146 posts categorized "Music Education"

October 28, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time

A Top Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose


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

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

The Nature of this List

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Criteria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#30 • Statik Selektah

#29 • Dame Grease

#28 • True Master

#27 • Bink

#26 • The Beatnuts

#25 • DJ Khalil

#24 • Havoc (of Mobb Deep)

#23 • Rick Rubin

#22 • 9th Wonder

#21 • Alchemist

#20 • Buckwild

#19 • Madlib

#18 • Nottz

#17 • Prince Paul

#16 • DJ Paul and Juicy J

#15 • Kev Brown

#14 • Showbiz

#13 • DJ Tomp

#12 • Just Blaze

#11 • The Neptunes

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

#9 • J Dilla

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

#7 • Kanye West

#6 • Dr. Dre

#5 • Large Professor

#4 • Pete Rock

#3 • RZA

#2 • Marley Marl

#1 • DJ Premier

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

October 21, 2014

John King and the Story of Chung King Studios

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 11, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 5

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds


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

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

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

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

Mike James Kirkland – “Together”

Two different snares, nice tom, closed hat, and kick at the 0:00-0:06 mark. Also, take a listen to the bass line. Listen for how it moves, less complex, like a soft accompaniment. Great modelt/lesson for how to build less complex or "busy" bass parts (support bass) for your beats. And, of course, this is a serious soul joint.

Marva Whitney - “Get Together”

A funk staple and popular cut amongst seasoned collectors. Not just that, the drum sounds on this record are undoubtedly in the drum sound libraries of many early '90s beatmakers. I built a couple of different snares from the snare that I initially sampled off of this cut. At the 0:00-0:06 mark: kick, snare, hi-hat, open hat, and break.

Smoked Sugar – “My Eyes Search a Lonely Room For You”

Far as drum sounds, the only thing to catch on this cut are the toms at the very opening, 0:00-0:02. Still, an introduction to Smoked Sugar is a good thing. Remember, all music is a gateway to more music.

Lafayette Afro Rock Band – “Hihache”

For its opening break, this Lafyette Afro Rock Band cut is one of the most well-known breaks amongst funk aficionados and vinyl collectors. The break itself has been sampled a lot, and has shown up in a number of songs over the past 20 or so years. But take the break apart, and what you have is a true drummer’s delight—19 seconds of open drum-hits! At the 0:00-0:19 mark, snare (at least 3 different velocity flavors), kick, hi-hat, open hat, closed hat. And the break works as an added bonus, as it serves as a great drum pattern practie session. I used to practice recreating this opening drum break using the same sounds and different sounds. And note: I practiced making the break with time correct on and off to help develop my sense of time and my overall drum programming/arraning skills.

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

January 21, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiple Drum Sounds Arrangements

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

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

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

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

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

"Cut 1013" - Produced by Sa'id

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

June 13, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: Samuel Prody, Top-Notch Blues-Rock

This Contemporary Of Led Zeppelin Could Have Been A Contender


Regular readers of BeatTips.com know how much of a fan of Led Zeppelin that I am. Zeppelin has—and always will—play a major role in my understanding of and approach to music. For this reason, I'm sensitive to Led Zeppelin "knock-off" bands. Can't stomach them at all. Still, who could blame anyone for trying to emulate Zeppelin's style?

But emulation, followed by one's own imagination or innovation is one thing; "wannabe" duplication is something entirely different. Fortunately, Samuel Prody—a band who's sound closely mirrored Led Zeppelin—had enough individual imagination to carve out there own sound and avoid being dismissed as another Led Zeppelin knock off band.

Truth be told, Samuel Prody were contemporaries of Led Zeppelin. However, this status was short-lived, as the band's only album, Samuel Prody, was released in 1970. But had Samuel Prody kept it together and recorded more, the similarities (and differences) between them may have gotten plenty of air time. In fact, the band's lineup matched-up rather well against Led Zeppelin.

