7 posts categorized "Sa'id's Mental Memoir"

October 16, 2014

BeatTips Inside the Beat: Creating an Arrangement to Fit an Idea

Using Your Composite Idea as a Guide to Capture the Essence and Feel You Envision


Eight years ago, my father died. He was the first person to introduce me to music... Because of his interest in "hi-fidelity" stereo systems, premium speakers, and recording equipment in general, I suppose you could say he was also the first person to introduce me to audio recording. But his love for music and audio equipment aside, he's also responsible for producing some, let's say, rather turbulent times when I was a kid. So while working on a new beat one day, I was playing back some of those times in my head, and it helped me to come up with a composite idea for beat.

I like to use the term composite idea to refer to the complete picture, i.e. the framework or blueprint that I get in my head for a beat/song. It's like a photographic snapshot that I both see and hear. Perhaps you could say that it's a little more than intuition. But for me it's a special moment in my creative process. So I like to dignify that moment by giving it a name.

For the song "I Remember My Dad," included below for study, the composite idea that I had was for a beat with some sort of overall challenging pitch/tempo scheme. Something that could audibly parallel the real shifts in happiness, anger, and disappointment that my father provoked when I was a kid. And, because above all, he really was a kind-hearted, no-nonsense sort of man, I wanted the framework of the beat to convey this conflict while honoring him as much as I could. I wanted a sound that not only expressed his tragedy, but a sound that also authentically reflected both the good and bad of those times, and how they filtered through to help shape who I am today.

With this in mind, I immediately thought about sampling some strings. So I went through a couple of albums that I have with female jazz vocalists. (Incidentally, there are some terrific string arrangements to be found with female jazz vocalists.) Among the records I listened to, I didn't find anything that quite fit my composite idea. But by listening to those records, I did get a clearer picture of it. And now with a sharper focus, I stuck with the female vocalist theme, and shifted my diggin' search from jazz to soul, where I found exactly what I needed to begin the foundation of my composite idea.

There was this really uplifting choir & harps section on this one record. By itself, it was light. But I knew that after I sampled it, I could add weight, i.e. bass, boom, dirt, etc., as well as some "color" to it. This way I could make it sound haunting and robust. Of course, part of boosting it up came before I even sampled it, when I adjusted the EQs on my mixing board, where I have my DJ mixer routed to before it hits the inputs of any of my samplers.

Having sampled this choir & harps spare-part phrase (I discuss compositional phrases in The BeatTips Manual) via my Akai MPC 4000, I chopped it (manually, not auto-chop) to spec. Then, I filtered it using my MPC's high-pass filter. Once I had the feel and the sound in place, I duplicated the sample and created two versions of it, one at the original pitch level that I sampled it at, and the other several pitch levels down. So now I had, C&H (choir & harps) pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2.

With the two choir & harps phrases, C&H pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2, I created a 2-bar sequence with C&H pitch 1 starting the first bar and C&H pitch 2 at the opening of the second bar. Together, this 2-bar sequence made up a "break" (in The BeatTips Manual I explain this concept of the break in greater detail).

At this point, half of my composite idea was already set. What I needed to do now was to work in the right drum framework. In keeping with the theme of contradiction (or contrast), I wanted to build a drum pattern that was solid enough to rock on its own. I didn't want anything soft or deferential to the choir & harps sound. Also, I wanted to use hi-hats and rides in a way that helped to push and shuffle the beat along as I rhymed to it. Note: I only used one hi-hat and one ride, BUT I used them in at least four different ways, ranging from different velocity and duration settings on the hi-hat/open hat to elongation and truncation on the ride hits.

After I created the drum pattern on my MPC, I recorded it into Pro Tools. In Pro Tools, I quickly added some reverb and light EQ to each of the drum sounds, then I sampled the pattern — not the individual drum hits — back into my MPC. Once back inside my MPC, I assigned the entire drum pattern to one drum pad. This is what I used as the drum framework: a drum break created and customized by me. Note: This didn't take long at all, because I only recorded about two bars worth of the drum pattern into Pro Tools. Once I sampled back inside the MPC, I chopped it down and looped it. Now the framework was nearly complete!

