3 posts categorized "Music Concepts"

March 17, 2011

Using the Alternating Pitch Technique on Drum Sounds

Technique Adds Unique Dimension to Your Drum Frameworks


Even though "the drums" are fundamental in beatmaking, many beatmakers overlook the various ways to get the most out of their existing drum sounds. One way to get more out of your drums sounds is to alternate the pitch of each drum sound within various measures—if not all measures—of a beat.

Changing the pitch of drum sounds is something that I often do in the creation of my beats. For snares, I typically have the same snare sound landing in a beat at three different pitch speeds (degrees). That is to say, I'll have one snare sound set at its original pitch level, the same sound set at a faster or slower pitch speed (usually one eighth or quarter note faster or slower), and the same sound again set at a faster or slower pitch speed (usually one eighth or quarter note faster or slower). Sometimes I determine the right pitch-degree of each snare-hit in real time usually by assigning the same snare sound—at three different pitch-speeds—to three different pads on my MPC, and playing the snares while the rest of the beat is in play/record mode. Still, there are other times (perhaps more often) where I simply play each snare-hit at the same pitch, then I later go back in and program the pitch changes at the points that feel right to me.

For hi-hats, rides, and tambourines, I use the same alternating-pitch technique for; however, for hi-hats, I usually only alternate the pitch of hi-hits at specific points within a beat. And when it comes to kick sounds, I use the alternating-pitch technique even more sparingly. With kicks, I only slightly change the pitch of the kick at certain times within the drum pattern.

Finally, I should point out that not only does alternating the pitch of your drum sounds allow you to get much more out of your existing drum sounds, such a technique also helps you create drum frameworks that really come alive. In other words, in addition to creating unique textures and sonic impressions, using the alternating pitch technique allows you to make your drums come off more natural, and it helps decrease the mechanical feel that often occurs with electronic drum sounds. Moreover, used in the right way—that is, for feel and sound, NOT just for the sake of using a technique—the alternating pitch technique also helps with the tightening up of the rhythm of your beats.

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

February 07, 2011

Escaping The Tempo Trap

Exploring Different Tempo Ranges, And How To Avoid Getting Stuck With The Same BPM For All Of Your Beats


When it comes to making beats, setting the right tempo (BPM) isn't as easy as it might seem. Some beatmakers prefer to "tap out" the tempo of a beat in real time, while others opt to go for pre-set tempos. Both scenarios are fine, but one problem that tends to plague many beatmakers is the inability to expand the tempo range of their beats. I like to refer to this issue as the "tempo trap."

For most of us, the beats that we make fall within the same general range. And this fact is guided by the style of beats that we like as well as the base compositional style that we work from. Each beatmaking compositional style—sample-based, synthetic-sounds-based, or hybrid-based—offers its own set of possibilities and challenges, and therefore, each compositional style, along with the style and sound of beats that you like, plays a big role in the tempo ranges you will ultimately work within.

For instance, with regards to sample-based beats, up-tempo is usually not the norm for most sample-based beatmakers. One reason for this has to do with the "pitch limits" of sampling. Although sample-based beatmakers (myself included) enjoy utilizing the flexibility of being able to pitch a sample up or down, we're mindful of the fact that drastic pitch moves—up or down—away from the original pitch of the sample can encumber the sample's true potential, and thereby torpedo the chance of a dope beat. For example, if you speed the sample up too much, do you then also speed up the overall BPM of your beat's sequence? And if you increase the BPM rate, do you then have to decrease or increase the number of steps (events) in your drumwork? Sometimes, speeding a sample up (specifically, the primary sample) can be properly reconciled (depending on your style and taste) by slowing down the overall BPM of a beat, and by increasing the number of steps (events) in your drumwork. But of course, that all depends on the type and tone of the sample that you're working with.

