17 posts categorized "Sample-Based Compositional Style"

April 17, 2014

The Notorious Fair Use: Why New Sampling Case May be the Beginning of the End of the Infringement Shakedown

Amid Leroy Hutson's Infringement Accusations, the Will to Test Fair Use in the Courts Grows Stronger


It looks like the late Notorious B.I.G.’s impact on music may have a second act. Only this time, the impact will likely hold critical implications for sampling and U.S. copyright law. On March 31, 2014, in what was considered to be a preemptive lawsuit, the estate of Notorious B.I.G. filed for declaratory judgment in a California federal court, seeking relief that B.I.G’s 1994 song “The What” — off of the classic album Ready to Die — was not a copyright infringement of the 1974 song “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” performed by Leroy Hutson (co-written by Hutson and Michael Hawkins). While the suit raised the issues of valid copyright ownership, statute of limitations, and the doctrine of laches (waiting too long to file the claim), and producer indemnification, it was the fair use claim that undoubtedly had many of those on both sides of the sampling and copyright law quandary closely watching how this case would turn out.

The Complaint

According to the complaint filed by lawyers on behalf of B.I.G.’s estate, Leroy Huston “began a campaign of accusations against Plaintiff [Christopher Wallace PKA ‘Notorious B.I.G.,’ ‘Biggie,’ and ‘Biggie Smalls’], claiming that the Recording [‘The What,’ produced by Easy Mo Bee and featuring Method Man] violated his alleged copyright in ‘Can’t Say Enough About Mom.’” The complaint describes Hutson’s “campaign of accusations” as having began in 2012, when lawyers for Hutson sent Bad Boy Records notice of alleged copyright infringement, and having included numerous requests for financial compensation (as much as 50% of all income attributable to the recording) and part ownership (also as much as 50%); each request routinely made with the accompanying threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit. [source case: Notorious B.I.G. LLC v Lee Hutson, 2:14-cv-02415 (3/31/14).]

In other words, Hutson repeatedly harassed Bad Boy Records (and Atlantic Records, Warner Music Group, and EMI), likely in an attempt to force a quick financial settlement in exchange for not filing a copyright infringement lawsuit for an uncleared sample of Hutson’s song. These “ongoing, intensifying, and ultimately baseless accusations,” especially Hutson’s recent (and second) attempt to get a “legal hold” placed on “all royalties of the Recording” and to put a stop to “all distribution of the album [Ready to Die],” are what prompted the estate of Notorious B.I.G. to file civil action for declaratory relief.

They Were Never Scared — the Law Was Always on Their Side

Rather than cave to the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit and settle out of court (as the labels tend to do), the estate of Notorious B.I.G. retained an expert to help assist them in analysis and comparison of the two songs at question. Citing in the complaint their expert’s findings and including Easy Mo Bee’s (the producer of the B.I.G. track) meticulous, multidimensional description of how he composed “The What,” the estate of Notorious B.I.G. — which did not deny the actual sampling — asserted in the complaint that the “use has not violated any valid copyright interest held by” Hutson, and, more importantly, that the “use” is both “de minimis and fair use.” Thus, B.I.G.’s estate rejected the common infringement shakedown and balked at paying Mr. Hutson or assigning an owner percentage to him, particularly without first doing their own due diligence. Having done their due diligence, B.I.G.’s estate concluded that “The What” did not infringe upon “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” and they demonstrated their preparedness to prove it in court. In other words, Hutson’s infringement shakedown attempt was thwarted mainly because the estate of Notorious B.I.G. was, unlike the labels and most established artists, never scared to affirm fair use.

Thing is, When determining unlawful appropriation, the courts engage in a substantial similarity analysis in which quantitative and qualitative factors are assessed. An allegedly infringing work is considered substantially similar when it is nearly indistinguishable from the copyrighted work it appropriated. Quantitative analysis examines whether the sample constituted a substantial portion of the appropriated work, NOT whether it made up a substantial portion of the allegedly infringing work. Qualitative analysis considers whether the sample (copied portion) is qualitatively important to the allegedly infringed work as a whole. This means how critical, qualitatively speaking, is the sample (copied portion) to the appropriated work, and as a whole, how similar are the allegedly infringing song and the song it sampled. In order to determine proof of substantial similarity in a copyright infringement case, the courts conduct a two-part test of extrinsic similarity and intrinsic similarity. The extrinsic test is objective in nature and requires the party who brought the infringement claim to identify specific criteria which it alleges have been copied. (For a more thorough understanding of fair use and a proper fair use analysis, please read my book The Art of Sampling.)

So at question were three things: 1) As a whole, how similar is “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?;” 2) How critical, qualitatively speaking, is the sample (copied portion) to “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?;” and 3) Does “The What” sample a substantial portion of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?” In my own analysis and comparison, I found no substantial similarity between “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom.” In fact, if there ever was a more clear cut case of fair use, I haven’t heard it. Quantitatively and qualitatively speaking, the sample is a 4-second snippet of a barely audible fade out that appears — only once on the entire 5:54 long song — at the 5:50 mark. This snippet is neither substantial to the melody, rhythm, chorus, or main theme of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom.” And even an “ordinary person” could tell that “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” is a song about a son’s tribute to his mother, wherein he repeatedly professes his love and respect for his mother. Whereas “The What” is a braggadocios song about a skeptical worldview (the hook says, “Fuck the World!...”) in which the protagonists praise the values of being independent, street wise, and well armed. Certainly, the estate of Notorious B.I.G. came to a similar conclusion in their own analysis.

Origins of the Infringement Shakedown, and Why Hutson thought He Could Threaten His Way to a Nice Financial Settlement

To truly understand how the “infringement shakedown” came to be, you must first look at Grand Upright v. Warner Bros. and Bridgeport v. Dimension Films, two landmark court cases involving sampling and copyright law. (I cover both cases in greater detail in my book The Art of Sampling.)

In Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. (New York, 1991), songwriter/recording artist Gilbert O’Sullivan filed suit against recording artist Biz Markie and his then-record labels Warner Bros. Records and Cold Chillin’, charging that “Alone Again,” a song on Markie’s album I Need A Haircut, contained an unauthorized “digital sample” of O’Sullivan’s 1972 hit song “Alone Again (Naturally)." The court found that Biz Markie/Warner Bros., et. al had willfully committed copyright infringement, granted an injunction against Warner Bros. to prevent further copyright infringement of Grand Upright’s song “Alone Again,” and referred the defendants for criminal prosecution. But before sentencing, the parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Although the question of fair use was never raised in Grand Upright, after the court’s decision, many labels took a better-to-be-safe-than-sorry stance, insisting that all samples be cleared. More importantly, following Grand Upright, the art of sampling was, in effect, criminalized and assigned a stigma of “theft” and “piracy.” A stigma that still plagues the art of sampling today.

Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films (Tennessee, 2001) centered around the use of N.W.A.’s song “100 Miles and Runnin’” in the 1998 No Limit Films produced/Dimension Films distributed film “I Got The Hook Up.” For part of the creation of the song “100 Miles and Runnin’,” N.W.A. had sampled a small piece of Funkadelic’s song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” This was all done without Funkadelic’s permission and with no compensation paid to either Bridgeport Music, which at the time owned the publishing rights to Funkadelic’s music, or to Westbound Records, which at the time owned the sound recording copyright to “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Bridgeport Music, Westbound Records, and other plaintiffs filed suit against Dimension Films, et. al, claiming that “100 Miles and Runnin’” infringed on their copyright in the song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Dimension Films/No Limit argued that the sample in question was de minimis (legally insubstantial), and therefore, it did not amount to actionable copying under copyright law. The district court found the de minimis defense to be appropriate, and granted summary judgment for Dimension Films/No Limit. However, the appeals court reversed the district court and ruled that sampling of a sound recording — regardless of length— was, in effect, unlawful without the permission of the copyright holder. "Get a license or do not sample…," the circuit court wrote, essentially making the outrageously ridiculous claim that any unlicensed sampling of a sound recording violates the copyright of the copyright holder.

BUT, it’s important to note that the circuit court did not consider fair use (as they should have) in their decision. In fact, the court expressly noted that its decision did not preclude the availability of a fair use defense, even in the context of sampling. Which implies that the court, despite its nonsensical ruling, actually recognized that some instances of sampling do qualify as fair use.

Since Grand Upright and Bridgeport, RIAA labels have sought to clear samples — no matter the nature of the use — rather than take the chance of being sued for copyright infringement; “sample trolls” like Bridgeport Music have gone wild with infringement suits; and just the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit has prompted lopsided undue settlements. This has lead to a tepid approach to sampling by the RIAA labels and many music makers. In turn, an ad-hoc (mostly one-sided and useless) sample clearance system has emerged. But as I make clear in The Art of Sampling, clearance of all samples isn’t the law, it’s just become industry custom!

Mud and Deception on the Profile of Fair Use

The profile of the fair use doctrine has all but faded in the music industry, as the RIAA labels have demonstrated no will to test fair use in the courts. But the lack of will to test fair use in the courts isn’t surprising. When it comes to the question of sampling and fair use, the RIAA labels and many well-known music lawyers, notably Dina LaPolt, have long tried to discredit fair use, typically misrepresenting it and even attacking its very concept and role in U.S. copyright law. Of course, these attacks have not been born out by a proper reading of the fair use doctrine as it's codified in the U.S. code. Strikingly, LaPolt and other similar opponents of fair use routinely mis-define fair use: On one hand, overlooking the fact that fair use is a critical safeguard meant to protect against the expansion of the "limited monopoly" of copyright holders, and on the other hand, consistently describing fair use as nothing more than "JUST a defense," rather than a right of the public.

The Will to Test Fair Use in the Courts Continues to Grow

Whether the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. was simply shielding itself from any potential lawsuit from Leroy Hutson or aiming for some grander statement, I think it’s clear that this case, one way or the other, is a watershed moment in the history of the sampling and copyright law quandary. Notwithstanding the other issues raised in the filing, namely the validity of Hutson’s copyright ownership (sorry, a Wikipedia citing certainly does not establish Hutson’s copyright in a song), this is a perfect test case for sampling and fair use.

On April 2, 2014, two days after the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. filed their complaint, Hutson formally filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, in Manhattan — Hutson et al v. The Estate of Christopher Wallace et al — against the estate of B.I.G., Bad Boy, EMI, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. This New York case was stayed, pending a resolution of Hutson’s Motion to Dismiss the California case.

On July 3, 2014, the preemptive suit brought by the estate of Notorious B.I.G. was dismissed (as perhaps it should have been, given that the California court had no jurisdiction), and legal action continued to move forward in the New York court — where the estate of Notorious B.I.G. filed a motion to dismiss on September 5, 2014 — all the way up until October 24, 2014. On December 21, 2015, the New York court filed its decision, granting B.I.G.’s estate’s motion to dismiss.

However, none of the fair use issues raised by B.I.G.’s estate were addressed in the court’s decision. Instead, the court held that since Hutson could not prove ownership of the copyright in “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” (Hutson acknowledged a settlement that he made with Rhino and Warner Records in 2008 over Curtom Records recordings in which he granted copyright ownership of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” and other recordings to Rhino), he lacked standing to sue B.I.G.’s estate for copyright infringement.

So what now? Does this mean that B.I.G.’s estate will face a lawsuit from Rhino for the same alleged infringement? I highly doubt it. But if they do, I can’t see the defense by B.I.G.’s being any different or less persuasive. So while Judge Sullivan didn’t get into the fair use issues that B.I.G.’s estate raised in its defense, this case is still important. For one thing, B.I.G.’s estate had the will to fight this copyright infringement lawsuit; their aggressive action will only serve to prompt others to do the same in the face of similar lawsuits. Second, and more importantly, the action taken by B.I.G.’s estate raises the profile of fair use and helps make the will to test fair use in other sampling/copyright infringement cases much stronger. I’ve long held that the infringement shakedowns in music sampling would end sooner or later. On the heels of this B.I.G. case (and the Jay-Z TufAmerica v. WB Music Corp. et al case, which I cover in the following section), it looks like the ending’s going to be much sooner.

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

The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Method Man – “The What” (Prod. by Easy Mo Bee)

Leroy Hutson - “Can't Say Enough About Mom<"


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

December 16, 2013

Kanye West Flips “Strange Fruit” for “Blood On the Leaves,” and There’s Nothing Wrong with That

Sampling in Hip Hop/Rap Need Not Be Politically Correct


First, it was “Blood on the Leaves.” Outrage from all over for how Kanye West appropriated Nina Simone’s heart wrenching rendition of “Strange Fruit,” a 1939 song about lynching (a song some today curiously describe as being sacred). Then, it was “Bound 2.” More group-think outrage about a decadent song and video which features a topless — and unapologetically erotic — Kim Kardashian, the mother of Kanye West’s daughter and his soon to be wife…

Typically, I avoid publishing commentary on matters like these, opting, at most, to share my brief thoughts among close friends and colleagues. That was my reaction when “Blood on the Leaves” was blasted by a broad swath of different people, all seemingly jockeying to prove just how distasteful “Blood on the Leaves” was. But wait: Hip hop/rap need not be politically correct to be dope. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself…
And more recently, that was my initial reaction to the “Bound 2” fall out, which was dismissed as old hat, in poor taste, and un-genius like, as well as parodied by James Franco and Seth Rogin. But what’s all the fuss about? A well-known, modern pop culture figure making pop art? Got it…

Now, before I continue, please let me preface the following by simply stating that I’m acutely aware of the history of lynching in the United States, as I am of the history of black American music and 20th century popular American music for that matter. I’m also adept at speaking about Colonial America, American slavery, and the Ante-bellum and Reconstruction Periods. That said, I’m also very aware of a number of different twentieth-century American popular music and cultural developments, in particular, the art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition. And that is what I’d like to speak to.

The art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition can be celebrated for a number of different reasons by music makers, fans, and scholars alike. But particularly for those who make sample-based beats or those in tune to hip hop’s power to convert anything to its own sensibility, the art of sampling is deeply celebrated for its power to reconceptualize, recontextualize, and repurpose sound recordings in ways that express the hip hop attitude, style, and feel. But that aside — if it can really be put to the side — for the moment, I get it: Some (maybe many) might disagree with Kanye West’s politics or, specifically in this case, his crass flexibility with one of the most profound black American songs of the 20th century. I get that. But whether you’re politically correct (allegedly), indifferent, or not too informed about the lynching and slave histories of the United States isn’t the point here.