But I still wanted to add in some stylistic changes.... First, I sampled a vocal part (from the same record as the Choir & Harps) that had some bass behind it. I did this on purpose, because I knew that I was going to turn it into an elongated sound-stab that could play and rise up at certain parts of the verse section of the arrangement. Once I sampled it, I chopped it down. I wanted to make it rise and to sound somewhat brighter, so I filtered it with the MPC's notch filter and turned up the volume on it.
(I should point out that when I had the entire beat tracked into Pro Tools, I had to slap a limiter on this sound-stab so that it didn't rise too much.)

Next, I sampled a piano & guitar riff, which I chopped down and filtered with my MPC's high-pass filter. I had to cut a lot of the original treble to make it much warmer, and to make it blend with the fade of the choir & harps sample.

Finally, I worked in my customized floor tom. Here's where knowing your sounds really comes into play. I used my floor tom, at two different pitch levels, not as percussive elements but mostly as bass support for the choir & harps sample. When you hear the song below, listen carefully to how I arranged the floor toms. You will notice that the timbre of the floor toms work like a bass when pitched, arranged, and combined with the fade of the choir & harps sample. Because I know my floor tom sound, I know what it's capable of and how it can be used like a bass-stab.

When I was finished with the beat, my composite idea was realized. And the only thing then left for me to do was to write and record the composite rhyme that I had....

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

Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "I Remember My Dad" by Sa'id

Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" beat breakdown

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

September 27, 2011

BeatTips Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog: "Bullet in a Horoscope"

The Wah Wah Guitar Back Story; First Series Release


In 1999, I started my first company, Wah Wah Guitar Recording and Filmworks. The plan was for Wah Wah Guitar (named as my homage to the proverbial "wah wah" guitar sound featured in many 1970s films, particularly those commonly known as blaxpoitation movies) to serve as my umbrella entity through which my independent interests in music and films would be commercially realized.

Prior to 1999, I had been rhyming and studying the art of rapping for seven years, and I had been developing a skill for beatmaking for six (I began rhyming as a teenager in 1992; I began making my own beats a year later), but for various reasons (distractions, other interests) I had yet to attempt to go pro, so to speak. So when I started Wah Wah Guitar in 1999, it represented the first carnation of my understanding of commerce and entertainment, specifically, independent production, manufacturing, and distribution.

Although I had set up an entity to pursue a career in music, the truth is, I never went after it with the sheer narrow focus that many have. Aside from my strong reservations about how the music industry was ran (and some of the specific industry types who ran it), I also held deep reservations about being a “rapper.” So even though I had the talent and dedication to carve out a music career (indeed, at one point I received legitimate label interest and I passed on the opportunity, see Sa'id's Mental Memoir: DJ Tony Touch Thought "Milk" Was A Monster"), as the year 2002 drew near, my goals shifted.

Before I ever wrote one rhyme or made one beat, I was a writer, one with a particular interest in film, history, and culture. And while I was serious about music, I had to embrace the reality that I wanted to do more than rhyme or make beats. Moreover, I realized that I didn’t want to maneuver from the “inside” of the music industry. So I committed myself to bypassing the exhausted deal-shopping path, and I focused instead on working from the outside. The aim being to create a platform that would allow me to do my own music on my terms and to be flexible enough to pursue wherever that took me.

As I saw it, Wah Wah Guitar would become the entity through which I realized my music goals. It would be the independent company that would permit me to do music completely on my own terms. But an ironic thing happened (well, perhaps not too ironic) three years into this plan: I wrote a book about beatmaking (The BeatTips Manual)! Soon, my rapping and beatmaking aspirations subsided; and it became less important for me to release my own music and more important for me to examine and thoroughly research the hip hop/rap music tradition—specifically, beatmaking—and publish my findings. In short, it became more important for me to document the beatmaking tradition and to work towards preserving the hip hop/rap music tradition as a whole.

