119 posts categorized "BeatTips Jewel Droppin'"

December 23, 2013

Stealth Drop: The Untold Lessons You Should Draw from DJ Premier's "Bars in the Booth" Launch and Beyoncé's Surprise Album Release

The New Reality About Marketing and Promotion Favors the Artist with a Core Base and Brand…and a Strong Signal


See what DJ Premier just did? On a random Thursday afternoon, without any advance notice or promotion, he debuts his new Youtube channel, “Premier Wuz Here,” highlighting it with the first installment of his new in-studio rhyme series, “Bars in the Booth,” featuring rapper Papoose. The reaction was swift. Cheers, shock, appreciation, and sincere praise abounded throughout social media. This was the stealth drop — something that Beyoncé had just pulled off on a much grander scale the week before.

It’s worth examining just why DJ Premier and Beyoncé — both pinnacles in their respective corners of the music industry — could successfully do what they did. Premier can do this for four main reasons. First, he's trusted. He has never left off making music for his core base. More importantly, he has never wavered from the cornerstone of hip hop/rap that he represents. Second, DJ Premier has always maintained a consistent level of creativity and a distinct style and sound. You go to Premier for his sound, and you know precisely what you’re going to get in terms of quality and credibility. Third, Premier has consistently sustained control over his own content and has always explored new ways to get his musical hand print into the world. From his early days of seeking and securing production work outside of Gang Starr, to the acquisition of the famed D&D Recording Studios (his studio home base for more than 20 years), to the start of his own record label, Year Round, Premier has remained self-contained and independently focused. Finally, DJ Premier is greatly respected among his peers and fans a like. No one can (or ever has) questioned his commitment to hip hop/rap music. Thus, taken together, these four factors make it possible for DJ Premier to pull off the stealth drop.

Of course, DJ Premier's launch is not an album release, nor is it within the larger spectrum of Beyoncé's stealth drop. Still, it's vital to Premier's continued prospects in a number of ways. For one thing, It serves to generate more good faith in the marketplace for the revered producer. Also, it keeps DJ Premier’s name fresh and in the now. Furthermore, it presents new revenue streams in the form channel sponsorships, the (inevitable) audio releases of "Bars in the Booth" episodes, and, of course, additional production work. I have to believe that this is planned long-term thinking, something that Premier has always been focused on.

Now, let's look at Beyoncé...

When Beyoncé recently released her new self-titled album — quite successfully — without any marketing, promotion, or advanced notice, she didn’t just buck the traditional marketing and promotion stratagems that surround new record releases, she exposed — like her husband, Jay Z did some months earlier with his Samsung partnership — the new reality about marketing and promotion in this era. Today, there is an abundance of choice, with an infinite number of channels to tune into and enjoy or be distracted by. This, as many scholars, marketers, and consumer analysts have all observed, has made for the constant turn over of volumes of new offerings that, because of the sheer numbers and indefinite tail of products, amount to noise.

Thus, with so much noise being generated, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for content creators to get their signal across. Which means, savvy artists (and marketers) are exploring ways to better make their signals cut through all the noise. And even though Beyoncé is a tier 1 entertainer, with all of the media benefits that such a position ensures, she still has to be able to make sure that her signal cuts through. Traditionally, this has meant turning over marketing and promotional control to people who usually defer to a stale (but often proven) stratagem — one that emphasizes a specific release date build-up and push above everything else.

Typically, releases for artists of Beyoncé’s stature feed off of a multi-month lead-time, where press — television, print, and digital media — is secured three months (at least) in advanced and planned for publication around the time of the official release date. By opting out of this tried and proven strategy, Beyoncé effectively shook up the marketing and promo clock and reversed the way coverage works, as no doubt media outlets will now have to scramble and compete to cover her album now that it’s been released.

So what can hip hop/rap artists (beatmakers/producers are artists as well) glean from all of this?

For starters, think about longevity and what it means to you. Recognize the fact that household names like DJ Premier and Beyoncé didn’t earn their stature overnight. So relax. Don’t split your focus into a thousand different trends, all in an effort to hedge those opportunities that may appear to promise overnight fame. Instead, stay committed to your own musical ideas and tastes and don’t waver. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid progress or the expansion of your style and sound. It means being true to your music. It also means staying off the path of fool’s-gold trends and unrealistic opportunities that do not align with your core sensibilities.

Another take away is that you should strive to create not just a quality product but a unique experience. While most of us do not have the resources to bundle videos together with every song on an album, we do have the ability to at least make something unique if we dare try. So it’s important to create something worthwhile, something that no one else can quite offer.

Next, it’s equally important to then deliver that product and experience quickly through channels of distribution that you have some level of control or influence over. The drip, drip, drip roll out of song leaks is anti-climatic in an era that’s quite fractious and teaming with lots of noise. Plus, consumers reward people, products, brands, and services that consistently prove themselves to be valuable. Countless, unnecessary song leaks leading up to an official album release can have averse effects. Listeners often get fatigued and sometimes even irritated by the constant asking to listen — remember, a leak isn’t entitled to a listen! And if you drip out one disappointing or just average song, you will actually discourage your core audience, as well as potential fans, from buying your album when it drops. In other words, leaking songs from your own album — especially an album that, despite puffed-up email blast claims, isn't really "highly anticipated" — is often not a solid marketing and promotion strategy. What’s worse? Dropping a free mixtape (of a dozen or so average songs no less) in the lead up to your promoted commercial release. Always remember: Listeners must be earned, not mistreated with multiple "leaks" for leak's sake.

Finally, even the self-title of Beyoncé’s new album brings something to mind. Don't name your album a "part 2" of an album you've done before unless the original (the part 1, per se) was widely known and well received. Otherwise, you might come off looking more like a status poser rather than an thoughtful artist. Part 2's of classics like, for instance, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Links make creative and marketing sense because: (1) they represent reflections of pivotal albums and moments in hip hop/rap music history; (2) they offer insightful commentary on the current state of affairs of not just hip hop/rap itself, but of the artists who made such albums; and (3) they send a strong marketing and promotional signal of what to expect from the part 2 album, thereby rallying support from core fans.

