43 posts categorized "Big Influence"

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"

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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."

September 30, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #1

A "Top" Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number.

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.


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 mention here. But there are 8 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 8 distinct periods of beatmaking.


(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.


Click here to see the breakdown for #3 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.


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

March 24, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles are "Inspired" to Be Dope

As DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles Prepare to Release their Heavily Anticipated Album Kolexxxion, Here's a Closer Look at One of their Recent Gems

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Feeling, more than anything else, is what draws me into a piece of music. Beats and lyrics can do many things, but if they don't have feeling, they're missing something crucial. Over the years, there's only been about a handful of beatsmiths and rhymers that consistently offer feeling in their music. Among those, DJ Premier and Bumpy Knuckles (AKA Freddie Foxxx) have always stood at the head of the class. And by all indications of their pre-album EP and pre-drops of songs from their album Kolexxxion (due for release this upcoming Monday, March 26th), Kolexxxion will not only be smoldering with feeling, it's poised to be one of the strongest releases in recent years.

In honor of the forthcoming release of Kolexxxion, I wanted to do a MusicStudy of one of the pre-album EP (Stoodiotyme) cuts, "Inspired By Fire". After the MusicStudy, I've also included the Bumpy Knuckes f. Nas "Turn up the Mic" DJ Premier remix that was just leaked.
Here's the MusicStudy...

DJ Premier is at his best with these type of beats. Here, as he's done so well in the past, he captures the urgency that’s embedded in street-level rap music. Working from a formula of converting beauty to gritty back to beauty, he masterfully takes a beautiful string passage and converts its harmonic, sonically warm quality into a rhythmic chamber that echoes sinisterly every time it repeats. Keep in mind, no two beatmakers loop sounds the exact same way; listen closely to how the main sampled phrase lands with the start of the drum measure. That looping style and sense of timing is a staple of all of Preem's beats.

And with such a complete composite execution of the arrangement of the samples (and cut-offs), you almost miss the raw perfectness of the mellow bass EQ on the samples, and, of course, the drums. The drums feature a hi-hat in sprinkling mode, almost like it’s chiming in back and forth. And the snare sounds like a rock rain dropping on a glass surface. Please understand: You can not emulate this sound with quantizing or some other plug-in or similar effect or some one-size-fit all stock sound; this sound is customized and part of Premier’s whole style, rhythm, repertoire, and sound.

The next thing that struck me about "Inspired by Fire" was the swing of the beat. The Swing on this joint is severe, it moves along with a shuffle and pull feel. Each time the snare lands, it draws you in even more. This is especially worth pointing out because Premier doesn't rely on any special quantize effects or the like for the sense of swing that all of his beats contain. Premier's sense of timing and, subsequently, swing, comes from his training and understanding as a DJ—mixing, blending, cutting records together, etc. (In The BeatTips Manual, I extensively discuss how DJ'ing fostered the art of beatmaking.)

Incidentally, this is just one reason that I always champion the DJ and the legacy of the art of DJ'ing. A background in DJ'ing gives a beatmaker, particularly a sample-based beatmaker, a tremendous advantage in every area of the art of beatmaking. But even if you have no experience as a DJ, you can still improve your timing by closely listening to records with multiple rhythms like early funk, soul, British ska, etc. Either way, keep in mind that an over reliance on timing correction and similar effects will make your music sound quite mechanical and forced, less natural and devoid of a strong sense of swing.

As for the rhyme on "Inspired by Fire"...
Here's what you get with every Bumpy Knuckles rhyme: Straight talk and skill. Bumpy's wordplay is never obscure, he always aims to be understood. Sure, it's "stick-up-kid-smooth", but it's never hallow machismo. Every line is a sure-shot piece of who he really is. That's the refreshing thing about any verse that Bumpy spits.

Furthermore, Bumpy's rhymes are always non-pretentious; and he's not concerned with punchlines for punchlines sake. He doesn't try to represent anything he doesn't have a solid, real-life understanding of. Plus, Bumpy rolls through each verse, never looking backwards or gawking at the power of the previous line. Instead, he treats each line as a reference to his life and hard-earn career status. He’s been there before, and like any professional knows, with every solid achievement, you act like you been there before—no need for overstatements... Again, this is another refreshing quality about a Bumpy Knuckles rhyme. And this especially important now, a time where many contemporary rappers pause and stare at their own punch lines...

Finally, there's the flow. It's actually a well-skilled, clever mish-mash of mutiple flows and wordplay, tempered with a late ‘80s survivor's confidence and Bumpy’s own unique method of suspending the speed of his delivery. And we're not just talking street smart but broad intelligence:
“…pen a career like Dunbar/one bar, grown man tone/nobody does it alone/”
Trust your ability to not trust/But should never fall victim to not trustin'/...
That's a Jewel.

—Sa'id

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

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles - "Inspired By Fire"


Bumpy Knuckles feat. Nas - "Turn Up the Mic" (DJ Premier Remix), from the DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles album Kolexxxion

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

November 29, 2011

BeatTips Readers' Poll™: Who is the Greatest Beatmaker (Hip Hop Producer) of All Time?

