that anyone can do it. While it's true that anyone can buy a digital sampler and press record, the notion that anyone can automatically acquire a skill for what goes on before and after they press record on that sampler is ridiculous. Truth is, no matter what any beatmaker samples, no matter how much or how little he or she samples, the total creative process of sampling requires any number of decisions to be made at various levels within the process. And these decisions, prompted by the residue of skill and understanding, are not always easy to make.

The Main Decisions Made Before, During, and After a Sample is Looped

What Should You Sample?

What to sample is obviously (well, perhaps obvious to those who actually make beats) the first decision to be made. And, of course, this decision depends on everything from one's mood to motive (purpose), to their style and sound preference, to their imagination and individual work ethic. For the purpose of this post, I've used the song "Heartbreak Hotel" by The Jacksons.

I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" for a number of reasons. First, it's a well-known hit—with a great groove—by a popular group (certainly a song easy enough for readers to locate online). Many people are familiar with the record; so coming up with a beat and song that references such a hit, while still creating something "new" and appealing, is a bit of challenge. Second, I wanted to choose a vinyl record that could readily be found in used record shops or at online vinyl record stores, or in a relative's basement or attic. Third, "Heartbreak Hotel" has been sampled before, and I wanted to demonstrate the versioning tradition that runs deep in hip hop/rap music's roots by offering up my version. Fourth, because "Heartbreak Hotel" has a dominant drum pattern; and as such, I wanted to show how even a sample with drums can be tailored to your style and sound. (Also, any seasoned beatmaker knows the type of obstacles drums in a sample can present.) Finally, I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" because I'm a big fan of The Jacksons, and this is as good as any reason to thoroughly listen to one of my favorite songs by them (actually, it's one of top 10 favorite songs of all time).

What Section or Part Should You Sample?

Now having settled on the song, what section of the song should I sample? The beginning? The middle? Near the end? Either way, it's gotta be a part of the record where the groove is "open" (well, as much as possible with a record like this). So that being said, it comes down to either the intro, the lead-up, or the bridge. I ruled out the bridge, simply because I heard something before with that part. And the strings intro isn't the part of the song that most people are familiar with.

So I go for the "2nd intro," or what I'm calling the "lead up," as in lead up to the first verse. But exactly where in the lead up? There's approximately 35 seconds between the beginning of the lead up and where Michael Jackson's first verse vocals begin. And within that 35 seconds, there are slight embellishments on the basic groove of the song. Not to mention, at one point in this lead up, we hear one of Michael's signature vocal exclamations. No one wants that in there, right? Wrong! I do. I think it's dope; so I decided that no matter what, it had to be in the phrase that I would sample. (In my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" below, you'll hear it.) Note: If I was using "Heartbreak Hotel" as source material for a beat for another rapper, I'm not sure what section I would've used. But since I'm rapping on this joint, I know which part of the song will suit my style, delivery, and flow.

So, How Do You Sample It?

Now that I've chosen the section of the record that I want to use, I have to decide how to sample it. Wait, what? You mean there's no one way how to sample a record? That's right! Some beatmakers sample in stereo, some in mono. Some sample wet—that is, with effects—, some sample dry, no effects. Some sample in 24 bit, 16 bit, even 12 bit.

For starters, I always sample in mono. Next, I always sample wet. I never sample any audio without its signal first flowing through my Numark DJ mixer (aside from the EQs on my mixer, a DJ mixer makes me feel linked to the earliest roots of our tradition). My DJ mixer routes into my Mackie mixing console, where I do further EQ'ing, like "beefing up" (making a sound heavier or warmer) the sample. Then I run the signal from there—the DJ Mixer's output on the Mackie—into either (a) My Akai MPC 4000; or (B) my Akai S950. For the sample below, I sampled a portion of "Heartbreak Hotel" into my Akai S950.

What about the pitch question?

Do you sample the audio leaving the pitch as is, or do you turn it up or down? This decision, like others in the creative process, mostly depends on the ultimate beat/song that you envision. For my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix," I turned the pitch up a bit before I sampled it, then I fine-tuned it as I arranged my drums (and note: NO timestretch function was used in the making of this beat/song).

Did somebody say chopping?

Of course, how to chop something is one of the big decisions in the sampling process. But I supposed the more complete a phrase is, the less difficult it is to loop, right? Not always! In fact, depending on what's actually in the phrase, getting it to loop "correctly" (according to your own rhythmic standards), it can be rather difficult finding and fine tuning the best start and end points. (In The BeatTips Manual I discuss looping, as well as composition, in greater detail.)

Here, let's remember that all of these aforementioned creative decisions have been made before the drum arrangement enters the picture. Of course, as those above decisions are being made, one should already be thinking about the ways in which to arrange the drums...

Which Way to Go with the Drums?

Even if one skips most of the aforementioned processes, he or she must still come up with a suitable drum framework. To pull this off takes a decent arsenal of drum sounds, a knack for choosing the right ones, and the ability to arrange those drum sounds into a drum pattern that works effectively with the so-called "loop" sample. So, again, decisions, decisions.

With audio that already has drums in it, you can fall back and let the drums in the sample do the work, only adding in light touches of your own drum sounds. Or you can also add your own drums to completely "mask" (cover up) the drums in the sample. Or you can match your drums with the drums in the sample; but this can be very difficult, especially if you don't posses the right kind of drum sounds.

