18 posts categorized "News"

March 19, 2012

BeatTips.com Beat Battle, February 2012 Winner Announced

Castro Leads the Field in the Second Contest of the Year


The winner: Castro Beats - "Oh Lord"

Here's the February, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle breakdown. You can also read it in TBC at: Winner of the February 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Is...
And you can hear all of the beats for February 2012's battle here: BeatTips.com Beat Battle, February 2012

Castro - "Oh Lord"

You’ve been hammering a way at your own style and sound now for a while. And I can say, without any trepidation, that you do have your own style and sound… It’s all here! There’s the “Castro drums”—the booming, well-balanced kick that shapes the groove, the tucked in punch-snare, and the truncated tambourine hi-hat sound. There’s the synth-line stacking; you’re a pro at this now (you’ve been practicing your chords or what? dope!). And the two most important things that caught me about this joint: (1) the dead-steady rhythm; and (2) the furious, hungry feel that the beat gives off. This beat is so pure to its own style and sound that it could run the gambit of uses—everything from gutter rap, to air-out-the-club music, to sci-fiction/mystery film noir.
Special points: That minor embellishment at the 1:02 mark is powerful, not so much because you can hear, but because you can feel the change and rise of tension. And the synth stinger that crashes in around the 1:20 mark raises the ante even further. All around solid composition!

One more thing, what also makes your style and sound so interesting is that your drums pay homage to your natural sampling intuition and instincts, while your synth lines service your non-sampling influences.

2nd Place:
Uhohbeats - "This is My Prayer"

This beat was similar to the one you entered into the January battle. That’s no surprise, though, because you used the same source material, no? Either way, there is enough of a difference for this joint to stand on its own. Now, I don’t know if this joint was the “A” or “B” version, but I was drawn to this one more. It’s slower, and therefore, it simmers and grips you. Most importantly, this simmering feeling coupled with the relaxed drumwork leaves more room for a rapper to dig in to.

3rd Place:
Waldo - "Question/Answer"

Beautiful. The groove is serious on this. The drumwork is deceptively simple, that up and down tumbling drum pattern with delicate brushes of percussion? Yo, that’s not easy to pull off, and you crush it. This beat acts like it wants to lull you to sleep, but it’s the drums that turn the otherwise passive sample into danger.

Segundo Award for Consistency and Contribution
The DJ Pas Rhyme Award for the Beat that Made Me Write a Rhyme to It (All New Award!)

Castro – “Oh Lord"

(For breakdown, see 1st Place breakdown above)

Get Paid With Heart Award for the #1 Crossover Joint that Still Pays Homage to the Beatmaking Craft
TBC Most Improved Award

Anomaly – "Aqui Te Esperare"

Your sense of rhythm—or perhaps better stated, your ability to incorporate a clear, sustainable rhythm structure in your beats—has improved substantially. You’re approaching that one plateau of understanding that every good musician eventually reaches: to enjoy and embrace simplicity is the key to anything complex or otherwise that you can imagine. Your ideas used to be sporadic, unfocused. Now, I hear a deeper level of control and direction in your music. You’re no longer trying to force all of your musical influences. Instead, you’re toning everything down and getting to the heart of what you want to say with each specific beat.
One thing, though. I strongly recommend that you look into sampling your own drum sounds.

Honorable Mentions:

d.C. – “Concert for Rose”
The drums on this joint were bangin’ harder than usual. Good! This beat had a more sinister feel but with your customary audio polish. Also, this beat had more edge to it than your previous “cinematic” efforts. One thing’s for certain, when you make harder, straight-forward drum arrangements, the overall beat sounds more raw and gutter.

Rex Rey – “Music Makers & Dreamers”
Solid all-around sound scope. The ambient feel clashing (in a good way) with the break-beat drum feel made for an interesting mix. Saxophone parts were excellent, and the understated bass line “glued” together the whole piece nicely.

Speologic – “Science”
This beat is very similar to the Boyz N Da Hood theme song. Have you seen that movie? Main differences between that theme song and your beat is that your beat is set at a faster pitch (higher key) and the drums swing more. The saxophone parts work well. The overall rising nature of the piece, along with the shuffling drums, is what really makes this beat.
One thing, though. This joint is more film score than “beat” beat.


Mike Millz – “Stolen Emotions”

The primary sample is solid and looped perfectly. But the drum programming lacks a clear direction and commitment. With such a powerful sample, the drum pattern has to be tight and steady. With this type of sample and arrangement, a simple “K K S K K S” pattern would have worked just fine. At certain points (too many), the kick is all over the place. A misplaced kick drum is a sure-fire sign of a less effective drum program. Trust the structure of the most dominant part of your beat (in this case, the primary sample), then build an accompaniment for it. Don’t think that you have to do more with the drums. Just do what works—supply a solid backbeat and call it a day. (Hit me up through email, so I can break it down further.)

Andy Mayhem – “So Tired”
You can hear punches (where you're "punching in" the samples). Also, I was waiting for something else to happen, but it never did. As the beat is, it sounds like a shell idea.

SC Beatz – “Hight Votage”
Your consistency is here. The changes are flawless. My only concern is that this is more film/television music/score. Sure, it’s a beat, but I had trouble envisioning what type of rapper it would be for. Again, this joint is solid. I just hear your more R&B polished side in it, and I’m not sure if that was your intention or not.