If We Go by the Numbers Over Three Decades, Can there Be Any Consensus?

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

In major league baseball, numbers don’t lie. Just look at the Yankee’s sure-shot first-ballot Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, who in 2011 season recorded his 603rd save, giving him the all time major league record (one that will likely stand forever...)

Just as numbers don’t lie in baseball, I believe that they shouldn’t lie in hip hop/rap music either. Take for instance the greatest beatmaker (I prefer to use beatmaker, “producer” is too often misused and misrepresented) of all time debate. Ask someone who the greatest beatmaker of all time is, and they’re more likely to give you an answer that reflects their personal favorites than they are to give you an answer that objectively considers the available facts. For instance, Mariano Rivera is the best closer in baseball history, it's a fact. Period. Ask a knowledgeable baseball person who's the greatest closer of all time in Major League Baseball, and they'll reply: Mariano Rivera. But does that mean Rivera is the best pitcher in baseball? Some say yes; some say no because he was a closer.

In baseball, the closer usually enters the game in the 9th inning (sometimes the 8th) when the game is on the line, when a team needs to save a victory from defeat, or when a team needs the score to remain close (usually tied), preserving the opportunity for their team to win. Thus, the role of the closer is very different from that of the starting pitcher, who usually pitches roughly 6 or 7 innings (the bulk of the innings). And because of this, closers aren’t typically in the final discussion about greatest pitchers of all time. But Mariano Rivera isn’t your typical closer. For starters, 603 saves is nothing to sneeze at; but then there's his post season wins record—42 wins! Again, in the post season—when it counts the most, no? This is made even more amazing when you consider his ultra low ERA (Earned Run Average). In other words, the guy is basically un-hittable all the time but especially when it counts the most! That's why when Mariano Rivera enters the game, it’s usually lights out for the opposing team. Numbers don’t lie...

Yet when it comes to the question of Who’s the Greatest Beatmaker of All Time, I’ve found that many people either ignore the numbers, or they believe that numbers do indeed lie. For instance, if you examine hip hop/rap music from 1985 (roughly the start of the Modern Rap era) to the present, how many people can realistically lay claim to the "greatest" beatmaker title? If we go by the numbers—in this case, the sheer catalog, the number of quality songs with quality lyricists; the reach of influence on future beatmakers; the number of years and consistency; and similar metrics—can we draw a consensus? I believe so. But I'm interested to learn what others believe.

Also, after considering the many conversations that I've had with various people—across geographic, race, and age spectrum—about this question, and reading some "greatest" lists online, I'm often left asking three questions: (1) What criteria are most people using to determine who the "greatest" is? (2) Are most people loosely broadening the definition of "greatest" in favor of an interpretation that merely allows for inclusion of their favorites? and (3) How much history do most people know about hip hop/rap music?

That said, from 1989 to 2011 (and still going), has there been anyone who’s dropped—chronologically and consistently—a larger overall body of acclaimed beatwork than DJ Premier? Clearly no disrespect to Marley Marl, The RZA, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, Just Blaze, J Dilla and a few others who all certainly deserve to be in the discussion for who’s the greatest. But in terms of the numbers—quality wins and impact songs and albums; and work with key lyricists; and range of influence over other beatmakers (many acclaimed in their own right)—over the longest period of time (not just five years), is DJ Premier the greatest beatmaker of all time?

Opinions vary with questions like these. Of course everyone has their personal tastes and biases. Moreover, it’s understandable that many people will favor the beatmakers that are linked to their age and era. And as I mentioned previously, there are a handful of names that should no doubt be in the discussion—for various reasons. So frankly, I don’t know if there ever will be complete consensus on the “greatest beatmaker of all time” question. But one thing’s for certain, when you consider the inception of beatmaking (more than 35 years ago), and then scan year by year with a cold, objective eye, all the way up to the present, examining the catalogs of each beatmaking icon, patterns—and sometime indisputable anomalies—inevitably emerge.

For this BeatTips Readers' Poll™ I’m interested in seeing everyone’s honest and objective take on this question.


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

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

August 17, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Baby Huey & The Babysitters - "Listen to Me"

Early Funk Jewel Showcases the Pulsating Rhythm and Groove Sound of Its Era

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Among the earliest hip hop pioneers, Baby Huey & The Babysitters' "Listen to Me" is one of the most celebrated early funk jams. With no less than five tempo and mood changes, "Listen to Me" is the personification of its era: hard-hitting funk with rolling bass lines, side-winding rhythm guitar, and of course, steady and ready drumwork.

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

Baby Huey & The Babysitters - "Listen to Me"

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

July 25, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: The Band's "King Harvest" Gives Lesson in Groove

The Melody Talks, But the Groove Tells It Like It Is

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When it comes to music, there is little more truthful than the groove. If you listen to it, open it up, and unpack what's going on, you'll always find just what the song's feel and sound is all about. This is one of the reasons that I'm always drawn to the groove of any song. No matter the melody, for me, it's the groove(s) that ultimately either makes it or breaks a song.

