2 posts categorized "Nasa"

February 08, 2011

A Change in Sampling Philosophy

Why It's Sometimes Necessary to Expand What You Consider to Be Useful Sample Source Material


Recently I've gone through a change in my sampling philosophy. I was always hard headed about sampling other beat makers drums or other elements. Even if it was just grabbing a kick or a snare and making my own pattern, I was head strong about finding my own sounds. I would never use break-beat records either (still don't, more on that later). I felt like to get your own sound, you had to make your own sounds. I even felt squeamish about using an 808 that someone handed off to me.

But over time you start to realize that this is a form of paranoia. Many beats NEED an 808, and unless you want to go back and buy your own TR-808, you'd better be ready to sample one from wherever you can. 808s are often an essential building block of a lot of hip hop beats. That was something I learned pretty quickly, and became the first crack in my wall of hard headedness.

Over the years I've grabbed a kick or snare here or there, but besides my mighty 808, I stayed true to my purity of grabbing my own sounds. While this is a great foundation for a career in beatmaking, eventually you have to evolve a bit. I've also moved away from playing out drum patterns as the basis for my beat creation over the last 3 years. This has opened my mind to a lot of possibilities of how I can construct beats and has contributed to what I'm about to say.

Nowadays, hip hop records are open season just like any other piece of vinyl in my collection. In fact, the way I make beats today is more about sampling drum patterns from records, chopping them up and playing them in new ways. Sometimes I'll add another drum pattern on top of that that fits, or just a roll (fill) or a piece of another looped sample phrase. From there I have my foundation (which used to start with me literally pounding out a kick and snare by hand almost every time). It took me years to get to this point where I could make this change, but now that I have I'm throwing old rap records into the mix of my ideal sample source material as well.

Rap music has been around for 30 plus years now. It deserves the same respect that we as beatmakers give rock and soul records. There's just too much that can be gained from these records. Some brilliant original hi-hat patterns; cleaned up breaks that aren't available; context sampling advantages. What I mean by "context sampling" is just like how you think of James Brown when you hear a JB Sample, having someone think about a legend in rap isn't a bad thing either, if they can figure out what you are working with.

While I have been a fan of making whole beats off the same rock or soul record as well lately, there's nothing iller to me than taking a chop of a rap record from 1988, mixing with a roll from a random album from 1978 and then adding synth sounds from some progressive rock from 1971. That collage of sounds is what this is all about right?

I still have an issue, personally, with break-beat records though. Mostly because they are usually copies of copies of breaks that were sampled from originals, so the sound quality is lacking. More importantly, I'm highly uncomfortable with ANYONE choosing what I sample and those collections are basically serving as a curator of my sound. I've walked out of record stores that have records labeled by break for you or that note who sampled it previously. That shit is whack to me.

Bottom line: Sometimes it’s necessary to adjust your sampling philosophy and reconsider your ideas about what makes for useful sample source material. Furthermore, if you really want to show the beatmaking pioneers some respect, show that respect for them by including them into what fuels you today just like you would any other record in any other genre. New year, new approach.

[Editor’s note: Although break-beat records often do contain copies of originals, some also contain re-issues. In both cases, the sound quality may vary, but typically not by that much. Therefore, break-beat records sometimes do have usable sounds with decent sound quality. In fact, I'd personally go with a sampled break-beat drum sound over a software synth drum sound, any day.]

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

December 21, 2010

What Does It Mean to Be a Mainstream Music Fan Today?

Once A Fertile Ground for Music Education, "Mainstream Music" No Longer Means What It Used To


The other day my wife was playing the Beatles’ White album. I never really listened to it all the way through. But I realize now that my folks played a lot of those songs—non-stop—when I was too young to understand what it even was. Most of the time, music was the LAST thing my folks were thinking about. And that just goes to show the difference in generations.

Both of my parents had lots of vinyl; my pops, in particular, had a great collection of 45s with Doo Wop. Beyond that, my folks weren't musically inclined AT ALL. However, the passion that they had in their finger tips—as typical mainstream fans in the 1960s and 70s—is more then what's in the whole body of the typical mainstream fan today.