Kanye West is pop artist. And by “pop” I mean popular, in the sense of what that word meant almost a half-century ago, not an underhanded way of saying lack of creativity or vision or worse still, today’s mainstream. Yes, Kanye West is a pop artist — one who’s pedigree is rooted deeply in the sampling tradition of hip hop/rap music. Does all of this buy him a pass? No. Does all of this excuse his appropriation of Nina Simone’s wonderful rendition of the beautifully dark and dreary “Strange Fruit?” No. But who said West needs a pass? And who says that he has to excuse himself from making use of his musical training, production skill set, or pop cultural influences and ideas? Moreover, who says he has to excuse himself or apologize for combining his training, skill set(s), and creativity in ways that he chooses, ways that he deems useful for exercising his imagination, emotions, or even observations — no matter how absurd — of culture and society?

Is Kanye West’s sampling of Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” vulgar? Perhaps. But then again, so is a lot of the sampling that makes up the hip hop/rap canon. Is West’s sampling of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” outrageous? Again, perhaps to some. But pop stars — especially those who are creatively capable and riding the high of decadent self-awareness, superficialness, and reality-t.v. like absurdity — are outrageous by the nature of the fame construct that they’ve created and are typically compelled to fuel. But, unlike many a pop star who’ve been lead by a thousand of wizards behind the curtain, this guy, Kanye West, knows his shit! Call him an asshole, say he’s arrogant, say he’s always looking for attention, tell him he’s a fake genius. He’s no doubt heard it all before. Still, the man is an artist. Or if you like, he’s an artiste. Again, that doesn’t give him a pass. But that also doesn’t mean he has to be bound by convention, especially when the art of sampling, by its nature, has the power to transform and reconceptualize convention. So, however you fancy him, Kanye West is a student of music history and music production (and, like it or not, pop culture). Which means, when it comes to the art of sampling, he’s schooled in the “cut”, the “rupture”, the “break”, the “sound-stab” and, of course, the (sped-up) “vocal sample”.

So is West’s use of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” shallow? Listen, if you’re critiquing “Blood on the Leaves” based on political science, or on the (misguided) notion that “Strange Fruit” is sacred, then maybe it is to you. Even as great and meaningful as it is, “Strange Fruit,” like any sound recording, is, in the end, source material to the sample-based musician. And one of the greatest traits that a sample-based musician or a rapper can have is objectivity. While I do not know if the idea for the song came before the beat was assembled or if the track was made prior to the beat, what is clear is that a piece of Simone’s vocals on “Strange Fruit” was flipped, sonically and conceptually, and transformed into something new. If you have a hard time with a talented, self-aware, outspoken, and vane music artist converting a line from one of Nina Simone’s better known recordings into a backdrop for rhyme-rants about 21st century bitch problems or the gaps of socio-economic status, cool. Maybe one of those cable talk shows can use your (useless) outrage. But don’t bother trying to describe “Blood on the Leaves” as a bad musical move, especially when you may not quite get the art of sampling.

Side note: I think Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of the most important Black American songs ever recorded. And often, when pinned down for my single favorite song, any genre, I offer “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Yet, if Kanye West, or DJ Premier, or any other sample-based musician flips it well, more power to them. Because, you see, in hip hop/rap, whether we like the political correctness of a sample flip or not, if it sounds dope, it’s dope!

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

September 09, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: "Keep It Thoro;" Prodigy and The Alchemist

A Menacing Apparatus; Song Personifies How Light and Heavy Textures Co-Mingle and Combine, Giving Beat a Powerful Sonic Impression


When particular names in beatmaking get tossed around with praise, it's not always easy to pinpoint exactly what all of the acclaim is for. But then, there are some names where it ain't hard to tell. For me, some names are heavy weight for a collection of songs, while others are big time for just one song in particular. Such is the case with beatmaker/producer, The Alchemist. Although The Alchemist has an impressive catalog, my favorite Alchemist beat is the joint that underscores Prodigy's (of Mobb Deep) "Keep It Thoro."

"Keep It Thoro" is an absolutely menacing audio composite. Aside from Prodigy's heavy New York slang-laced phrasings and dead-pan, masterfully confident delivery, it's the beatwork of The Alchemist that makes the song so defiantly hard. The core groove is built around a dusty, lounge-act sort of piano sample that jabs the exact same tone—in 1/8ths—for a count of 7 times, before there's a change in the phrase—a loose note kicks off, and moments before the sample loops back to itself.

For the bass parts, Alchemist doesn't go with a bass line. Instead, content with the rhythm of the hypnotic piano sample, he uses just three bass sound-stabs to anchor the groove. Two of the three bass-stabs are simply low- and high-pitch versions of the same exact sound stab; the third bass-stab—which Alchemist uses to slide into one of the others—has a slick, boom texture to it. Here, I want to point out that even though this third bass sound-stab is "different" from the others, its own texture and sonic qualities actually makes it fit perfectly with the other two bass-stabs. Alone, these other two bass-stabs are very understated. But by balancing out their spacing, and NOT overusing them, Alchemist positions them as vital pieces of the overall sonic composite.

Historical Analysis and Experience

Some beatmakers might not—at first—understand The Alchemist's arrangement of higher tones with lower ones, but reality is, this technique of clashing textures and levels is one of the most fundamental mainstays of the beatmaking tradition. Such a technique was first (necessarily) implemented with hip hop/rap's earliest DJs, who were charged with the task of mixing songs—using turntables and a DJ mixer—with varying tones, textures, and tempos. In order to mix such songs in what was then known as the "hip hop DJ style," these early sound architects learned to highlight the use of repetition in the songs they were playing and mixing, focusing specifically on the "breaks" of each song that could further be extended through even more repetition—that is to say, looping, via various turntable tricks like the "backspin" or "the spin-back."

So on "Keep It Thoro," The Alchemist is acutely aware of the fact that it is the repetitive nature of the sampled piano phrase that actually makes the bass parts sound even more pronounced; which, in turn, gives the overall track a "booming" sonic impression.

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

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

"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy, produced by The Alchemist

"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy (Official music video)

December 10, 2012

Flipping Samples Without Auto-Chop

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 19, 2012

Boom Bap Can't Die; It's in the DNA

If You're Planning on Abandoning Boom Bap Because You Think It's Less Viable, You Should Reconsider


Tripmaster, a regular BeatTips reader, left a great comment for an article that I wrote last year, "Mainstream, High-Concept Approach to Beatmaking Scuttles Hip Hop". In his comment, he mentioned a debate that he had with a friend regarding whether or not boom bap is dead. He argued, and rightfully so, that "boom bap will never die." Still, he also wondered if he was perhaps "out of place" for maintaining his connection to boom bap. I posted a reply comment for Tripmaster, and I thought posting it here as an article would be beneficial for other BeatTips readers. Thus, here's Tripmaster's original comment, followed by my extensive reply.

"this was a great piece. thank you for the much needed reassurance. sometimes i can't help but wonder if i'm holding myself back for not wanting to conform to the current vernacular in pop music. still though, sometimes i feel like that out of place old 40 year old glam rocker who's stuck in the 80's. i had a debate with a friend of mine regarding whether or not boom bap is dead. i argued that boom bap will never die, but being the huge fan of dubstep/glitch hop that he is, my buddy begged to differ." —Tripmaster

My reply:

My mantra: Make the music you want! Every music form has its own tradition and sub-traditions, and it's up to each musician to determine what they will embrace. That being said, conformity, particularly the kind that leads one to simply abandon the core aesthetics of the tradition that they're working in, is also a choice.