Don Productions – “Who Are You”
On the surface, this beat is put together decently enough… But here’s the thing, it sounds too contrived, nothing distinct! It’s like a knock-off caricature of a familiar idea, concept, and sound. It doesn’t sound like it’s your own style and sound. In fact, it sounds mentally forced like you’re following some conceptual script. I can say this because I’ve heard a number of your beats, and some had a natural feeling, whereas this one doesn’t. For instance, here you incorporated a number of unnecessary clap hits (listen to the 1:02 mark, and the 1:24 mark). I never heard distractions like that in your beats from a couple of years ago. Stuff like that happens when you’re looking for extra stuff to add to the jumbo stew…

I know you’re still working your way through the Maschine and all; and in fact, I don’t know what you used to make this joint. But my big warning to you use is to recapture your ability to insert feeling into your music before it’s too late. That live beat-battle-intentionally-no-sample-Dr. Dre-keys-with-a-side-of-Just-Blaze-elements will never sound bad, because to do it requires some base level of proficiency. But that said, I don’t think it will ever lead you to your own distinct style and sound.
Note: This is two beats now back to back that shared these same non-distinct, forced qualities…

Brandon – “DRMG”
Sounds like a rough idea. Try turning the tempo up and adding a drum fill at every 8th or 16th bar. That Stylistics song is inviting, but unless you can make it swing, or chop it up into new moving parts, it might not be worth messing with.

MelloKid – “What”
I liked this. I wanted to point out that the heart of the beat happens at 0:23 through 0:46, before that change. Listen to the tightness of this part of the beat. Think about who could rhyme over it, then go back and listen from the 0:47 mark and ask yourself if it would enhance their rhyme flow or distract from it.

Final thoughts.

Cool thing about this battle was that you could hear the directional moves that several members have made. That’s important, because a clear commitment to one direction or another leads to your own style and sound.

In comparison to last month’s battle, I’d say that January’s battle was the more competitive one; and so that’s the bar to beat for each month…

My apologies for posting the results of this battle so late. I took an extra week to listen to everybody's beat two more times before I made my final notes. As a result of the delay, March’s battle will begin on the 19th, and the submission deadline will be extended until the 27th.

Finally, I want to welcome all of the new members to TBC! Each month we’re growing stronger, and I count on everybody to raise the bar of our discussions. Thank you for doing so.

One more note: The BeatTips.com Beat Battle is for BeatTips.com subscribers and TBC members only. If you have not subscribed to BeatTips.com, please do so before the next battle begins. You can subscribe to BeatTips.com by going to the home page, [url]http://www.beattips.com[/url] and clicking the “Get email updates” button near the top right, just beneath the menu bar. TBC members who are not subscribed to BeatTips.com will not be able to participate in future BeatTips.com Beat Battles.

The March BeatTips.com Beat Battle will begin on Monday, March 19, 2012!!!

Congratulations to Castro
Castro email me at: [email]beattips@gmail.com[/email], include your full name and complete address for where you’d like your book delivered. Also, include a pic so I can feature you on the home page of BeatTips.com, and a phone number to where you can be reached at for your interview feature.


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

February 07, 2012

BeatTips.com Beat Battle, January 2012 Winner Announced

Upright Edges Out Uhohbeats in Tightly Contested Battle


The winner: Upright - "Bear Fruit"

Here's the January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle breakdown. You can also read it in TBC at: Winner of the January 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Is...
And you can hear all of the beats for January 2012's battle here: BeatTips.com Beat Battle, January 2012

Upright - "Bear Fruit"

One of the most sinister, all-around dope beats that I’ve ever heard… It’s dark, eery, rambunctious, and hypnotic. It’s mysterious and yet hauntingly familiar. This beat makes a powerful statement…

The first thing that hit me about this masterfully crafted beat was the swing. On my first listen, of course I heard the bass part (I address that below), but it was the swing of this joint that grabbed me. Not only could I feel the swing, I could hear it. It tumbled and shuffled along with an emphatic, menacing, decadent arrogance (and, man, how hip hop is that?); I felt like it was taunting me and daring me to try to rhyme to it… Excellent room for various rap styles.

And dig the arrangement of this joint:
Two slow-dragging harmony lines that feature a progression that dissolves more than anything else; combined with warped, wavy, wobbling bass stabs—absolutely fantastic! Then the drumwork is flawless, no missteps whatsoever. Each sound—from the silhouette-heavy hi-hat to the tuck-punch snare to the straight forward and clear kick—is a spot-on match for the feel created by the aforementioned harmony chords and bass part arrangement. The tom fill, which is totally unexpected, works as a magnetic change that keeps the listener—more importantly, the lyricist—on his or her toes. I dig the use of toms in any capacity, and Upright’s choice to let their velocity speak rather than tuck them in the mix demonstrates his deep understanding of a drum element many beatmakers often get wrong. Finally, the placement and limited occurrence of the open hi-hat shows great discipline on your part. As I listened to and studied this beat, I wondered if you at first had the open hi-hat running more regularly throughout. If you did, your removal of it exemplifies another important quality of a master beatmaker—knowing how to revise, i.e. knowing what to remove and where and when to remove it.

One more thing: That “Something terrible has happened” vocal sample at the :41 mark is just a beautiful touch.

2nd Place:
Uhohbeats - "Lost in My Own Mind"

First impressions: All around good feeling soulful beat with extraordinarily tight construction. Uhoh, this level of construction has become a staple feature of your beats. I should add that with this beat, your understanding of how to flip and merge different parts of the primary source material has greatly improved (and note, your skill with this was already on an advanced level before).

This beat conveys a sure-minded composition. In that I mean, you fully committed to the direction that you wanted to go in. There are no wasted parts or changes that don’t belong. Instead, everything works; every element flows (effortlessly) with the next. The drums are sick (as usual). The salt-n-pepper shaker hi-hat pattern is perfect—it’s velvet hardcore brush taps give the framework a dope shuffle. Then, on the main breakdown, the hi-hat pattern switches up to a sparse staccato pattern—brilliant programming!

This beat battled it out for first place—for four days straight! It’s a perfect beat in every way…. Just as I did with Upright’s beat, I considered everything from which rappers would sound dope on it, to what feeling it conveyed, to the nature of the composition; I even considered what type of episode of the shows “Entourage” and “Californication” this beat would serve as a perfect ending for! In the end, it came down to feeling. One beat was smooth, sharp, and deadly; the other was raw, sharp, and deadly. In other words, they were both sharp and deadly, but the raw slightly edged out the smooth.