Samuel Prody's lead singer Tonny Savva could have perhaps been every bit as dynamic as Zeppelin's front-man Robert Plant. Prody's bassist Stephen Day had a style that was nearly equal to the bluesy style of Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. John Boswell, Prody's drummer, maybe wasn't a match for John Bonham, but then again, who was? Still, Boswell was damn close (check out his drumwork on "Time Is All Mine," included below); and he was certainly much better than most drummers of the time. Finally, Samuel Prody's lead guitarist Derek Smallcombe was not only formidable, he was imaginative and bluesy; although not to the degree of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. But we're talking Jimmy Page, here.

So all things considered, in 1970, Samuel Prody was poised to maybe give Led Zeppelin a run for their money, most likely setting up a rivalry situation similar to that of the The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But even though that never took place, Samuel Prody still stands for me as the band who came the closest to Led Zeppelin's sound—without completely "knocking it off," while also creating a sound that was just as engaging. For that, and because their music did indeed cook, I salute Samuel Prody.

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

Samuel Prody – “Woman” (1970)

Samuel Prody - "Time Is All Mine"

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

December 10, 2012

Flipping Samples Without Auto-Chop

Why I Prefer Manual Chopping, and Why an Over-Reliance on Auto-Chop Can Dictate a Limited Arrangement Path


When is a short-cut just a “short-cut”, and when is it just a crutch? I find myself asking this question whenever I think of those beatmakers who believe that auto-chop has always been the primary way for chopping up samples. I also ask myself the auto-chop question whenever I see an online beatmaking video where someone works the auto-chop button, then arrogantly says that they "flipped" a sample. More importantly, I often wonder does process and tradition even matter to some beatmakers, or is it all just about speed? Workflow and final results aside, I still believe that much can be said for process and tradition.

Handcrafting a Japanese sword (dig it: I know beatmaking's not entirely parallel here, but stick with me on this analogy), or making a pair of quality Italian leather shoes. Sure, both the Japanese sword and the Italian leather shoes can be mass produced faster and much cheaper, and sometimes with similar results (or close enough). And even today, I’m certain that many of the traditional Japanese sword craftsmen and the hand-craft Italian shoemakers make some modern-day concessions in their creative processes. But whether it be materials used or a narrowing of the number of steps taken in the process, I doubt any of these concessions ever become a crutch to these artisans. This is because tradition and quality takes precedent over technology in their world. This does not mean that new technology is bad. On the contrary, technology serves at the disposal of the craftsman and his tradition. In other words, technology that helps the process and does not circumvent the role of the creative and experienced mind is good.

In the beatmaking tradition, core concepts of creativity echo and continue to permeate. Still, technology has naturally sped up the beatmaking processes for many beatmakers. And while I certainly believe that this is a good thing (generally speaking), I also believe that there’s one unfortunate side-effect: To some beatmakers, process is no longer a matter of tradition, but instead, it's a matter of speed and simply keeping up with an unsustainable pace of beat distribution.

Prior to auto-chop functionality, sample-based beatmakers relied on the predetermined chop schemes that were imagined in their mind. But for many beatmakers today, auto-chop serves as an artificial mind. And as artificial minds go, it’s worth mentioning that auto-chop does not come with any of the same kind of instinct or intuition exhibited before its advent. Instead of predetermined chop schemes imagined in the mind, many today are satisfied with utilizing the ridiculously long sampling times that modern samplers are equipped with to (1) simply sample larger portions of songs, (2) auto-chop them into 16-32 regions, and (3) come up with a chop and arrangement scheme based more on what auto-chop dictated to them than on their own predetermined chops. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this method (in fact, it can result in a dope beat), it’s worth noting that such a method requires all but no ear for music, i.e. diggin’ in the crates, and less skill or ingenuity on the part of the beatmaker.

