106 posts categorized "BeatTips MusicStudy"

April 14, 2016

BeatTips MusicStudy: Gwen McCrae - "90% Of Me Is You"

The gateway record for my path to deeper diggin'.

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


Gwen McCrae

Just as there are gateway beat machines and beatmaking tools, there are also gateway diggin' records. Gwen McCrae's "90% of Me is You" served as such a song for me. Before I heard this record, my approach to diggin' for records was casual. I would search for records and recording artists that were popular, or at least the ones that I had faintly heard of. When I picked up Gwen McCrae's album Rocking Chair, the goal in mind was for one song, "90% of Me is You". Little did I know what was on the other side. Still, I must've listened to "90% Of Me Is You" at least 5 times a day, for six months straight.



Everything about this song is dangerous. There's the opening guitar riff. It's warped (a sound that you hear throughout). There's the second guitar that seemingly plays off in its own rhythm, yet it never leaves the pocket of the entire groove even though it skips across the arrangement randomly throughout. There's the bass line, for the most part a simple but steady anchor that goes Up and down, down and up, up and down before it rounds off the end of the second bars with a small break in the pattern then it repeats. For the bridge, the bass joins the rest of the instruments for a change in the pitch. Then there's the strings, a polite soaring pattern that puts you in the mind of a Gamble & Huff produced arrangement, only hear the strings do more simmering rather than soaring.


Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the drums. The hi-hat has a ticking sound that floats over the top of everything and punches in and out with urgent gracefulness all at once. The kick and the snare pattern is a simple K K S K K S pattern (I cover drum patterns in great detail in The BeatTips Manual
), but because it' so tight, it's combination with the hi-hat makes for an incredible swing rhythm and shuffle, perfect for Gwen McCrae to ride the groove with her earnest and searingly soulful vocals.


It's worth pointing out that I learned more about how to create drums and drum patterns from this song than I did listening to any hip hop/rap song. From how to create swing naturally through the use of certain drum sounds, to how to shuffle my hi-hats, to how to incorporate the right velocity and sustain for open hi-hats, to how to anchor my kick drums so that their movement sits with the arrangement... No doubt, "90% of Me Is You" was important to my understanding of music and my development as a beatmaker.

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

Gwen McCrae - "90% of Me is You"

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

March 09, 2016

Stevie Wonder and The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out"; The Link Between Cover Versions and Sampling

Stevie Wonder gives popular Beatles tune more soul and adds new punch and feel. Although a cover is not sampling per se, it's exactly what transformation is all about.

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


The art of sampling is not a (complete) reinterpretation of someone's work in the same way that a traditional cover version is. In sampling, snippets and phrases are literally extracted, recontextualized, and refashioned into a new musical piece. Still, there is a link — subtle as it may be — between sampling and the ways in which one musician is inspired to reinterpret the work of another. This point is illuminated when you consider that the art of sampling is rooted in the long-held tradition of versioning (in The BeatTips Manual I cover this connection extensively).


As a beatmaker, particularly one with a strong affinity for the art of sampling, I appreciate when great musicians do their own versions — covers — of equally impressive musicians. I'm interested in how one musician converts the work of another into their own style, feel, and scope without losing the core themes and structures of the original. And I'm impressed when one's version (interpretation) remains respectful to the original and adds new nuance and dimension to it as well. This is the case with Stevie Wonder's remake of The Beatles' hit "We Can Work It Out."


As far as creative license goes, Stevie Wonder takes grand liberty with his version of one of The Beatles' most popular hits. There are numerous instances where rock groups have dipped into the blues/soul well, pulling out tunes and reworking them with "rock pop magic." But with his version of "We Can Work It Out," Stevie Wonder is doing the reverse. He's taking a rock number—in this case, a 1960s folk pop tune—and dipping it back into the blues/soul well. And what emerges in Stevie's version is a song that respects the original, while going beyond, adding an entirely new scope, essence, and vibe.


While Stevie Wonder shadows the basic structural framework of the Beatles' original, there are a number of new dimensions that he adds for his version. Stevie's remake starts with a 3-bar organ intro (a signal that Stevie's signature will be all over this version), then the drums crash in. And while the original actually has a nice rhythmic pattern, albeit tucked low in the mix, Wonder's version amps up the drum scheme, making the drums, as well as the entire piece, sound more meatier than the original. The kick and snare drums punch and pounce, springing off of each other, while the hi-hat and tambourine shuffle throughout.


For the rest of the arrangement, Stevie Wonder makes two other standout changes. First, he strips the strings that stream through original. This tightens up the groove of "We Can Work It Out," effectively making Stevie's cover edgier while rendering the original almost tranquil by comparison. Second, Wonder incorporates a milky bass line that "walks" in deference to the priorities of soul more than it does to rock. This, along with the drums as described earlier, also adds to the urgency and aggressiveness of Stevie Wonder's version, which makes the original, folksy as it is, sound much more passive aggressive. Here, I'd be remiss if I didn't also highlight Stevie's harmonica solo at the midway point of his version.