Now, with a song like "Heartbreak Hotel," who could blame someone for going easy on the drums, that is to say, doing nothing much at all. Well, I never sample anything without a base idea of how I'm going to arrange the drums. Moreover, depending upon the extent of the groove—i.e., the feel and the level of kick and snare drums—that I've sampled and the ultimate groove that I'm going for, I will usually not only mask and match the drums, I'll flank everything with my own signature percussion. And this is exactly what I did with my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix."

*Editor's Notes:
The construction of the sample(s) is only part of the equation. Diggin' for the actual source material is another major part of the equation. Also, never forget the matter of the overall sound design. Here, I'm referring to the "color" of the sample that's achieved through sound modification techniques like filtering and EQ'ing, etc.

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

Sa'id - "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" by Sa'id

The Jacksons - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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

February 27, 2012

BeatTips Jewel Droppin': An Interview with Upright, January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Winner

TBC Member Upright on Music Process and How Community Sparks Creativity

Interview by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

California based beatmaker Upright is a humble, thoughtful music maker who takes the art of beatmaking seriously. After years of studying the art form and sharpening his craft, he as emerged with a style and sound that he's finally pleased with. Find out how one of The BeatTips Community's own has developed his skill and hit on a new direction.

BeatTips: Where are you from, Upright?

Upright: I was born in LA [California]. But right now I’m living out in San Bernardino. Basically, about an hour and half from LA.

BeatTips: How did you first get involved with hip hop/rap music? What drew you in?

Upright: Well, in the ‘90s, I was pretty much a big, big, big fan of East Coast hip hop. So basically, that’s where it really came alive at. Man, so many artists. But yeah, back in the ‘90s is when I first got hip to hip hop. I was probably like 16 or so.

BeatTips: Who put you on to it? Friends or family?

Upright: Friends, definitely friends.

BeatTips: So describe you in the ‘90s.

Upright: I would go to the club scene, you know, just like a hip hop dancer. So in the ‘90s, I was dancing and just listening to a lot of music. And that’s really how the love for hip hop kind of started.

BeatTips: Wow, a dancer. So what were the first hip hop songs you heard?

Upright: The first song I heard was the Geto Boys. And that was really like, uh, gangsta rap kind of, you know. So Geto Boys. That was like my first taste of hip hop. And I don’t know where I got that from. And then from there it was like Brand Nubian. So I went directly into East Coast stuff. I stayed with the East Coast phase for a long time, man. I wasn’t really too much into anything West Coast. Even though I lived on the West Coast. Not that it wasn’t good; I just wasn’t in to it.

BeatTips: What was it about the East Coast that you preferred over West Coast Music?

Upright: It seemed like the rap was more…it seemed like it had more substance, more style, more just creativity. The beats sounded better, you know, to me; that was to me. And out here on the West Coast, man, it was more like, the big guys like Cube, there was a lot of them. But they were mainly into like gangsta rap. See, me being on the West Coast, I was trying to get away from that type of mentality, you know what I mean?

BeatTips: Exactly.

Upright: So the East Coast, the East Coast was more about lyric flippin’, you know, flippin’ lyrics and just the skill behind the rapper more so than the gangsta lifestyle.

BeatTips: You mentioned beats. When did you start? How long have you been making beats?

Upright: I started making beats about 13 years ago.

BeatTips: How old were you at the time?

Upright: I was 23 when I first started producing, trying to produce beats. And I got started on the little—man, it’s crazy, it was the little, uh, Sony Playstation. They had this little thing called Music Generator. And that’s really where I started trying to make beats. It all kind of started from there. And I was always a guitar player. And it kind of came together because I would want to play my guitar and kind of have a beat to play my guitar to. So that was kind of in there, too, a little bit.

BeatTips: Wait. You were playing guitar before? How long were you playing guitar before you started making beats?

Upright: I was playing guitar, that was probably about four years before. No, no, no, you know, when I was about 14, I got the guitar. But I didn’t play it much. I had it since I was 14, but a few years before I started making beats, I started playing the guitar heavy. I was playing the guitar real heavy before I really started making beats. And then I started making beats, once I felt like I had a little bit under my belt on the guitar. I wanted to move on to something else. So that’s when the beatmaking came into it.

BeatTips: That’s dope right there. How did you make that transition? What made you say, ‘You know what, I’m going to put the guitar on the side for a minute, and I’m try this out?’

Upright: Man, it was just that—really, it was the availability of that PlayStation game…I mean, I was playing a lot of PlayStation at the time, and just sitting around playing my guitar. And then that game popped up, and I was like, ‘Man, this game is…’ ‘Cuz really, it was like a production tool. But it was in the form of a game, you know what I mean. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Man, this right here is something I could probably use,’ you know. So I sat down with that, and was really getting into it… I didn’t know that it was really like a starting tool, you know. I really didn’t know about your MPCs and your SP12s and stuff like that. I really had no idea that there was real, like, where I would even go to try to make a beat, as far as hardware. Earlier in my hip hop, like just when I was listening to hip hop and going to clubs dancing, and I saw this one cat. He hand a drum machine; at the time, it looked so complex to me. I didn’t even know what it really was, how you could even use something like that. I figured, man, you gotta have all kinds of money to get something like that. But then years later, I came across that little Sony Playstation thing, and that was it for me.

BeatTips: So did you have a teacher, or did you just start doing everything on your own?

Upright: I just started doing everything on my own. And for years, I really didn’t—I was trying to do my own thing, so I messed with that [Music Generator] for a good couple of years, just that by itself, before I even began to branch out and really try to get some real equipment.