With the synthetic-sounds-based compositional style (the so-called "keyboard beats" style), there is perhaps more flexibility with tempo ranges. After all, once free of the sometimes inflexibility of samples, synthetic-sounds-based beatmakers can presumably work from a much broader tempo range. Well, in theory that's correct. But in practice, this isn't always the case. Here, the important thing to remember is that contemporary hip hop/rap music is pretty much underscored by a median tempo range, I'd say somewhere between 93 - 99 BPM. Still, there are certainly slower and faster tempos being used in hip hop/rap. But anything much slower is typically used for today's "R&B" ballads. Likewise, anything much faster is typically used for urban pop dance tunes rather than core hip hop/rap styles and sounds. Hence, even most synthetic-sounds-based beats ascribe to similar tempo ranges that are found among sample-based beats.

But even though the three main beatmaking compositional styles defer, generally speaking, to the same tempo ranges, the reality still remains that some beatmakers get stuck in a tempo trap, making beats that are consistently too slow or too fast. So how do you break from this? For me, the key to escaping the pitch trap has always been my insistence on practicing making beats within four distinct tempo ranges (BPM ranges): 83 - 87; 88 - 93; 94 - 98; and 99 - 103 BPM (fine tune +/- 5%).

Typically, most of my beats fall within the 94 - 98 BPM range. However, I still practice (experiment) with much slower and faster tempos, because doing so helps me to better understand the subtle vibe and nuance differences between smaller tempo ranges. For example, on the surface, the difference between let's say 96 and 97 BPM is minimal. But depending on all of the elements of the beat—samples, synthetic sounds, arrangement scheme, drumwork, etc.—the slight incremental BPM difference can either "push," "pull," or "shuffle" the movement (pace) of the entire beat.

As a rhymer, I can not stress enough the importance of feeling the right pace of a beat. If I feel (know) the beat is "pushing," then I know to be quick with my rhyme flow and to truncate more words at certain spots in each measure. If I feel (know) the beat is "pulling," then I know to lag with my rhyme flow. And if I feel (know) the beat is "shuffling," then I know to increase my word count in each bar, which requires me to be very careful with my breath control. In each case, when I'm creating a new beat, knowing the subtle differences that occur between incremental BPM changes helps me to quickly identify what tempo the beat should be at (especially for me to appropriately rhyme to it). Because of this, I never get "trapped" in either a slow or fast BPM zone. Instead, I'm always prepared to set the right tempo for the style and sound of beat that I'm working on.

Finally, I should also point out that even though I rarely use beats that are north of 99 BPM, there are several reasons that I like to still practice making beats at faster tempos. Using my own tempo and loop exercises, in which I use higher tempo ranges (usually 103 - 125 BPM) with the same primary sample over different drumwork sequences, allows me to work on ideas that I have for new drum structures. It also helps me to audition new snare sounds. I should also add that practicing with faster tempos also helps me to better understand the different ways that loops can "work" at faster and slower tempos.

*Editor's Note: The BeatTips Manual includes a detailed discussion of the sample-based, synthetic-sounds-based, and hybrid compositional styles of beatmaking.

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

November 08, 2010

Statik Selektah and Termanology’s ‘1982’ Is a Classic

Duo Soars with Broadly Complete Album


BeatTips Rating: 5/5

The uncompromising creativity of 1982 splashes at you like a golden razor, slicing away your angst for what mostly purports to be hip hop/rap music these days. In fact, not sense Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, or Gang Starr’s Moment of Truth have I heard a more defiant, well-balanced, and self-defining album in hip hop/rap.

There is an aggressive freedom within 1982. This album roams confidently (decisively) where it wants. Indeed, 1982 is not an overtly ambitious medley of varying tunes for everybody. On the contrary, 1982 is clearly for somebody. It’s for me. And if you like boots-in-the-speaker hip hop/rap music along with an occasional "smooth operator" boom bap selection, then it’s for you. But if you incline towards contrived “emo” tracks or clumsy Southern bounce knock-offs, you’re at the wrong parade. 1982 is a street hop convention, wherein there's a celebration of two of the rawest and coldest fundamentals of the hip hop/rap music tradition: beats and rhymes. It's also a magnificent lesson in musical balance, as the milder cuts on the album enhance the range and depth of an otherwise hardcore LP.