Still, this huge shift in focus aside, in the three years that Wah Wah Guitar remained active, I recorded a great deal of music; the overwhelming bulk of it I never released or even let anyone hear. In fact, some of it, I've only heard once or twice—on the day that I made and recorded it! So what exists now is a catalog of complete and incomplete songs and beats; complete and incomplete verses, both one-takes and outtakes; commercial studio session recordings and home practice sessions; and more. And in an effort to continue to help more beatmakers and rappers, I’ve decided to release most (if not all) of this music here on BeatTips.com.

Thus, for the purpose of scholarship (discussion and study) and to extend my work in the study of the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, I will, at least once each month, post a recording (at random) from my Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog. And along with each recording, I will include as much commentary as possible, which shouldn’t be hard to do, since I’ve kept notes, often very meticulous ones, of every beat and rhyme that I made and recorded during the Wah Wah Years. It is my hope that by releasing this music and personal commentary, fellow beatmakers and rappers will (1) learn more about the fundamental ways that the two art forms—beatmaking and rapping—affect each other; and (2) be able to incorporate some of my ideas and approaches (if helpful) into their own processes.

As always, I encourage any questions, observations, or anything else that will be helpful. So post your comments and get into the discussion.

Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)

The rhyme
The concept for this song (which I never completed) was about a young "good girl" in the hood gone bad. I wrote one verse, just to see if my rhyme matched my initial concept and the beat. But as with a number of my unfinished rhymes, with this joint, I was mostly concerned with further developing control of my delivery, particularly at a quick pace.

The beat
For this beat, I used a one-bar framework that I copied into 2 bars. The beat is driven by a sample that I duplicated. I filtered one copy of the sample with high treble; and I filtered the other copy with dull treble. The main effect of the way that I filtered two copies of the same sample is that it made both copies sound like they had different pitch levels.

For the drum framework of this beat, I built a drum pattern that sounded like it was tumbling over. I had the kick sort of rumbling, while I tucked the snare-hits. The open hi-hat is where I tried a couple of things out. First, I experimented with the open hi-hat in a way similar to how I filtered the primary sample of the beat, in that I filtered it differently on alternating events within the sequence (meaning I programmed the high-filtered part to land, followed by the dull-filtered part). Also, I played the open hi-hat in a way that "pushed" the beat along.

I never built this joint out into a complete song, but it helped me work out different aspects of my rhyme delivery and breath control. Furthermore, it helped me gain a better feel for how to use my hi-hats, something that would soon come in handy.

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

Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (prod. by Sa'id, from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)

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

August 24, 2011

One Beat, One Rhyme, and Some Peace of Mind

How I Regained My Rhyme and Beatmaking Focus, and Connected It to My Interest In Writing


It was the end of 2001. Nearly six months before I would decide not to pursue the major label opportunities that were being presented to me (read). More importantly, it was a hectic time in my personal life. Relationship woes; chaos from "street stuff" in the past was creeping up and increasingly posing a serious threat; and a close friend of mine had just got hit with a bid, right at the moment of some of our plans. Further, my son, Amir Ali Said, was just beginning his acting career.

Notwithstanding the factors that were causing great angst in my life at that time, I had resolved that I no longer wanted a career as a rapper. I mean in hindsight, I don't think I ever really did have those aspirations. I've never liked the notion of touring (close friends know this very well). I didn't like to live in the studio like many of my contemporaries. And as far as some of the perks of a "rap career," namely money, fame, and women? Well, I've always been a more "independent," go-my-own-way kind of guy. And fame has never held much of my interest. And when it comes to women, I've done all right in that area without having to use money or fame as part of the attraction. (In fact, women was one of those "chaotic factors" I alluded to earlier.)