BeatTips: Wow. Two years. So what was the first setup that you had?

Upright: The first real setup I had was Sony Acid. I was messing around with Acid in a computer, just a computer a friend gave me. And I was playing around with that. But I couldn’t really figure out the software side. So it was kind of frustrating, because I knew that I wanted to stay software at the time, because I had came from that game. And that was cool for about a year a so. And then my brother, he was into house music, and he was starting to buy a lot of hardware. He had an old Yamaha drum machine, and then he had this crazy sequencer, man, it just looked like a straight typewriter, like a computer keyboard. He told me that was his sequencer, and I was blown away. But he was really the first one that got me into hardware. So I went out and bought a Korg Electribe (sp). That was the first real piece of hardware that I had.

BeatTips: What’s the Korg Electribe?

Upright: The Korg Electribe, it’s basically like, it kind of looks like a 808 a little bit. Or no, you know what, maybe more like the 303. Roland had a bass module; it kind of looked like that…It’s basically just a synth, and you know, it had drum sounds in there, too. You could program it and do all kinds of stuff in there.

BeatTips: And how long did you rock with that?

Upright: I rocked with that—I had that in my main setup for a while. I got that in ’04. And I had that up until 2009.

BeatTips: So wait. You were using the Korg Ectribe along with Acid? Or at that time, had you left Acid alone?

Upright: Yeah, I had left Acid alone. I was just messing around with that by itself. And I wasn’t even really, you know, making anything…I was really just trying to figure out what hardware was at that point. And since my brother got me into hardware, he had so much hardware. We would MIDI up his machine with my machine and then run it into a mixer, and we would just kind of collaborate on music. So it wasn't really hip hop, it was his house stuff with what I was trying to do.

BeatTips: So your brother taught you a lot about music-making in general?

Upright: He taught me a lot about hardware, how to MIDI-up stuff, how to connect two modules. And so from there…he had a sequencer, and I needed something more. Then I remembered, my mind went back to the ‘90s, I was like, 'Man, I can sample!' My buddy said I ought to get some records. And I was like, 'Yeah, records!' So when I got some records, I needed something more than just that Electribe because I can’t—No, actually, you know what, that’s backwards. He was telling me that I need to sample. So then my mind went back to the '90s. So I went and bought a SP606. Which was like a kind of knock-of the, really, the MPC. Roland was just trying to knock-of the MPC. So then I realized that the 606 wouldn’t really chop, it wouldn’t chop like the MPC would. So I got rid of the 606 and I got the MPC 2500.

BeatTips: And what did you notice when you got the 2500? What happened to you as a music maker and your whole understanding of beats?

Upright: When I had the 2500, I was starting to really get into sampling records. So I started realizing that there was a lot more control. Like, you could take a sample and really manipulate it and do a lot with it. That’s what the MPC first introduced me to—so much I could do with just recording a sample. Because before that, I hadn’t really tapped into what could be done with just a piece of audio. I was just programming beats and trying to make synth lines and stuff like that. But once I got the MPC, I started realizing you can take a sample and manipulate it and flip it and take it to another level and really make it your own. So that’s what the MPC really opened me up to.

BeatTips: And at that time, what were the things that you were studying? As far as like, people, tools, books, anything? How were you learning?

Upright: Well, at that time, man, I wasn’t really–I still didn’t have a direction that I was trying to go. I know I wanted to sample, but I didn’t know...I didn’t think to go back to some of the music I was listening to. I didn’t really think to do that until a while later. But at the time…my mindset was like, O.K., I’m going to take these records and do my own thing. As I was doing that, I noticed that things just didn’t sound like I wanted them to, you know. It was a sample, I was flippin’ it, but something was missing. And I think what that was...I didn’t have any structure, any inspiration.

BeatTips: So where did you find that inspiration and structure at?

Upright: Well, I really, I just started dissecting people like Kev Brown. He was one of the first ones that I really was like, 'Man, this cat’s pretty fresh right here.' I started dissecting what he was doing and just getting inspiration off of people like that.

BeatTips: When did things start to click for you? Like when did you start to get the hang of it?

Upright: Man, to be honest, I think that was like last year! It hasn’t been that long since I really felt like things are starting to click. And for me, I guess it was slower because I didn’t go to people and try to look at, like, ‘O.K., what is this dude doing? What makes his tracks dope?’ until recently. And then what really brought it together for me, man, was the EQ’ing and compression. Cuz I had my drums, and I’d listen to other people’s tracks, and I’d be like, 'Man, they sound so much fatter, so much more.' It still didn’t click with me that it was the drum track that was really driving hip hop. I don’t know why, man, it just never clicked with me. But my buddy, Matt Hoffman, and he does more like his own compositions of rock and stuff like that, I would listen to him and his stuff sounded so dynamic. And I was like, 'Why does his track sound like that?' I could hear everything real good. And the drums were crisp and the sounds were crisp. And so, just talking with him, he introduced me to compression and EQ’ing and stuff like that. And I started studying that stuff. He would tell me, “EQ this and compress that,” and I really didn’t know what he was talking about. So I started looking into that, then I would go back and listen to people’s beats, then I put 2 and 2 together.

BeatTips: What’s your current setup?