DJ Premier and Beyoncé: A Deeper Connection

Look past the entertainer stardom and the music genres that separate the two, and you see the common threads that unite DJ Premier and Beyoncé. Both are household names in their respective music worlds. More telling is the paths that both have taken to achieve their stature. Neither are the invention of the overnight-sensation construct that so many seek in today's instant gratification and attention-span challenged media world. Instead, each started out among the rank and file, not positions of power and influence. And each overcame early adversity. DJ Premier's position in Gang Starr almost never was; the original group imploded when several of the founding members quit, leaving Guru to recruit Premier, who had seen his own group disband right on the brink of a record deal with Wild Pitch (read my exclusive interview with DJ Premier in The BeatTips Manual for the complete story). And Beyoncé withstood Destiny's Child’s (her former group) early slow start, struggle, member realignment, and ultimate reinvention. It’s also worth pointing out that both DJ Premier and Beyoncé stayed devoted to the core fan bases that they developed, effectively making the notion of longevity a crucial factor in their staying power.

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

DJ Premier's "Bars in the Booth: Papoose"

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

December 16, 2013

Kanye West Flips “Strange Fruit” for “Blood On the Leaves,” and There’s Nothing Wrong with That

Sampling in Hip Hop/Rap Need Not Be Politically Correct


First, it was “Blood on the Leaves.” Outrage from all over for how Kanye West appropriated Nina Simone’s heart wrenching rendition of “Strange Fruit,” a 1939 song about lynching (a song some today curiously describe as being sacred). Then, it was “Bound 2.” More group-think outrage about a decadent song and video which features a topless — and unapologetically erotic — Kim Kardashian, the mother of Kanye West’s daughter and his soon to be wife…

Typically, I avoid publishing commentary on matters like these, opting, at most, to share my brief thoughts among close friends and colleagues. That was my reaction when “Blood on the Leaves” was blasted by a broad swath of different people, all seemingly jockeying to prove just how distasteful “Blood on the Leaves” was. But wait: Hip hop/rap need not be politically correct to be dope. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself…
And more recently, that was my initial reaction to the “Bound 2” fall out, which was dismissed as old hat, in poor taste, and un-genius like, as well as parodied by James Franco and Seth Rogin. But what’s all the fuss about? A well-known, modern pop culture figure making pop art? Got it…

Now, before I continue, please let me preface the following by simply stating that I’m acutely aware of the history of lynching in the United States, as I am of the history of black American music and 20th century popular American music for that matter. I’m also adept at speaking about Colonial America, American slavery, and the Ante-bellum and Reconstruction Periods. That said, I’m also very aware of a number of different twentieth-century American popular music and cultural developments, in particular, the art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition. And that is what I’d like to speak to.

The art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition can be celebrated for a number of different reasons by music makers, fans, and scholars alike. But particularly for those who make sample-based beats or those in tune to hip hop’s power to convert anything to its own sensibility, the art of sampling is deeply celebrated for its power to reconceptualize, recontextualize, and repurpose sound recordings in ways that express the hip hop attitude, style, and feel. But that aside — if it can really be put to the side — for the moment, I get it: Some (maybe many) might disagree with Kanye West’s politics or, specifically in this case, his crass flexibility with one of the most profound black American songs of the 20th century. I get that. But whether you’re politically correct (allegedly), indifferent, or not too informed about the lynching and slave histories of the United States isn’t the point here.

Kanye West is pop artist. And by “pop” I mean popular, in the sense of what that word meant almost a half-century ago, not an underhanded way of saying lack of creativity or vision or worse still, today’s mainstream. Yes, Kanye West is a pop artist — one who’s pedigree is rooted deeply in the sampling tradition of hip hop/rap music. Does all of this buy him a pass? No. Does all of this excuse his appropriation of Nina Simone’s wonderful rendition of the beautifully dark and dreary “Strange Fruit?” No. But who said West needs a pass? And who says that he has to excuse himself from making use of his musical training, production skill set, or pop cultural influences and ideas? Moreover, who says he has to excuse himself or apologize for combining his training, skill set(s), and creativity in ways that he chooses, ways that he deems useful for exercising his imagination, emotions, or even observations — no matter how absurd — of culture and society?

Is Kanye West’s sampling of Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” vulgar? Perhaps. But then again, so is a lot of the sampling that makes up the hip hop/rap canon. Is West’s sampling of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” outrageous? Again, perhaps to some. But pop stars — especially those who are creatively capable and riding the high of decadent self-awareness, superficialness, and reality-t.v. like absurdity — are outrageous by the nature of the fame construct that they’ve created and are typically compelled to fuel. But, unlike many a pop star who’ve been lead by a thousand of wizards behind the curtain, this guy, Kanye West, knows his shit! Call him an asshole, say he’s arrogant, say he’s always looking for attention, tell him he’s a fake genius. He’s no doubt heard it all before. Still, the man is an artist. Or if you like, he’s an artiste. Again, that doesn’t give him a pass. But that also doesn’t mean he has to be bound by convention, especially when the art of sampling, by its nature, has the power to transform and reconceptualize convention. So, however you fancy him, Kanye West is a student of music history and music production (and, like it or not, pop culture). Which means, when it comes to the art of sampling, he’s schooled in the “cut”, the “rupture”, the “break”, the “sound-stab” and, of course, the (sped-up) “vocal sample”.

So is West’s use of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” shallow? Listen, if you’re critiquing “Blood on the Leaves” based on political science, or on the (misguided) notion that “Strange Fruit” is sacred, then maybe it is to you. Even as great and meaningful as it is, “Strange Fruit,” like any sound recording, is, in the end, source material to the sample-based musician. And one of the greatest traits that a sample-based musician or a rapper can have is objectivity. While I do not know if the idea for the song came before the beat was assembled or if the track was made prior to the beat, what is clear is that a piece of Simone’s vocals on “Strange Fruit” was flipped, sonically and conceptually, and transformed into something new. If you have a hard time with a talented, self-aware, outspoken, and vane music artist converting a line from one of Nina Simone’s better known recordings into a backdrop for rhyme-rants about 21st century bitch problems or the gaps of socio-economic status, cool. Maybe one of those cable talk shows can use your (useless) outrage. But don’t bother trying to describe “Blood on the Leaves” as a bad musical move, especially when you may not quite get the art of sampling.