BeatTips Rating Breakdown

Favorite Joints

"Still Waiting"
This is my absolute favorite joint from 1982. A classic song that actually reminds of me of how eloquently Bruce Springstein and Billy Joel accurately deliver the day-to-day "common man" vibe of a working class "joe" with big dreams. Termanology is at his best here, offering up a confessional rhyme jaunt that leaves you cheering for him and Stat to hit it big.

"I'm still waiting for my day/I'm still waiting to par-lay with hell-a loot/I'm still waiting ti' my moms livin' better, too/shit, cuz my life's still raw/I'm twenty-somethin' years old and I'm still poor."—Termanology

As for the beat, Statik Selektah demonstrates his superb ear for soulful samples and his master-touch chopping. What's especially dope is how Stat handles the track overall. His treatment of the primary sample is precise. Rather than cloud it with a schizophrenic drum framework (something a less skilled beatmaker would most likely have done), he anchors it with a steady kick-snare pattern, while beefing up on the cymbals.

"Life Is What You Make It" ft. Saigon and Freeway
A deceptively simple arrangement that draws you into the rhythmic prisms created by the beat and each rhyme flow. I particularly like this joint because of Saigon's work on it. And the beat for "Life Is What You Make It" is currently my favorite from 1982. Using a three-note bass sample, the beat drags and pulls with one of the illest swing qualities I've heard on a beat in recent years.

With this song, intellect and social scholarship take center stage. I dig songs that teach and uplift without preaching.

"The World Renown"
This joint is proof positive that beats inspire flow, and the iller the beat, the iller the rhyme—well, at least that's how it is when there's a capable lyricist on the beat. Fortunately, Termanology proves to be more than capable here. Term uses "The World Renown," the first cut of the album, to announce that he's entered a new lyrical zone of complexity, flow, and stylistic machismo.

As far as the beat, once again, Statik Selektah shows off master art-craftsmanship. The beat simmers. At the center is a soul-jazz fusion sample that's surgically chopped (one of Stat's best traits), but not over-extended the way many "auto-choppers" of today like to often do. And the drum framework is a silhouette of smoothness. Each individual element is tucked well, with the bongo punch of the snare and the casual lift of the kick grounding the whole beat in a soul lounge essence.

"People Are Running"
This joint is bare-bones creativity at its finest! On some other-world storytelling shit, Term comes off with deftly penned imagery, offering up an apocalyptic view of what amounts to be the hood through a Matrix lens. And Stat anchors the vocals with an eerie and deceptively simple beat. "People Are Running" features a kick-snare pattern that's steady yet remarkably chaotic, seemingly ready to break fool at any moment. And the 8th-bar mark drum roll is nasty, proving that Statik Selektah is most at home when he explores what he can create with his custom drum sounds. "People Are Running" is hauntingly fresh hip hop/rap music, and fortunately, like most of the cuts on 1982 it's not encumbered by a useless hook.

"You Should Go Home (for breakdown, see Sureshot Singles below)

Sureshot Single(s)

"You Should Go Home" ft. Bun
Dig it, most so-called "for-the-ladies" contraptions usually lean towards the superficial "baby-I-need-you" schlock. But this isn't the case with "You Should Go Home." Here, Statik creates a beat that cooks and bangs just as much as it conjures up that obvious "R&B" feel. The rumbling bongo pattern, flanked by snare brushes "on the 2's," both sub-frameworks shrouded by a tempered hi-hat scheme: genius! The entire measure of the song shuffles with a swing quality often only found with a great traditional live drummer. "You Should Go Home" wonderfully displays Statik Selektah's range as a beatmaker/producer.