Upright: Right now, I’d say my main piece is Reason 6. That’s my main tool. And then I have the Maschine, too. I can just stand alone with Reason 6, but Maschine is pretty dope, too. And then I have the MPD. I had the MPC 2500, but when I saw what Reason could do, I had to check out Reason. Once I started messing with Reason, I realized that basically everything that I can do in the 2500, I can do in Reason. So I got rid of the 2500.

BeatTips: So translate your workflow for how you use Reason 6, based off of your experience using the 2500. How does that translate?

Upright: So like a comparison between those two?

BeatTips: No, not necessarily a comparison, but how are you able to achieve on Reason 6 what you used to achieve on the 2500?

Upright: O.K., I see what you’re saying. Well, basically, the 2500—you know you could slice up samples and then it had 16 levels. So those were the two things that I was like, 'As long as I can do that, then I’m going to be O.K.' So I had to get Recycle. That was the thing. You chop up in Recycle. And then from there, once it’s a Rex file, it’ll go in the Rex player. So there’s your chops right there. And then anything you have chopped up, you can throw into one of the other samplers, and get basically your 16 levels. So for me, it was those two things; and then being able to record whatever I want. My turntable runs right into my computer. If I need to record a guitar, bow, it’ll go right into Reason like it would the MPC.

BeatTips: What interface are you using? How are you going into your computer?

Upright: I’m just going through a ProFire. It’s a little M-Audio interface, ProFire 610. It has 4 ins, MIDI, and 4 outputs.

BeatTips: And what are you using to control Reason with?

Upright: I control Reason with a MPD 32. And then I have a MIDI keyboard, an Ediorl M30…the MIDI keyboard for playing like chords and stuff like that.

BeatTips: So break down your music process. Are you systematic or more organic?

Upright: Lately, I’ve been real systemic. Because I feel like if I can get the melody that I like first, if I can really feel the melody, that’s what I want there first. Because I know I want to bring the drums in hard…If I get a good melody that I like, then I know that behind that I can bring a drum track in that’s going to hit and compliment the melody. So I’ll pull all my drums off of vinyl. That’s where I start. I’ll get my melody going, then I’ll find a break on a vinyl record. And then find one that matches that melody, that goes good with that melody. And then I’ll chop up the drums and lay the drums down; and basically that’s the foundation. Then from there, I’ll probably add something subtle or light on top of that to kind of compliment the groove. And then from there, I’ll got to the bass line.

BeatTips: Let’s go back to Recycle for a moment. With software, have you found that it takes you longer or just about the same time?

Upright: Uh…[thinks long about it] To me, it seems faster, because if I have an idea, I know everything is in the computer already, pretty much. Unless I want to get something from another record and throw it in there, too. The only thing that I’d say is the extra step is when I have to chop something up. So that’s kind of why I got the Maschine. Because the Maschine is just like a chopping beast. Where the MPC 2500 could have 64 slices, the Maschine can have 4,096 slices! You can put one Rex file on one pad of the Maschine. A Rex file can be 92 slices, so now you have 92 slices on one pad.

BeatTips: But tell me what’s the benefit of that? How have you used that capability before. Give me example.

Upright: So you can drop a Rex file on one pad, and then use your keyboard to play that melodies and those chops, or whatever you have on that Rex file on that pad. And so that’s just one pad. So instead of having, you know, a whole MPC dedicated to your melody or something, let’s say you chop something up that extensively to where you have all those chops on there, now that’s just on one pad. I have all those other pads for whatever else I may need them for. The Maschine is crazy because I could put a compressor on one pad and run my chops through this pad over here to pad 16 in group A. It’s just a whole nother work flow on that thing. That’s why I got the Maschine, to speed up my chopping. Because when I want to chop and get something going, and I don’t want to start in Reason, I’ll open Maschine and do it that way. And then I’ll export everything out of Maschine and drop it over into Reason. But regardless, I always finish everything in Reason. No matter where it starts, the final product is gonna go into Reason.

BeatTips: So if you have all of those slices on one pad, how do you take out, let’s say, just two or three that you want to use? Do you take them out and assign them to a different pad or what do you do?

Upright: Yep, yep! You can take ‘em out. So like if I have a little sound that I want to accentuate or do something to, flip it, reverse, whatever, you can just extract just that one sample and put it on another pad and do whatever you want to it.

BeatTips: Clearly, listening to your music, you use a combination of sample-based and non-sample-based approaches, but are you more of a sample-based beatmaker or non-sample-based? What do you consider yourself?

Upright: I consider myself…If I had to choose one, I’d say sample-based. If I couldn’t use any synths, I’d do my bass lines, grab a little piece and just make my bass lines like that.

BeatTips: So you’re probably more like a hybrid?

Upright: Hybrid! Definitely! Definitely!

BeatTips: About your drums, you mentioned that you sample them. Do you use sample packs as well or stock sounds from your gear?

Upright: No, I really don’t get into those kinds of sounds. I generally just keep it records because I want to have that grit, that grit sound that hip hop sound that you can only get from when your drums come off records. So that’s what I really, really want to have in my tracks. One example of what I had to do lately is, I sampled a kick and a snare from a break, then I chopped it up. Once I got it in the track, I realized the kick wasn’t cutting through like I wanted to. So what I did, I kept that kick there, but I blended in something that had some more high frequencies that could punch through, you know what I mean?

BeatTips: Right.