I suspect that most beatmakers with developed ears don’t always use auto-chop like this. For those with developed ears, auto-chop is usually just a short-cut, not a crutch. Still, for others, I fear that auto-chop is increasingly becoming a sort of fools gold. Above, I mentioned that auto-chop often dictates the chop-schemes for some beatmakers. Here’s what I mean by this. Take a 4-bar phrase sample, auto-chopped into 16 regions on an Akai MPC. With the sample perfectly sliced up by auto-chop, you are presented with the sample as it's spread out over 16 drum pads. For many, the creativity begins and ends here, as randomly pressing and holding drum pads until something sounds like a possible arrangement becomes the process. Typically, this process doesn’t include the use of different sample-phrases from other source material or even the same record, as auto-chop dictates chopping schemes that utilize only what was thrown in the slicer—fast and neat. Incidentally, this process/method is one of the root causes for thousands of DJ Premier knock-off and sound-alike beats. But you won't find auto-chop functionality at the core of Premier’s process and method. On the contrary, his style and sound is more the product of a good ear and his unique manual chopping schemes and other individual tweaks and personalized nuances.

So this raises an important question: How does one distinguish the difference between random raps on MPC drum pads, and the predetermined arrangement pattern—a predetermined compositional vision—that usually accompanies a manual chopping skill-set?

In fact, I’m concerned that this auto-chop crutch “process” gives off the illusion that some great level of creativity or imagination is going on. And what happens next is a compound problem: On one hand, a false sense of skill, and on the other hand, an actual skills deficit. This is because when auto-chop is used as a crutch, it lowers the threshold of creativity, and things like understanding sounds, textures, and arrangements cease to be important for some, as auto-chop dictates all of the possibilities, and lulls one into believing that the random drum pad-punching of perfect sample slices will get the job done.

But none of this should surprise anyone. After all, technology has long raised questions about musicianship, musicality, creativity, and imagination. And now it would appear that technology is reshaping what it means to have “skills” in beatmaking, especially in the area of chopping. So where does the skill enter into the equation when it comes to using auto-chop? Is it the source material selection? Is it simply the process of setting the parameters of an automatic 16 to 32-piece/slice/chop—a feet previously only achieved through a beatmaker’s careful selection, good ear, and meticulous manual chopping? I’m not sure where skill begins or ends when this now go-to functionality is used, particularly in the manner I described above. But one thing’s for certain: Auto-chop, and it’s ability to make some beatmakers appear to be doing much more than they actually are, has become more than just a tool for evenly chopping up samples—for some it’s become their main path to creativity.

With the Flip of a Bass Line, You Can Make Something Dope
How I Turned a Snippet of “Don't Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey Into a New Song…Without Auto-Chop

I’d heard “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey plenty of times before. When I was a kid, my father used to play it a lot (along with Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder). He (we) had the album Hang Together (1980) on vinyl, what else, right? When I grew older, I doubled up on Hang Together after seeing a good condition vinyl copy of it for $12 bucks at one of the record conventions that used to be held at the Roosevelt Hotel, here in New York…In other words, my ears were familiar with this record, especially its textures and tones.

So when I came across “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” one day while rearranging my record shelves to make room for new records, I took it for a spin (no pun intended). Soon as I heard the intro, my ear told me what textures would go with it, and what drum sounds would best compliment the core groove and tempo I imagined in my mind. Again, it was my ear—and equally important my sound reference, which has been built up from years of diggin’ in the crates—that immediately told me what bass parts would fit with the bass tone and style of the “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” bass line. So I stopped the record, spun it back, and sampled it.

All together, I sampled about 5 seconds of the intro, then I increased the pitch of the snippet by a couple of steps. Next, I further chopped the snippet, then I duplicated the new sample into to two copies of the same sample. One copy (“copy 1”), I left as is; the other (“copy 2”), I fine tuned the pitch (pulled back the pitch just a bit), and faded out the end. I filtered both copies to bring out the sample, but with copy 2, the slightly slower pitched copy, I filtered the bass—beefed it up—even more. Then I layered the copy 2 over the top of copy 1 and ran them through the same channel on my mixing console. This is how I made a fatter sounding bass line that had a dragging feel to it.