3rd Place:
BrandonF42088 - "RobinJonez"

This is slick-funk, 2am, slow-roast shit. (Damn if it didn’t taunt me into rhymin’.) So subtle, so smooth. I really dig this soulful, spine-crawling type of beatwork. It offers great space for dope lyrical word play and inspired flow. Another thing that I really like about this beat is that you immediately get it; you immediately knod your head to it; it sticks with you.

Segundo Award for Consistency and Contribution

DC - "Gorge"
Your beats have their own distinct sound, style, and quality to them. And with this beat, you demonstrate how to be creative while staying squarely in your own zone. I dig the drums, especially the heavy rolls. And the change at the :57 mark gave this joint a dimension of urgency.

I get the feeling that you’ve moved into a creative space where you deliberately make beats that can be used both as stand-alone instrumentals and for rappers. No doubt this is due to your burgeoning success on the licensing market. Only thing that I would caution is that as you do gain more success in licensing, do not forget about making joints specifically for cats to rap to. Your arsenal is deep and always polished; I’d hate to see your sound lose some of its hunger and rawness.

The DJ Pas Rhyme Award for the Beat that Made Me Write a Rhyme to It (All New Award!)

DJ Pas – “Light Pas"

Immediately drew me in. Halfway through my first listen, I stopped the beat, began it again, and started writing a rhyme to it. I dig the break; I dig the simplicity of it; I dig how the drums trail the sample, how they’re not locked completely on top. That style is reminiscent of Marley Marl’s early drumwork.

Because I was so inspired to immediately write a rhyme to this joint, I had to create a new award and name it in your honor.

Get Paid With Heart Award for the #1 Crossover Joint that Still Pays Homage to the Beatmaking Craft
There’s a tie: between Castro Beats – “Daggers” and Influence1210 – “Getting It Together”

Castro Beats - "Daggers"

Castro, you’re quite the methodicalist. I hear a focused experimentation in all of your beats. This is good because even with all of your experimentation, there are always signs that you know where you’re trying to go with a particular beat. On this beat, there are a collage of different things happening. In a fundamental way, this beat puts you in the mind of a Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad beat. Only your construction here works in some of today’s synth themes; and it does so in a way that gives this beat a decadent balance. This beat is certainly not for a weak lyricist or a rapper with a shallow voice. It’s imposing and the balance of sounds gives it a weight that only the most self-assured and lyrically agile rapper could handle. (Ay, yo, wait a minute. I should rock on this beat, come to think of it…)

Influence1210 – “Getting It Together”
Influence1210, your musicality is immediately and absolutely apparent. In fact, this is a brilliant piece of work; I was immensely impressed. However, this joint doesn’t fall squarely in the hip hop/rap side of things. Could someone rap over it? Certainly. But it has a more “urban dance/pop” feel to it. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Like I said, this beat is superb. For its design and scope, it’s everything it should be. But for me, it even goes beyond that because it doesn’t just mimic an urban dance tune, it delivers a unique punch and feel, something that certainly pays homage to the art of beatmaking.

TBC Most Improved Award
Honorable Mentions:

SC-Beatz – “The Street Tip”
Again SC you return with a beat that showcases your usual shine and polish. However, the transition at the :56 mark takes this beat to new heights of SC-Beatz-craftsmanship. To be certain, this is more of an orchestral style composition. But it doesn’t have the clunkiness or coldness that you often find with that style.

One thing I should point out is that this beat is so grand that it would be better served for a film score. As a beat to rhyme to? Not so much.

Krazyfingaz – “Asylum”
Solid. This was some gothic, netherworld shit with a boom-bap underpinning. This beat has a lot of angst to it, which is good because it gives it an edge. The drums keep the sound scope together.

Greenmonstermuzik – “If You See Me”
Nice flip of a well-known classic song. The embellishments are dope; drums dope; and the bounce on this joint is crazy. Ghostface would destroy this beat!

Jtnonefive – “Crazy”
This beat displays a RZA, Wu-Tang Clan influence. The framework locks in from go! Get a rapper on with a devastating flow and you’ll have an ill song.


Jerz-E-Ric – “By Any Means”

This beat has a stadium-level weight to it, a sound and feel that would serve well even a less experienced MC. Decent, polished construction from start to finish. But two notes that I want to make: (1) This beat sounds “safe”, it’s like a run of the mill “beat battle” beat, the kind you regularly hear on the live beat battle and beat showcase circuits. Not necessarily any flaws, but on the other hand, there aren’t any chances being taken here, which ultimately leaves the beat less interesting and soulless. (For comparison, check Castro’s beat. It’s interesting, it’s pushing towards its own uniqueness.) And (2) Although this beat does stand on its own merits, particularly with the inclusion of the guitar work, it exemplifies the Just Blaze-bread “big drums” style and sound.

Mike Millz (The Beatsmith) – “Midnight Madness”
Nice mood and sound scope. This joint is laid back, too laid back. It has no “teeth” to it. The kick is dramatically understated; if it had been more forceful or even louder in the mix, the entire beat would have presented differently. Also, the snare sounds like it wants to be opened up and let out.

MelloKid – “ K echo”
Straight forward boom bap. The Bass part is one event/note too many. Stay out of your own way with one too many bass-stabs. The drums are on point, but let the drum framework and the main sample work for you.

Chazz Sweet – “Indian Girl”
The sitar pokes out at you too much, if you’re considering this beat for a rapper. But for background in a movie, for example an establishing shot for a locale switch, sure, this beat works great. Also, the overall structure of this beat echoes a Dr. Dre/Mike Elizondo number. But their production always has a very tight rhythm to it, and it never carries needless embellishments.

