18 posts categorized "Programming Drum Fills"

June 28, 2011

5th Seal Vlog #7

Brooklyn Beatsmith 5th Seal Drops His Latest Beat Vlog

For vlog #7, 5th Seal raids the infamous (and well-tread) dig spot A-1 Records in New York City (and runs into one of the greatest ever on the beats). As per his other installments, he offers a glimpse of the making of one of his beat gems. 5th Seal is a friend, so I'm happy that he's gaining a new level recognition.

The video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

5th Seal Vlog #7

5th Seal Vlog #7 from 5th Seal on Vimeo.

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

April 04, 2011

Boog Brown Passes My MC Lyte Test

Amid Questions Surrounding the State of “Female Rappers,” Boog Brown Impresses…Without the Hype


Discussions about "female rappers" carry little weight with me, because I rate the rapper and their rhyme, not their gender. However, when pressed about my list of top female rappers, I always began with MC Lyte. For me, MC Lyte—in her prime—sits comfortably in the 1st tier of great lyricists, regardless of gender. But as far as any list that excludes male rappers, I rate MC Lyte #1. Therefore, before I can rate any female rapper that has appeared after MC Lyte, I first have to hold them up to what I call the "MC Lyte Test."

The MC Lyte Test (a test that could equally be used for male rappers as well) is a set of parameters that I use to rate any female rapper. These parameters include: style, delivery and flow, word mastery, sound, feel, non-contrived attitude, and raw edginess.

Since MC Lyte graced the mic in 1988, various female rappers have emerged with respectable skills. In fact, there have been a number of female rappers that many music critics and fans alike have lauded with great acclaim. But political correctness aside, since MC Lyte's prime, there's only been two female rappers who have passed my MC Lyte test, and a couple more who had the potential to, but never did.

Well, now I'm compelled to let it be known that Boog Brown passes my MC Lyte Test.
Like MC Lyte, Boog Brown understands the rhythm of words. She molds them, folds them, blends them, caresses them, and snaps them. Equally comfortable with straight and slant rhyme, Boog Brown chooses words for their full value, not for the brevity of writing rhymes. Moreover, she doesn’t rely on gimmicky deliveries or overly wordy rhyme schemes and phrasings. Such rhyme tricks have impressed (mesmerized) some, but I’ve always found those sort of rhyme gimmicks to be cliché and boring. I dig rhymes straight up. Gimmickry, particularly the borrowed and oft-used type, is usually less engaging, if not outright whack. Straight forward inflection/intonation, especially when it's delivered with believable—non-contrived—attitude, is dope.

What also impresses me about Boog Brown is her delivery and flow. It's agile and multi-directional, not grounded and predictable (listen to "Masterplan" produced by Apollo Brown). Moreover, she utilizes superb breath control; you never hear her take extreme gulps of oxygen or stumble over her pauses, both marks of a complex lyricist with just as much style as substance.

On "Understanding" (also produced by Apollo), Boog Brown shows off how she presses go, then drops a string of well-measured lines of dense poetry that regularly come together to give insider looks at various snap shots of life. And in the tradition of the most advanced lyricism, she drives by each bar of her lyrics without glancing at its effect, without giving a glimpse of uncertainty or exhaustion. Such confidence echos the pedigree of all dope complex lyricists, male or female.

Then there's Boog Brown's sound. It's effortless, smooth, and genuine. Even when she's romantic (check out “Hey Love”), her sound and feel is in tact, not compromised. And while many female rappers fall pray to a lack of expression in their rhymes (perhaps a side-effect of a male-dominated tradition), Boog Brown strikes through with a clarity and feel that never sounds forced. Rhyming, in its highest degree, is an art wherein words are made to grab, dance, punch, rock, and shock, all with style, and no sense of effort on the part of the rhymer. Once you can “hear” the effort—the forced flow, the superficial borrowed style, the clumsy lyrics—the magic of rapping ceases to exist. And this is where Boog Brown excels. She doesn’t fall into the “Look at me, I’m a female M.C. mantra.” Instead, she soars on her own lyrical terms, without the benefit (or detriment) of “female M.C.” charity praise.

What's Next for Boog Brown

Although Apollo Brown’s beats have certainly served Boog Brown well, most of the beats off of their stellar Brown Study album carry a similar texture and form, and they usually move in the same “mid”/mid-tempo range. That’s no knock against Apollo Brown—that sound is dope. In fact, he’s mastered that sound and feel; it compliments the drum frameworks that he favors for most of his beats. I'd just like to hear Boog Brown on a couple of slightly uptempo joints, or some beats with a different type of swing to them. To Apollo's credit, the “U.P.S.” beat, I think his latest release with Boog Brown and a joint I really dig, finds him using a bit more “bounce” in the beat. Promising signal for what's to come from the the Boog Brown/Apollo Brown enterprise.