Next, I went to work on the drums. Because I understood the source material, I knew what kind of drum framework would go well with it; a simple fK--fS fK fK--fS pattern was all I needed for the base drum pattern. (In chapter 5 of The BeatTips Manual, I cover drum patterns in great depth and detail.) And although the base pattern for this beat is pretty straightforward, there is some complexity, as I used a combination of three different hats and tambourines in a couple different syncopated patterns. The main hat—1/8 notes—is flanked by my custom ride-tambourine hybrid hat, which moves along on the 1/4 notes, making the drum framework shuffle. Then, during the hook (chorus) section, I added another tambourine (lighter sounding and truncated) as ghost notes. I should also mention that for the hook, I altered the base drum pattern, and used a fK---fS----fK-fS---fK---fS pattern.

For the change that leads up to the verse and doubles as the hook section, I used a bass line from a reggae record that I chopped and sped up. I filtered this bass line to match the tone and texture of the bass snippet that grew from the snippet of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her.” Clearly, auto-chop couldn’t have helped me here, as I used an entirely different record—from a different genre and period—to match with the style and sound that I was creating. Thus, the point that I want to make here is that it’s important to develop an ear for music and sounds, and blends and textures, and cuts and ruptures. You can’t always just play a record, sample it, then slice it up over 16 drum pads, then do some random playing around without at least some level of intuitive creativity. No! You’re much better off when you have a pretty good idea of how you want to cut the source material, and how you want to blend and match everything into one cohesive arrangement. This is why taking the time to really listen to music outside of hip hop/rap music is an important part of your development, whether you make sample-based beats or non-sample-based beats. But if sampling serves as the diesel of your compositional outlook, then my friend, listening to music outside of hip hop/rap music—regularly—is an absolute must!

Next, I added a sub-change to the primary change, using a bass sound-stab made from another piece/section of the “copy 1” sample that I used for the core groove. Listen at the 0:28-:29 mark. It’s subtle, but it serves the transition back to the core groove well.

Finally, the real test of the beat came when I wrote my lyrics to it and kicked my rhyme over it…

Bottom Line:
Your imagination is better than auto-chop functionality, so use auto-chop to your benefit when it can be helpful, but don’t rely on it as a crutch! Furthermore, developing your ear is critically important. And one of the best ways to do this is by listening to records, not just sampling them as you come across them. Finally, I have to point out that there’s no way that auto-chop could have helped me in the making of the beat below. For one, I was interested in the composite opening phrase itself of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her,” not micro-pieces of it. Also, if you notice, I cut one piece of the new sample and made it a stand alone sound stab that gets cut off every time the bass line plays. This chop and arrangement scheme (and other subtle cut-offs that were included in this beat) could have never been thought of had I simply auto-chopped the intro.

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

Odyssey - "Don't Tell Me, Tell Her"

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

October 15, 2012

The BeatTips Community: Merging Your Sampling Skills with Live Instrumentation

Making Sample-Based and Live Instrumentation Arrangements


DJ PAS, a TBC (The BeatTips Community) member, posed a great question about getting into DJ'ing to help his beatmaking skills, "Strictly Sample Based Chopper goes Komplete 8 Ultimate" In his comment, he mentioned his recent interest in incorporating Native Instrument's Komplete 8 into his setup in an effort to include live instrumentation ("keys, strings, and horns...") into his production. He specifically wanted ideas on how to mesh his sampling with his non-sampling. PAS's original question, followed by replies from Castro, Kregan, and myself. Note, the thread kind of went in a different direction after Kregan's post, but the breast of Kregan's comment, as well as my own, are nonetheless important to this discussion.

