2 posts categorized "True Master"

October 28, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time

A Top Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose


NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, you can jump down to the rankings and click on the corresponding name for a helpful breakdown of each beatmaker.

Whenever lists of this sort appear, they’re generally presented with little or no serious discussion about the list beforehand. Perhaps that’s fine for pure entertainment purposes. But for readers to get the best learning experience from a review list of this kind, I believe there are a number of things that readers should know up front. Thus, I’d like to offer an important disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list and the criteria used to determine which beatmakers were added to it.

The Nature of this List

The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is one of the first sub-projects of the BeatTips Art of Beatmaking Education Project (ABEP) that I recently started. The fundamental purpose of the BeatTips ABEP is to help preserve, promote, and expand the beatmaking tradition of hip hop/rap music through a series of specialized projects. In this way, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is meant to serve as a discussion, MusicStudy, and general research portal.

Next, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time purposely omits the word “producer”, and here’s why. In the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, the term “producer” is often synonymously used to describe a beatmaker. But as I point out in my book The BeatTips Manual, this is not always appropriate particularly because the definition of “producer” can be murky: “Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. And although this description broadly covers every dimension of hip hop/rap music, the term hip hop production is used most commonly to refer to the making of the hip hop/rap instrumental — the beat. So technically speaking, a beatmaker, one who makes beats, is a hip hop producer; ergo, a beatmaker is a producer.” But “producer” is a loose term that can be used to describe anyone within the process of the final sound of a recording. Simply put, a beatmaker is someone who actually makes beats. A beatmaker can indeed be a producer; in fact, most double as both. (Further, being a beatmaker is not in anyway less noble than being a producer!) However, and this is a critical point, a producer need not be a beatmaker. Hip hop/rap music is littered with people who have “producer” credits, even though they never actually made (or assisted in the making of) any beats. Thus, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time List only includes beatmakers. Of course, each beatmaker on this list has also rightfully earned the title of producer.

There are four other important things to know about the nature of The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. First, the purpose of this list is to educate. Hopefully, new beatmakers will be introduced more appropriately to some prominent beatmakers that they’ve only heard about in passing. And beatmaking veterans will be reminded of just how far the beatmaking tradition has come. In either case, I’d like this list to prompt some serious exploration and reflection from readers. Preserving and expanding hip hop/rap’s beatmaking tradition requires historical examination, present-day review, future speculation, and, at times, constructive (helpful) debate.

Second, this isn't a list to appease anyone that I know personally. I can count a number of beatmakers as friends; and I’ve interviewed many well-known and lesser-known (but quite acclaimed) beatmakers. That aside, I’ve made no effort to show favoritism in the making of this list. My objectivity — and naturally subjectivity — in the making of this list was based on the catalog of work of each beatmaker that I seriously considered.

Third, this is not a list intended to be safe, so as to not offend anyone. Top lists of any kind tend to offend one group or another, so I'm all right with that. And certainly, a top 100 list would have given me enough coverage to include everybody’s favorite. Even a top 50 would have allowed more room for adding all of what many would consider to be the obvious names. Still, a top 30 list presents a challenge, especially when you consider beatmaking’s classic past and its mixed present. I’m not interested in gathering up an easy list of names. Instead, I want readers to seriously think, perhaps even broaden their own thoughts about how, why, and where they rank their favorite beatmakers.

Fourth, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time is not a "hottest in the game right now" list. I deeply respect longevity, particularly because it requires talent, drive, integrity, and hustle. I'm less interested on shining a light on just this moment in time. In fact, I believe all-time lists offer a better learning (and discovery) experience for readers. This is especially important for new beatmakers who are often less familiar with the names and critical works of earlier times.

The Criteria

When making the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list there were many different things that I considered, far too many to mention here. But there are eight main criteria that I used in making this list:

(1) Body of work. Without the work speaking for itself, there could be no serious consideration of any beatmaker who made this list. And while I did not deem it necessary that each beatmaker on the list had a massive catalog, the sheer number of beats (recognized and respected songs) of certain beatmakers could not be ignored. Therefore, a larger body of acclaimed work was appropriately given more preference. Also, special attention was paid to how many songs a beatmaker had within the cannon of hip hop/rap music, as well as whether or not a beatmaker contributed to the career of another pivotal hip hop/rap artist’s career. I should further add that the body of work that I've considered here is hip hop/rap only! Whether a beatmaker could or did produce music outside of the hip hop/rap genre had no bearing on where I ranked them with respect to hip hop/rap music. If I were ranking all-time horror film directors, it would be silly to include the comedic works of those directors as consideration in where they should be ranked. Likewise, neo-soul, drum-n-bass, dub step, etc. has no influence on a hip hop/rap ranking.