Side note: I think Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of the most important Black American songs ever recorded. And often, when pinned down for my single favorite song, any genre, I offer “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Yet, if Kanye West, or DJ Premier, or any other sample-based musician flips it well, more power to them. Because, you see, in hip hop/rap, whether we like the political correctness of a sample flip or not, if it sounds dope, it’s dope!

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

November 12, 2013

How Do You Make Bass Lines Sound Dope?

There Are a Combination of 5 Different Methods to Use to Help You Get the Bass Sound that You're After


Here's the exact question regarding bass lines that I recently received from a BeatTips reader:
“...I've just noticed how sick the alchemist's bass lines are, and sometimes even just bass stabs. You did an article dissecting his beat on "Keep it Thoro" but I was wondering if you could talk about how he does his basslines. I have the minimonsta along with maschine but I can't quite get it to sound quite as sick, maybe if you could talk about mixing it a certain way? I've also messed around with sampled bass but I read somewhere that Alchesmist uses a mini moog. I also know that Jaisu uses the minimonsta and his basses are sick. So I guess if you could answer the question how do I mix a bass to make it sound DOPE, then that would be awesome."

Answer: As for your question about bass lines, specifically The Alchemist's bass lines, I first have to point out one thing. Fundamentally, bass lines from all sample-based beatmakers share two things in common: signal chain (and amplification) and personal ear. That is to say, that while the signal chain that The Alchemist, DJ Premier, Kev Brown, Marco Polo, etc. may use may be different, it plays a role in how the bass line will ultimately sound. Likewise, the tuned ear of each will also play an important role. That said, there is no *one piece of gear that will deliver Alchemist's sound (or any other producer for that matter).

Instead, however, there are methods and processes that can help you achieve a parallel sound that matches that same overall style and sound, while being true to your own ear and sensibilities. These methods and processes usually include the use of a combination of 5 things: (1) a unique signal chain and amplification, for example, a DJ mixer, a compressor, an equalizer (brand and model is subjective for all pieces of equipment); (2) a pre- and post-EQ mix approach, for example, how fat your bass lines sounds going into your sampler will usually determine how fat it sounds in the beat, do you want to boost it up? do you want to brighten it up? do you want to darken it?; (3) ADSR manipulation, this refers to the sound envelope of a given sound—Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, (4) post-filtering, after you've sampled the bass sound/stab or line, how do you want to filter it?; and (5) the final mix. in the final mix you pay attention to where the bass line sits in relation to the other elements and it helps you determine if you should cut some frequency, boost it up, or add a touch a brightness. Also, remember that the type of beat itself will dictate how the bass line should sound. Furthermore, depending on how thick, deep, shallow, muddied, or elongated you want your bass line to sound, chances are you'll be able to get that sound through a combination of the four methods and processes I described above.

Special note: I should point out that while any combination of these 5 things may be used, the aim should always be to develop your own subjective ear for how you want your bass lines to sound.

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

October 21, 2013

Use Compression as a Friend, Not a Foe

Understanding How to Effectively Use Compression


Mixing hip hop/rap music offers its own set of challenges. From rupturing kick drums to rumbling bass lines, hip hop/rap music doesn't always fit neatly into traditional approaches to mixing. Sure, the same sonic tools/effects are in play when mixing hip hop/rap music, just like any other music form. But how these sonic tools are applied and used in hip hop/rap music (or any other music form) can mean the difference between something sounding pleasing to the ear or something outright crummy. And there is no other effect that can make or break this difference than compression.

In hip hop/rap music, where the dynamic range is often a blend of sampled sounds, compression is the most commonly misused sonic tool. So to truly understand how and when to use compression more effectively—that is, not abuse and misuse it—, it is important to first get a working knowledge of what compression actually is and does. Fundamentally, compression is about controlling the dynamic range of an individual track or song in a way that keeps everything contained in the same zone, so to speak. Indeed, a good way to look at compression is to view it as a process of effective containment. What compression does, in a basic control approach, is it pretty much takes any sound and contains it from spilling out of a desired range of sound and color. In this way, compression keeps the most common hip hop/rap music production sounds—high velocity kicks, snares, bass lines, samples—from varying too wide in range; it makes everything stick together like glue.

Further, one of the most basic ideas of compression is to boost up the quieter dynamics in a mix and to simultaneously “squash” (reduce/neutralize) the peaks. The aim of this is to be able to turn up the overall track volume, getting the much sought after bang and punch. For instance, effective compression can increase the presence of a thin bass line, making it sound fat and warm. But the misuse of compression can make that very same bass line sound distorted and out of place—unstuck.

Having understood what compression is it’s good to break down how it works. A typical compressor (hardware or software) has basic parameters through which compression is applied to a sound (signal); they are: Threshold, Input, Ratio, Attack, Release, Input, and Output. Threshold sets the level at which a compressor goes into action; it’s the point at which the compressor starts to work. Think of it as a virtual line of decibels (dB), that once crossed, the compressor goes to work. Likewise, whenever a signal falls below the set threshold, compression stops. Because threshold works in tandem with a compressor's input level, which controls the strength of a signal coming into the compressor, the stronger the signal, the sooner the threshold level is reached.

Ratio represents the level (amount) of compression that will be applied to any signal that exceeds the threshold setting. Any sound signal coming in above the set threshold will be affected in accordance to the ratio setting.

Attack, measured in milliseconds (ms), represents the time that it takes before the compression actually happens, once a sound signal reaches the threshold. The shorter the time, or rather the faster the attack, the quicker and/or more harsh the compression. A quick attack is useful in neutralizing kick peaks, which in turn allows the overall level to be raised. Generally speaking, you want compression to happen as soon as possible. But remember, there are no hard rules on this; the sound and vibe of a track that you’re going for will dictate how you adjust compression settings.

Release, measured in ms, determines how long it takes for a compressor to let go of a signal, once it has dropped below the set threshold. With a longer release time, the compression holds on longer to the signal that it’s applied to. A long release time is especially useful for adding sustain and extended nuance to a signal. A too fast release setting can result in “pumping” (where the compression can be heard). Here, it’s also worth noting that’s it’s a good idea to always have the compressor’s meter set to “GR” (Gain Reduction). This way you’re seeing exactly how much the sound being compressed is cutting back. It is also a good view of how fast/slow the compressor is attacking and/or releasing.