As strictly a sample based producer, I didn't think that I'd spend some money on instrument software. But as NI has done a crossgrade price drop, I couldnt resist.
So I'm starting to collaborate my sampling skills with live instrumentation soon.
It's less of a question than it is searchin for tips on how YOU do it as a non-sampling producer.

How you get your chords together?

I remember times that i tried to play the keys
(I had 4 yrs Keys education as a child) for producing, but most of the time it sounded for me like childish gibberish toy melody, you digg?
How do you get your shit together on a pro melody (Keys, Strings, Horns...)?

Thanx for tips n tricks how you get your non sample music groovin. —DJ PAS

Castro's reply:

What Up Pas,

Right out the gate I can truly appreciate what you're doing, furthering your means for which music can be created. What NI products are you looking into?

If I'm not mistaken, I believe what you're asking is how to arrange instrumentation as well as playing chords. As far as arrangement goes, that's entirely up to you. (It should be noted however that this is by far one of the most difficult things to do in music. It's one thing to play an instrument, it's another thing to know where and when it fits into compositions.) Strictly speaking, listening to artists like Queen, who were able to make a song into this rock opera style, is really impressive. The arrangements of songs like Bohemian Rhapsody are a testament to true musicianship. Listen to artists who do more than loop phrases, even a song like Ronnie Spector's Be My Baby is a good example of a perfect arrangement. Knowing where and when to make transitions is just as important as knowing how to create the actual sounds.

With Chords, it's a little less ambiguous than arrangements. http://www.8notes.com/piano_chord_chart/ That's a website for learning chords, use it. Most people who start playing stuff out on keyboards are generally limited by not being ambidextrous, which is natural, as it takes time to build up muscle in your "weak" hand. There are finger exercises to do in order to increase elasticity as well as speed across keys. Practicing with a metronome is advisable as well in order to learn how to stay with the time signature.

Here's a trick I learned regarding chords: Take a scale from any note, pick out a couple of notes from that scale and play it in a chord like fashion below C 0 (or down 1 octave). Then take some of the remaining notes from the scale you haven't triggered in the lower octave, and play them one or two octaves above. This is a kind of "cluster" chord or scale chord that tends to have real full and pleasing tone.

Piano notes are measured in halves, so a white key to a white key is full step. In other words, if you go from C to D, that's a full step, but if you go from C to C#, that's a half step. So in order to figure out the Major Scale for any given note, here is the formula: 1 w(hole) 2 w 3 h(alf) 4 w 5 w 6 w 7 h. This means if you start on C, the next note in the scale is D, then D#, then F and so on. For a minor scale, the formula is: 1 w 2 h 3 w 4 w h 6 w 7 w. The 8th note will always be the note you started on in the octave beneath it.

There are also some VSTi's, as well as hardware, that have a "Chorder" option, like the Fantom X. You can create and program your own chords and then trigger them by touching just one key. The only problem is that most chorders only allow a single chord at a time, (not just that you can only press key at a time, monophonic, which is true in most cases), but you can't put two or more different chords across the keys at once. It acts as more of a "hit" than actual piano playing.

I hear good things about Komplete 8, let me know your thoughts on it after you've had some time to explore it.

I must admit, I'm still somewhat confused by what you mean as far as "process of finding chords". I can't say that I've personally gone into a beat with the mentality of let me start in the key of C or play a diminished chord etc etc, I just go with what feels right. Sometimes I create my own chords, a combination of keys that just sounds pleasing to my ear that I run with, might not even be a "real" (major, minor etc) chord sometimes. I will say however that once I've found that initial chord, depending on its complexity, finding the next appropriate chord in the progression can be tricky, sometimes I even have to play it out key by key. It's in doing this though that you start to understand how one chord moves to the next, and it becomes simpler to do with other chords.