(2) Critical acclaim for a clearly distinguishable and/or signature sound. Preference was given (as I believe it should have been), to those beatmakers who either established their own well-recognized signature sound or contributed considerably to one or more of the eight distinct periods of beatmaking (In The BeatTips Manual, I examine and detail all eight periods).

(3) Minimum of at least three critically acclaimed (not just top sellers) songs, albums, collaborative works, etc. within the last 30 years. Part of being a standout in any art medium is recognition within the field. Sometimes this means big hits, other times it means well-respected songs that most skilled beatmakers know of or appreciate for what they are. And note: this particular criteria reflects the reality that some of the best in any given field are overlooked for various reasons. However, this does not diminish their work. Moreover, history is loaded with artists who didn’t get their proper appreciation until late in or well after their careers.

(4) The number of lyrically acclaimed rappers — in their prime — who rapped over their beats, and/or the subsequent “classic” songs created over the last 30 years. This is of particular importance for two reasons. First, it serves as proof as a particular beatmaker’s automatic place in the canon of hip hop/rap music. Second, it demonstrates the popularity and respect of a beatmaker among the best rhymers of their and other times.

(5) Real, not misperceived, impact and influence on other top beatmakers
of all time. Everybody has to be influenced by someone. But who influenced most of the beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list? Not surprisingly, many influenced each other.

(6) Real, not misperceived, overall impact (or likely impact) on the beatmaking tradition. In other words, what was their recognizable impact on the beatmaking tradition itself? For instance, what developments, styles, techniques, ideas, etc. did they contribute to the beatmaking tradition?

(7) Longevity. How long was a beatmaker able to maintain his career. For various reasons, some beatmaker’s careers were cut short, while others have continued to blossom since they first began. Thus, longevity wasn’t measured in a sheer number of years, but in terms of body of work within the frame of time a beatmaker made his name. Think of it this way: Jimi Hendrix’s entire body of work is just four years…

(8) Projected influence and impact on future beatmakers. Of course, this is speculation at best. No one can predict the future. Still, we can recognize the lasting contributions made to the beatmaking tradition by certain beatmakers.

One final note about this list: It’s not static. That is to say, the beatmaking tradition is constantly expanding, therefore, this list will necessarily need to be adjusted to account for new production output by beatmakers, as well as new research by myself. Thus, each new year, in September, a new BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list will be generated.

(Homage to DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa — the grandfathers of modern beatmaking.)

#30 • Statik Selektah

#29 • Dame Grease

#28 • True Master

#27 • Bink

#26 • The Beatnuts

#25 • DJ Khalil

#24 • Havoc (of Mobb Deep)

#23 • Rick Rubin

#22 • 9th Wonder

#21 • Alchemist

#20 • Buckwild

#19 • Madlib

#18 • Nottz

#17 • Prince Paul

#16 • DJ Paul and Juicy J

#15 • Kev Brown

#14 • Showbiz

#13 • DJ Tomp

#12 • Just Blaze

#11 • The Neptunes

#10 • Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest)

#9 • J Dilla

#8 • The Bomb Squad (Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Keith Shocklee, Chuck D)

#7 • Kanye West

#6 • Dr. Dre

#5 • Large Professor

#4 • Pete Rock

#3 • RZA

#2 • Marley Marl

#1 • DJ Premier

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

September 19, 2011

BeatTips Jewel Droppin': True Master Interview, Part 1

Truly a Master

Interview by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

True Master is a sharp dude. You can tell he calculates three (or more) moves ahead. He’s the type that could have excelled in a career business, had he not chosen hip hop/rap music as his primary vocation. He always speaks carefully and with a purpose. And his understanding and appreciation for beatmaking is among the deepest that I have seen yet.

Most well-known for his contributions to the Wu-Tang Clan collective, a closer examination of True shows you just why he’s been a big influence on many beatmakers and rappers. I got up with True Master for this interview in 2007; I held back widespread publication of it because I knew his words would prove to be timeless, and that they would become incredibly value to a new emerging breed of beatmakers. Hence, this is BeatTips Jewel Droppin' with True Master...

True Master’s setup: Ensoniq EPS 16, Ensoniq ASR 10

Notable credits: “Fish” – Ghostface Killah; “You Know What” – Black Rob; “The MGM” - Wu-Tang Clan; “Brooklyn Zoo” – Ol’ Dirty Bastard; “Heaterz” – Wu-Tang Clan; “Milk The Cow”, “Slang Editorial” – Cappadona; “Rec Room”, “Lovin’ You” – Inspectah Deck

BeatTips: Your music is sharp and never sloppy. You can never tell on your beats where the loop begins and ends.
True Master: Well, I don’t loop! Most of my career I haven’t looped. I’ve only cleared one song in my whole career, so far. And that was “Til It’s Gone”, on Busta Rhymes album, It Ain’t Safe No More. I sampled the hook. Other than that, all my tracks, I chop ‘em up and reassemble them. So it doesn’t have a looped sound. So it sound more of…like a live feel, not synthetic, ‘cuz I try to sit down and redo it so that it’s not too…Like, my sh*t is sharp, but at the same time, I try to make it a little off, you know what I mean. I try to create a live feel to the machine, somethin’ that’s more realistic… I break everything down into so many pieces…that art form in itself, a lot of people ain’t gonna go through that time. That’s how I started making beats, and I like to stay on that same thing, you know what I mean. Rather than deviate from that. I use my same old machine.