It's as if back then (1960s and 70s), every person in the US had some degree of passion for music, even if they were at the mainstream level. And I think that the reason for this was because of the overall quality of music that they were being regularly fed as a whole. Now when I say “mainstream,” let me be clear: I don't mean the style of music being mainstream. I mean as listeners, my folks weren't "fanatatical" about music, they were just your typical "mainstream" fans. But the definition of a mainstream fan changed dramatically from their era to mine, and from my era (the 1990s) now, this change is even more dramatic.

I think you can always randomly say that "Music isn't what it used to be.” You hear that all the time. From 70s rock fans, from 80s pop fans, to 90s hip hop/rap fans. That sentiment transcends race, age and genre. This isn't really an observance of that fact, albeit true. The point is more it's subversive effect. And the strongest effect is not on the music junkies like myself and everyone that reads a site like BeatTips. The strongest effect is on that mainstream music fan that is turning on the radio right now as you read this. From there it spreads down to their generation and their children.

When I was a little kid, I knew names like The Beatles, Johnny Mathis, The Dells, The Flamingos, The Doors, and many more. That's a healthy mix of music, truly diverse in it's sound and approach. Before I knew what I was being taught by being exposed to that music, I had already learned something. I learned that music is varied and it has a wide assortment of sounds. Furthermore, I learned that music comes from all kinds of different people from all over the world. But when I consider today’s “mainstream,” I wonder, do mainstream fans, particular kids, learn this today?

So let's back track for one second, to support what I'm saying. Review the list of artists that I mentioned earlier. Each of those artists barely scratch the surface of where anyone can go on a musical journey (of any kind). Like I said, my parents are not musicians and are not music enthusiasts. So taking that into context, look again at what they had me listening to as young as 6 years old! That stuff—their mainstream music—at the very least, put my mind in the best place for me to make my own healthy musical journey later on. In fact, looking back, it inspired me and gave me the opportunity to become a musician as well as a music enthusiast.

But in lieu of today’s mainstream, I have serious doubts that the same opportunities are being afforded to today's youth. With regards to mainstream hip hop/rap music, the first issue might perhaps be the major labels continued growth toward a more market-tested commercial sound in the late 90s. This went hand in hand with increased prices for their product. The combination of these two factors (as well as many others) helped to send people—in droves—to the internet to get their music through illegal downloading. And we now live in the shadow of all of these mistakes.

Today, mainstream hip hop/rap music is a shouting contest. Whoever does the most repetitive, ignorant, attention-getting thing can stand out in cyberspace. Since there is perhaps no longer an effective infrastructure to market music (whether it be of quality or not), nor is there a seasoned A & R presence that we saw through the mid 90s, contemporary mainstream hip hop/rap music is stuck in this echo chamber of sensationalism and unoriginality. Most of this music is a shadow of what it even was in 1999 when the TRL generation took hold, and that is saying something. Especially when you consider that a great deal of today’s hip hop/rap music is actually "self destructive.” No doubt these factors have degraded our music and culture.

Nevertheless, I'm extremely encouraged by the potential that the internet has to give people access to quality music. There is more then enough of it out there in every genre imaginable. That being said, it's now up to us (music enthusiasts and would-be mainstream fans alike) more then ever.

As music enthusiasts and knowledgeable artists, we have to be aware of what has happened to the mainstream and how it has happened. Furthermore, we have to be aware of who’s most responsible for creating such disparity in between the mainstreams of yesterday and today. If we do so, we can affect the sort of mainstream change that at least assures the youth a better chance at a varied choice of high quality music.

Support your fellow artists, support the music you love. And be sure to buy, play it, and share it (legally) with someone. Because the truth is, the mainstream system is no longer suitable for doing that for us anymore!

Editor's Note: The sentiment of Nasa's editorial resonates a lot with a piece that I wrote earlier this year entitled, "Musical Nourishment Marks Generations." It's worth a look, as I suspect that Nasa and I both will be revisiting this topic in the future.

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

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

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