Again, arrangement is entirely up to you. There is no "right" way, there may be some templates for certain genres, like hip-hop having an 8 bar hook and a 16 bar verse with a 4 bar breakdown or bridge occasionally. Arrangement should compliment the sounds/instruments that comprise it and vice-versa. Sometimes you might have a dope patch, something totally unique or just dope for whatever reason, but rather than obliterating the track with the same noise in a repetitive fashion, maybe you just throw in a pinch here and there. Think of arrangement like cooking, you don't have to over-do it on the spices in order to get flavor, they just have to be balanced.

If you are not a trained pianist, then you should not expect yourself to perform as such. You know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! It might sound "childish" to you right now, but that could be more than just your ability to play. Sometimes, even the simplest melodies/notation, are brought to life by how they sound and not how they are played. (Interestingly enough, the counter argument, that it's how you play it, is just as important, so it's quite the paradox) Consider adding reverb, adjusting the Cutoff or Resonance, ADSR etc etc.

What might be most beneficial to you at this juncture would be to learn more about sound design. The more you know about wave shapes and what goes into creating a "voice", the deeper you will be able to edit and modify sounds according to your specifications. I would recommend the Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook, technical read, but worth it. There's also the tried and true method of just messing around as well, even though if you wind up making something dope, you might want to know how you did what you did (of course you could always work backwards but hey).

Kregan's reply:

I experimented with synths and such a couple years ago after I had been sampling for a year or so. When I did, I didn't even really stress about melodies, I made a handful of beats that were right there in quality with my sample based beats very quickly.

However I wasn't using traditional sounds like pianos, I was using more atmospheric sounds, tweaking the patches, then laying other random sounds over the top and that sort of thing.

If you want to learn how to play melodies and such that's cool, more power to you, but don't think it's required or even necessary especially since we are talking about hip hop music.

There's so much flexibility and customization with a good synthesizer that being able to play a melody won't even come up, unless of course that's what your aiming for which is also cool.


What's Up Kregan, I was hoping you could elaborate further about the end of that statement, the "especially since we are talking about hip hop music" part.


Hey Cas

I was referring to how in hip hop music rhythm is the main priority, and melody and harmony play a secondary role to the rhythm.

I learnt this from the beattips manual and have made it a focus in my own practice.

Out of curiosity what is your compositional style? I would guess your either sample based or you take the hybrid approach.


A part of me agrees with that initial statement about rhythm but it seems somewhat quixotic or somewhat of a paradox. I don't wish to derail this thread by going into it, but I'm not sure if it's as simple as rhythm>melody>harmony.

I try to cover all sides of the spectrum when it comes to my style, a little bit of sampling a little bit of keyboards etc etc. For the most part I do not sample anymore, unless it's just one of those "have-to-flip" scenarios. It's been more rewarding creating my own material by far. As of late my interest is in playing the actual instruments, because the one thing that synth's don't replicate is the "air" and "warmth" from certain recording processes. Aiming to be a one man band, so one day someone will want to sample my material.


Peace Castro,

With regards to hip hop/rap music, I don't think Kregan was trying to simplify the roles that rhythm, melody, and harmony play. In nearly all twentieth-century popular American music, musicians can not escape the principles of rhythm, melody, and harmony—typically, all are always in effect in some form or fashion. However, it is a *fact—objective, and nothing to agree or disagree with—that certain musics and music traditions (here in America and around the world) prioritize rhythm over melody and harmony.

That said, people are welcome to make music in any way that they prefer. This means that people can play up the role of melody and harmony in the music they make, and decrease the role of rhythm whenever they want to. Of course, in hip hop/rap music, this is where subjectivity meets the crux of the tradition.

Thing is, everyone has there preferences for styles, sounds, and methods. And it is this choice of each beatmaker that represents the *subjective realm. The *objective realm involves the facts. Fact is, hip hop/rap music began as a music tradition that focused squarely on the rhythm. Over time, starting with the Studio Band Period of beatmaking, the role of melody and harmony grew in hip hop/rap music amongst a number of beatmakers. Again, these are the objective facts of the tradition over 30 plus years.