Output represents the overall output level of an applied effect.

Through the brief breakdown of the basic parameters of a typical compressor, it’s easy to see the upside of compression. But there can also be a downside to compression. One common mistake is having the threshold a little bit too harsh and pushing towards the negatives too much, resulting in a sound that is smothered or struggling to get light. Perhaps the best way to tell if something has been compressed too much is by checking the velocity of the sound. That is, if the sound is coming off dull or it’s noticeably losing significant volume, then it has been compressed too much. Though volume does increase some during compression, it should not be the source for controlling volume.

Bottom line:

Because of the unique sonic nature of hip hop/rap music, there are really no magic compression settings for any one sound or group of sounds. Moreover, compression can be used in different ways; you’re only limited by your imagination. Therefore, like many processes of beatmaking and recording/mixing, experimentation and trial and error is a must. In order to find compression settings that work well with your taste and style of production/mixing, you have to try compressing different sounds with different settings, being mindful to avoid those things that flatten and dull your overall sound. And with a good grasp of what compression is and how it works, you’re well on your way to finding your own unique default settings. In the end, that's really the best way to make compression your friend and not your foe.

Some useful compression guidelines:

Begin with short attack and release times, then adjust as needed.

Begin with a 4:1 ratio, then adjust as needed.

Because bass, especially in hip hop/rap music begs to be consistent, think heavier compression on bass sounds.

Compression isn’t just a tool for controlling sound; it can be used to add color as well.

As with any sonic tool, use compression in the ways that help you get that sound and feel that you want.

Avoid using compression simply as a tool to make sounds louder.

*Feel free to leave comments and add your own compression guidelines.

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)

July 18, 2013

O.C. Smith and Gordon Parks - "Blowin' Your Mind": Skill, Rhyme, and Rhythm

The Single Most Important Thing About Rhyme, and the Significance of the Core Rhythm and Groove


Skill. If you’re bold enough to set out on that journey of writing rhymes, then it’s damn well something you better have. But how do you get it? When it comes to rhyme, the typical thing to do is study the rhyme-greats of the hip hop/rap tradition.

For those fairly new to rapping (and here, I’m talking 5 years experience or less), the easy starting point is Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas, Eminem, Kanye West, you get the picture. And for those willing to take it back—that is, those interested on discovering the core metrics of the modern lyrical skill set, there’s the mighty lyrical sextet of T La Rock, Silver Fox, LL Cool J, Rakim, Kool G. Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. (NOTE: there are some who focus on the trinity of Rakim, Kool G. Rap, and Big Daddy Kane to the exclusion of LL Cool J. I can assure you that such an act is utterly, ridiculously, stupendously, and but-ass-crazily foolish, as early LL Cool J is lyrical sickness! That’s "dope" for all the squares who front, or "amazing" for the part-time rap reviewers and crowd followers.)

For the extra accelerated students of rhyme, you know, those who want to know the base components of the rap tradition, the origins of it all, there’s the “originator’s class”—Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, and Kool Moe Dee, and the countless unsung M.C.s from 1973-1978. Anyone of the aforementioned dimensions of hip hop’s rhyme lexicon that I've laid out here will give you some level of skill. But if you want to really teleport to the essence of the oral tradition of “rap” that gave way to modern “Rap”, then you have to go off the path—way off the path…

This is where I found myself years ago, fever-thinking about how to improve my rhyme skill. Regular BeatTips readers know that I began rapping before I made beats. And for me, the goal was to capture skill and develop my own unique voice. This meant that not only did I have to study the greats of hip hop’s rhyme lexicon, I had to find a horizon that not too many rhymers had gone to before. And I found that horizon in O.C. Smith’s “Blowin’ Your Mind” from the Shaft’s Big Score soundtrack (1973).

Modern rhyme lexicon aside, nothing taught me more about how to rhyme than O.C. Smith’s rap (lyrics by Gordon Parks) on “Blowin’ Your Mind.” Smith, an acclaimed vocalist with a background in jazz, does more high-level rapping than singing on “Blowin’ Your Mind.” First, there’s the natural adlib before he begins the first verse. After the instrumental has cooked, twisted, turned, and rattled for 1 minute and 24 seconds, and after the horn section does a 4-second staccato crescendo, Smith slides in abruptly-smooth with the command, “Now, look here…,” before he begins a rhyme that doesn’t focuses on rhyme itself:

“Who twists your spine, till it feels like jelly and it heat your blood till it’s boiling wine?—/
Who splits your heart in a zillion pieces?—”

The magnificent thing about this two-line opening is that Smith doesn’t rhyme “rhyme”, he rhymes “rhythm”. That is, his lyrics go against and to the rhythm of the instrumental. Smith is not concerned with crafting a concise rhyme, he’s only concerned with putting you on to (or reminding you) just who Shaft is—a bad motherfucker! And for that purpose, the purpose of conveying in-your-face information in a heavily rhythmic lyrical cycle, Smith doesn’t even bother with a typical ABACDA rhyme scheme. Instead, in the opening verse, he runs off a deceptive AB-based rhyme scheme, where nothing “rhymes” cleanly or neat. He pulls this off with various oral techniques—vocal drags, gaps, pauses, and elongations, all of which he uses in deference to rhythm, with no emphasis on presenting a clean rhyme. It’s not until the third verse does Smith offer a clean AABBCCDD rhyme scheme:

“Wo, he’s a smooth cat/
And knows where it’s at/
A bad spade/
Don’t pull your blade/
A super brother/
A gone mother/
A cool dude/
And shovels his food—”

And even though this is the cleanest rhyme of the song, Smith’s delivery is anything but. He raps this rhyme scheme in a rhythmic breakdown, one that drives the instrumental bridge in the song. Skill.