But more than anything else, what made me finally pull-back from carving out a career as a rapper was the realization that what I really wanted to do, more than anything else, was write. Thing is, long before I started rapping or making beats, I was writing. Rapping, which was a natural engagement for me, considering the fact that hip hop/rap culture was always in the backdrop, became just one of several conduits through which I was able to express my writing. Overtime, this was a fulfilling experience. But the closer I got to a "deal," the more disenchanted I became with rhyming—or at least rhyming as my main profession. Moreover, from the start of my rhyme journey, I had a plan: Rhyme just long enough to create a platform from which to write. But as I developed as a lyricist and, subsequently, gained the respect and admiration of my peers (something that no doubt boosted my rhyme ego), I drifted away from my plan of writing.

And so, one night in December, 2002, I'm at home in Brooklyn, reflecting on the direction things had gone and thinking about which moves I'm soon gonna have to make, when I come across an old sales receipt from Unique Recording Studios. On this receipt, there was a balance of 4 hours of unused studio time. Now when it came to studio time, I was always thorough. I prepared for and planned out sessions way in advance; and this made my time in the studio go by quickly. So I would often rack up lots of unused time, which the studio owner Joanne Nathan (a kind, wonderful person) would allow me to use whenever there was a slow night; all I had to do was pay the engineer. Well, immersed in thought of what rhyming used to mean to me and what it had become, I made a beat, wrote a rhyme, and created a song called "When I'm Famous."

In many ways, "When I'm Famous" would prove to be the most important rhyme that I would ever write. The concept of the song dealt with me imagining, or wondering out loud, how much of "me" would still be in tact after I became "famous." And the underscoring premise of this theme was this: "Fame" (or success) doesn't matter, if you don't do what you really feel, and if you don't retain the respect and love of the people closest to you. So it was in that moment, that precise time when I was writing "When I'm Famous," that I finally realized that the joy I found in making beats and writing rhymes was not something mutually exclusive to having a rap career. In other words, I had finally come to understand one thing: that for me, having a rap career was not necessarily a natural progression to having rhyme skills; I could make music without forcing myself down the wrong path.

Thus, it was from this context that I went to Unique Studios that night and recorded "When I'm Famous." I only recorded one take of the song, as the rhyme was written. I never had any intentions of ever releasing it; if anything, I made the song to help me get through a hectic time. I wasn't even in the studio more than an hour before I returned home and let my son hear what I had recorded. He loved it, though at that time he probably couldn't quite grasp everything that I was saying in my rhymes. But what stood out the most about his reaction to "When I'm Famous," was his interest in the beat and the rhyme itself. It was then that I vowed to teach him how to write rhymes and make beats. Some peace of mind had come, and within a year, I wrote and published the First Edition of The BeatTips Manual.

"When I'm Famous" - Sa'id

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

December 08, 2010

BeatTips Daily Favorites: Showbiz & AG, "Fat Pockets;" Dope Styles

Showbiz, a King of Sampling Style


Wow. When Showbiz & AG dropped "Fat Pockets" in 1992, I hadn't yet owned an Akai S950! I was still a teenager, I couldn't get into The Fever (Bronx club) yet. Even still, I used to roll up to the Bronx, at least once EVERY week, just hoping to bump into Show, Fat Joe, AG, anybody form DITC (or even Forest projects and the surrounding area). I used to get my hair cut at this barbershop called Six Corners, on 163rd and Prospect. Indeed, I used to take this looongg ass ride on the 2 train. A lot of times, I rolled up there alone, dolow, without anybody. I didn't know it at the time, but the relationships that I made then would prove EXTREMELY pivotal to me later on.

So it was within this context that I first heard "Fat Pockets." The biggest reason I liked this joint—at the time—was because Showbiz was the personification of what I wanted to do: He rhymed AND made beats! I was always a rhymer first, and I looked up to Showbiz because he demonstrated that you could be dope in both art forms. A couple of years after first hearing "Fat Pockets," I went back and really studied it.

Of particular interest to me was the way in which Showbiz used to isolate the phrases he sampled with drums that seemed to break out. Showbiz's sampling style was among the first that featured a usage of more off-beat, elongated, and unexpected phrases and sections of source material (recordings).

For educational purposes...