Your synth work (chords) are very much on point! As a beat for a film score, “Indian Girl” is excellent as is. But as a beat for a rhyme, the sitar is not needed; in fact, it doesn’t help at all.

(With regard to the sitar “poking out”, listen to 2 Legit Productions beat, “Long Haul”. Notice how subdued the guitar is.)

The Beat Pharmacy – “Valley of Centuries”
Drums are dope, nice sound to them. Overall, the beat is decent (transitions are excellent), but it doesn’t grab you. And like several other beats in this battle, this joint might be better suited for a film/television score. If you already haven’t, you should look into licensing.

Donproductionsbeatz – “Nightmare”
First impression: It sounds like a “beat battle” beat—the kind you routinely hear now in on the live beat battle circuit. In particular, I hear the bright, “big drums” trend that’s beginning to dominate the live beat showcase circuit.

There’s room enough for a rapper to do something with this joint. But it comes off as if the idea of a rapper on it was a second thought to you. Also, even though this beat is fairly decent, it appears that you’ve either lost or abandoned the soulful quality that used to figure into your beats. Don P, that’s not a good thing... In fact, this beat sounds labored, not so much natural and distinctly original, more like an attempt at an well-established template. Although you’re able to pull it off to a commendable degree (I’m sure there will be those who dig this joint), it sounds more manufactured than created.

Final thoughts.

This was by far the hardest BeatTips.com Beat Battle to judge… The celebration of the art of beatmaking was so much in effect that it was difficult for me to pick one clear winner. In previous battles, contention for the top spot typically came down to a choice of two. But in this battle, on my initial passes through everyone’s beats, there were at least five beats in contention for the top spot. (The range of beats was incredibly encouraging to hear!) This is a major testament to the level and quality of our community. I’m convinced that in the near future, our battle will be the most important and sought after online.

Finally, I want to welcome all of the new members to TBC! Our ranks are growing, we’re getting stronger, and our collective voice is going to make a difference…watch!

One more note: The BeatTips.com Beat Battle is for BeatTips.com subscribers and TBC members only. If you have not subscribed to BeatTips.com, please do so before the next battle begins. You can subscribe to BeatTips.com by clicking on the “Get email updates” button near the top right, just beneath the menu bar. TBC members who are not subscribed to BeatTips.com will not be able to participate in future BeatTips.com Beat Battles.

The February BeatTips.com Beat Battle will begin on Friday, February 17, 2012!!!

Congratulations to Upright
Upright email me at: [email]beattips@gmail.com[/email], include your full name and complete address for where you’d like your book delivered. Also, include a pic so I can feature you on the home page of BeatTips.com, and a phone number to where you can be reached at for your interview feature.


October 31, 2010

Audible Treats Puts On Solid CMJ Showcase: Review

Three Boom Bap Sets Well-Worth the Time


The 2nd annual Audbile Treats CMJ Showcase took place almost a couple of weeks ago, here in New York City at Sullivan Hall. The line-up included Black Sheep, Rah Digga The Niceguys, Big Pooh & Hall of Justice, Chip Fu, The Left, Davinci, Von Pea, Moe Green, Nottz, and Diamond District. Unfortunately, I arrived late, so I was only able to catch the sets of Diamond District, Nottz, and Rah Digga. Even still, what I did catch was entertaining and worth the trip.

For me, the clear winner of the modified show that I saw was Diamond District. Their set was electric and forceful. The two songs (sorry don't know the titles) that I saw them performed were both deeply soulful. And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention how comfortable Oddisee appeared on stage. He pretty much represented as the front man, which was particularly impressive, given the fact that he's the beatmaker (producer) of the outfit.

Nottz's set was solid. He warmed the crowd up by playing songs from his production catalog, no doubt a smart move, considering the fact that Nottz is primarily known as beatmaker (producer). After running through several well-known songs of his catalog, Nottz broke into a performance of a couple cuts from his new album, You Need This Music. First, he rocked "Blast That," then he followed that up with the Colin Monroe produced "Dontcha Wanna Be (My Neighbor)" feat. Asher Roth. Roth hung on the stage for one more song, afterwords, Nottz launched into "Shine So Bright," and the energy in Sullivan Hall roared back up again. Having gotten the crowd presumably where he wanted them, Nottz moved into a dope performance of "Cars." It was at this moment that Rah Digga first came out, rippin' up the "Cars" beat with an ill rhyme. Unfortunately, this marked the end of Nottz's set. I was hoping to hear a couple more joints off the new album, but it was clear that it was time for Rah Digga to get her shine.

Demonstrating every bit of the show veteran that she is, Rah Digga engaged in conversation in between delivering performances of her new album, "Classic." The stand out of Rah Digga's set was her live take on "Good Music." Indeed, the crowd responded well as Digga weaved through the verses.

Collectively, Diamond District, Nottz, and Rah Digga made the Audible Treats showcase a success. The venue allowed for a level of "up-closeness" not always afforded at other spots around NYC, which was a plus. And the atmosphere was made up of true hip hop/rap fans. So even though I wasn't able to catch the full line-up (still upset I missed some of the earlier acts), I went away thinking that Audible Treats put on a good showcase. I also remember thinking that it was a good night for boom bap.

September 01, 2010

BeatTips News: Marco Polo Joins BeatTips.com

Acclaimed Beatmaker (Producer) Announced As BeatTips.com Senior Contributor

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

It is with great pleasure that I announce that fellow beatmaker (producer), Marco Polo, has joined BeatTips.com. Marco brings his unique beatmaking expertise and years of experience in the music business to the BeatTips team. As Senior Contributor, Marco will help create beatmaking video tutorials as well as write weekly articles, editorials, and more.

Marco will add strong value to BeatTips.com, and his contribution will undoubtedly help us continue to deliver the same high caliber of content that readers have come to expect from BeatTips.com.

Welcome, Marco!