So naturally, where we stand today is, there are beatmakers who hold tight to rhythm more than they do melody and harmony. Conversely, there are beatmakers who hold tight to melody and harmony more than they do to rhythm. And that's where the subjectivity comes in to play. Some beatmakers prefer to stick closer to the crux of the tradition, the more fundamental or primary tropes. For others, however, such an approach is less important, as they're less interested in that and more interested in creating a style and sound that prominently infuses tropes from other music traditions. One compositional path might focus more on sampling; the other might focus on live instrumentation. Both choices are valid, and as such, they should both be respected. However, this does not mean that we should ignore the fact that one style is closer to the roots of our tradition than the other.

But let's be clear, here: The methods, styles, and general approaches that we choose keep us squarely within, on the margins of, or outside of one music tradition or another. Each music tradition has its own boundaries. And that's a good thing. These boundaries help us identify, understand, and distinguish one music from another. However, for years, musicians have been pushing these boundaries, merging the edges of multiple traditions into a new style and sound. This is called "fusion" (which I'm sure you know). Fusion is responsible for a lot great music. For example, British ska, seriously one of my all-time favorite music traditions, relies on a blend of reggae, Jamaican ska, punk, and pop. But it's important to remember that a fusion of styles and sounds is not necessarily better or worse than any of the singular styles that comprise it.

So Kregan has simply made an educated choice. He's looked at the history of our tradition, he's considered the mainstays and numerous developments over the last 30 plus years, he's factored in his own sensibilities, and he's concluded that he'd like to identify with a style and sound that's closer to the roots of our tradition, which means opting for a more rhythm-based style and sound. However, another person could read the exact same history and information in The BeatTips Manual and come to an opposite conclusion, opting for a style and sound that's further away from the roots of our tradition, going for a style and sound that prominently features melody and harmony and reduces the role of rhythm. That's certainly not beyond the pale of things. But for the prior choice (Kregan's case), a focus on melody and harmony is not a requirement, "especially since we are talking about hip hop music."


*Editor's note: To join The BeatTips Community (TBC), register here.
The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

October 07, 2012

What's Your Meaning of “Dope”?

Why the Best Meaning of Dope Defers to Hip Hop's Graffiti Heyday


In graffiti, you couldn't fake your way to the top... You had to have skill, knowledge and understanding of color and light, a strong sense of design, and the guts to actually tag a wall or subway train. Necessarily, "dope" wasn't a loose term bandied about by graffiti writers. “Dope” was taken seriously; it wasn’t a casual word. Instead, it was a reference meant to convey recognition of top quality in the craft.

To the early graffiti writers, “dope" meant something powerful. It didn't just mean that something looked good; it held several important connotations. If a writer’s piece was deemed dope by another writer, it meant that the writer who made the claim well-understood the art form. It meant the writer understood the fact that various styles gave way to new styles, and that the writer could appreciate the fact that general styles developed off of the styles that came before, and that personal styles developed as writers stood on the shoulders of dope writers before them. Deeply important was recognition of the chief architects and leading practitioners of the various styles. Equally important, it meant that the writer, through his own style and fundamental understanding of the art form, knew how to create an original piece of artwork. Moreover, it meant that the writer knew how to render his own interpretation while still representing the core style he or she was working from. In this way, the word “dope” was guarded, if you will, by the well-recognized and broadly understood importance of knowledge of craft, sense of originality, and dedication to quality. In other words, there was a shared understanding of the word dope among hip hop’s early graffiti writers.