You should never question yourself for adhering to styles, sounds, and principles that helped make hip hop/rap music the great tradition that it is. In the case of boom bap, the notion of it ever dying is counter intuitive. Boom bap is a concrete style and sound of hip hop/rap; it's not a fragile fad piggy-backing off of hip hop/rap! Boom bap, in its broader meaning, encompasses a distinct approach, similar to the ragtime (style) usually associated with jazz. But unlike the once popular ragtime, a style and form closely associated with jazz that is all but non-existent today, boom bap is so embedded into beatmaking's lexicon and hip hop's/rap's lyrical dimension that it can never die.

Although there are, and will continue to be, "off-shoots" of hip hop/rap music, these derivative styles will never overtake the fundamental styles and approaches of hip hop/rap. That we still honor particular rhymers and beatmakers, that new beatmakers and rhymers admittedly echo the sounds, styles, and approaches of beatmakers and rhymers from 20 years! ago is something that speaks to the durability of hip hop/rap's core aesthetics. By comparison, it's worth noting that ragtime did not remain as a "go-to" style and form for 20 years; however, its chief practitioners, Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin, continued to be revered by jazz musicians long after the form was displaced as a "go-to" (if you will) style. Boom bap was not displaced; there are simply other styles and forms that beatmakers can choose. Indeed, today, boom bap still exists as the chosen "go-to" style and form of hundreds of thousands of beatmakers around the globe.

With regards to dubstep, I think it's cool, I like it. It's not mutually exclusive to boom bap—both can be enjoyed. But the overall reach of dubstep isn't necessarily rooted in a hip ho/rap lineage. Dubstep, though it relies mostly on the same electronic music production tools as boom bap (drum machines, samplers, turntables, etc.), is a different beast altogether; one with its own direction, popularity, and lease on life. So a consideration of the death of boom bap, based on the fondness of the life of dubstep, is misguided. Point is, boom bap—as an approach, outlook, stylized slant, etc.—is intertwined with hip hop's/rap's identity in a way that assures that it will be in use for as long as there is something known as "hip hop/rap". In other words, boom bap is transcendent; no one era after the '80s can contain it, but all can claim it.

Finally, remember this: The "mainstream" music climate says more about what the purported major media gatekeepers (on radio, broadcast television, print and online publications, etc.) and major record labels feel can safely be pushed and sold to the masses than it does about quality music, or what beatmaking styles and forms that are prioritized by beatmakers around the world. So make the music that you want, using the styles and forms that you want, in the way you want. If for you that means sticking with boom bap, go for it! You're in good company, and there's an audience that prefers it.

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

September 08, 2012

BeatTips Sample Flip Award: Eric “Vietnam” Sadler: Leaders of the New School – “Sobb Story”

Poly-Sample Sound Collage Laced with Agreeable Rhythms


James Brown’s album Black Caesar (the sound track to the motion picture Black Caesar) is a staple in many DJs and beatmakers record collections. (I have three copies of this album myself). And no matter how many times I listen to it (every once and a while, I take it for a straight-through spin), I always learn and hear something new. I suspect this has been the case for many beatmakers over the years, as the songs on this album have been sampled and flipped numerous times.

Now without mentioning the name of the actual song that was sampled (find the album and listen for the song), this BeatTips Sample Flip Award goes to veteran beatmaker (producer) and Bomb Squad (Public Enemy) alum Eric “Vietnam” Sadler for his beatwork on the Leaders of the New School song “Sobb Story.”

Sadler’s beat features the Bomb Squad’s signature poly-sample collage sound. There’s the ever-present break-beat running in the background , sound effects, ruptures, and cuts. And, of course, there’s the primary sample for which the beat is built around. True to the Bomb Squad’s signature, Sadler combines the primary sample and the backing break-beat in a way that has
two distinct rhythms merging as one. This is DJ style beat matching at its best—no software program correcting the tempo (“Sobb Story” was released in 1991) and stretching everything to fit neatly, just Sadler’s great sense of timing and a knack for blending or creating cross rhythms.

Leaders of the New School – “Sobb Story”

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

August 28, 2012

It's Never *Just* a Loop

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


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

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

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

What Should You Sample?

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

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

What Section or Part Should You Sample?

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

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

So, How Do You Sample It?

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

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

What about the pitch question?

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

Did somebody say chopping?

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

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

Which Way to Go with the Drums?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" by Sa'id

The Jacksons - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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

March 24, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles are "Inspired" to Be Dope

As DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles Prepare to Release their Heavily Anticipated Album Kolexxxion, Here's a Closer Look at One of their Recent Gems


Feeling, more than anything else, is what draws me into a piece of music. Beats and lyrics can do many things, but if they don't have feeling, they're missing something crucial. Over the years, there's only been about a handful of beatsmiths and rhymers that consistently offer feeling in their music. Among those, DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles (AKA Freddie Foxxx) have always stood at the head of the class. And by all indications of their pre-album EP and pre-drops of songs from their album Kolexxxion (due for release this upcoming Monday, March 26th), Kolexxxion will not only be smoldering with feeling, it's poised to be one of the strongest releases in recent years.

In honor of the forthcoming release of Kolexxxion, I wanted to do a MusicStudy of one of the pre-album EP (Stoodiotyme) cuts, "Inspired By Fire". After the MusicStudy, I've also included the Bumpy Knuckes f. Nas "Turn up the Mic" DJ Premier remix that was just leaked.
Here's the MusicStudy...

DJ Premier is at his best with these type of beats. Here, as he's done so well in the past, he captures the urgency that’s embedded in street-level rap music. Working from a formula of converting beauty to gritty back to beauty, he masterfully takes a beautiful string passage and converts its harmonic, sonically warm quality into a rhythmic chamber that echoes sinisterly every time it repeats. Keep in mind, no two beatmakers loop sounds the exact same way; listen closely to how the main sampled phrase lands with the start of the drum measure. That looping style and sense of timing is a staple of all of Preem's beats.

And with such a complete composite execution of the arrangement of the samples (and cut-offs), you almost miss the raw perfectness of the mellow bass EQ on the samples, and, of course, the drums. The drums feature a hi-hat in sprinkling mode, almost like it’s chiming in back and forth. And the snare sounds like a rock rain dropping on a glass surface. Please understand: You can not emulate this sound with quantizing or some other plug-in or similar effect or some one-size-fit all stock sound; this sound is customized and part of Premier’s whole style, rhythm, repertoire, and sound.

The next thing that struck me about "Inspired by Fire" was the swing of the beat. The Swing on this joint is severe, it moves along with a shuffle and pull feel. Each time the snare lands, it draws you in even more. This is especially worth pointing out because Premier doesn't rely on any special quantize effects or the like for the sense of swing that all of his beats contain. Premier's sense of timing and, subsequently, swing, comes from his training and understanding as a DJ—mixing, blending, cutting records together, etc. (In The BeatTips Manual, I extensively discuss how DJ'ing fostered the art of beatmaking.)

Incidentally, this is just one reason that I always champion the DJ and the legacy of the art of DJ'ing. A background in DJ'ing gives a beatmaker, particularly a sample-based beatmaker, a tremendous advantage in every area of the art of beatmaking. But even if you have no experience as a DJ, you can still improve your timing by closely listening to records with multiple rhythms like early funk, soul, British ska, etc. Either way, keep in mind that an over reliance on timing correction and similar effects will make your music sound quite mechanical and forced, less natural and devoid of a strong sense of swing.