Also, the rhymes that grace "You Should Go Home" are not the typical "R&B" filler, either. Termanology proves that he knows how to temper his tone and flow, without sacrificing his subject matter and delivery. And Bun B doesn't just show up making am appearance, on the contrary, he sounds comfortable and confident, completely at home with the tapestry and scope of the beat.

Finally, I'm compelled to point out that ordinarily, I dislike hearing an "R&B" type joint on a hardcore album, but 1982 is no ordinary album, and "You Should Go Home" isn't your average hip hop/rap-"R&B" hybrid—it's both magnetic and catchy. In fact, I anticipate that "You Should Go Home" is going to pick up heavy radio traction.

Sleeper Cuts

"Wedding Bells" ft. Jared Evan
"Wedding Bells" puts you in the mind frame of Color Me Bad's "I Wanna Sex You Up," one of the hardest hip hop/rap influenced joints of all time. But while "Sex You Up" features the sappy sing-pleading of a 90s urban boy band, Termanolgy's dead pan rhymes about a guy with "conflicting" thoughts on marriage makes "Wedding Bells" glide into a whole new zone.

On the surface, "Wedding Bells" is light and humorous, as Term rhymes, "I might bring you a rose/but then I'm stripping ya close/wanted the kid to propose/sorry I'm dippin', I'm gost." Then there's Jared Evan on the chorus singing (masterfully), "She's hearing wedding bells." But listen beneath the surface and you'll hear how seriously Statik Selektah has approached this whole "new jack swing" aesthetic. The sound simply doesn't feel like 2010. Instead, it carries the good vibe nuance of the "new jack swing" sound of the early 1990s. Some might think Stat and Term were taking a chance with this joint, considering how much of 1982 is hardcore. But I beg to differ. "Wedding Bells" isn't only a refreshing change of pace, it's a great example of music makers exploring (and committing to) a variety of their musical interests and influences.

Perhaps on any other Stat and Term album, "Wedding Bells" would stand out as the cold-handed hip hop/rap, R&B-tinged joint. But "You Should Go Home" so powerfully commands that slot that "Wedding Bells" may be slightly overlooked by some. It's a shame, though, because "Wedding Bells" has an entirely different feel and scope than "You Should Go Home." Moreover, "Wedding Bells" has a special power: if you listen closely it will beam you back to 1991.

"Thugaton 2010"
"Thugaton 2010" is stick-up kid background music. Eight bars of it will have you amped up and ready to go rob somebody, even if your name is Becky and you're from Long Island. What's more, "Thugaton 2010" features M.O.P. on a slower tempo beat, a rarity for sure, as most M.O.P. features are usually up-tempo, high octane affairs. Indeed, the beat for "Thugathon 2010" is a deceptively subdued masterpiece. Brilliant, Stat!

Absolutely none!

Final Analysis

1982 is an impressive collection of high-grade quality hip hop/rap music.
In addition to the standard fare of male hip hop/rap bravado, this album contains songs with a variety of topics. "Wedding Bells," one of two joints certain to appeal to the ladies, is a cleverly made tune about mis-perceived relationships. "The Hood Is On Fire" and "People Are Running" eloquently describe the perilous and claustrophobic nature of life in the ghetto. "Still Waiting" vividly captures the anxieties of an artist dealing with everyday life while trying hard to make it in the face of uncertain success. "You Should Go Home" is a monster of a mainstream hit that bangs and stays fresh after frequent repeat listens. "Freedom" is a sobering scholarly effort and uplifting anthem that makes you reflect on the social obstacles that face people of color. "World Renown" and "Life Is What You Make It" are songs that aggressively celebrate quality complex lyricism... 1982 is loaded!