*In related news: Marco Polo will be on tour (The EXXecutioners vs. Double Barrel Tour) with Torae and Ruste Juxx, September through October. For more tour info, check Marco's Twitter page: @marcopolobeats

June 25, 2010

BeatTips Pick of the Week: DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and the Alchemist Rock Paris

Three of Beatmaking's Most Revered Names Play to Enthusiastic Paris Crowd

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

This past March, beatmaking giants DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and the Alchemist got together to serve Paris, France with a show like no other I've ever attended. In front of an absolutely beaming and energetic crowd, each beatmaker (rocked) the stage, trading many of their most recognizable bangers. The video drop in this post includes great footage of these beatmasters as they drive the audience into a frenzy. And aside from seeing these vets receive the honor and applause they so well deserve, it is the fans themselves at this event that bring me the greatest joy from this video.

For sometime now, I've been kind of discouraged about going to hip hop/rap shows. It's not that there isn't any quality hip hop/rap acts worth seeing—there are—, it's just that personally I've found that over the past couple of years or so something seems to be missing from the shows. I didn't know what that was into I saw this video. It's the sheer love and admiration for the art form, the beatmaking craft, and the acclaimed beatmakers (producers) who contribute to hip hop culture and the hip hop/rap music tradition.

Side note: This past week, I passed up the chance to go check out Talib Kweli and Jean Grae live at Brooklyn Bowl. I've been told by a number of people that Talib and Jean's performances were fantastic (apparently Jean Grae even brought out her mom to sing, and she brought the house down). So yeah, I essentially missed perhaps a great show, simply because I wrongly assumed that something would be "missing" from the event. And although I can't speak on the feeling of that show, I know very well that what I've been looking for in a show was certainly present at the Paris venue that DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and the Alchemist rocked...power to the beatmakers. Right on!

For educational purposes...

DJ Premier & Nick Javas, Just Blaze & The Alchemist @ Paris, France

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

June 18, 2010

Joe Schloss Highly Recomends 'The BeatTips Manual'

Joe Schloss (author of Making Beats) Gives Props to The BeatTips Manual

By Amir Said (Sa'd)

Wanted to share a blurb author Joe Schloss dropped about The BeatTips Manual.

"Comprehensive, passionate and scholarly, the BeatTips Manual is much more than an instruction book for hip-hop producers...It is a thorough analysis of the hip-hop aesthetic itself. Highly recommended for anyone that takes hip-hop culture seriously."
—Joe Schloss, Ph.D., Adjunct Assistant Professor, Baruch College

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

June 01, 2010

Kanye West’s “Power,” a Return to Form? No and Yes

After Being Ostracized by the Taylor Swift Debacle, What Should We Expect from Kanye

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

Let me make it plain: After the fallout from Kanye West's protest at the 2009 MTV Music Awards, I don't expect him to simply return to a sped-up samples sound, and call it a good day. I do expect him to return to a highly sampled, gritty sound. And I do expect him to ratchet up some honest, hard-cutting, race-reflective lyrics.

But if the first “official leak,” presumably from his upcoming album Good Ass Music, is any indication, I’m not so certain that Kanye West’s first post-Taylor Swift debacle (TSD) is going to be the big boom bap, in-your-face, revenge LP that it could be (and that I was hoping for). In other words, it certainly appears from the “Power” leak that Kanye’s lofty “stadium music” concept is still in flux. Also, considering the fact that the “Power” beat—not the final “Power” production—was made by the ever impressing beatmaker (producer) S1 (of the Strange Fruit Project, and One Stop Shop Producers Beat Battle winner fame), Kanye has opted for the more collaborative route, as opposed to single-handedly tackling all of the beatwork.

Don’t get me wrong, great things can come from collaborative efforts. Moreover, I'm certainly a fan of S1's beats (his style is sick; more importantly, I hope he gets his due, he deserves it). But who collaborated with Kanye West to stop Live Nation from canceling his Fame Kills tour with Lady Gaga, due to TSD? Who collaborated with him to stop his music from being banned at some radio stations and essentially, removed from others, due to TSD? Indeed, who collaborated with Kanye West to stop all of the negative fall-out of TSD?

To be fare, the “Power” leak is just one song; I don’t have the luxury of measuring its pulse against any other purported Good Ass Music selections. Still, leaks—especially the earliest ones—often give a fair demonstration of the direction in which an artist is heading. Furthermore, if a leak is received well, it likely goes on to make the final album, sometimes even serving as the project’s musical flagship. But if the leak isn’t received well, it’s not likely to end up on the final album release. (For S1’s sake, I hope “Power” is received well enough to land on the album; I’m pulling for him to get the placement.)

My first reaction to Kanye’s “Power” was this: decent beat, solid—not great, nor reactionary, or revenge-based—rhymes. Before I even learned that the beat was created by S1, with additional production added by Kanye, I thought it was a blend of styles. Present in the beat was Kanye-like drum sounds and phrasing as well as a Kanye-like primary sample. But also present was this “otherness.” Here, I use “otherness” to refer to the bigger-produced sound and context that Kanye calls “stadium music.” Clearly, Kanye’s added production work on “Power” was meant to make the track bigger and the song more widely appealing, more accessible. I have no problem with that. But I’d being lying if I told you that I wasn't expecting Kanye to return to form—that is to say, his grittier, boom bap roots.

I was hoping that Kanye West would strip down his sound, and re-tap into the core of what he does best: straight-forward beats and very thoughtful, unapologetic rhymes. I wasn’t (am not) looking forward to something that’s a combination of Graduation, and 808s and Heartbeats, his last two album releases. Perhaps in the scheme of his own progression, his Graduation album was the zenith of talents, as it included straight-forward beats along with impressively polished songs (it was “stadium music” before Kanye felt he needed “stadium music”); while 808s was both his self-indulged artist project and his conscious reach for stadium (larger) audiences (remember, he was set to headline a tour with Lady Gaga, before TSD.) Having opened up his sound over his past two albums, a move that no doubt expanded his fan base and significantly broadened is touring potential, it would be unreasonable to believe that Kanye would simply abandon the broader musical themes and concepts that he embraced for the making of Graduation, and 808s. But then again, it would also be unreasonable to believe that so many of Kanye’s fans and allies would abandon him because of TSD.

