Deceptively Simple Loop Drives Groove; Complex Timing Managed Through Drums
|By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)|
"Mass Appeal" was a turning point for DJ Premier. I remember the first time I heard it. It was on Gang Starr's 1994 LP, Hard to Earn. I played this song over and over...Seriously: repeat city! What caught my attention the most was how Premier chopped the sample, and then arranged it in a way that the ends exploded every time the loop turned over. What's more, at the point where the loop turns, there isn't a dominate kick, which was typical of most hip hop/rap songs of that period.
The absence of the kick on the loop turning point convinced me that Premier was in the midst of a sound change. Having heard his beatwork on Illmatic just a couple of months before, I was wondering if his beats would be in the same vein or take a different direction. Two songs into Hard to Earn, I knew Premier was going for a new sound. And what tipped me off was his experimentation with his drums.
I was paying extra close attention to Premier's use of the kick drum. Specifically, I was studying the ways in which he was starting to "relax" the punch of his kicks while still coming up with non-conventional drum frameworks. On "Mass Appeal," it was if Premier had challenged himself to devise a moderately syncopated kick pattern underneath a deceptively simple sample arrangement. Indeed, if you listen to "Mass Appeal," pay careful attention to how the end of the sample seems to speed up. Truth is, it doesn't. By chopping the end of the sample the way he did, and by easing up on the attack (the front-end) of the sample, an otherwise simple 1-bar measure is transformed into something akin to break in a record being "pushed" forward by the DJ. And what makes this all more complex than most people realize is the fact that the tempo—which stays the same throughout—is managed thoroughly by the kick pattern and shuffling hat pattern.
The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Gang Starr - "Mass Appeal"
Gang Starr - "Mass Appeal" (Official music video)