Showbiz & AG - "Fat Pockets"

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

September 21, 2010

BeatTips MusicStudy: Talk Talk - "It's My Life"

Embellishing And Layering Lessons From Talk Talk's Greatest Hit

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

Aside from the soul and funk records of the late 1960s and early 1970s,
(for example, some of the staple hits of Stax and Motown), I've learned a great deal about layering sounds from other music forms like new wave, British pop, British ska, and art rock as well. And among the various songs that the latter aforementioned music forms produced, "It's My Life" by Talk Talk has left quite an impression on me.

As a beatmaker who appreciates both the sample-based and synthetic-sounds-based compositional styles, "It's My Life" has been an important song of study for me. From a purely analytical focus, it's one of the first songs that helped me to really understand how the sections in a song's arrangement come together to formulate a truly engaging piece of music.

The verse section of "It's My Life" is made up several main elements or rather sub-sections. There's a steady groove comprised of a rubbery, bouncing bass line—that "walks up and down" nonchalantly. Then there's a subdued synth phrase (a mainstay of similar pop synth bands of the era) that staggers in two notes before dissolving into a sustained ambiance. And then there's a simple backbeat that features a hard-rapping snare on the "2."

For the chorus, the "big payoff" of every contemporary pop music song's arrangement, all of the subdued elements mutate and suddenly become more alive. Embellishments, shadings, and inflections are abound as the synth work becomes more deliberate and aggressive, staggering chromatically and rising—appropriately—right along with the growing level and intensity of the vocals. This is matched only by the bass line changing directions and going into overdrive, moving up a couple levels in pitch. Finally, not to be outdone, the drumwork gains more character with the layering of a tambourine (and a second "charged" snare) over the top of the existing snare, making this new snare-tamb hybrid—a staple drum sound combination of many of today's beatmakers—more pressing and climatic.

For educational purposes...

Talk Talk - "It's My Life"

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

August 14, 2010

Bob James Says Sampling, In Some Cases, Is The Best Of All Possible Worlds

Famed Jazz Fusion Artist And Sampling Mainstay, Discusses His Views On The Art Of Sampling In Hip Hop/Rap Music

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

I've been diggin' thru and for records since I was a little kid. My parents, like most (if not all) other black urban dwellers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a quality vinyl record collection. And since my mother was an avid Motown fan and my father a strong Stax supporter, their collection—together—was massive. Indeed, when I became conscious of "diggin' in the crates," I went about packing their collection into separate milk crates. Total count of milk crates from that weekend? 15.

Even though I had thought that I was a kind of a serious digger, I really wasn't. But when I turned 19, and started actually listening to ALL of the records in my parents collection, I realized that I had a hunger for more. And thus, began my first real trips to used vinyl stores, Salvation Army stores, Goodwill stores, garage sells, and vinyl record conventions. And early on, there was one record that I felt I had to have: Bob James' One.

Bob James's music has been sampled by a bevy of beatmakers, and one song in particular, "Nautilus," has received a number of dope transformations. So for me, any interview with Bob James—a musician I truly admire—is well worth watching. But a Bob James interview in which he (1) reconciles his views on the art of sampling in hip hop/rap; (2) discusses sampling in a creative context; and (3) sheds light on how he structured his record contracts, after his departure from the CTI label? Aw, man, that's absolutely priceless!

For educational purposes...

Bob James Interview (via Mixery Raw Deluxe)

For educational purposes...

Bob James - "Nautilus" (from the album One, (1974)

June 16, 2010

Musical Nourishment Marks Generations

Lest We Forget, Music Appreciation is Also Learned Behavior

By Amir Said (Sa'id)

Many 20- and 30-somethings are betraying their kids. Worst part is, most (if not all) don't even know it. In fact, many of them don't even have kids yet. Bizarre? Nope, stick with me for a moment...