Finally, Stevie Wonder's treatment of the vocal arrangement is as impressive as everything else in his cover of "We Can Work It Out." Six bars into Stevie's cover, and we hear a voice belch out "Hey!" This "Hey!," an added background vocal element that's non-existent in the original, alternates in pitch, giving Stevie's cover a unique swing nuance not found in the original. And with the rising gospel background vocals turn up in the latter half of Stevie's cover, the tune slides briefly into the Black church music tradition.


Then, of course, there's Stevie's lead vocals. A comparison of Paul McCartney's or John Lennon's vocals to Stevie Wonder's is perhaps unfair or misleading at best, inasmuch that Stevie Wonder and the two Beatles front men are approaching the song from two different traditions with two entirely different vocal priorities and styles of vocal inflection. Still, it's worth mentioning that Stevie's soulful reworking of the original — no doubt powerful in its own glory — makes "We Can Make It Out" sound more searing and converts it into a freedom song/black power amalgamation.


Stevie Wonder's version of "We Can Work It Out" is nothing short of a magnificent transformation. Also, to some extent, you could say Stevie Wonder "flipped" the Beatles original. Does this all mean that Stevie Wonder's version of "We Can Work It" is better than the original? I'm still thinking that through. Both the original by The Beatles and Stevie Wonder's version are great music works; each shine in their own regard, and each travel along the paths of their creative priorities and influences. Thus, a more interesting question at this point would be what is it that enables any musician to pull off a quality version of a another musician's work? I believe it comes down to this: music performance skills, a broad based knowledge of music history, various musical processes, and music forms, and a fundamental respect and reverence for the musician(s) whose music your inclined to rework. Stevie Wonder covers all of these variables and that's why his version works so well.


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

Stevie Wonder - "We Can Work It Out"


The Beatles - "We Can Work It Out"

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

October 28, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time

A Top Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


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."

October 09, 2014

BeatTips MusicStudy: Stevie Wonder's Version of "We Can Work It Out" Meatier than Beatles Original

Stevie Wonder Gives Popular Beatles Tune Some More Soul; Adds New Punch and Feel

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Although the art of sampling is usually not a complete reinterpretation of someone's work in the same way that a traditional version is (i.e. in sampling, snippets and phrases are literally extracted, recontextualized, and refashioned into a new musical piece), I still see a link between sampling and the ways in which one musician is inspired to reinterpret the work of another. For me, this point is illuminated even more when you consider that the art of sampling is rooted in the long-held tradition of versioning (in The BeatTips Manual I cover this connection extensively).


Indeed, as a beatmaker, particularly one with a strong affinity for the art of sampling, I appreciate when great musicians do their own versions (covers) of equally impressive musicians. Mostly, I'm engaged by one musician's ability to convert the work of another into their own style, feel, and scope, without losing the core themes and structures of the original. More specifically, I'm impressed when one's version (interpretation) remains respectful to the original and adds new nuance and dimension to it as well. This is the case with Stevie Wonder's remake of The Beatles' hit "We Can Work It Out."


As far as creative license goes, Stevie Wonder takes grand liberty with his version of one of The Beatles' most popular hits. There are numerous instances where rock groups have dipped into the blues/soul well, pulling out tunes and reworking them with "rock pop magic." But with his version of "We Can Work It Out," Stevie Wonder is doing the reverse. He's taking a rock number—in this case, a 1960s folk pop tune—and dipping it back into the blues/soul well. And what emerges in Stevie's version is a song that respects the original, while going beyond, adding an entirely new scope, essence, and vibe.


While Stevie Wonder shadows the basic structural framework of the Beatles' original, there are a number of new dimensions that he adds for his version. Stevie's remake starts with an 3-bar organ intro (a signal that Stevie's signature will be all over this version), then the drums crash in. And while the original actually has a nice rhythmic pattern (albeit tucked low in the mix), the Stevie version amps up the drum scheme, making the drums, as well as the entire piece, sound more "meatier" than the original. The kick and snare drums punch and pounce, springing off of each other, while the hi-hat and tamb shuffle throughout.


For the rest of the arrangement, Stevie Wonder makes two other standout changes. First, he strips out the strings that stream through original. This "tightens up" the groove of "We Can Work It Out," effectively making Stevie's cover edgier while rendering the original almost tranquil in comparison.


Second, Stevie Wonder incorporates a milky bass line that "walks" in deference to the priorities of soul more than it does to rock. This, along with the drums as described earlier, also adds to the urgency and aggressiveness of Stevie's version, which makes the original, folksy as it is, sound much more passive aggressive. Here, I'd be remiss if I didn't also highlight Stevie's harmonica solo at the midway of his version.


