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4 posts from September 2012

September 24, 2012

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 4

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds


I'm a strong advocate for using custom drum sounds. And although I have no issue with stock drum sounds (I've used stock drums in the past, and I have no problem with using them in the future) I believe that one of the most effective ways of creating your own style and sound is through the use of your own customized drum sounds.

That being said, I will be compiling an ongoing list—the BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds—of ALL of the records that I (and many others) have found to be great for drum sounds. For each installment or volume of the list, I will try to post at least five songs. Furthermore, this list will also include those songs that I have studied as a guide for drum pattern arrangements. And it is my hope that the songs on this list well help serve as a guide for those who want to tune the drum sounds that they already have to the sounds showcased on this list.

Finally, although some readers will note that there are some obvious choices that should be on this list, please bear with me, as I will be rolling out this list periodically without, necessarily, any preference to the most well-known "break-beats" (this is not a list of break-beat records). In fact, I suspect some songs on this ongoing list will surprise some of you. But after a "full-listen" of the record, you'll see just why it earned a spot. Still as always, I invite discussion. So any and all suggestions, whether well-known or obscure, are certainly welcome.

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

Mavis Staple & William Bell – “I Thank You”

Were you looking for some bongos? I mean some funky bongos! with the ill sonic quality? Well, this Mavis Staple & William Bell delivers. Bongos and bongo/tambourine :0 -:10 mark. Open! Also, peep how the tambourine lands on top of the snare. Great lesson for how layering should sound.

The Sylvers – “I Remember”

All right, I'm sure some of you will get drawn in by the intro and other phrases on this joint. So have it—flip it any way that you can. But "remember", I'm sharing this joint primarily for the drum sounds. And the snare at the :08 mark is nice. Would go well in anyone's arsenal. I have it in mine. Of course, I further customized it. P.S., peep the kick and snare pattern, the time and the off-steadiness is a real lesson in drum programming.

Isaac Hayes - Use me

In this fantastic cover of Bill Wither’s “Use Me,” Isaac Hayes takes the original and opens up with a broader arrangement. Present here is a juiced-up brass section, a lively organ, and a wah wah guitar, all are elements missing from Whithers’ original. Although Hayes gives the number his quintessential lounge-funk touch, the basic feel and melody of the original still survives. This re-imagining of Withers’ subdued, acoustic guitar-led soul with heavy electric power rocks and jabs where the originally mostly coasted. Check out the Kick, snare, and mini break at the :29 - :31 mark

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

September 21, 2012

DJ'ing to Build Your Beatmaking Skills, Should You Start with Vinyl or Digital?

If the Roots of Hip Hop/Rap Music Is Your Aim, You're Better Off Starting with Vinyl


Youknowmysteeze22, a TBC (The BeatTips Community) member, posed a great question about getting into DJ'ing to help his beatmaking skills, "First DJ set up.". 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." Youknowmysteeze22's original question, followed by my extensive reply.

"After reading beat tips it has inspired me to want to learn how to DJ, to get back to the roots of hip hop and help my beatmaking skills. What route do you guys think I should go to get the equipment. Should I go the vinyl route or the digital?" —Youknowmysteeze22

My reply:

Here's the thing. The four main DJ skills that will translate the most to beatmaking are: (1) A knack for diggin' in the crates; (2) the development of a good ear; (3) a deeper knowledge of music history; and (4) timing and beat/rhythm blending/matching skills. Thus, before you make your investigation into DJ'ing, please keep that in mind.

As I state in The BeatTips Manual, a DJ background certainly helps, but it's not necessary. A number of beatmakers get into DJ'ing because they feel like they missed something or because they believe a DJ background will help. That's cool. But more than anything, think about the skills that you hope to extract from learning how to DJ. This way, you'll be sure to pick up the things that will broaden your skills as a music maker.

Now, as far is what route to take? If your aim is the "roots" of hip hop DJ'ing, then *starting off* with digital is not the way to go. To me, it seems counterproductive. If it were just a case of you wanting to play some tunes on a couple of decks like a so-called celebrity DJ (think of a female model on Serato at a Manhattan night club), then maybe that would be the move. But if you've decided that you want to dive into the roots, then at least *start with vinyl. There's nuance involved with vinyl and decks. Plus, there's a mental connection to the tradition and a long list of beatmakers who have some level of DJ'ing skills in their background. That may matter to you (or not). Listen to Diamond D's "Best Kept Secret". Then consider the fact that he started as a DJ. No coincidence...

As far as cost, my DJ mixer (Numark DM 1200) cost me just $120 brand new! You could probably get a cheap Gemini joint (with no EQ on the channels) for $90, maybe $50 used. And I bought two used Technics 1200 turntables in the last several years off of Craigslist. I paid $150 for one and $175 for the other. So total cost for a decent DJ setup could be $425, maybe even less! And you can buy vinyl off line if there are no vinyl stores near you. Last month, I bought a mint condition Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds album for $10. *If I could have found that exact album at a vinyl shop in New York or at a record show, it likely would have cost me at at least $75 for the same condition. And the thing is, you don't need like 500 vinyl records to get going. You can rock with two records (same record) and practice your blends. Then you build your collection as you go.

Truth is, you can always build your DJ rig up slow and cheap. And for vinyl records, you can shop online at Dusty Grooves or Bonanza, and other similar sites.

Bottom line: If you want to go for the "roots" of it all, you know what I mean, if that's what's inspiring you, then do it. You can always switch to a digital setup later. Serato or Serato-like technology isn't going anywhere. Always go in the direction that you're already leaning. That's your gut feeling trying to guide you...


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."

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

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