It was upon listening to “Blowin’ Your Mind” that I made my most important discovery about the art of rhyme: Rhyming is about the rhythm of words and their relationship to the rhythm of the instrumental; that words rhyme cleanly, or even at all, is a secondary notion. This single thought, that rhyming, particularly at its highest level, is about the negotiation of two rhythms—that which the rapper brings and that of the instrumental—and words that mean what they say, gave me the basis for the rhyme skill I always sought. Not only did it give me a deeper understanding of how to master the various tropes and nuances of modern rhyme (1985-to the present), it helped me figure out everything from how to develop my own breath control techniques to how to identify those word frameworks that work best with my style and voice.

But “Blowin’ Your Mind” didn’t just teach me more about rhyming, it taught me a great deal about how to make beats. When you first hear “Blowin’ Your Mind,” you’re struck by the cinematic orchestration of it all; of course, it was a theme song for a movie soundtrack, so that’s to be expected. But it’s the nature of this orchestration that interested me the most.

Everything centers around the rhythm and the groove. The bass part, deadly repetitive and menacing, stabs over and over with a 4-note sequence that splits anchoring duties with the drums. Then there’s the rattling tambourine and spots of the shaker here and there. And no Shaft-like instrumental would be complete (or perfect) without twanging rhythm guitar passes. The drums bump and role, certainly, but the earlier described bass sequence leads the rhythm section for the most part, so the drums are grounded, content with holding a steady backbeat. And sure, there’s a big, over-the-top brass section on “Blowin’ Your Mind,” but that was par for the course when it came to 1970s film scores. Only, the brass section here, just as with the strings, dances and jabs in and out to the movement of the core rhythm.

The main takeaway from my study of Gordon Parks’ arrangement on “Blowin’ Your Mind” was how to keep the core rhythm going, while adding in changes that didn’t corrupt the feel and mood. The type of beats that I’m mostly interested in (those that motivate me to wanna rhyme the most) are those that commit to a deliberate rhythm. I can appreciation orchestral beat productions (when they’re done right), but sometimes those beats come off as an overreach with useless changes and unnecessary sounds. Instead, I dig a well-maintained groove, one complete with a solid back beat and strong rhythmic force, where the melody defers to it. This is exactly what “Blowin’ Your Mind” offers. Skill.

Oh, yeah, my infamous "Gun-shot" snare drum sound was created from, and patterned off of, the snare at the :36 mark…

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

O.C. Smith and Gordon Parks - "Blowin' Your Mind"

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

June 17, 2013

Conveying a Feeling in Your Music Should Always Be a Part of Your Focus

Method and Process is One Important Dimension, But a Notion of Feeling Is Also Crucial


As beatmaking goes, just as any other music tradition really, there are common successes, as well as common failures. And one of the great failings of many beatmakers is the inability to convey feeling in their beats.

I often stress that no matter the style or sound of beats that you prefer, the one quality that you should always strive for is “feeling” in your music. While this may seem obvious to some beatmakers, I fear that it’s often not necessarily a direct concern for many others. With the various misconceptions about the seriousness or ease of beatmaking (pushed forward by both well-known beat vets and newcomers alike), the rush to keep up with trends, and the general commercial forces surrounding hip hop/rap music, the "feeling" element often gets lost.

In hundreds of one on one conversations that I've had with beatmakers, from well-known, lesser-known, and “unknown” names, I’m always surprised whenever the notion of feeling does not enter into our discussion. I’m not sure if this is because the idea of feeling in one’s beats is overlooked or ignored by many, or perhaps just subconsciously implied. But when I consider all of the other characteristics of beatmaking that are routinely discussed (at times obsessed over), I can’t help but wonder how much the notion of feeling is fading into the background of many new beatmakers' minds.

I recently received an email question about a particular beatmaking process. As it turns out, and as I explained to the emailer, his question was actually less about process and more about the fact that he never even considered the notion of feeling when he was making beats! Specifically, his question, which was about sampling and using synths, was of the “Should I do this or that” variety. I asked him flat out: “What feeling are you trying to convey?” His reply, “What do you mean?” Clearly, he did not understand that the notion of feeling, or rather the feeling that you're trying convey is often what determines the effectiveness (success or failure) of a particular method or process, especially when it comes to sampling.

At that point in our email exchange, I explained to him that without feeling, any decision you make about process may ultimately result in a “lifeless” style and sound. Thing is, although there are many processes (some more complex/meticulous than others) in beatmaking, those individual processes/methods only account for one dimension in the overall music-making process. Another dimension, and a very important one at that, is the notion of feeling. In other words, a beat may be technically suitable, you know, drums out in front, clear bass line, etc. But a beat that's technically "correct," so to speak, is different from a beat that conveys feeling or mood. Feeling isn't something that's inherent to a given beat; it has to be thought of and cultivated. In this way, feeling is a personal extension of the individual beatmaker; it's the mood and feel that a beatmaker consciously captures.

Although I encourage every beatmaker to learn and master those processes/methods that they need in order to facilitate the kind of beats that they want to make, I’m even more concerned with encouraging beatmakers to focus more directly on injecting feeling into their beats (music). After all, the ability to convey feeling in one's beats is a key ingredient in creating emotional and intellectual responses from all listeners.

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

June 04, 2013

BeatTips Jewel Droppin': Interview with Ron Browz

From Big L to 50 Cent, the “Ether” Producer Has Quietly Carved an Name for Himself in the Beatmaking Community


On a recent Sunday night, Brooklyn rapper Papoose made what appeared to be an impromptu performance on the main stage of this year's Hot 97 Summer Jam. While there may have been some confusion as to whether or not Hot 97’s top brass was aware of this (seemingly) planned performance, there wasn’t any confusion about who did the beat for "Get At Me," the song Papoose performed and stirred a buzz of good controversy. That was the handy work of Ron Browz. This prompted me to post the interview I did with Browz a while back. Although the interview below was originally published in 2007 in the 4th Edition of The BeatTips Manual, it contains information and insight certainly relevant to today’s beatmaking scene.

Production setup (Ca. 2007): Akai MPC 2000XL, Akai MPC 60 II, Akai MPC 3000, Roland Fantom.

BeatTips: Now that you’ve arrived, what’s the biggest difference from the old days?
Ron Browz: The difference is people respect it more, now—

BeatTips: What, the beats or you?
Ron Browz: Both! Like since I work with A-list artists, it’s a different approach now, you know what I mean. It’s more credibility, vs. coming in the game with no placements or nothing.