As for the rhyme on "Inspired by Fire"...
Here's what you get with every Bumpy Knuckles rhyme: Straight talk and skill. Bumpy's wordplay is never obscure, he always aims to be understood. Sure, it's "stick-up-kid-smooth", but it's never hallow machismo. Every line is a sure-shot piece of who he really is. That's the refreshing thing about any verse that Bumpy spits.

Furthermore, Bumpy's rhymes are always non-pretentious; and he's not concerned with punchlines for punchlines sake. He doesn't try to represent anything he doesn't have a solid, real-life understanding of. Plus, Bumpy rolls through each verse, never looking backwards or gawking at the power of the previous line. Instead, he treats each line as a reference to his life and hard-earn career status. He’s been there before, and like any professional knows, with every solid achievement, you act like you been there before—no need for overstatements... Again, this is another refreshing quality about a Bumpy Knuckles rhyme. And this especially important now, a time where many contemporary rappers pause and stare at their own punch lines...

Finally, there's the flow. It's actually a well-skilled, clever mish-mash of mutiple flows and wordplay, tempered with a late ‘80s survivor's confidence and Bumpy’s own unique method of suspending the speed of his delivery. And we're not just talking street smart but broad intelligence:
“…pen a career like Dunbar/one bar, grown man tone/nobody does it alone/”
Trust your ability to not trust/But should never fall victim to not trustin'/...
That's a Jewel.


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

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles - "Inspired By Fire"

Bumpy Knuckles feat. Nas - "Turn Up the Mic" (DJ Premier Remix), from the DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles album Kolexxxion

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

March 21, 2012

Reactions to the “Otis” Beat Demonstrate Hyper Scrutiny

The Night “Otis” Leaked, Twitter Hashtag Replies Revealed Something Alarming About the Nature of Today's Beat Critiques


As the Jay-Z/Kanye West song “Otis” leaked and bulldozed its way to trending topic status on Twitter last year, I was surprised (well, actually not really) by the level of vitriol and indirect shots that were brought against it by loads of beatmakers (producers) against the “Otis” beat (produced by Kanye West). In my quick, non-scientific poll and survey of a substantial number of “Otis” tweets that night, it was obvious that most people liked “Otis”; while some people thought that is was simply OK; and still, a small minority disliked it. But whatever the consensus was or wasn’t, one thing was clear from a beatmakers perspective: Many beatmakers were alarmingly critical of the beat that night.

Among beatmakers you will find some of the most opinionated music makers in the world. Beatmakers scrutinize the beats of fellow musicians differently than the average hip hop/rap fan and music listiner, because beatmakers are usually keenly aware of any number of methods and processes that can go into the creation of any beat. We know the styles, sounds, and techniques that are being referenced. And because hip hop/rap music, perhaps more then any other twentieth-century American popular music form, is infused with the ethos of competition, many beatmakers often listen to beats with a competitor’s ear. In many ways, this is why we rate, or dare I say judge, beats on a set of metrics that are different than most people. So I can understand why so many beatmakers took to Twitter that night and offered up their opinions on the way in which that sampling of an Otis Redding recording was rendered.

But a closer look at the pulse of the “Otis” hashtag replies from last year revealed something among sample-based beatmakers that I found to be alarming: hyper-scrutiny. Although all sample-based beatmakers interpret and perceive source material differently (and, subsequently, the samples that they cull from said source material), I don’t believe that any one interpretation can automatically be deemed superior to another. When there’s two flips of the same recording to compare, we can all toss our vote for which flip of a sample was dopest. For instance, Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” was sampled and flipped by a number of beatmakers, but which one was best? I suppose a healthy debate is suitable there.

But with regard to the “Otis” beat, the debate among beatmakers on Twitter that night centered around the way in which the “Otis” sample was used—many considered it to be a weak flip of a great Otis Redding song. Some maintained that it didn’t have enough chops. Some added that it didn’t use the best parts of the Otis Redding song. Some thought that it didn’t incorporate enough changes. And some believed that the drums weren’t as good as they could’ve been. Thus, those who lobbied such critiques found that they just couldn’t bring themselves to say that the beat was dope, for lack of how the sample was flipped. Yeah, O.K., riiigght… Thankfully, however, there were some who did reply that the "Otis" beat was dope. Simply stated.

What Makes a Dope Sample-Based Beat?

The dopeness of a sample-based beat isn’t based on the number of chops that it includes; or the number of different changes that it incorporates; or how many different drum sounds that it features. The dopeness of a sample-based beat (and a non-sample-based beat for that matter) is based on how it sounds—how the combination of samples, the drumwork, and any other elements soundtogether. A dope beat is a dope beat, no matter how simple or complex it appears to be! Of course, “dope” is subjective. But if the beat inspired decent enough rhymes from Jay-Z (one of the best lyricists to date) and Kanye West (a very capable rapper in his own right), can’t we all at least agree that the “Otis” beat was dope? And if we are to agree that dope beats make for dope songs (usually), then why was “Otis” not celebrated simply for that, instead of being knocked by many for what the beat could've of been?

Beatmakers, like other artists, have strong opinions. Some of these opinions are fair and articulate, some are unfair and bizarre, some are snobbish and narrow, and some are just down-right petty. Either way, I find it disheartening and non-constructive (to say the least) when many sample-based beatmakers discredit a beat as something on the lower end of the art of sampling simply because they believe that they could have flipped the sample better. This is especially troubling when the beat they’ve sought to discredit actually celebrates sampling in a good light, using a song by Otis Redding, a great soul man that unfortunately a large number of beatmakers aren’t necessarily familiar with today.

And of What About the Use of an Otis Redding Sample and it’s Inspiration?

Here, I also wanted to comment on what some non-beatmakers had to say about using an Otis Redding song and, specifically, the name “Otis” for the likes of what Jay-Z and Kanye West did with it. The use of the name “Otis” and/or a sample of his music as “not deserving”, as one tweet from that night put it, is an ill-informed statement. Let’s be clear: At the base of it, hip hop/rap music converts other forms of music (I discuss this in-depth in The BeatTips Manual. When it comes to sampling, nothing and no one is above being sampled, reconceptualized, and transformed! Sample-based beatmakers are only limited by their imaginations and their understanding of the art form. Whether the final result is dope or not is a separate matter subject to its own debate. But the self-righteous, soap-box statements thrown against “Otis” are far reaching and misguided.

Again: Like the beat, like the song, or dislike it. But do so on it’s merits and intended effect. The notion of calling out a misuse of a sample of Otis Redding (who admittedly I’ve long been a big fan of) as a slick, sacrilegious pop music move is just plain overkill. Relax. Because like the Jay-Z/Kanye West “Otis” song or not, Otis Redding gained millions of new listeners as a result of it. And that’s gotta be a good thing. Inspiration always is…

And think about this: J Dilla’s responsible for creating some of the most engaging music ever recorded. But the fact that he and his music was able to inspire countless beatmakers and introduce scores of people to the art of sampling will perhaps be his most important legacy to the art of beatmaking. I was immediately reminded of this that night I heard what was then the “Otis” leak off of the Jay-Z/Kanye West album WatchThe Throne.

Bottom Line

Scrutiny is good; competition is good. But I’m not sure if hyper-scrutiny advances the art of beatmaking. Be a fan, and a listener… Critique a beat/song fairly when necessary, but also support a beat/song when the art of sampling is being celebrated.

