4 posts categorized "BeatTips Daily Favorites"

March 16, 2013

BeatTips Daily Favorites: Gang Starr - "Mass Appeal"

Deceptively Simple Loop Drives Groove; Complex Timing Managed Through Drums


"Mass Appeal" was a turning point for DJ Premier. I remember the first time I heard it. It was on Gang Starr's 1994 LP, Hard to Earn. I played this song over and over...Seriously: repeat city! What caught my attention the most was how Premier chopped the sample, and then arranged it in a way that the ends exploded every time the loop turned over. What's more, at the point where the loop turns, there isn't a dominate kick, which was typical of most hip hop/rap songs of that period.

The absence of the kick on the loop turning point convinced me that Premier was in the midst of a sound change. Having heard his beatwork on Illmatic just a couple of months before, I was wondering if his beats would be in the same vein or take a different direction. Two songs into Hard to Earn, I knew Premier was going for a new sound. And what tipped me off was his experimentation with his drums.

I was paying extra close attention to Premier's use of the kick drum. Specifically, I was studying the ways in which he was starting to "relax" the punch of his kicks while still coming up with non-conventional drum frameworks. On "Mass Appeal," it was if Premier had challenged himself to devise a moderately syncopated kick pattern underneath a deceptively simple sample arrangement. Indeed, if you listen to "Mass Appeal," pay careful attention to how the end of the sample seems to speed up. Truth is, it doesn't. By chopping the end of the sample the way he did, and by easing up on the attack (the front-end) of the sample, an otherwise simple 1-bar measure is transformed into something akin to break in a record being "pushed" forward by the DJ. And what makes this all more complex than most people realize is the fact that the tempo—which stays the same throughout—is managed thoroughly by the kick pattern and shuffling hat pattern.

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

Gang Starr - "Mass Appeal"

Gang Starr - "Mass Appeal" (Official music video)

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

November 19, 2010

BeatTips Daily Favorites: "The Mad Scientist;" Large Professor

Unsung Hero of Creativity, Large Professor Mastered the Art of Bass-Filtering and Drum-Sound Customization


On "The Mad Scientist," one of Large Professor's best beatworks, it will serve you well to notice how the drums and the sample move together. Each drum sound is its own sample, yet when this song came out, many critics of sampling could not—did not—distinguish the individual drum hits that Large Professor used. Instead, in various "reviews," the drum sounds were incorrectly lumped together with the sample, and described as being simply "a part of the sampled riff." I can even remember reading one critic's assessment of "The Mad Scientist" as having a "lack" of creativity.

Well, the true fact of the matter is, there's a lot more going on with this track than many would easily recognize. First, each drum sound is customized and well-suited for the main sample, (which Large Professor uses like a break). The kick has what I like to call a rubber bottom. I use the term "rubber bottom" to describe those kicks that have significant bottom, but still manage to bounce. The snare, which sounds like a straight-forward snare sound with loose skin, snaps and suspends in mid-space, sustained by just the right amount of reverb. This is most pleasing to the ear, as it makes the snare sound much more fuller and balanced, unlike the over-compressed, "squashed" sounding snares in far too many of today's beats. Then there's the shaker-like hat that glides across the entire measure. (Underneath the main hi-hat there appears to be another light, truncated hi-hat that whispers.)

As for the main sample tha drives the beat, Large Professor speeds up its pitch, in a way that streamlines its warmth, without distorting its sonic value, or disrupting the drum framework. And the way that the sample is chopped, the beginning and end points are masked quite well, making the loop sound like two overlapping parts that dissolve into each other. Finally, there is one notable change: the ascending violin phrase (sample) that streams through the chorus section.

Looking back, I remember how I thought to myself that once critics start to challenge the creativity of drum patterns/programs, sampling would really come under attack by other beatmakers. Unfortunately, I was right. But I also believed that there would be more beatmakers who would disagree with the mostly uninformed critics of beatmaking and its various creative, often meticulous practices. Fortunately, I was right about that, too.