BeatTips: What did you start off using?
True Master: EPS 16 Plus. I got ASRs and all that. I made joints on the ASR, like “MGM” [Ghostface & Raekwon], you know, stuff like that. The EPS is an Ensoniq machine. They come in a rack mount or keyboard version. The keyboard version is more simpler to use. Even though the ASR 10 is supposed to be an upgrade to that model, the EPS 16 Plus is killin’ the ASR!

BeatTips: Did you use the EPS for that new Black Rob joint?
True Master: I used the EPS for that. And that’s an old ass machine. It’s the same machine, all the way from “Brooklyn Zoo” to now. Actually, it’s the same machine that RZA used to use when he made most of the classic Wu Tang sh*t. Before I had a machine, I used to go to his house and make beats on that machine. Then I bought the machine from him and I started f*ckin’ with it.

BeatTips: How do you approach drums? Do you sample from records or sample CDs?
True Master: I sample off of records, sample CDs. I got live drummers that let me sample snares and kicks. I’ve sampled off of T.V. programs, anywhere that I could find a snare or a kick.
One of my greatest inspirations and mentors is a brother named, Eazy Mo Bee. He taught me a lot with drums. ‘Cuz really, drums is the essence of the sh*t. You can have the illest sounds in the world, but the drums gotta have a certain feel to ‘em, you know what I mean. They gotta hit a certain way. Drums is the pulse and heartbeat of the whole sh*t. I give credit to Eazy Mo Bee, as well as RZA, for inspiring me. But Eazy Mo Bee was the one who definitely showed me how to get ‘em tight. He used the SP 1200. I never used the SP 1200, but nevertheless, I learned a lot from him. How to truncate sh*t. He showed me tricks…

BeatTips: What tricks?
True Master: With hi-hats and snares, volume changes… If you take your kick, and let’s say, you copy it, three times, then lower the volume on one kick, then keep one volume the same, then lower the volume on one. So it’s a three-hit flow. One hit is softer, one hit is milder, you know. That’s one of the tricks… Adding an echo to one hi-hat is another trick. There’s gotta be some unique ingredient while you’re doing your beats. ‘Cuz a lot of times it’s more of feelin’ your way through it, as opposed to knowing exactly where you want to go!

BeatTips: When you sample ‘em, do you sample dry or do you add effects before hand?
True Master: I put effects first. A lot of times I track it with the effects already. These EPS got crazy effects already built in.

BeatTips: Were you ever a DJ?
True Master: Yeah, I had my two Technics, I used to do my DJ thing. I used to pause tapes… And I first used to make beats on a Casio SK4. It had like four little pads on it, each one was like a second. So I had to get real sharp with little stabs. Create beats from sharp stabs.

BeatTips: Describe the Hip Hop-Rap formula. For you was it more gettin’ the sample to match the drums or how was it.
True Master: I could do it both ways. I could start with a sound and go to the drums or start with the drums and go to the sound. Most of the time, I start with the drums and go to the sound. So my drums is basically my foundation, most of the time. But I’ve learned how to match drums through snares to sounds, you know what I mean. And that’s been important.

BeatTips: Do you use Timestretch?
True Master: Nawgh, I was never able to f*ck with that. All those advantages that people was using, I don’t even have those sh*ts.

BeatTips: What do you think is the most significant change in hip hop/rap music today?
True Master: It’s a lot more advancement in the way things are being made, which makes people take shortcuts. You can still be creative…but that [from before] kind of sound, you just can’t get that sound. There’s so much you gotta do. You gotta be able to chop the sh*t up, and put it back together in an inventive, melodic way.

BeatTips: Sounds like you listen to a lot of music before you even sit down to make beats.
True Master: Well, I listen to every form of music. At the same time, you have to make a lot of beats. I always tell people that you gotta make so many beats that you forget what the f*ck you got! If you know what you got, you don’t have enough. Sometimes when I’m listenin’ to my sh*t, I’m just as surprised as the motherf*cker hearing it. Keep it movin’. Go back in your archives. Always keep working.

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

Ghostface Killah feat. Raekwon and Cappadonna - "Fish, produced by True Master

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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