The music below is presented for the purpose of scholarship.

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

February 27, 2012

BeatTips Jewel Droppin': An Interview with Upright, January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Winner

TBC Member Upright on Music Process and How Community Sparks Creativity

Interview by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

California based beatmaker Upright is a humble, thoughtful music maker who takes the art of beatmaking seriously. After years of studying the art form and sharpening his craft, he as emerged with a style and sound that he's finally pleased with. Find out how one of The BeatTips Community's own has developed his skill and hit on a new direction.

BeatTips: Where are you from, Upright?

Upright: I was born in LA [California]. But right now I’m living out in San Bernardino. Basically, about an hour and half from LA.

BeatTips: How did you first get involved with hip hop/rap music? What drew you in?

Upright: Well, in the ‘90s, I was pretty much a big, big, big fan of East Coast hip hop. So basically, that’s where it really came alive at. Man, so many artists. But yeah, back in the ‘90s is when I first got hip to hip hop. I was probably like 16 or so.

BeatTips: Who put you on to it? Friends or family?

Upright: Friends, definitely friends.

BeatTips: So describe you in the ‘90s.

Upright: I would go to the club scene, you know, just like a hip hop dancer. So in the ‘90s, I was dancing and just listening to a lot of music. And that’s really how the love for hip hop kind of started.

BeatTips: Wow, a dancer. So what were the first hip hop songs you heard?

Upright: The first song I heard was the Geto Boys. And that was really like, uh, gangsta rap kind of, you know. So Geto Boys. That was like my first taste of hip hop. And I don’t know where I got that from. And then from there it was like Brand Nubian. So I went directly into East Coast stuff. I stayed with the East Coast phase for a long time, man. I wasn’t really too much into anything West Coast. Even though I lived on the West Coast. Not that it wasn’t good; I just wasn’t in to it.

BeatTips: What was it about the East Coast that you preferred over West Coast Music?

Upright: It seemed like the rap was more…it seemed like it had more substance, more style, more just creativity. The beats sounded better, you know, to me; that was to me. And out here on the West Coast, man, it was more like, the big guys like Cube, there was a lot of them. But they were mainly into like gangsta rap. See, me being on the West Coast, I was trying to get away from that type of mentality, you know what I mean?

BeatTips: Exactly.

Upright: So the East Coast, the East Coast was more about lyric flippin’, you know, flippin’ lyrics and just the skill behind the rapper more so than the gangsta lifestyle.

BeatTips: You mentioned beats. When did you start? How long have you been making beats?

Upright: I started making beats about 13 years ago.

BeatTips: How old were you at the time?

Upright: I was 23 when I first started producing, trying to produce beats. And I got started on the little—man, it’s crazy, it was the little, uh, Sony Playstation. They had this little thing called Music Generator. And that’s really where I started trying to make beats. It all kind of started from there. And I was always a guitar player. And it kind of came together because I would want to play my guitar and kind of have a beat to play my guitar to. So that was kind of in there, too, a little bit.

BeatTips: Wait. You were playing guitar before? How long were you playing guitar before you started making beats?

Upright: I was playing guitar, that was probably about four years before. No, no, no, you know, when I was about 14, I got the guitar. But I didn’t play it much. I had it since I was 14, but a few years before I started making beats, I started playing the guitar heavy. I was playing the guitar real heavy before I really started making beats. And then I started making beats, once I felt like I had a little bit under my belt on the guitar. I wanted to move on to something else. So that’s when the beatmaking came into it.

BeatTips: That’s dope right there. How did you make that transition? What made you say, ‘You know what, I’m going to put the guitar on the side for a minute, and I’m try this out?’

Upright: Man, it was just that—really, it was the availability of that PlayStation game…I mean, I was playing a lot of PlayStation at the time, and just sitting around playing my guitar. And then that game popped up, and I was like, ‘Man, this game is…’ ‘Cuz really, it was like a production tool. But it was in the form of a game, you know what I mean. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Man, this right here is something I could probably use,’ you know. So I sat down with that, and was really getting into it… I didn’t know that it was really like a starting tool, you know. I really didn’t know about your MPCs and your SP12s and stuff like that. I really had no idea that there was real, like, where I would even go to try to make a beat, as far as hardware. Earlier in my hip hop, like just when I was listening to hip hop and going to clubs dancing, and I saw this one cat. He hand a drum machine; at the time, it looked so complex to me. I didn’t even know what it really was, how you could even use something like that. I figured, man, you gotta have all kinds of money to get something like that. But then years later, I came across that little Sony Playstation thing, and that was it for me.

BeatTips: So did you have a teacher, or did you just start doing everything on your own?

Upright: I just started doing everything on my own. And for years, I really didn’t—I was trying to do my own thing, so I messed with that [Music Generator] for a good couple of years, just that by itself, before I even began to branch out and really try to get some real equipment.

BeatTips: Wow. Two years. So what was the first setup that you had?

Upright: The first real setup I had was Sony Acid. I was messing around with Acid in a computer, just a computer a friend gave me. And I was playing around with that. But I couldn’t really figure out the software side. So it was kind of frustrating, because I knew that I wanted to stay software at the time, because I had came from that game. And that was cool for about a year a so. And then my brother, he was into house music, and he was starting to buy a lot of hardware. He had an old Yamaha drum machine, and then he had this crazy sequencer, man, it just looked like a straight typewriter, like a computer keyboard. He told me that was his sequencer, and I was blown away. But he was really the first one that got me into hardware. So I went out and bought a Korg Electribe (sp). That was the first real piece of hardware that I had.

BeatTips: What’s the Korg Electribe?

Upright: The Korg Electribe, it’s basically like, it kind of looks like a 808 a little bit. Or no, you know what, maybe more like the 303. Roland had a bass module; it kind of looked like that…It’s basically just a synth, and you know, it had drum sounds in there, too. You could program it and do all kinds of stuff in there.

BeatTips: And how long did you rock with that?

Upright: I rocked with that—I had that in my main setup for a while. I got that in ’04. And I had that up until 2009.

BeatTips: So wait. You were using the Korg Ectribe along with Acid? Or at that time, had you left Acid alone?

Upright: Yeah, I had left Acid alone. I was just messing around with that by itself. And I wasn’t even really, you know, making anything…I was really just trying to figure out what hardware was at that point. And since my brother got me into hardware, he had so much hardware. We would MIDI up his machine with my machine and then run it into a mixer, and we would just kind of collaborate on music. So it wasn't really hip hop, it was his house stuff with what I was trying to do.

BeatTips: So your brother taught you a lot about music-making in general?

Upright: He taught me a lot about hardware, how to MIDI-up stuff, how to connect two modules. And so from there…he had a sequencer, and I needed something more. Then I remembered, my mind went back to the ‘90s, I was like, 'Man, I can sample!' My buddy said I ought to get some records. And I was like, 'Yeah, records!' So when I got some records, I needed something more than just that Electribe because I can’t—No, actually, you know what, that’s backwards. He was telling me that I need to sample. So then my mind went back to the '90s. So I went and bought a SP606. Which was like a kind of knock-of the, really, the MPC. Roland was just trying to knock-of the MPC. So then I realized that the 606 wouldn’t really chop, it wouldn’t chop like the MPC would. So I got rid of the 606 and I got the MPC 2500.

BeatTips: And what did you notice when you got the 2500? What happened to you as a music maker and your whole understanding of beats?