Upright: So it still had that underlying grit sound, but the kick was cutting through because of that little tiny layer that I had on top. So I do stuff like that. But really try to keep it vinyl-based drums. And there was one tip you gave on BeatTips that really took me to the next level, man. When you talked about sampling just stuff, you know you were talking about, take your microphone and hit on boxes and do this and that. And I hadn’t really considered that, man. That took me to a whole nother level. That helped me to really branch out, and see that there was more to defining your sound. You know, and how when you talked about how to make your snares. I read that, too on the BeatTips website, and I was like, 'Man, this is some really good stuff right here.'

BeatTips: Do you sample your drum sounds dry or do you EQ or amp them up in any way?

Upright: I sample them straight dry. I keep them where their way below clipping, way below being hot at all. So once their in there, and they sound good just like they are on the record, at that point I’ll EQ them and do different stuff to them. You know, maybe pitch them down, or depending on what it takes. You know, whatever it takes to get them to sound like my ear is feeling it should sound.

BeatTips: What’s the signal flow that you’re using when you sample?

Upright: Turntable going into a DJ mixer. It’s just a Numakr PT-200, nothing special, just a basic mixer. I think it’s their bottom of the line “cheapy” mixer.

BeatTips: From your Numark, where do you got to?

Upright: That runs into the computer interface and then straight into the computer…Then I sample it into either Reason or Maschine, either one of those.

BeatTips: What determines whether you’re going to sample using Reason or the Maschine?

Upright: Really, it’s just what I feel like, where I feel like I want to take it. Like, where my inspiration is feeling like I want to go. So if I feel like in Maschine...they have like different synths…so if I feel like I want to use a VST, I’ll go to Maschine because Reason doesn’t host VSTs…you know, Massive or whatever, Absynth, or something like that. But if I feel like I want to use some Reason synths, then I’ll go into Reason.

BeatTips: Tell me about your main creative influences. Be it music or any other creative art forms. Specifically, what and who are they, and how do you incorporate them into your music?

Upright: I listen to, man, it’s a lot of stuff. A lot of my influence comes from what’s there on the record. But a lot of times, you know, I’ll just vibe on what other people are doing and just kind of let that spark my creativity. Because I feel like…If you separate yourself from what people are doing, then you really can’t grow as an artist. And that’s really what I feel like. So basically, it’s a community. So if you’re part of a community, the community sparks everybody. You spark off one another. That’s like big for me. Like, if you have an artist over here, and he’s creating by himself, you know, his stuff will be dope. But if you have five guys, and they’re really learning, and these five guys are kind of sparking each other, I feel like their art will go to a whole nother level, you know, than just the one dude by himself, you know what I mean. Because he knows only the techniques that he knows. And so you got these five dudes who know…You got five vibes, and five vibes are thinking five different ways. And so, you put all those methods together and all those guys will go to another level.

BeatTips: I completely understand. It’s similar to how bebop developed in jazz.

Upright: Yeah.

BeatTips: From the beginning, like when you first started, did you understand that beatmaking was an art form, or was it something you came to learn recently?

Upright: I do understand it’s an art form. Recently, I’ve come to learn that, within the past, let’s say…and I know it’s cliché to say, but Dilla, the Donuts album. Because that, for me, you know he was doing some pretty crazy stuff on there. And that’s when my mind kind of clicked. I mean, I know there’s a whole spew of people that have been doing stuff like that and being creative and being artistic before that. But when I heard that—and I’m not a huge Dilla fan—when I heard the Donuts album, I was like, 'Man, I can listen to this and really appreciate it for what it is.' It doesn’t have to have an MC on it. And I’m not in love with every track on there, but you know, that’s when I realized…there’s a lot of creativity in the expression just within the beat by itself.

BeatTips: Do you mix your own beats?

Upright: Yep.

BeatTips: What do you use?

Upright: I do everything right there in Reason. Reason 6 has that SSL 9000 emulator in there. So basically, it’s like a replica of the SSL 9000 mixing board. So I got real comfortable using that, man. And that’s where I mixed down everything.

BeatTips: Do you save a level of creativity for the mixing process?

Upright: Definitely! Definitely! Definitely! And to me, mixing is like real subjective. It’s like, one person my think, you know, “Your hi-hats are a little too loud.” But for me, I want them to really cut your ears in a certain section. And that’s the subjective part of mixing. Once you figure out what you’re doing, as far as mixing down your tracks, you can really put your touch or your creativity or your stamp, your signature, on the mixing process.

BeatTips: How did you find out about The BeatTips Community, and what made you join TBC?

Upright: I found about The BeatTips Community through Saint Joe. I was checking out his website…He had a list of websites that he likes, you know. And it had BeatTips there, and I hit it. And ever sense, man, it’s just been one of my favorites.

BeatTips: I appreciate that. And what made you ultimately join TBC?

Upright: Man, the level of insight, especially you. The way you break down your analysis; your perception of beatmaking, it’s just like you want to be around that, man.

BeatTips: And what was cool is that you joined TBC recently, and then you won the first battle of the new year. And you see how our battles get. So I definitely want to congratulate you on that again. And for your winning beat, “Bear Fruit,” that was a formidable composition. So tell me how that beat came about.

Upright: Basically, I got this old 45. Let me—I have the 45 right here. It’s Lee Davis, and it’s either “Two Ships Passing in the Night”…or “Everybody;” so it’s one of those two. I can’t remember, but there was an organ on there. So I got that organ and then…I chopped it up and laid those chops down. And then from there, I got the drums off a record and then laid the drums down. And I was doing that in the Maschine. And that bass line, I got that from Massive, that’s a Native Instruments synth.

