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3 posts from August 2012

August 31, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Isaac Hayes' "Soulsville" Drives Home Feeling

A Reminder to Incorporate Feeling

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

"Soulsville," from the movie Shaft. That's my favorite Isaac Hayes joint. The scene in Shaft where this song plays is so appropriate. The images—which are certainly no Hollywood props, but instead, real glimpses of early 1970s impoverished Harlem—are heartbreaking and encouraging at the very same time. And what makes this montage rise and resonate is Hayes' "Soulsivlle."

"Soulsville," an incredibly poignant song, teeming with depth and force,
is one of the songs that has had the most effect on the ways in which I strive to underscore my music with feeling. The collective (often meticulous) processes of making beats can lead a beatmaker to create music that's audibly pleasing, yet devoid of feeling. And so to guard against this pitfall, I'm mindful of giving every beat that I make a "soul." In fact, I embrace the notion that every piece of music that I create is, in some way, an extension of me. Therefore, every sound that I craft and/or use, even down to the most truncated hi-hat, must fit within my own style and preferred audio composite. For when I do so, I know that I am indeed injecting soul and genuine feeling into my music.

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

Isaac Hayes - "Soulsville"

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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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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"

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

August 22, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

Early Funk From Obscure, Little-Known Band

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

One of the things that makes digging for "new" music so exhilarating and rewarding is the fact that you never know exactly what you're going to discover. Even if you're searching within a specific genre of music, the sheer number of recordings that may exist is staggering. And when it comes to funk music—particularly early funk, ca. 1965-1974—, the recorded output of music runs deep. A fact that's further made even more impressive when you consider the number obscure and lesser-known early funk bands who made only a few recordings during that time.

Bobby Boyd Congress certainly fits the category of "obscure" and "lesser-known" funk bands. To my knowledge, the only recording of the band is a 1970 self-titled album that they recorded in France. (You ever notice how France has always maintained a deep reference for quality American music, especially musics in the black American music tradition?) Still, I'm convinced that Bobby Boyd Congress, a quintessential New York funk band, made more recordings in or around New York City at the same time. Therefore, I believe (I gotta believe!) that somebody somewhere has something else of this superb funk outfit. And as long as I'm "diggin'," I won't give up trying to find it.

Finally, I'm compelled to mention that several months ago, a music professor (someone whom I hold in great regard) asked me about the relationship between the drum patterns of modern beatmaking and that of those of the early funk music typified here by Bobby Boyd Congress. Specifically, he believed that the relationship was less apparent in beatmaking in the early 1990s. I strongly disagreed. As I pointed out to him (and in my book, The BeatTips Manual, I show the link in greater historical detail), it was precisely the drum patterns of funk songs like Bobby Boyd Congress's "Dig Deep In Your Soul" that pioneering beatmakers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock drew their inspiration from.

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

Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

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

Dedicated to exploring the art of beatmaking in all of its glory.

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  • Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law


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