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

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

Large Professor - "The Mad Scientist" (Instrumental)

Large Professor - "The Mad Scientist" (Official music video)

January 30, 2010

BeatTips Daily Favorites: "Nas Is Like;" Nas and DJ Premier

Chopping and Drumwork Again Sets DJ Premier Apart

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

The genius of the "Nas Is Like" beat comes down to how DJ Premier chopped up an otherwise light and soft harp-violin sample, and juxtaposed it with a hard 3-note bass line and a hungry drum framework.

Nas - "Nas Is Like;" produced by DJ Premier
(Easily one of my top seven favorite hip hop/rap songs of all time.)

January 15, 2010

BeatTips Daily Favorites: "Liquid Swords;" GZA/RZA

RZA Uses Customized Sound Stabs to Make Unique Soundscape; Slow Dragging Composition Gives GZA Room to Breathe

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

As far as my favorite hip hop/rap songs go, "Liquid Swords," by The GZA and The RZA, remains steadfastly in my top five. It is truly a genius piece of work.

The song starts with a clip from a martial arts film—a non-music intro that clocks in at about 1 minute and 20 seconds. The movie clip dissolves into the atmosphere of a down-home juke joint, complete with a slow, intoxicating soul rhythm and party-goers talking out loud to the music. Next we hear RZA as a teacher, reminding us,"Sometimes we gotta flash 'em back, cuz niggas don't know where this shit started." And then, the kick and the first sound-stab drops, right when RZA and GZA—in the natural unison of family—both begin with the chorus: "When the M.Cs.s came, to live out they name..." Incredible.

From my first listen to the last, what impresses me the most about "Liquid Swords" (from a beatmaker's point of view) is the way in which RZA plays the truncated sound stabs that he's sampled. First, these sound-stabs, which are some sort of multi-layered guitar strum, are untraceable. There is no one who could ever accurately identify the source music RZA used to sample them from, which means that RZA guaranteed himself an one-of-kind, original, bonafide custom sound. Second, RZA plays the sound-stabs like he's strumming them right off the guitar of a Stax records session guitarist. Third, the bass-sound stab that RZA layers with the guitar sound-stab is pitched at a level just low enough to boost the punch of the guitar licks. The result is a sonic impression that makes the track sound ever so sinister and menacing...like a big ass sign that reads: "Hip hop/rap frauds enter at your own peril!"

***EDITOR'S NOTE (1/23/10) Recently, it was brought to my attention that the sampled sound-stabs that the RZA "played" were actually NOT sound stabs at all, but instead, a 3-second measure of the sounds played in chromatic succession. I closely listened to the original alleged sound source and "Liquid Swords," and there is no doubt in my that the sounds on 'Liquid Swords" came from this record. Thus, although RZA did indeed program the sample, it is likely that the sample itself was not cut into individual sound stabs and replayed. Side note: As is the case with a number of beats, sometimes what you thought was individual stabs actually turn out be the arrangement within the original sample. Either way though, "Liquid Swords" is dope. Good job, RZA and GZA.
— Sa'id***

Finally, there's the drums. If you've ever studied RZA's beatwork then you know that RZA usually tucks his drum sounds in the mix, and he never overstates their volume. In the case of "Liquid Swords," that's exactly what's going on. But I should point out that even though the kick is indeed tucked, the kick pattern that RZA uses is a syncopated assemblage that sets up the snare, then "hugs" it wherever it lands in the measure.

As for the rhyme...The GZA never disappoints. On "Liquid Swords" GZA's lyrical confidence shines, and his lines merge with rather than cut through the soul and the smokiness of the composition. In fact, GZA adds a sort of drawl and sustain to each word in every bar, closing each measure with a rhythm that snaps in line with the turnover of every snare hit.

Indeed, for a lesson in "out of the box" hip hop/rap music, be sure to study "Liquid Swords."

For example...

The GZA - "Liquid Swords"

The GZA - "Liquid Swords" (Official music video)

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