Upright: When I had the 2500, I was starting to really get into sampling records. So I started realizing that there was a lot more control. Like, you could take a sample and really manipulate it and do a lot with it. That’s what the MPC first introduced me to—so much I could do with just recording a sample. Because before that, I hadn’t really tapped into what could be done with just a piece of audio. I was just programming beats and trying to make synth lines and stuff like that. But once I got the MPC, I started realizing you can take a sample and manipulate it and flip it and take it to another level and really make it your own. So that’s what the MPC really opened me up to.

BeatTips: And at that time, what were the things that you were studying? As far as like, people, tools, books, anything? How were you learning?

Upright: Well, at that time, man, I wasn’t really–I still didn’t have a direction that I was trying to go. I know I wanted to sample, but I didn’t know...I didn’t think to go back to some of the music I was listening to. I didn’t really think to do that until a while later. But at the time…my mindset was like, O.K., I’m going to take these records and do my own thing. As I was doing that, I noticed that things just didn’t sound like I wanted them to, you know. It was a sample, I was flippin’ it, but something was missing. And I think what that was...I didn’t have any structure, any inspiration.

BeatTips: So where did you find that inspiration and structure at?

Upright: Well, I really, I just started dissecting people like Kev Brown. He was one of the first ones that I really was like, 'Man, this cat’s pretty fresh right here.' I started dissecting what he was doing and just getting inspiration off of people like that.

BeatTips: When did things start to click for you? Like when did you start to get the hang of it?

Upright: Man, to be honest, I think that was like last year! It hasn’t been that long since I really felt like things are starting to click. And for me, I guess it was slower because I didn’t go to people and try to look at, like, ‘O.K., what is this dude doing? What makes his tracks dope?’ until recently. And then what really brought it together for me, man, was the EQ’ing and compression. Cuz I had my drums, and I’d listen to other people’s tracks, and I’d be like, 'Man, they sound so much fatter, so much more.' It still didn’t click with me that it was the drum track that was really driving hip hop. I don’t know why, man, it just never clicked with me. But my buddy, Matt Hoffman, and he does more like his own compositions of rock and stuff like that, I would listen to him and his stuff sounded so dynamic. And I was like, 'Why does his track sound like that?' I could hear everything real good. And the drums were crisp and the sounds were crisp. And so, just talking with him, he introduced me to compression and EQ’ing and stuff like that. And I started studying that stuff. He would tell me, “EQ this and compress that,” and I really didn’t know what he was talking about. So I started looking into that, then I would go back and listen to people’s beats, then I put 2 and 2 together.

BeatTips: What’s your current setup?

Upright: Right now, I’d say my main piece is Reason 6. That’s my main tool. And then I have the Maschine, too. I can just stand alone with Reason 6, but Maschine is pretty dope, too. And then I have the MPD. I had the MPC 2500, but when I saw what Reason could do, I had to check out Reason. Once I started messing with Reason, I realized that basically everything that I can do in the 2500, I can do in Reason. So I got rid of the 2500.

BeatTips: So translate your workflow for how you use Reason 6, based off of your experience using the 2500. How does that translate?

Upright: So like a comparison between those two?

BeatTips: No, not necessarily a comparison, but how are you able to achieve on Reason 6 what you used to achieve on the 2500?

Upright: O.K., I see what you’re saying. Well, basically, the 2500—you know you could slice up samples and then it had 16 levels. So those were the two things that I was like, 'As long as I can do that, then I’m going to be O.K.' So I had to get Recycle. That was the thing. You chop up in Recycle. And then from there, once it’s a Rex file, it’ll go in the Rex player. So there’s your chops right there. And then anything you have chopped up, you can throw into one of the other samplers, and get basically your 16 levels. So for me, it was those two things; and then being able to record whatever I want. My turntable runs right into my computer. If I need to record a guitar, bow, it’ll go right into Reason like it would the MPC.

BeatTips: What interface are you using? How are you going into your computer?

Upright: I’m just going through a ProFire. It’s a little M-Audio interface, ProFire 610. It has 4 ins, MIDI, and 4 outputs.

BeatTips: And what are you using to control Reason with?

Upright: I control Reason with a MPD 32. And then I have a MIDI keyboard, an Ediorl M30…the MIDI keyboard for playing like chords and stuff like that.

BeatTips: So break down your music process. Are you systematic or more organic?

Upright: Lately, I’ve been real systemic. Because I feel like if I can get the melody that I like first, if I can really feel the melody, that’s what I want there first. Because I know I want to bring the drums in hard…If I get a good melody that I like, then I know that behind that I can bring a drum track in that’s going to hit and compliment the melody. So I’ll pull all my drums off of vinyl. That’s where I start. I’ll get my melody going, then I’ll find a break on a vinyl record. And then find one that matches that melody, that goes good with that melody. And then I’ll chop up the drums and lay the drums down; and basically that’s the foundation. Then from there, I’ll probably add something subtle or light on top of that to kind of compliment the groove. And then from there, I’ll got to the bass line.

BeatTips: Let’s go back to Recycle for a moment. With software, have you found that it takes you longer or just about the same time?

Upright: Uh…[thinks long about it] To me, it seems faster, because if I have an idea, I know everything is in the computer already, pretty much. Unless I want to get something from another record and throw it in there, too. The only thing that I’d say is the extra step is when I have to chop something up. So that’s kind of why I got the Maschine. Because the Maschine is just like a chopping beast. Where the MPC 2500 could have 64 slices, the Maschine can have 4,096 slices! You can put one Rex file on one pad of the Maschine. A Rex file can be 92 slices, so now you have 92 slices on one pad.

BeatTips: But tell me what’s the benefit of that? How have you used that capability before. Give me example.

Upright: So you can drop a Rex file on one pad, and then use your keyboard to play that melodies and those chops, or whatever you have on that Rex file on that pad. And so that’s just one pad. So instead of having, you know, a whole MPC dedicated to your melody or something, let’s say you chop something up that extensively to where you have all those chops on there, now that’s just on one pad. I have all those other pads for whatever else I may need them for. The Maschine is crazy because I could put a compressor on one pad and run my chops through this pad over here to pad 16 in group A. It’s just a whole nother work flow on that thing. That’s why I got the Maschine, to speed up my chopping. Because when I want to chop and get something going, and I don’t want to start in Reason, I’ll open Maschine and do it that way. And then I’ll export everything out of Maschine and drop it over into Reason. But regardless, I always finish everything in Reason. No matter where it starts, the final product is gonna go into Reason.

BeatTips: So if you have all of those slices on one pad, how do you take out, let’s say, just two or three that you want to use? Do you take them out and assign them to a different pad or what do you do?

Upright: Yep, yep! You can take ‘em out. So like if I have a little sound that I want to accentuate or do something to, flip it, reverse, whatever, you can just extract just that one sample and put it on another pad and do whatever you want to it.

BeatTips: Clearly, listening to your music, you use a combination of sample-based and non-sample-based approaches, but are you more of a sample-based beatmaker or non-sample-based? What do you consider yourself?

Upright: I consider myself…If I had to choose one, I’d say sample-based. If I couldn’t use any synths, I’d do my bass lines, grab a little piece and just make my bass lines like that.

BeatTips: So you’re probably more like a hybrid?

Upright: Hybrid! Definitely! Definitely!

BeatTips: About your drums, you mentioned that you sample them. Do you use sample packs as well or stock sounds from your gear?