The parent/child relationship is not merely a testament of love, it's an agreement. For better or worse, when a man and woman (intentionally or unintentionally) have a child, they, in effect, sign on the dotted line (willingly or unwillingly), and agree to provide nourishment for their child. This nourishment can take on many forms other than the standards of food and shelter. And the one form that plays one of the greatest roles in American culture is musical nourishment.

In today's world of hyper-active marketing, massive numbers of people willfully endure promotional practices that are designed to seemingly shame them into buying products, regardless of their quality or merit. The idea is to just pile-drive the concept of conspicuous consumption into the minds of people, and then turn them into a zombie-race of conspicuous consumers, who buy into to the "what's in" or "what's hot" line, without any critical analysis of its creativity or actual worth. And all it takes to set this dastardly chain of consumption into motion is this: Take one so-called "taste maker" and/or widely considered "hip" person, have them announce that they like something, (typically, without ever clearly saying why, and using some retro slang that they don't even understand, like "dope" for instance), and boom...product sold, zombies unite!

Parents are supposed to screen their children from becoming zombies. That is to say, in no small degree, they are charged with nourishing the musical education and understanding of their children. In the early part of our lives, mostly everything we learn about music comes directly and/or indirectly from our parents. Well, at least that's how it used to be. These days, the marketers, promoters, hype people (and the media-massives that back them) have figured out that the earlier you can convert someone to a zombie, the better the chance at suckering them into buying woeful products for the rest of their lives! So as it is, on the pop side of things, kids are shot at with boy-band bullets and stabbed with out-of-tune (and autotune) tween Madonnas, or worse, Justin Biebers... On the "urban" side of things (read black, hip hop/rap, and R&B), the young (and often the "old") are strangled with whiny, often incoherent vocals, meaningless concepts, and rampant duplication. And yes, bi-partisanship is in full effect in hip hop/rap and R&B; underground and commercial.

Sometime ago, the notion was passed on that kids are not supposed to like, relate to, feel, and/or understand the music of their parents. Here, I have to provide some sobering context. This "hate your parents music" complex is rooted in the fact that during the middle of the twentieth-century, many white teens were breaking away from the chains of American-style racism, and consciously (publicly) listening to black music, then known as "race music." By the late 1960s/early 1970s, public attitudes towards race and music in America had all but inverted. And the children of these "radical" parents of the 50s, 60s, and 70s received a musical nourishment that underscored as much as 30 years of the highest quality of American popular music. Some of the children of the musically radical would go on to create the punk music genre; others would go on to help develop hip hop/rap music; and others still would get together and form groups like Metallica and Nirvana... Believe me, pedigree dictates much!

So what about the children of today, and more importantly, what of the children of the soon tomorrow? Are their parents—many of the now 20- and 30-something retro hip-stylers, robotic followers, and autotune accepters—going to be able to provide the quality musical nourishment that they deserve? Probably not. Moreover, by then, these parents will perhaps be so accustomed to labeling their own kids as "haters" (some do already) that the brightest kids will simply reject their parents and see to their own musical nourishment. I mean, let's open up the hood on this one: Will the children of the "now generation" be impressed with their parents and their music? Or will they be so utterly unimpressed with their parents musical choices that they begin to question and reject other qualities about their parents? My grandmother (a self-taught pianist from Georgia) really liked Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. My mother really liked Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Smokey Robinsion and The Miracles. I like Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Curtis Mayfield, and The Jackons. My son likes Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Curtis Mayfield, The Jacksons, and Gladys KNight and The Pips... But 10, 20, 30 years out from now, will the then "grown-ups" really still like Lil Wayne and Drake? That's not a knock against these two. In fact, in lieu of Drake's new release, I'm reminded exactly of the function that both play: club music; fun-now music. I appreciate them for that. So my question about Lil Wayne and Drake's "parent appeal" decades from now is a valid one, especially from someone who has received a great deal of musical nourishment and did NOT ignore and/or reject it...

Oh, and as to why I'm not so easily impressed by any of the so-called "R&B" *artists*, of today, well, below, I present to you Aretha Franklin, sans the autotune.

For educational purpose...

Aretha Franklin - "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)"

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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