BeatTips: You’re saying the bass parts? Because you played the bass line, right? Or was that whole bass line a phrase that you sampled?

Upright: No, no! I played that on the MIDI keyboard from Massive, the synth, Massive. So once I had those couple elements right there, I threw it over into Reason. And I started working from there. I sampled a shekere, well, I call it a cabasa, you know, it’s got the little beads on it. So I sampled that and then a couple of things, like a knock. And I layered the knock with the snare. And just kept building it...basically, adding little elements and tightening up the mix. And it was a wrap.

BeatTips: Coming back to your process, it sounds like you use the Maschine now to get your ideas going and to develop the main framework of where you want to go.

Upright: Definitely! I start a framework in Maschine, then shoot it over into to Reason and work out the rest of it there, you know, maybe add a few instruments.

BeatTips: Now, is that “Bear Fruit” beat an old beat or a recent beat?

Upright: Nah, I made it for that [BeatTips.com] beat battle.

BeatTips: Was it a late night joint or day time?

Upright: That was a late night joint, man, sure was.

Below is "Bear Fruit," the beat Upright won the January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle with.

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

"Bear Fruit" (prod. by Upright)

*To hear more of Upright's music, check out his SoundCloud page at: soundcloud.com/upright

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

January 28, 2012

BeatTips Tutorials: Creating a Section Contrast

An Example of How to Build a Section Contrast


I was asked by a BeatTips reader to give an example of how a "section contrast" (something I describe on page 129 in The BeatTips Manual) is done. Below is my answer.

What I discuss in that part of my book is how changes or "switch-ups" of sections (e.g. verse section, chorus section, etc.) can be created to show change, even though they're still quite similar. These changes can be subtle and brief, or they can be quite noticeable and prolonged. In either case, a section contrast takes place when a section contrasts with another section but still moves with a similar movement, keeping the "color" and fullness of the section in tact while the "brightness" adjusts. In other words, even though a change actually takes place, everything sounds fluid like one balanced composite.

I've included a beat of mine to give you an example of how this works. In the beat below, the main section is built around a three-note violin riff—this riff is the heart of the entire track; I designed everything in deference to this riff. Then there's an alternating three-note bass part or bass line. And there's an electric guitar stab that lands on the "4", the "8", the "12", the "16", and so on (NOTICE: the clap is always on the "2", the "4", etc. But the guitar stab lands on every other clap).

After the main section, at the 0:20, I slip in a drum fill (a minor change in and of itself) to announce a change, but not to pull too far away. This change, which is a guitar riff that's 3/4's of a bar long, is used to show a contrast to what was already established in the main section—but notice that even though it's a change, it moves with a similar feel with what has already been established. Think of adjusting the contrast on a photo, how just the right value of contrast gives the right balance to the entire image. Using this analogy, I see changes in a beat as degrees of brightness and color. Therefore, I'm always concerned with how to distinguish sounds and sections from one another while maintaining continuity. And often, it is the adjustment of "contrast", that is to say, the level and type of change, that I focus on to make the color of one section less or more brighter.

This "section contrast" concept is not only my own way of approaching the "color" and feel of of a beat, it's also my way of looking at how and when changes should (or shouldn't) be added, and to what degree changes should be built out. Thus, for me, this concept plays a big role in how I compose my beats. And it applies to when I'm making a sample-based beat, just as much as it does when I'm making a synthetic-sounds-based (i.e. live instrumentation with synthetic sounds) beat.

*Beat Note: I played the violin, bass violin, and guitar parts on my Roland Fantom S88 keyboard workstation. Then I sampled everything—each phrase and riff separately—into my Akai MPC 4000. Then I used the MPC 4000 for my drums as well as to sequence everything. Thus, even though this is a *live instrumentation* joint, I still used the sampling approach and aesthetic to achieve the sound and feel that I wanted.

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

Sa'id - "Listen Up" (instrumental)

October 03, 2011

Nottz’ “Shine So Brite” Illuminates 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 form 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, in effect, protects against its own demise.

By perpetually reusing and recalibrating beatmaking's most unique processes and methods—in the finest, perhaps 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 the 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 the "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 mainstay of hip hop/rap music made most famous by DJ Premier's precise rendition, 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 Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

September 27, 2011

BeatTips Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog: "Bullet in a Horoscope"

The Wah Wah Guitar Back Story; First Series Release


In 1999, I started my first company, Wah Wah Guitar Recording and Filmworks. The plan was for Wah Wah Guitar (named as my homage to the proverbial "wah wah" guitar sound featured in many 1970s films, particularly those commonly known as blaxpoitation movies) to serve as my umbrella entity through which my independent interests in music and films would be commercially realized.

Prior to 1999, I had been rhyming and studying the art of rapping for seven years, and I had been developing a skill for beatmaking for six (I began rhyming as a teenager in 1992; I began making my own beats a year later), but for various reasons (distractions, other interests) I had yet to attempt to go pro, so to speak. So when I started Wah Wah Guitar in 1999, it represented the first carnation of my understanding of commerce and entertainment, specifically, independent production, manufacturing, and distribution.

Although I had set up an entity to pursue a career in music, the truth is, I never went after it with the sheer narrow focus that many have. Aside from my strong reservations about how the music industry was ran (and some of the specific industry types who ran it), I also held deep reservations about being a “rapper.” So even though I had the talent and dedication to carve out a music career (indeed, at one point I received legitimate label interest and I passed on the opportunity, see Sa'id's Mental Memoir: DJ Tony Touch Thought "Milk" Was A Monster"), as the year 2002 drew near, my goals shifted.