*Related news: For S1's detailed explanation of the creation of Kanye West's "Power," check out HipHopDx's S1 interview.

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

May 27, 2010

Sha Money XL Poised to Reshape Def Jam

Beatmaker (True Music Person) Becomes Decision Maker at Hip Hop/Rap’s Most Prolific Label; Will Former G-Unit Topper Return Def Jam to its Hey Day?

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

Four weeks ago, I wrote an article ("Ending the Devaluation of Beatmakers") evaluating Lil Jon's far-reaching recording deal, and the potential success of the new music industry with beatmakers (producers) as decision makers at record labels. Well, right on cue, another acclaimed beatmaker (producer) has been put in an even more high profile (powerful) position. Last month, Def Jam Records announced that beatmaker (producer) and former G-Unit president, Sha Money XL (Nee Michael Clervoix, III), was appointed senior VP of A&R of the house that Rubin and Russell built.

Def Jam's move comes at a time when the majors are fighting for their lives; more importantly, it comes at a time when hip hop/rap music sales are on a steep and steady decline; and it comes at a time when commercial "creative morale" in hip hop/rap music appears to be mostly in a lull. Although I do not think that Sha Money's recent hire could hardly be seen as an attempt "to save" hip hop/rap music, I do believe that Def Jam is bringing in the Queens, NY native to not only "stop the bleeding," but to right the ship that is the mighty Def Jam vessel. So this leads me to my big question: Will Sha Money XL be able to return Def Jam to its hey day?

The answer to that question can be had within the context of another question: Was Jay-Z, the former president of Def Jam, able to return the heralded label to its hey day? No! But there are key differences as to why Sha Money just might be able to pull it off. First there's the obvious: Sha Money isn't a mega rap star label president, with rhymes to record, and shows to perform, and a public persona to upkeep. On the contrary, Sha Money is an executive manager with proven label-running experience under his belt. Which means, unlike Jay-Z, Sha Money will likely be in the building (literally) much more than Jay-Z's schedule could have ever allowed. Furthermore, as Senior VP of A&R (not president), Sha Money XL's experience at Def Jam will be much more different than Jay-Z's. No doubt Sha Money will indeed have to answer—more regularly—to someone. However, on the other hand, Sha Money will certainly be more accessible (and hands-on) to the artist roster. After all, his survival/success at Def Jam will, in large part, depend on it.

Then there's the "pressure factor." Come on, was Jay-Z realistically under any actual pressure as Def Jam president? No! Hence, to be sure, he was given a level of leeway that Sha Money certainly won't enjoy. The majors are desperate—Def Jam is desperate; therefore, Sha Money comes in the door with little leeway. He's going to be expected to produce real results (perhaps rather quickly); he won't be allowed to get by with the sort of marginal exposure that came with a megastar like Jay-Z at the helm. Nope. Sha Money is going to be under incredible pressure to resolidify Def Jam's position as the premier label for hip hop/rap music (and perhaps beyond).

And what about the aspect of talent scouting? It's not that Jay-Z can't see and/or pick talent (he can), he's just not a talent scout. On the other hand, Sha Money is a talent scout. Moreover, Sha Money's the sort of stealth talent scout that always has his pulse on what's happening in the streets, not just in New York, but throughout the country. So look for him to discover new talent, and to tap into rich talent pools across the country, in a way that Jay-Z (a recording artist first) simply never could.

Finally, and maybe most important (I'm biased, so what...), Sha Money XL is a beatmaker (producer). As such, he's in tune with the mechanics and nuances of hip hop/rap music (specifically, beats) in a way that Jay-Z could never be. As the senior VP of A&R, this special quality gives Sha Money a unique and clear advantage, especially when it comes to paring the right music with the right recording artist. Furthermore, Sha Money's beatmaking background (and producer management skill-set), puts him in an even more powerful position to secure a broader arsenal of dope beats, a fact that could soon make Def Jam as notable for its in-house beatmakers as it is for the rappers on its roster.

When It's All Said and Done

Even with the aforementioned key advantages that Sha Money XL has, his success will ultimately be determined by the Def Jam line-up that he's able to put on the court. Right now, he's inherited Juelz Santana and Sheek Louch; though Rick Ross and Kanye West are both on the Def Jam team per se, Sha Money will likely not be involved with any of their upcoming projects. Thus, Sha Money's going to have to add to the roster quickly. (If things go as he hopes, he may be able to add G-Unit, as 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, and Tony Ya Yo are all essentially free agents!) But What will this near-future Def Jam roster look like? Will Sha Money position Def Jam as merely a commercial (pop) portal only reserved for mega acts? Or will he assemble a roster that's balanced? One that's as much fly and flash as it is gritty and grime? One that is as much club-pop as it is boom-bap? Given the new music industry circumstances and his unique collective expertise, I'd say that Sha Money XL has the opportunity to deliver a true quality-based, balanced roster at Def Jam.

But when it's all said and done, Sha Money XL might be judged (fairly or not) on his ability to make Def Jam the singular spot that most hip hop/rap fans recognize as the place for quality, balanced hip hop/rap music. If he pulls that off, he will have indeed righted the ship at Def Jam. And who knows, he might even have helped to save some of the critical aspects of hip hop/rap music. Either way, I'm rooting for Sha Money XL to do well at Def Jam. If anything, beatmakers have to stick together, right?