While I dig the fact that each song on 1982 executes its aim, what I appreciate more is the fact that there are no gaps in focus or any haphazard attempts at styles and sounds that do not favor the duo or their featured guests. Instead, Statik Selektah and Termanology navigate their collective influences in a manner that registers well with the overall ambition of the album, which I gather was to simply offer the most sincere representation of the pair's skills and genuine interests. In fact, Stat & Term openly embrace their influences. Which doesn't mean that they try to be or even mimic their stated inspiration. Instead, they orchestrate the best of themselves—influential references and all. Thus, any direct comparisons of 1982 to any album by Gang Starr or Pete Rock & CL Smooth (both duos explicitly mentioned in 1982's intro) misses the point and scope of 1982, entirely.

And while Statik Selektah's beats continued to demonstrate why he has quickly risen to the 1st tier of today's beatmakers/producers, I was pleasantly surprised by Termanology's rhymes. On past efforts, I found Termanology's rhyming to be average at best. But his lyrical command on 1982 has forced me to recognize him as a solid lyricist, one with serious depth and much poetic imagination.

Why Statik Selektah and Termanology's 1982 Is Undoubtedly a Classic

Overall, what makes an album a classic? Illmatic, perhaps my most favorite hip hop/rap album of all time, was a collection of abrasive street cuts; it contained no so-called "radio friendly" joints or any "for-the-ladies" selections. And despite what some might want to say otherwise, by 1994, the year Illmatic was released, the radio was already on the road to the "top 8 at 8" pop induced format that it is now. Thus, one of the things that makes Illmatic a classic to many is it's defiantly hardcore street stance. And what about Dr. Dre's The Chronic? Another classic, and another one of my favorites. But unlike Illmatic—an album who's track listing I know verbatim—, I honestly struggle to name any song off of The Chronic beyond "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" and "Let Me Ride." Then there's 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin', an album that MANY hip hop/rap music journalists failed to initially dub a classic, despite it's obvious appeal both under— and above ground.

Even a superficial listen of the three aforementioned classic albums by Nas, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent, respectively, tells you that there is no exact science to coming up with a "classic." But if there's a quality that all three albums share, it's their defiantly personal nature, flying in the face of conformity. Statik Selektah & Termanlogy's 1982 shares this same quality (as does The Left's Gas Face; BeatTips.com's review coming next week). At a time where many (if not most hip hop/rap acts) are scrambling to conform—and in many cases, scrambling to openly bite (carbon copy) the sound of their more "successful" contemporaries—, Statik and Term opted for a different, but well-established course.

For 1982, Statik Selektah and Termanology combined to formulate an album that was at times, intellectually interesting and socially engaging; and at all times, musically rewarding. And they did it all using the guide set forth by a number of hip hop/rap's important stalwarts, most notably Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. What's more impressive, however, is the fact that Stat & Term deliver a classic using their own ingenuity: They stand defiantly on their own apparatus of honest music making.

As such, 1982 is an album full of hip hop/rap's best aesthetics. The intentional absence of useless hooks are welcome. The range and high quality nature of the beats are inviting; from beat to beat there are sharp examples of the beatmaking tradition's most fundamental characteristics. Termanology's successful reach for the upper tiers of lyricism are encouraging. The mesh of high profile features is impressive and well-used. Even the song arrangement of the LP (a subtle but important variable in a good album's equation) should be applauded. Thus, 1982 is not only aesthetically pleasing, it's an album worthy of serious MusicStudy.

I’ve long maintained that one of the best “self-preserving” qualities of the hip hop/rap music tradition is its self-defiant nature. Hip hop/rap music is no longer a surprise guest at the big ball. It has arrived by every metric that you can imagine, and now it permeates sharply through American culture as well as major cities around the globe. Moreover, hip hop/rap has gained widespread acceptance as both a formidable entertainment sub-industry and as a serious academic discipline. But despite hip hop/rap’s ascent into the mainstream as well as the upper crusts of society and even high art circles, in its fundamental essence, hip hop/rap still speaks loudest to the “common classes”. That Statik Selektah & Termanology have a strong grasp of this component of hip hop/rap is what makes 1982 so engaging, encouraging, and of course, refreshingly enjoyable. Classic work.

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

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