Finally, Stevie Wonder's treatment of the vocal arrangement is as impressive (if not more) as everything else in his cover of "We Can Work It Out." Six bars into Stevie's cover, and we hear a voice belch out "Hey!" This "Hey!," an added background vocal element that's non-existent in the original, alternates in pitch, giving Stevie's cover a unique swing nuance not found in the original. And with the rising gospel background vocals turn up in the latter half of Stevie's cover, the tune slides briefly into the Black church music tradition.


Then of course, there's Stevie's lead vocals. A comparison of Paul McCartney's or John Lennon's vocals to Stevie Wonder's is perhaps an unfair or misleading one at best, inasmuch that Stevie Wonder and the two Beatles front men are approaching the song from two different traditions, with two entirely different vocal priorities and styles of vocal inflection. Still, it's worth mentioning that Stevie's soulful reworking of the original—no doubt powerful in its own glory—makes it sound more searing; indeed, converting it into a freedom song/black power amalgamation.


In short, Stevie Wonder's version of "We Can Work It Out" is nothing short of a magnificent transformation. And to a certain degree, you could say that Stevie Wonder "flipped" the Beatles original. Does that mean that Stevie Wonder's version of "We Can Work It" is better than the original? I'm not sure if that's a question worth entertaining. Both The Beatles original and Stevie Wonder's version are great
music works. Each shine in their own regard, and each travel along the paths of their creative priorities and influences.


So a far better question at this point might be what do you think enables any musician to pull off a quality version of a fellow musician's work? Well, I'd say that along with music performance skills as well as a broad based knowledge of music history, various musical processes, and music forms, a fundamental respect and reverence for the musician(s) whose music you rework is key. I think Stevie Wonder covers all of these variables. And that's exactly why his version works so well.

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

Stevie Wonder - "We Can Work It Out"


The Beatles - "We Can Work It Out"

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

October 05, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 6

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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.

The Bar-Kays - "Humpin'"

Kick and snare at 0:00-0:04 mark. Break at 0:07-0:09 mark. Another break with organ over the top at the 1:11 -1:14 mark.


Bernard "Pretty" Purdie - "Funky Donkey"

You can never go wrong with drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie's stuff. Here, on "Funky Donkey" you kick and snares at different tones and velocity as well as heavy, airy reverb. Everything fromm 0:00-0:09 is great.


Rufus Thomas - "Do the Funky Penguin"

Kick, snare, and break from 0:00-0:07 mark; open hi-hat at 0:08.


Ohio Players - "I Want to Be Free"

A classic joint worth listening to in heavy rotation. But for the purposes of drum sounds, check: Crash snare to open the cut, then a drum fill, tom toms: 0:01-0;05; kick, snare, hat at 3:28.


Dennis Coffey - "Scorpio"

0:00-0:02: quick snare and tom fill; 1:08-2:00: kicks, snares, long breaks.

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

April 11, 2014

BeatTips List of Great Records for Drum Sounds, Vol. 5

Record Gems with Open Drum Sounds

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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.

Mike James Kirkland – “Together”

Two different snares, nice tom, closed hat, and kick at the 0:00-0:06 mark. Also, take a listen to the bass line. Listen for how it moves, less complex, like a soft accompaniment. Great modelt/lesson for how to build less complex or "busy" bass parts (support bass) for your beats. And, of course, this is a serious soul joint.


Marva Whitney - “Get Together”

A funk staple and popular cut amongst seasoned collectors. Not just that, the drum sounds on this record are undoubtedly in the drum sound libraries of many early '90s beatmakers. I built a couple of different snares from the snare that I initially sampled off of this cut. At the 0:00-0:06 mark: kick, snare, hi-hat, open hat, and break.


Smoked Sugar – “My Eyes Search a Lonely Room For You”

Far as drum sounds, the only thing to catch on this cut are the toms at the very opening, 0:00-0:02. Still, an introduction to Smoked Sugar is a good thing. Remember, all music is a gateway to more music.


Lafayette Afro Rock Band – “Hihache”

For its opening break, this Lafyette Afro Rock Band cut is one of the most well-known breaks amongst funk aficionados and vinyl collectors. The break itself has been sampled a lot, and has shown up in a number of songs over the past 20 or so years. But take the break apart, and what you have is a true drummer’s delight—19 seconds of open drum-hits! At the 0:00-0:19 mark, snare (at least 3 different velocity flavors), kick, hi-hat, open hat, closed hat. And the break works as an added bonus, as it serves as a great drum pattern practie session. I used to practice recreating this opening drum break using the same sounds and different sounds. And note: I practiced making the break with time correct on and off to help develop my sense of time and my overall drum programming/arraning skills.