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

April 12, 2010

Ending the Devaluation of Beatmakers

Value of Beatmakers to be Key Factor in New Music Industry Success

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

Music producers have always played a major role in the success of the music industry. Indeed, producers have often been the driving force behind some of the biggest acts in the recording business. However, when the music industry shifted to a very centralized (narrow-minded) consumer market, the role of many music producers was reduced and fragmented. But beatmakers, the last major faction of music producers to emerge in the twentieth century, proved to be immune to this widespread marginalization...That is, until their services began to be devalued. After that, many hip hop beatmakers found that they were reduced to barely nothing more than an afterthought.

Before this "devaluation period," many well-known beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) were able to draw the attention of both fans and music executives alike. Yet as hip hop music sales fell (as did sells across the board), labels and recording artists scrambled to find areas where they could make cost cuts. For the labels, this meant cutbacks on non-essential staff; cuts in artist development; cuts in marketing budgets; and, ultimately, cuts in—and a sever narrowing of—available product. Ironically, far too many hip hop/rap recording artists also saw cutting non-essential staff as a means to save money and maintain profits. Only thing is, these hip hop recording artists put qualified beatmakers into that "non-essential staff" classification.

Prior to the "devaluation" of beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers), hip hop/rap recording artists recognized the importance of beatmakers. But as recording budgets tightened in the music industry, many hip hop/rap recording artists became "budget beat buyers." Indeed, they shifted their focus from quality, innovative hip hop/rap production, to "status quo" music, or rather a a "safe" music sound that was already out with presumably strong pop appeal. Almost immediately, this shift was picked up on by many new beatmakers, who were all to eager to get an oh-so coveted placement. This development ushered in a wave of hip hop/rap production that simply "mimicked"—or better still, flat out copied—the sounds of well-known beatmakers. And it should be furthered noted that this flux of "copycat beatwork" was usually offered up at a fraction of the price of the copied beatmakers...sometimes even at no price at all. And thus, along with this development, as well as widespread access to music production tools, the "devaluation" of beatmakers took hold.

Between 1982 and 2000, the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music was amicably shared by both beatmakers and rappers, together. And during that time, beatmakers and rappers alternated short periods of higher influence. But at no point during that period was the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music placed decidedly more in the hands of rappers. Now, however, with the concepts of unique sound, creativity, and quality (albeit often subjective) no longer serving as the guiding principles in a rapper's beat selection; and with pricing (beat cost) emerging as perhaps the primary factor in beat selection decisions made by many rappers and clueless A&Rs, the responsibility of the general direction of hip hop/rap music has, unfortunately, been disproportionately placed in the hands of rappers and ill-qualified music insiders—both groups themselves seemingly influenced by so-called pop "tastemakers." And to see how this shift has dramatically affected the direction of hip hop/rap music, one need only to look at the hip hop/rap commercial releases for the past 9 years. Aside from a very small number of solid albums, the overwhelming majority of mainstream hip hop/rap releases in the last 9 years have not bode well for the general direction of hip hop/rap music.

Lil Jon Universal Republic Deal: A Strike Against the Devaluation of Beatmakers and a Good Sign of Moves to Come

When it comes to Lil Jon, there is one overlooked fact that can not be denied: Despite what some beatmakers may think of his music, he was once among the half-dozen or so go-to beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) that was able to successfully stave off the "devaluation" effect. Known mostly for his role in pioneering the Crunk sound, Lil Jon was once seen as one of the limited number of beatmakers that could prompt success for any hip hop/rap recording artist that he worked with. But Lil Jon, as with The Neptunes, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and noted others, proved not to be as immune to the "devaluation" of beatmakers as one would have thought. Yet the deal Lil Jon signed with Universal Republic Record last year perhaps signals that, in at least some corners of the music industry, high-level execs are ready to turn over important creative decisions to proven beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers).

I've long been an advocate for putting the "control and power" of hip hop/rap music back in the hands of qualified, reasonably experienced beatmakers/producers, and taking it out of the hands of non-music music execs, music insiders, and clueless, "carbon copy" beatmakers. Well, on the face of it, Lil Jon's Universal Republic deal seems to do most (if not all) of that. The pact purportedly includes: a label imprint, a recording agreement, a production arm, a digital presence, and a pivotal A&R consultant role at Universal Republic for Lil Jon. This means that Lil Jon will have is own label and a production outlet—which will allow him to bring in new beatmaking talent. More importantly, and perhaps even more telling, the deal stands to give Lil Jon crucial critical say-so in the signing, development, and marketing of new artists at Universal Republic. Whether the deal actually ever materializes as envisioned, (at the time of the publishing of this article, the deal may have already been downgraded or dissolved), it certainly appears that Universal Republic is at least willing to reach out to proven beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) as a means of creating a winning formula for the new music industry. I suspect that in the near future, other music execs, who it must be pointed out are anxious about music sales and solid new product, will also be willing to implement packages/situations similar to the Lil Jon/Universal Republic pact.

In fact, by placing the critical creative and talent acquisition decisions in the hands of a beatmaker (hip hop/rap music producer)—a real music person, not an accountant, unimaginative A&R, or some other insider with no authentic appreciation for music and its makers, the potential for an influx of more creative-centered music—that is, non-fluff-centered, superficially formulaic music—will undoubtedly increase. More importantly, because of deals like the Lil Jon/Universal Republic pact, conditions for beatmakers—the musicians solely responsible for making beats in hip hop/rap music—are likely to improve. And should deals like these continue to happen, (which I expect that they will), the "devaluation" of beatmakers will necessarily cease. When that happens, the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music will once again be, in large part, amicably shared by both beatmakers and rappers, together. And once the balance of this responsibility is properly restored, look for the overall level of hip hop/rap music to improve dramatically.