BeatTips: Do you still have the same hunger?
Ron Browz: Yeah, I definitely still got the same hunger. I still do beats like I haven’t made a placement before. I’m real hungry. Same strategy, ain’t nothin’ changed.

BeatTips: How do you look at a signature sound?
Ron Browz: For some people it works… Me, I try to be versatile, ‘cuz I don’t like for people to be bored with the sound. So I try and switch up as much as possible, ‘cuz you know I work with a lot of people, I don’t want everything sounding the same. But having a signature sound is cool, because if you want something like that, you know you can go to that person for that sound. But I don’t like to pigeon-hole myself like that.

BeatTips: But when you’re working with different artists, how do you balance it out so that someone knows it’s a Browz track?
Ron Browz: Basically, the knock on it… People be knowing my tracks from the hard drums, and the strings. But you can’t really pinpoint my sound.

BeatTips: How do you approach your drums? Do you sample dry?
Ron Browz: I snatch a drum from anywhere… old records, CDs… I drum search! I think that’s a very important part of the production process. If the drums is whack, people aren’t really going to like the record.

BeatTips: What about WAV files and such?
Ron Browz: Oh, yeah, I do all that, man. Wherever there’s a drum sound at… I get on the computer, gets some kicks and snares from there. Everything, go to local stores that sell the WAVs on CD, I do a lot of that.

BeatTips: What was the first setup that you had?
Ron Browz: An Akai MPC 60 and a Korg 01W keyboard. That’s what I did “Ether” on; I did the “We Run This” on that; I did the Lil’ Kim record on that.

BeatTips: How did you start off?
Ron Browz: I was 16, 17… Every time I used to see the MPC, I wanted to play around with it. So when I finally got an opportunity to get a hold of it, I taught myself how to do it.

BeatTips: Do you play any instruments?
Ron Browz: I used to be in drum line in PAL… I’m self-taught with the keys.

BeatTips: So if you were teaching yourself, who were the producers that you were studying when you were coming up?
Ron Browz: Havoc, Pete Rock, Premier… Marley Marl… Dre… Erick Sermon. Erick Sermon’s drums was always crazy to me.

BeatTips: When you first started getting your groove, what did you find most difficult about producing?
Ron Browz: MIXING! Chopping… I had to teach myself how to chop. My manager used to tease me about my chopping. So I worked on it. Learned how to chop the samples up, kicks and snares up.

BeatTips: Outline a typical session, what do you start with?
Ron Browz: One day I might start with the drums. It all depends on how I’m feeling. One day I might start with some drums, get a drum pattern going, add some strings, add some synth sounds, then add some percussion. But then on some days, I might start with percussion.

BeatTips: Wow, you start joints with percussion?
Ron Browz: A lot of the times I do that. I’m-a tell you the truth, I start with percussion first, to give me some like kind of rhythm going.

BeatTips: Right now, what machines are you working hard on?
Ron Browz: I got three MPCs: the MPC 60 II, the MPC 2000, and the MPC 3000. I switch ‘em up.

BeatTips: So all of ‘em are still active in your shit?
Ron Browz: Like on Lloyd Banks album, one is done on the 2000, the “Help” record was done on the MPC 2000; and the “Playboy, part 2”, I did that on the MPC 60 II.

BeatTips: Do you use the filters on the MPC 60 II?
Ron Browz: Not really. When I filter, I filter in Pro Tools.

BeatTips: How do you track into Pro Tools?
Ron Browz: I track from the mixing board into Pro Tools.

BeatTips: Producers nowadays aren’t as helpful as they were years ago—
Ron Browz: That’s egos… There’s a lot of money in it right now. There’s only a certain amount of producers standing out. So everybody tryin’ to eat, and be that dude. So they ain’t really tryin’ to lend a hand. Certain people, you know, if you vibe with them, they’ll help.

BeatTips: Do you still have problems getting paid on time?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, it’s cool. Ever since… you know, good management helps. My manager, Fuzz. [Editor’s note: Ron Browz ended his management association with Fuzz a year after this interview was firs published.]

BeatTips: How concerned are you with making a beat fast?
Ron Browz: I’m pretty fast. Like in that 5 minutes when you’re making it, if it ain’t snappin’ your neck, if you ain’t feelin’ it, it’s whack. A lot tracks people have heard, it didn’t take me that long to do ‘em.

BeatTips: How many beats do you average per day?
Ron Browz: About 20, 30 beats… I’ll make beats all day, from the morning to the night, if I feel like it.

BeatTips: You’re not concerned about quality control, making that many beats in one day? You know, after a while, your ear… 20 beats in one day?!
Ron Browz: That ain’t nothin’, I’ve been doin’ that for a long time…

BeatTips: You don’t have any kids, right?
Ron Browz: [Big laughs] Yeah, a lot of dudes, be like: ‘I gotta go do this, then I gotta go to sleep, then’–

BeatTips: You don’t take days off?
Ron Browz: I try to go in the lab everyday, but sometimes you go in the lab and don’t feel it!

BeatTips: What do you notice to be the difference between producers and artists? Why do artists tend not to be where they should be, and why when producers get in, they tend to stay in?
Ron Browz: I’m-a keep it 100… A lot of artists are lazy, now. Before, they were wild creative. Now, they’re just like, “I’m hot!”

BeatTips: You got your foot in the door with Big L (the “Ebonics” joint). Then you kicked the door wide open with the Nas “Ether” joint. Breakdown how that whole climb went down.
Ron Browz: Being in Harlem, you know, Harlem is small, you know what I’m sayin’. I knew who L was… And I was hanging outside one day, and I seen him, and I took a chance, like ‘Yo, I got some tracks, wanna hear ‘em?’ He was like ‘Yeah, aiight.’ He heard the tracks… the first beat he heard was “Ebonics”. The first two beats he heard was “Ebonics” and “Size ‘Em Up”; which were the Side A and Side B. He came to the house the next day… He must’ve had a pre-meditated idea, but he didn’t have no beat for it. So when he heard it… he was
like: ‘Yo, this is it right here’. He came and did it in my house, on tape! Then we went to D&D [recording studio] in the next two weeks and laid it down for real… And from there, I was still like a beat dude, then I met up with my manager, Fuzz, who had a couple of relationships in the industry. We got up with… It was Nas’ travel agent who actually plugged us to Nas’ manager. She looked out, hooked us up, they heard that track. And at that time, he was in the middle of the war [the infamous Jay-Z/Nas beef], that’s what he needed. Nas was like, “I’m-a work with you again.” He kept his word, and that’s how “The Realest Nigga Alive” came.