Upright: No, I really don’t get into those kinds of sounds. I generally just keep it records because I want to have that grit, that grit sound that hip hop sound that you can only get from when your drums come off records. So that’s what I really, really want to have in my tracks. One example of what I had to do lately is, I sampled a kick and a snare from a break, then I chopped it up. Once I got it in the track, I realized the kick wasn’t cutting through like I wanted to. So what I did, I kept that kick there, but I blended in something that had some more high frequencies that could punch through, you know what I mean?

BeatTips: Right.

Upright: So it still had that underlying grit sound, but the kick was cutting through because of that little tiny layer that I had on top. So I do stuff like that. But really try to keep it vinyl-based drums. And there was one tip you gave on BeatTips that really took me to the next level, man. When you talked about sampling just stuff, you know you were talking about, take your microphone and hit on boxes and do this and that. And I hadn’t really considered that, man. That took me to a whole nother level. That helped me to really branch out, and see that there was more to defining your sound. You know, and how when you talked about how to make your snares. I read that, too on the BeatTips website, and I was like, 'Man, this is some really good stuff right here.'

BeatTips: Do you sample your drum sounds dry or do you EQ or amp them up in any way?

Upright: I sample them straight dry. I keep them where their way below clipping, way below being hot at all. So once their in there, and they sound good just like they are on the record, at that point I’ll EQ them and do different stuff to them. You know, maybe pitch them down, or depending on what it takes. You know, whatever it takes to get them to sound like my ear is feeling it should sound.

BeatTips: What’s the signal flow that you’re using when you sample?

Upright: Turntable going into a DJ mixer. It’s just a Numakr PT-200, nothing special, just a basic mixer. I think it’s their bottom of the line “cheapy” mixer.

BeatTips: From your Numark, where do you got to?

Upright: That runs into the computer interface and then straight into the computer…Then I sample it into either Reason or Maschine, either one of those.

BeatTips: What determines whether you’re going to sample using Reason or the Maschine?

Upright: Really, it’s just what I feel like, where I feel like I want to take it. Like, where my inspiration is feeling like I want to go. So if I feel like in Maschine...they have like different synths…so if I feel like I want to use a VST, I’ll go to Maschine because Reason doesn’t host VSTs…you know, Massive or whatever, Absynth, or something like that. But if I feel like I want to use some Reason synths, then I’ll go into Reason.

BeatTips: Tell me about your main creative influences. Be it music or any other creative art forms. Specifically, what and who are they, and how do you incorporate them into your music?

Upright: I listen to, man, it’s a lot of stuff. A lot of my influence comes from what’s there on the record. But a lot of times, you know, I’ll just vibe on what other people are doing and just kind of let that spark my creativity. Because I feel like…If you separate yourself from what people are doing, then you really can’t grow as an artist. And that’s really what I feel like. So basically, it’s a community. So if you’re part of a community, the community sparks everybody. You spark off one another. That’s like big for me. Like, if you have an artist over here, and he’s creating by himself, you know, his stuff will be dope. But if you have five guys, and they’re really learning, and these five guys are kind of sparking each other, I feel like their art will go to a whole nother level, you know, than just the one dude by himself, you know what I mean. Because he knows only the techniques that he knows. And so you got these five dudes who know…You got five vibes, and five vibes are thinking five different ways. And so, you put all those methods together and all those guys will go to another level.

BeatTips: I completely understand. It’s similar to how bebop developed in jazz.

Upright: Yeah.

BeatTips: From the beginning, like when you first started, did you understand that beatmaking was an art form, or was it something you came to learn recently?

Upright: I do understand it’s an art form. Recently, I’ve come to learn that, within the past, let’s say…and I know it’s cliché to say, but Dilla, the Donuts album. Because that, for me, you know he was doing some pretty crazy stuff on there. And that’s when my mind kind of clicked. I mean, I know there’s a whole spew of people that have been doing stuff like that and being creative and being artistic before that. But when I heard that—and I’m not a huge Dilla fan—when I heard the Donuts album, I was like, 'Man, I can listen to this and really appreciate it for what it is.' It doesn’t have to have an MC on it. And I’m not in love with every track on there, but you know, that’s when I realized…there’s a lot of creativity in the expression just within the beat by itself.

BeatTips: Do you mix your own beats?

Upright: Yep.

BeatTips: What do you use?

Upright: I do everything right there in Reason. Reason 6 has that SSL 9000 emulator in there. So basically, it’s like a replica of the SSL 9000 mixing board. So I got real comfortable using that, man. And that’s where I mixed down everything.

BeatTips: Do you save a level of creativity for the mixing process?

Upright: Definitely! Definitely! Definitely! And to me, mixing is like real subjective. It’s like, one person my think, you know, “Your hi-hats are a little too loud.” But for me, I want them to really cut your ears in a certain section. And that’s the subjective part of mixing. Once you figure out what you’re doing, as far as mixing down your tracks, you can really put your touch or your creativity or your stamp, your signature, on the mixing process.

BeatTips: How did you find out about The BeatTips Community, and what made you join TBC?

Upright: I found about The BeatTips Community through Saint Joe. I was checking out his website…He had a list of websites that he likes, you know. And it had BeatTips there, and I hit it. And ever sense, man, it’s just been one of my favorites.

BeatTips: I appreciate that. And what made you ultimately join TBC?

Upright: Man, the level of insight, especially you. The way you break down your analysis; your perception of beatmaking, it’s just like you want to be around that, man.

BeatTips: And what was cool is that you joined TBC recently, and then you won the first battle of the new year. And you see how our battles get. So I definitely want to congratulate you on that again. And for your winning beat, “Bear Fruit,” that was a formidable composition. So tell me how that beat came about.

Upright: Basically, I got this old 45. Let me—I have the 45 right here. It’s Lee Davis, and it’s either “Two Ships Passing in the Night”…or “Everybody;” so it’s one of those two. I can’t remember, but there was an organ on there. So I got that organ and then…I chopped it up and laid those chops down. And then from there, I got the drums off a record and then laid the drums down. And I was doing that in the Maschine. And that bass line, I got that from Massive, that’s a Native Instruments synth.

BeatTips: You’re saying the bass parts? Because you played the bass line, right? Or was that whole bass line a phrase that you sampled?

Upright: No, no! I played that on the MIDI keyboard from Massive, the synth, Massive. So once I had those couple elements right there, I threw it over into Reason. And I started working from there. I sampled a shekere, well, I call it a cabasa, you know, it’s got the little beads on it. So I sampled that and then a couple of things, like a knock. And I layered the knock with the snare. And just kept building it...basically, adding little elements and tightening up the mix. And it was a wrap.

BeatTips: Coming back to your process, it sounds like you use the Maschine now to get your ideas going and to develop the main framework of where you want to go.

Upright: Definitely! I start a framework in Maschine, then shoot it over into to Reason and work out the rest of it there, you know, maybe add a few instruments.

BeatTips: Now, is that “Bear Fruit” beat an old beat or a recent beat?

Upright: Nah, I made it for that [BeatTips.com] beat battle.

BeatTips: Was it a late night joint or day time?

Upright: That was a late night joint, man, sure was.

Below is "Bear Fruit," the beat Upright won the January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle with.

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

"Bear Fruit" (prod. by Upright)

*To hear more of Upright's music, check out his SoundCloud page at: soundcloud.com/upright

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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