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

January 27, 2014

BeatTips MusicStudy: Ahmad Jamal Trio - "Darn That Dream"

Genius and the Intimate Intensity of an After Hours Lounge

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

The beatmaking community/culture shares a number of similarities to the jazz community of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Both communities/cultures were comprised of what I like to call "anonymous heroes," acclaimed musicians not necessarily known by the general public or even the broader musical scene, yet fervently respected among their peers. Another parallel that I also like to draw between the jazz and beatmaking communities deals with the appreciation of the music itself.

In this video of the Ahmad Jamal Trio, you can't help but be struck by the sheer reverence and appreciation for the music. The incredible talent of the Ahmad Jamal Trio notwithstanding, one gets the feeling that performances like these were as much comfort zone, therapeutic sessions for the musicians as they were rare moments of musical genius. I find this akin to the road many beatmakers follow today.

Under the masterful leadership of Ahmad Jamal (piano), the trio, balanced out by Israel Crosby (bass), and Vernel Fournier (drums), cooked up a sort of smoky lounge blues: something intimate and certain yet more alluring because of the "3am setting" that seemed to encompass their sound. The Ahmad Jamal Trio's music was thrilling not for a number of obvious frills (often found in quartets and larger outfits) but for its various subtle challenges.

With "Darn That Dream," presented for MusicStudy, you truly hear what makes the Ahmad Jamal trio so unique. Jamal's piano is airy and roomy, his phrasing—spaced well as usual—glides more than it rumbles. But the impact of each of his notes are strong still the same. Crosby's bass is steady, swinging in time to the various ghost notes that Jamal plays. And Fournier's drums shuffle along with a perched subtlety, occasionally rapping the snare with a punch and a light jab. Indeed, the Ahamad Trio doesn't as much as soar here with "Darn That Dream" as they do float.

The music alone is a treasure, but the video footage below is absolutely priceless. In addition to paying close attention to the musicians, notice the onlookers.

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

Ahmad Jamal Trio - "Darn That Dream" 1959

---
The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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.

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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)


June 21, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: Willie Henderson – “Off Into A Black Thing”

Early 1970s Funk That Rumbles And Rolls

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Whenever I hear an early funk number like Willie Henderson's "Off Into A Black Thing," I always imagine what it was like for the original b-boys (early/mid-1970s) to hear this music, and just simply go buck wild on the dance floor. Energy! It's that same energy that I try to channel into my approach to beatmaking. After all, when you come down to it, it is the source of what I do.

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

Willie Henderson - "Off Into A Black Thing"

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

June 13, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: Samuel Prody, Top-Notch Blues-Rock

This Contemporary Of Led Zeppelin Could Have Been A Contender

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Regular readers of BeatTips.com know how much of a fan of Led Zeppelin that I am. Zeppelin has—and always will—play a major role in my understanding of and approach to music. For this reason, I'm sensitive to Led Zeppelin "knock-off" bands. Can't stomach them at all. Still, who could blame anyone for trying to emulate Zeppelin's style?

But emulation, followed by one's own imagination or innovation is one thing; "wannabe" duplication is something entirely different. Fortunately, Samuel Prody—a band who's sound closely mirrored Led Zeppelin—had enough individual imagination to carve out there own sound and avoid being dismissed as another Led Zeppelin knock off band.

Truth be told, Samuel Prody were contemporaries of Led Zeppelin. However, this status was short-lived, as the band's only album, Samuel Prody, was released in 1970. But had Samuel Prody kept it together and recorded more, the similarities (and differences) between them may have gotten plenty of air time. In fact, the band's lineup matched-up rather well against Led Zeppelin.

Samuel Prody's lead singer Tonny Savva could have perhaps been every bit as dynamic as Zeppelin's front-man Robert Plant. Prody's bassist Stephen Day had a style that was nearly equal to the bluesy style of Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. John Boswell, Prody's drummer, maybe wasn't a match for John Bonham, but then again, who was? Still, Boswell was damn close (check out his drumwork on "Time Is All Mine," included below); and he was certainly much better than most drummers of the time. Finally, Samuel Prody's lead guitarist Derek Smallcombe was not only formidable, he was imaginative and bluesy; although not to the degree of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. But we're talking Jimmy Page, here.

So all things considered, in 1970, Samuel Prody was poised to maybe give Led Zeppelin a run for their money, most likely setting up a rivalry situation similar to that of the The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But even though that never took place, Samuel Prody still stands for me as the band who came the closest to Led Zeppelin's sound—without completely "knocking it off," while also creating a sound that was just as engaging. For that, and because their music did indeed cook, I salute Samuel Prody.

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

Samuel Prody – “Woman” (1970)

Samuel Prody - "Time Is All Mine"

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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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