Before I ever wrote one rhyme or made one beat, I was a writer, one with a particular interest in film, history, and culture. And while I was serious about music, I had to embrace the reality that I wanted to do more than rhyme or make beats. Moreover, I realized that I didn’t want to maneuver from the “inside” of the music industry. So I committed myself to bypassing the exhausted deal-shopping path, and I focused instead on working from the outside. The aim being to create a platform that would allow me to do my own music on my terms and to be flexible enough to pursue wherever that took me.

As I saw it, Wah Wah Guitar would become the entity through which I realized my music goals. It would be the independent company that would permit me to do music completely on my own terms. But an ironic thing happened (well, perhaps not too ironic) three years into this plan: I wrote a book about beatmaking (The BeatTips Manual)! Soon, my rapping and beatmaking aspirations subsided; and it became less important for me to release my own music and more important for me to examine and thoroughly research the hip hop/rap music tradition—specifically, beatmaking—and publish my findings. In short, it became more important for me to document the beatmaking tradition and to work towards preserving the hip hop/rap music tradition as a whole.

Still, this huge shift in focus aside, in the three years that Wah Wah Guitar remained active, I recorded a great deal of music; the overwhelming bulk of it I never released or even let anyone hear. In fact, some of it, I've only heard once or twice—on the day that I made and recorded it! So what exists now is a catalog of complete and incomplete songs and beats; complete and incomplete verses, both one-takes and outtakes; commercial studio session recordings and home practice sessions; and more. And in an effort to continue to help more beatmakers and rappers, I’ve decided to release most (if not all) of this music here on BeatTips.com.

Thus, for the purpose of scholarship (discussion and study) and to extend my work in the study of the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, I will, at least once each month, post a recording (at random) from my Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog. And along with each recording, I will include as much commentary as possible, which shouldn’t be hard to do, since I’ve kept notes, often very meticulous ones, of every beat and rhyme that I made and recorded during the Wah Wah Years. It is my hope that by releasing this music and personal commentary, fellow beatmakers and rappers will (1) learn more about the fundamental ways that the two art forms—beatmaking and rapping—affect each other; and (2) be able to incorporate some of my ideas and approaches (if helpful) into their own processes.

As always, I encourage any questions, observations, or anything else that will be helpful. So post your comments and get into the discussion.

Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)

The rhyme
The concept for this song (which I never completed) was about a young "good girl" in the hood gone bad. I wrote one verse, just to see if my rhyme matched my initial concept and the beat. But as with a number of my unfinished rhymes, with this joint, I was mostly concerned with further developing control of my delivery, particularly at a quick pace.

The beat
For this beat, I used a one-bar framework that I copied into 2 bars. The beat is driven by a sample that I duplicated. I filtered one copy of the sample with high treble; and I filtered the other copy with dull treble. The main effect of the way that I filtered two copies of the same sample is that it made both copies sound like they had different pitch levels.

For the drum framework of this beat, I built a drum pattern that sounded like it was tumbling over. I had the kick sort of rumbling, while I tucked the snare-hits. The open hi-hat is where I tried a couple of things out. First, I experimented with the open hi-hat in a way similar to how I filtered the primary sample of the beat, in that I filtered it differently on alternating events within the sequence (meaning I programmed the high-filtered part to land, followed by the dull-filtered part). Also, I played the open hi-hat in a way that "pushed" the beat along.

I never built this joint out into a complete song, but it helped me work out different aspects of my rhyme delivery and breath control. Furthermore, it helped me gain a better feel for how to use my hi-hats, something that would soon come in handy.

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

Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (prod. by Sa'id, from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)

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

September 21, 2011

BeatTips Tutorial: Sampling Live Instrumentation: Guitar Riffs

Sampling Your Live Playing and Making It Sound Like a "Sample", Not Just Live Instrumentation Re-Recorded


Perhaps one of the most misused and misrepresented terms in beatmaking is “live instrumentation”. What does live instrumentation actually mean, anyway? On the surface, one might be quick to say that live instrumentation is the making of music without the use of samples. But given the fact that a great deal of so-called live instrumentation relies on the use of samples (e.g. sound modules, software samplers with stock samples, etc.) I’m not sure that’s an appropriate description. But I concede that generally speaking, live instrumentation simply refers to playing and arranging, in the traditional sense, any series of “notes” in a pattern or sequence.

As it stands today, there are those in the beatmaking community who elevate the use of live instrumentation above the use of sampling, as if sampling's primitive and "unoriginal". An absurd notion, of course, especially when you consider the fundamentals of beatmaking and hip hop/rap music and the reality of modern music production tools’ use of samples. But nonetheless, there are those who tow the generic line that live instrumentation is original, and sampling is not; or that live instrumentation is more original than sampling—you get the picture! That being said, how should sampling live instrumentation be looked at? Further, does the process of sampling live instrumentation belong in the live instrumentation side of things or in the sampling column?

While some may stubbornly debate this, my view is that sampling live instrumentation is just as original and creative as any other beatmaking method. I draw no elitist or fundamentalist distinction. Moreover, I see the process of sampling live instrumentation as clearly being a fusion of both concepts and compositional processes, wherein the more skills and understanding that you have, the more likely you’ll be able to express your ideas in the style and sound that you want.