Still, the thought of Boog Brown branching out and incorporating beatwork (and different production nuances) from other perennial beatsmiths (I’d really like to see her paired up with Statik Selektah, DJ Premier, The Alchemist, or Kevlaar 7), is something I can’t help but consider. Currently, Boog Brown is sitting on the cusp of league MVP-caliber talent. But I believe if she maneuvers right—that is to say, split the wig open of the hype machine by matching her rhyme skills with other key beatmakers—she could be looking at a hall of fame career.

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

Boog Brown "UPs" [prod. Apollo Brown]

Boog Brown – “Hey Love”

Boog Brown & Apollo Brown – “Masterplan”

MC Lyte - "Paper Thin"

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

March 26, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Roc Marciano, "Game of Death;" Pete Rock on the Beat

Tough Strings, Solid Drums, Jabbing Bass-Stabs, and Punch-You-in-the-Face Rhymes


Been following Roc Marciano's development for a while now. He's reached that rhyme confidence level that many rappers fall well short of. Here on one of Pete Rock's more sinister beatworks, Roc Marciano is all bravado, no filler or un-useful slang. Each line of poetry flows effortlessly with each meter of the beat. Dope.

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

Roc Marciano - Game of Death (Prod. Pete Rock)

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

March 24, 2011

Beatmakers and Trade Secrets

Shop-Talk Elevates the Beatmaking Art Form and Tradition


Musicians have long shared tricks of their trade amongst each other. It's a tradition as old as popular music itself. However, for some reason, many beatmakers (producers) pride themselves upon keeping a vale of secrecy over their beatmaking methods. What gives?

I could speculate about the cultural undertones of this, but that's not what this piece is about. On the contrary, this article is about why the notion of secrecy (specifically among some well-known beatmakers {*producers*}) in beatmaking is ridiculous. As I told a fellow beatmaker the other day, "there are NO secrets between real musicians!" What I was saying (and he understood immediately) was that dedicated musicians share a common fundamental goal: to develop their skills and elevate their craft. Indeed, this is why we constantly seek out people and resources that we believe will help us reach that goal. In this regard, beatmakers should not view themselves any different. We are musicians, and as such, we stand to benefit a great deal from an exchange of information.

No Two Beatmakers Are One in the Same

Regardless of the method or technique used, no two beatmakers are the same. Given the same tools and the same understanding, each of us will inevitably develop our own approach. And I've found that it is within this approach that you find the most interesting "secrets." But instead of having an attitude that promotes the talking of shop (beat talk, if you will), when pressed for specific ideas, secrets, and the like, some beatmakers clam up, or offer the proverbial: "don't wanna' give the secrets away." Huh? What's that all about.

Listen, at face value, there are NO magic secrets that can instantly transform a beatmaker's skills. Secrets (or better yet, pointers, tips, hints, insights) are only as good as the beatmaker who understands them and can, in turn, incorporate them into what they're already doing. For example, DJ Premier is known for his drums, chops, and his ability to finesse the bass out of the breaks that he chooses to use. However, there is no doubt (and he has said as much), that he would not have been able to develop those skills, had it not been for Large Professor. As Premier told me (rather matter-factly), it was Large Professor—another beatmaking pioneer in his own right—who showed him how to filter bass sounds in samples, and also how to make the Akai S950 really work for him. In turn, Premier introduced Large Professor to a new way of diggin' in the crates and surveying music. And before that, another beatmaking pioneer, Showbiz, schooled Premier on diggin' in the crates and surveying music. Thus, these examples of sharing trade "secrets" demonstrates how, for each of the aforementioned beatmaking pioneers, the common goal was to get better and elevate the art form.

Needless to say, I've always been against the notion of not not sharing knowledge ("secrets"). In fact, those who know me, know very well that I consistently share as much as I can, whenever I'm asked by a fellow beatmaker. Likewise, some of the most well-known beatmakers have shared as much as they could with me. Also, consider this, even if one beatmaker breaks down their entire beatmaking process to another beatmaker, chances are, the latter beatmaker isn't going to utilize everything that he (or she) learns from the former. Not at all. The latter beatmaker is only going take what he needs and/or can use from the other beatmaker's process. It's this sort of exchange that each beatmaker can use to further develop their skills.