BeatTips: Right now, what would you say is the hardest lesson you learned in this game?
Ron Browz: Paperwork! Paperwork gotta be right. I did paperwork late, when I first got on. ‘Cuz I didn’t know. I was just happy being in the studio. So definitely do that paperwork so you can get that scrilla [money] on the back end.

BeatTips: Do you have preset drum patterns or do you always make new drum patterns from scratch?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, from scratch.

BeatTips: When you make new joints, do you sit down and prioritize, like “I’m gonna make a club joint, I’m gonna make a street joint,” do you separate it out like that?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, it’s all a feelin’, like how I approach it that day… But nawgh, sometimes I do that, I be like: ‘I wanna make a crazy club joint’; or I be like: ‘I wanna make a crazy street joint’.

BeatTips: How do you answer critics that say sample-based producers are lazy?
Ron Browz: Sample-based! Nawgh, sampling is hip hop! Pete Rock was going crazy, you know. If it wasn’t for them sampling shit back in the days, hip hop wouldn’t be what it is right now! That’s hip hop… Sampling!!!

BeatTips: When you produce do you have the artist that you’re producing for in mind?
Ron Browz: Sometimes… But sometimes, you’ll miss doing it like that. ‘Cuz you’ll think this is what they’re looking for, and sometimes that’s not what they’re even looking for. Like when 50 Cent was doing The Massacre. I was like: ‘I’m goin’ in, I’m-a do about 40 joints with him in mind.’ I didn’t even make The Massacre. But another joint, some South sounding, well not South, but some hard shit, came out to be “I’ll Whip Your Head Boy.” I wouldn’t have thought that was something that he would pick… And I was an artist myself, when I was younger, so I know music is moody. Like today you might like something… You might hate it today, and tomorrow listen to it and think it’s hot.

BeatTips: Do you recommend that newcomer producers get management?
Ron Browz: Yeah, for sure. You don’t want to be talking for yourself, when you’re doing business. You know, some guys feel like they can talk for themselves, be a spokesperson for themselves. But you don’t really look like you got your business together, if you’re… That’s like if you’re going to court with no lawyer, representing yourself. People can do it, but it just don’t look right. The whole approach don’t look right.

BeatTips: What percentage of the game is talent and what percentage of the game is politics?
Ron Browz: Right now, it’s all politics… What, maybe, 20% talent? I be around talent all day, and they’re not on! And I look at untalented people who are on, and I’m like, ‘This is crazy!’

BeatTips: Have you had any problems with sample clearance before?
Ron Browz: No problems. But I got hit for a sample, though… on the publishing… Paul McCartney. It was a Wings sample, but I didn’t know it was Wings.

BeatTips: What song was it on?
Ron Browz: “The Playboy” (Lloyd Banks). “Playboy pt. 1”

BeatTips: As Hip Hop-Rap production education continues to expand, you know, through institutions of higher education, like Full Sail, IAR, Scratch Academy, and such, could you see yourself being a teacher…would that be something that you would be interested in doing?
Ron Browz: HELL, YEAH! That would be hot!!!

BeatTips: What type of course would you want to teach?
Ron Browz: Probably something about the MPC game, something more on the production side, rather than the business side.

BeatTips: Run down how the submission process works. In a case where you submit a beat that an artist uses, but does not make the album. Do you still get paid?
Ron Browz: It’s a situation where, like you get a first half. Any time a dude says he wants a beat, then he wants the Pro Tools file, he’s gotta give me a check first. The first half [price] of the beat! Then after that, every project goes like that… but more than likely, we’ve been blessed that everything made the albums, you know what I’m sayin’.

BeatTips: Yeah, see, that’s a part of the game that has changed a lot! 10 years ago, a dude tracked out your beat, he paid for it, up front, whether he used it or not!
Ron Browz: Yeah, yeah, hell yeah… I remember that.

BeatTips: It wasn’t no first or second half back then. So now people want to blame Pro Tools and 2-tracking and all this other shit. So it’s quietly become this: ‘We’ll give you your first half’ thing…They’re telling dudes, even well-known cats, you’re gonna have to wait 90 days; then another 90 days—
Ron Browz: Then the mix tape game is messin’ it up too, because niggas wanna test your record out first. Then if the hood like it, then the artist is like: ‘Oh, we gon’ pay for this one’.

BeatTips: How do you feel about a producers union?
Ron Browz: [long silence] hmm!!! I never thought about that…

BeatTips: A lot of producers haven’t. As producers, I feel that we need a union… You know, something like SAG, the Screen Actors Guild. SAG actors, when they do something, there’s a minimum fee that they get when they step on the set. So once somebody signs an actor to do a role, and then that studio later decides that they no longer want to use that actor, they still gotta pay the actor for the days scheduled under the contract! Another one of my big concerns is the current copyright law as it pertains to sampling in hip hop/rap music. Have you ever heard of the Grand Upright Music v. Warner Brothers/Biz Markie case?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, unh unh.

BeatTips: That was the copyright infringement case brought against Warner Brothers and Biz Markie… It was in 1991. The ruling, and subsequent result of that case was that ALL sampling was deemed illegal! The judge (judge Duffy) in his ruling, called sampling thievery! The crazy thing about this case was that it didn’t really center on the “fair use” section of the United States Copyright Act. This case was really all about rappers purportedly “stealing”, and how they must be stopped! This case thus set the precedent and tone that we now have today. And the bugged shit is how NO well-known artist and/or producer or major label ever challenged this ruling! I wrote another book, it’s called Fair Commercial Use: Hip Hop/Rap Music, Digital Sampling, and The Need For Statutory Copyright Reform. It will be published in 2007. This book covers the whole spectrum of sampling and copyright law. Trust me, the copyright law is going to
change in a way that reflects and respects the significance of digital sampling, particularly, as it pertains to in hip hop/rap music. [Editor’s note: The book described here was re-written, renamed as The Art of Sampling, and published February, 2013]

Ron Browz: Yeah… I used like a second of Paul McCartney, and he wanted like fucking 70% of the record!!! So you’re saying that I should’ve went to court?