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

March 24, 2010

'Reality Hunger,' Incidental Sampling Hero, Strikes Blow Against Unfair Copyright Policy

New Book by David Shields Further Exposes Discriminatory Copyright Policy, as it Pertains to Sampling

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

When it comes to sampling, American copyright law and policy treats literary works different than it does sound recordings. Book authors have long been permitted (presumably under the protection of the fair use provision of the United States Copyright code) to appropriate ("sample") and incorporate passages from other literary works into their own (for profit) works, with little to no requirement, other than an open citation of the author and work that was sampled.

However, unlike the path for book authors, the road for would-be samplers of sound recordings (recorded music works) has been mostly contentious. In the obscure realm of sound recordings, under existing American copyright law, even the most minute, inaudible sampling of a sound recording is illegal, without the permission of both of the copyright owner(s) of the master sound recording and the publishing of the written music. According to the "fair use" provision of American copyright law, some levels of sampling are presumably permissible in a "limited" context. But even here, there's no refuge, as the law outlines a series of factors that must be considered before a work qualifies as fair use. As per the instructions outlined in the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A (United States Code), these factors include:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial (for profit) nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work (whatever that really means);
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (in beatmaking, the appropriation is usually very insubstantial);
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. (Often the sampling of a long-forgotten artist reboots their popularity and the popularity of the appropriated recording, and this almost always results in a new stream of revenue for the sampled artist and the copyright holders of the appropriated work. Therefore, the effect that sampling has on an appropriated work is that improves the market value for or value of the copyrighted work!)

Also, because of recent court decisions regarding the legality of sampling sound recordings, all forms of sampling (limited or otherwise) done for commercial use (excluding parody) are, in effect, illegal, without the permission of the copyright owner(s) of both the master sound recording and the publishing of the written music.

But in the realm of literary works, no such permission is needed by authors to "sample" the works of other authors; again, all that is required is a citation of the author and literary work appropriated. This point of disparity has rarely—if ever—been drafted into the greatly contentious sampling and copyright debate...that is, until now.

Cue in David Shields' provocative book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. On the surface, Reality Hunger certainly isn't about the art of sampling within a beatmaking context; however, it is, in large part, explicitly about the practice of sampling in any art form, particularly in the literary environment of fiction and non-fiction. But that isn't the big draw for me and other supporters of the art of sampling and subsequent sampling rights. No, what stands out to me, and I'm certain even the most rigid literary type, is Reality Hunger's peculiar twist: The book is made up entirely of appropriated passages from other authors!

Indeed, Reality Hunger is comprised of more than 600 numbered (and indexed) paragraphs, each containing appropriations (samples) from other authors. What's more? Each appropriation (sample) does not necessarily appear in quotes; and some appropriations (samples) are edited by Shields', while many are left as is. Needless to say, for sample-based beatmakers, Shields' "manifesto"—what one literary critic has hailed as "a rousing call to arms for all artists to reject the laws governing appropriation"—is nothing short of a kill-shot at the existing copyright policy that is purportedly governing the art and practice of sampling sound recordings.

I can't say for certain if Shields' had hip hop/rap music and its tradition of sampling in mind, as he was writing such a provocative piece of literature. After all, the book is also explicitly about the future of fiction and non-fiction, specifically as it's situated somewhere between the puffed-up and outdated assumptions about fiction and non-fiction, the new ways in which art is now being created, and the effects that these new forms of creativity are having and will continue to have on literary works. But given the depth and aggressive charge of Reality Hunger, I can't help but believe that Shields consciously borrowed the bravado of a sampler, when he set about the task of lifting and surgically incorporating lines and passages from other authors into his own original work.

Here, I should note that Reality Hunger includes an extensive appendix, wherein the appropriated authors and their works are summarily cited. This indicates to me that the publishers did not before hand "clear the usages," or better stated, seek the permission of the publishers and/or authors who own the copyrights to the appropriated works. Moreover, it further indicates to me that the publishers saw no legal reason (rightfully so) to have to seek such permission. And thus, it would appear that aside from giving perhaps more context, the appendix serves one primary purpose: To protect the book from any copyright infringement challenges. Absolutely genius.

For years I have quietly championed what I like to call the "sample and cite" approach. With regards to sample-based beats in the marketplace, I've have long maintained that heavy weight hip hop/rap artists like Jay-Z or 50 Cent—artists with critical acclaim and, more importantly, extensive resources—should reject the shake-down practice of sample clearance, and use sample-based beats without attempts at so-called "clearance." Depending on the limited substantiality of the use, such mega artists could have forcefully advocated for a copyright policy that treated the sampling of sound recordings much more fairly. However, because they did not know that they could take such an activist stand—or perhaps because they well-understood the fact that by paying top-dollar for sample clearance, they could, in effect, preserve a monopoly over quality sample-based beats—such mega artists opted to simply pay the freight, and "clear" samples under the obscure and draconian sample clearance parameters.

But despite the reluctance of some power rappers to take the activist route, we have now arrived at a moment in which changes to American copyright law and policy, as it pertains to sampling, are inevitable! The forces to affect change in American copyright law and policy, as it pertains to sampling, have been steadily mobilizing for years, strategically making cracks in the wall of arguments offered up by opponents of sampling and those die-hard resisters to the sort of changes in American copyright law and policy that would eliminate the unnecessary disparity between the way in which sampling is treated in the realms of literary works and sound recordings. And now, there can be added one more powerful weapon in the advancement of sampling rights: Reality Hunger.

Indeed, the the least, Reality Hunger will no doubt ratchet up the sampling and copyright debate; and in a best case scenario, David Shields' work will strike a death-blow across the brow of an unfair (and unjust) copyright law and policy. In either case, all of this decisive action is arriving just in time for a new generation of beatmakers who are just beginning to explore the art of sampling.

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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  • Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law

    "Sampling is piracy."
    WRONG! Piracy describes the wholesale, verbatim copying and distribution of copyrighted works. That is not sampling; that's something entirely different.
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    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
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    "If you use samples on a free mixtape, it’s perfectly O.K."
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    "Sampling involves the use of pre-recorded songs only."
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