If we were to apply the early graffiti writer’s understanding to the hip hop/rap music tradition, and more specifically, its biggest sub-tradition, beatmaking, could we say that today “dope” carries the same meaning and weight? To be certain, as sub-cultures and art forms like hip hop/rap music make their way into the mainstream, so does much of its language. Newscasts now regularly feature mentions of someone being “dissed”; politicians openly give “shout outs;” and so on. Likewise, terms usually reserved by the actual artisans of the culture become the mainstream public domain as well. Which now means that even the most casual fan of hip hop/rap music can call something dope just as much as someone’s who’s life backdrop is hip hop. Fair enough.

But what then of the meaning and weight of the word “dope”? It’s absurd to say that any one group owns the word. Still, no culture has more claim to the word dope than hip hop. And within that scope, no one has more say in defining what’s dope than the artisans of each of hip hop’s four main artistic elements. Now, every artisan has his own opinion, of course. But certainly, aren’t there some shared characteristics at work when someone calls something dope? Or at least shouldn’t there be? So in the beatmaking tradition, shouldn’t there also be a shared understanding of the word dope?

Let’s think about this. Shouldn’t there be some fundamental characteristics of dopeness that all beatmakers understand, recognize, and revere? Or should it be simply be left alone as one beatmaker’s “opinion” when he or she assigns the “dope” attribution to a beat or another beatmaker?

I suspect that the word dope will continue to borough deeper into the mainstream, and in that regard, beatmakers (and rappers) will not have any say in defining what the word means. However, beatmakers do have a say in defining what dope is in our realm. We can speak up against the loose tossing of the word dope. We can remind each other of the fundamentals of our craft. We can hold the chief architects and practitioners of our craft with the high esteem that they deserve, all the while recognizing that new styles and sounds stand on their shoulders. And we can reject the cheap dismissal of our architects and pioneers by those new music makers who regularly chose to do so. We can draw attention to the elements, factors, components, nuances, and characteristics that have always been considered fundamentally dope in the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. And we can inform those who are truly uninformed about all of these well recognized and well established elements, or speak out against those who attempt to degrade them. We can remind ourselves that dope is a continuum of our culture and tradition, not a departure from it.

Finally, when each of us deems something to be “dope,” we can all simply ask ourselves, ‘Who else among us would likely say the same, and why?’ When I was writing rhymes and developing my skill at it, I'd ask myself, 'Would Kool G. Rap, Rakim, or Nas think its dope?' And when I was making beats and developing my skill at that, I'd ask myself, 'Would Large Professor, DJ Premier, The RZA, or Pete Rock think its dope?' Still to this day, when I write a rhyme or make a beat, I still ask myself that same question.

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

August 31, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Isaac Hayes' "Soulsville" Drives Home Feeling

A Reminder to Incorporate Feeling


"Soulsville," from the movie Shaft. That's my favorite Isaac Hayes joint. The scene in Shaft where this song plays is so appropriate. The images—which are certainly no Hollywood props, but instead, real glimpses of early 1970s impoverished Harlem—are heartbreaking and encouraging at the very same time. And what makes this montage rise and resonate is Hayes' "Soulsivlle."

"Soulsville," an incredibly poignant song, teeming with depth and force,
is one of the songs that has had the most effect on the ways in which I strive to underscore my music with feeling. The collective (often meticulous) processes of making beats can lead a beatmaker to create music that's audibly pleasing, yet devoid of feeling. And so to guard against this pitfall, I'm mindful of giving every beat that I make a "soul." In fact, I embrace the notion that every piece of music that I create is, in some way, an extension of me. Therefore, every sound that I craft and/or use, even down to the most truncated hi-hat, must fit within my own style and preferred audio composite. For when I do so, I know that I am indeed injecting soul and genuine feeling into my music.

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

Isaac Hayes - "Soulsville"

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

August 28, 2012

It's Never *Just* a Loop

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


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

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

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

What Should You Sample?

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

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

What Section or Part Should You Sample?

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

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

So, How Do You Sample It?

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

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

What about the pitch question?

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

Did somebody say chopping?

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

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

Which Way to Go with the Drums?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" by Sa'id

The Jacksons - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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

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

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