Final note, keep this in mind: the entire beatmaking (hip hop/rap production) tradition is only as good as its weakest beatmaker. Hence, there's merit in all of us trying to help each other step up our skills.

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

March 19, 2011

Using Time-Stretch with Samples

Time Stretching Might Help with Timing, But Not Always Good for the Sound; Tempo Modification an Effective Alternative


I prefer to stay away from time-stretching samples. Although I understand the primary benefits of it—for example, it helps with tempo matching and the like—, I do not like what you often give up in return: sound and texture quality! Once you stretch a sample (or any sound, for that matter), the sound "changes," and along with that sound change is a mood and feel (vibe) change. I think of it like going from natural to synthetic. Thus, for me, if I need to fit something to a tempo, I first manipulate the overall tempo. I owe all of my understanding to tempo adjustments to my DJ background. Therefore, when the timing is "off" in a beat, I don't think about "correcting" the timing; instead, I think more along the lines of mixing and blending the musical elements with the tempo that's being driven home by the drums.

In the rare occasions where tempo modification alone doesn't work, I modify the velocity and volume of certain sounds within the beat. In fact, sometimes I do both of these steps together. Either way, my aim is to make sure each element of sound meshes together within the rhythm I've established. Moreover, it's important for me to stay away from "corrective" functions as much as possible. In this way, I feel more connected to the DJ'ing tradition of hip hop/rap music, the foundation of beatmaking.

Finally, here, I should mention that I know a number of beatmakers who time-stretch their samples, but it's worth noting that they do it not for "effect," but as a last resort, when something's not matching up—and even then they do it in a fairly limited manner.

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

March 17, 2011

Using the Alternating Pitch Technique on Drum Sounds

Technique Adds Unique Dimension to Your Drum Frameworks


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

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

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

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

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

March 14, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: O.C. & A.G. - "2 For The Money," Beat by Showbiz

Street Corner Laced Rhymes and A Hard-Hitting, but Intricately Arranged Beat


Attitude. More specifically, the "hip hop attitude." That's one of the core components of any of hip hop culture's four primary elements. And in O.C. and A.G.'s "2 For The Money" (beat by Showbiz), there is no shortage of attitude. Moreover, there's no shortage of the components that comprise a dope song.

O.C., long one of the most surefire (but slept-on) lyricist to ever grab a mic, sets off "2 For The Money" with a bravado that can only be summed up as New York City confidence. O's rhyme flow is as fluid as it is abrasive. And his lyrical content—always engaging—is as clever as it broken-glass serious. Then there's A.G., every bit "street corner" and aggressive as O.C., but less agile and more direct.

Then there's Showbiz on the beat. Here, the fellow D.I.T.C. brethren crafts one razor blade of a track. Showbiz's arrangement on this beat is masterwork! He builds the core groove around bass piano chops. But the real standout work on this heater is how he uses horn and string chops to weave a structure that packs a powerful punch. The first horn sample is a quick 3-note phrase that jabs in and out. And then there's the string samples. Dope! Showbiz uses several string samples. The first one dances up and down in a suspense-like fashion; it's this string sample that's prioritized during the first quarter of the verses in the song. The second string sample is an ascending, bottom-heavy string-horn phrase that carries a sustained whine after its crescendo. It's this string-horn phrase that Showbiz uses to relieve the first string sample, at the midway mark of the verse. After the string-horn phrase gets burn for four bars, the first string sample returns, followed by one more 2-bar round of the string-horn phrase, which finally gives way to the climax: a subdued and sustain brass stab with all other music elements (drumork included) dropped out.

Finally, got a mention that the hook cuts on this song are served up by DJ Premier.

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

O.C. & A.G. - "2 For The Money" (from Oasis, beat by Showbiz, featuring cuts by DJ Premier)

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

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."

February 07, 2011

Escaping The Tempo Trap

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 27, 2011

Ty Fyffe Stresses The Importance Of Getting The Groove Going First

Sometimes Keeping It Simple Is All The Complexity A Beat Needs


I have strong admiration for Ty Fyffe's work. His beats all share a "no nonsense" quality. His drums are steady and always knock hard. And the overall character of his sound selection—usually made up of obscure, untraceable sounds—is sparse, but flanked my intricate nuances. In this video, Ty Fyffe illustrates making a beat through the use of multiple sound-stabs. Fyffe assigns the same sound-stab (I think) to roughly 8 pads on his Akai MPC 2500. For each pad assignment, he has the sound-stab set at a different pitch level, which allows him to play each sound-stab like individual notes.

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

Episode 1 Music Producer Ty Fyffe Shows You How To Make A Hit

The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
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