But how do you bring these two worlds together? That depends on you and the style and sound that you’re going for. My approach is always to convert my live instrumentation into the sampling form. In other words, whatever I play out live, in the traditional sense, I sample it (and chop it) then fuse it (combine it, blend it) together with other samples—either traditional vinyl record samples or other live instrumentation converted samples. Thus, in the tutorial below, I break down my method for converting live guitar riffs into samples.

Step 1: Understand and Respect What a Riff Is and Can Be

A riff is a short series of notes played in a pattern. A riff can be simple or complex. Further, riffs are most commonly associated with the guitar (“guitar riff”) but in fact, they can also be played on other instruments, e.g. a piano riff, a sax riff, etc. All popular forms of music employ riffs, and depending on the style, sound, and form, riffs can be used as an accompanying sub-melody (motif or melody within a melody) or as the basis for which an entire song is built upon. Because hip hop/rap music is a fundamentally rhythmic, grooved-based music form, riffs often play a central role in the composition of beats (in The BeatTips Manual, I discuss this concept, as well as hip hop’s/rap’s unique relationship with Western music theory, much more in detail).

Step 2: Live Instrumentation: Play Some Riffs on My Fantom S 88 Keyboard Work Station
(Note: You don’t have to use a keyboard, you can use a MIDI controller and a standalone software sound module like Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig to do the same thing.)

Before I began playing some riffs, I adjust the filter envelope on my Fantom. Usually, I’ll adjust the ARP RANGE and ARP ACCENT. I always leave the release and tempo the same as part of my custom “preset”. After I’ve made these adjustments, I play riffs based on the ideas and themes that I have in mind at the moment. For the audio example I included below, I had a scene from a 1970s movie in my head. It was a brief scene really, nothing major, just two cats walk into a pool hall. But the background music that was playing when they walked in was dope, so I used that as inspiration. I didn’t try to mimic the notes; Instead, I went for the style, sound, and feel of that entire scene. After I play a riff that fits what I'm going for, I hit the "Skip Back Sampling" button on my Fantom and record it.

Step 3: Get Riff into Pro Tools for Effects Processing

At this stage, depending on the riff itself and the type of idea I’ve got going, I will do either one of two things: (a) I Record the riff directly into Pro Tools (my DAW of choice); or (b) I sample the riff into my Akai MPC 4000, loop it, then record the sampled riff from the MPC 4000 into Pro Tools. (Either way, I'm routing through my Mackie analog mixing console into Pro Tools.) For the example that I’ve included in this post, I recorded the riff directly into Pro Tools.

Step 4: Track the Riff on Repeat, Then Duplicate the Track

Here, I try to give myself at least 50 seconds of the riff on repeat; this way I can work the effects as I listen to what the riff is doing, all the while I’m getting a better picture of how I should flip the riff, once the effects are set. After I’ve recorded the riff into a Pro Tools track, I duplicate the track and apply all the effects on the duplicate, leaving the source riff track as is. This allows for quick A and B references. (Note: This becomes particularly important when I make multiple duplicates).

Step 5: Work in the Effects

Usually, I only use three effects (plug-ins) on guitar riffs: reverb, 7-band EQ, and compression. (In Guitar Rig you could go even further with it, adding distortion and other effects.) For reverb, I like using a “large room” setting because it gives me the dusty airiness that I’ll need to make a riff from today sound old and in line with the types of vinyl record samples I like to use. In other words, I use reverb keeping in mind the overall texture and feel of the beat that I’m going to be making.

Step 6: Sample the Riff Into My MPC 4000

Once the effects are set, I sample the riff into my MPC 4000.

Step 7: I. Gets. Busy!!!

At this stage, I’m in complete sampling mode, so everything moves FAST. After chopping the riff to my liking (the initial chopping), I put it in a sequence, then loop it. I listen to the loop of the chopped riff to see what direction to go in. Do I pitch it up or pitch it down? It always depends on the style, feel, and sound that I’m going for. With the example below, I went with the “pool hall” theme from the movie that inspired the riff, which prompted me to pitch the riff up. At this point, I also made one more chop, completely cutting off the tail of the original guitar riff.

After I got the pitch of the riff right, I built a drum framework around it, using one of my 5 default kicks, “kick 4 S950”; a snare, “snare bucket lid” (yes, I literally made a snare from striking a small bucket with a lid on top, combined with my “snare 34”); two hi-hats (two strikes of my “hat vintage”); and my signature “gunshot snare”.

Once I had the drum framework rocking, I added in a piano/bass stab that I sampled off of a vinyl record. To make the guitar riff and the piano/bass stab sound as though they came from the same time and space (not necessarily the same record), I threw a notch filter on the guitar riff to blend and tuck it, then I opened up some treble on the channel where the piano/bass stab was being outputted (I could have used the Lo-Hi Pass filter on my MPC 4000 to get the same effect, but I was moving fast; I knew where this beat was headed and I wanted to finish so I could write a rhyme to it).

After a couple a couple EQ adjustments on the Mackie console, I dumped the beat into Pro Tools. Back in Pro Tools, I did some additional EQ’ing, created a master track, and bounced the beat to disc. Done…

Note: Below I have included both the original guitar riff as I played it and the beat made using the sampled riff. (Next week I might post the rhyme vocal I did for this beat)

The music below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

Pool Hall Guitar Riff (Live riff played by Sa'id)

Pool Hall beat (prod. by Sa'id)

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

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