BeatTips: Yeah… I’m telling you—
Ron Browz: You know what it is? A lot of it has to do with money. A lot of us don’t have enough money to go into court and fight.

BeatTips: This is what I’m trying to explain. Together, producers… together we can get this ruling overturned. We can get changes made to the existing copyright law.
Ron Browz: The whole sample clearance thing… and they’re taking your money, so I was like, I gotta try to get money this type of way: let me see if they’re going to mess with my played joints… But samples feel so good. It’s hip hop. You got no choice but to do it! So now, I’m like, yo, I’m doing everything…

BeatTips: What do you think about typical keyboard beats?
Ron Browz: It’s hood melodies, I call ‘em hood melodies… I ain’t got a problem with it. If it sounds hot, it sounds hot. It ain’t like they playin’ Beethoven.

BeatTips: Have you noticed how “bitin’” has become acceptable?
Ron Browz: Oh shit yeah!!! Stealing niggas bars… Consumers don’t really care. ‘Cuz certain joints… certain cats, I ain’t gonna say no names, certain joints be sounding the exact same. And consumers be like: ‘Yo, that shit is hot!’ And I’m like, that sounds like the other dude.

BeatTips: Why do you think with all the sh*t that’s played on the radio, certain cats still doing low numbers though?
Ron Browz: [laughs] Repetitiously, right!!!

BeatTips: How do you approach shopping your beats?
Ron Browz: My manager and I both be hustling.

BeatTips: Were you one to always go to the club?
Ron Browz: NAWGH!! He made me do it… Like at the beginning, Fuzz used to have to drag me out. I was like, damn that, I don’t wanna go. Then I learned… like, we had “Ether” out, and we thought that niggas was gonna call. He sitting home, I’m sitting home, phones ain’t ringing. We got the hottest street record in the world, nobody no who the fuck did it. Now the approach is: I get a record out, I’m going to everything! We club Monday through Friday!

BeatTips: Yeah, in this game it’s called the Tuesday through Thursday hustle… But some cats don’t get it, try to wait to Friday, Saturday…
Ron Browz: Awl, hell, nawgh… That’s not business days. Tuesday through Thursday, that’s when it’s poppin’, that’s when you get your networking on.

BeatTips: Soon after you and Fuzz changed the plan up, did it pay dividends?
Ron Browz: Hell, yeah… We sitting in the Time Hotel and Nas called for “Last Real Nigga Alive.” I got in the car, took off, got to the house, went to the studio, hit the drums up, went back to the house, back to the studio, back to the house, mixed it… Nas calling Fuzz like, “Yo, where the fuck the shit at? I need it now…” I met a couple of artists being out. For instance, like Kim [Lil’ Kim]. We saw her out, next day after she got out of jail, she called us to her house. Kim is crazy cool… we was chillin’… It was just a real chill vibe! She’s mad cool, yo… The point is: you gotta go out!

BeatTips: Do you take submissions from producers? Ron Browz: Yeah, I listen to beat CDs, but if it don’t grab me… But I do take the time out to listen… I’ll listen to beat CDs.

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

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."

January 25, 2013

BeatTips Tutorials: Working from 3-Bar Loop Arrangement Schemes

My Method for Building 3-Bar Loops


Although 2- and 4-Bar loops are among the most common arrangement (sequence) structures in Beatmaking, the 3-bar loop is not only just effective, it can often produce more interesting results. Still, getting the 3-bar loop to work can be difficult. A couple of weeks ago, TBC member Ace2CWB posted a question about 3-bar loops in the community (3 Bar Loops). There were some good replies. sframpt pointed out that "you can do interesting things in terms of composition with a 3 bar loop,... for example, consider creating a 2-bar rhythmic pattern against the loop (ie the clave in latin music). The rhythms will only sync up every six bars in that case. it gives the music rhythmic tension and makes it less predictable." I also chimed in with a response, seeing how I dig working from 3-bar loop schemes.

There are many ways to go forward with a 3-bar loop. However, it depends a lot on which part of the sample (samples are not loops, we *make* them loop) that you like or need the most. If you want to keep the entire sample *as is*, then within the 3-bars, you can create a drum pattern that makes everything mesh together.

In the past, when using 3-bar loops, I've placed a snare on the first step of the sequence, and then arranged my kick pattern around it, usually something rather simple. Most of the time, that solved the issue. Other times, an additional "covering sample" (usually just a snippet of the same sample) at either the end of the 2nd bar or 3rd bar solved the issue for me. Usually, this would involve somehow getting a 4-bar structure, though.

But in those cases where that didn't work, I copied the 3-bars, making them six. Now with the six bars, I deleted the last two, giving me 4 bars. I'd play the 4 bars to see what/where I was lacking something. Keep in mind, I would not delete the original 3-bar loop, because I wanted to use it as a reference. So even though I was working on just one beat, I would have three (or more) separate sequences of the same idea. This means that I would have the original 3-bar loop sequence, the 6-bar loop sequence, and the 4-bar loop sequence. For each sequence, I would construct a slightly different drum pattern, varying in complexity and syncopation.

Now, this is where mute groups (I call them "cut offs" in The BeatTips Manual) really helps. On each of the sequences, I would experiment "cutting off" different points of the sample. Often this would tell me exactly which part/moments of the sample that I really wanted and which parts I didn't actually need. Having discovered that, it became easier to identify if I needed a 3-, 2-, 4-, 6-, or 8-bar sequence. If I still found—after all of that—that the 3-bar loop was the best, I would just make a 2-bar drum structure (lead by the snare) inside of the 3 bars, then I'd duplicate everything to give me 6 bars (a pair of 3-bar sequences). Main reason I duplicate up to 6? Because as a rhymer, I like the longer structure, because it allows me to put in a specific sound (like my infamous Hat X) on the 6th bar, which helps me with my timing, and gives sound a level of uniqueness.

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

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    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
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    "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.
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    "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.
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    "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.
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  • 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)