One of my favorite grooves of all time is the one found on the song "King Harvest," by the group The Band. Powered by the flawlessly funky drum-work of Levon Helm, "King Harvest" moves with a rhythmic focus that is as much funk as it is southern rock; as much Woodstock jam session as it is Memphis blues rock. Robbie Robertson's guitar work whines and twangs, spilling out a funky blues that moves between laid-back cool and jam-solo bravado. The keys are a split duty affair. Richard Manuel, who also does lead vocal work, plays a steady, but artfully understated piano. And Garth Hudson handles the organ, making it bake, roll, and moan at the various "frenzy" points in the number. Finally, Rick Danko makes everything warmer with his fat, but deliberately soft bass playing. (I learned a lot about arranging bass parts listening to this song.)

Of the various things worth studying in "King Harvest," pay attention to the instrumental "cool-down" that takes place at the arrival of the chorus. Next, pay careful attention to how the band glides from the chorus, right back into the groove. Incredible. Also, be sure to study the little jam session warm-up just before that rip off the main number.

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

The Band - "King Harvest," from The Band in Woodstock

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
"The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education."

June 24, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Talking Heads - "Once In A Lifetime;" Rhythms In Motion

Brian Eno's Rhythmic Genius—by way of Fela Kuti— Produces Talking Heads' Most Enigmatic Song

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When I first heard the Talking Heads classic "Once In A Lifetime," I immediately knew that it would have a profound effect on me musically (and culturally). Although I'd had some minimal familiarity with African multiple rhythm styles, I hadn't yet gotten into Fela Kuti, the towering Nigerian figure and creator of afrobeat. So hearing "Once In A Lifetime" was like being smacked with five walls of rhythm, all at once. In fact, it wasn't until I went back and really studied "Once In A Lifetime," did I began to figure out how to incorporate the concept (and sensibility) of multiple rhythm structures into my style and sound of beatmaking.

Just the use of the tom tom drum alone was a musical shock to my system. But on "Once In A Lifetime," it doesn't stop there. There's the clapping, hiccuping and skipping snare drum. There's the cowbell and triangle, both moving independently in their own space, seemingly away from the base drum structure. There's the simple up/down 3-note, rippling bass line. There's the shuffling, not quite wah wah rhythm guitar. And then finally of course, there's Brian Eno's waterworld ambiance touch, streaming throughout the song like a music sync for flashback scenes in a science fiction movie.

Finally, I should add that as far as "gateway music" goes, "Once In A Lifetime" (as well as other Talking Heads songs) opened up a plethora of musical directions for me to explore. And the fact that Talking Heads leader David Byrne was one of the early supporters of hip hop/rap music truly confirms for me how similar musical influences most often rotate in the same circles.

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

Talking Heads - "Once In A Lifetime"

June 02, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Gladys Knight & The Pips - "No One Could Love You More"

Steady Swing-Beat Anchors this Little-Known Gladys Knight & The Pips Gem

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

One of the greatest benefits of being a beatmaker (particularly one that scours through scores of old records) is discovering "new" musical gems by some of the titans of recorded music. Such is the case with the wonderfully arranged "No One Could Love You More" by Gladys Knight & The Pips.

Driven by a swinging backbeat that places emphasis on the traditional "2" rather than the "1," (a beat emphasis pioneered by James Brown and his funk sound, first introduced in 1965), "No One Could Love You More" features a groove that churns and turns over as the song progresses in all of its repetitive glory. Look inside the hood of the groove, and you will find that it's flanked by several engaging musical components. First of course, there's the classic Motown tambourine dropping in on the "1;" then there's a light, pitter-patting, syncopated snare pattern that oozes with old rent-party celebratory charm; and finally, there's a silky 4-note bass line that rumbles, glides and "walks," as it ascends every two bars, before returning to the bass line's core pitch.

Recorded ca. 1971 and released by Motown the following year in 1972, one might say that "No One Could Love You More" was overlooked. Buried deep in the album as song number 10, the last track on the entire album, perhaps it was thrown on to the LP as a bonus—considering the fact that plenty of albums during the same era routinely carried just 7 or 8 tracks. "No One Could Love You More" was never released as a single, and this proved to be one blunder that foreshadowed Motown's inability to retain Gladys Knight & The Pips.

But whether "No One Could Love You More" was intended for obscurity or not, no doubt a casualty of Motown's—and the music industry's—hit-first ethos, its drawing power is absolutely undeniable. Here, before their explosively popular albums Neither One of Us and the Curtis Mayfield produced Claudine, Gladys Knight & The Pips are in top form. The naturalness of family harmony is here; The Pips' incredibly nuanced vocal stylings are here; and of course, Gladys Knight's piercing, beautifully raspy voice is here, breathing a heart-torn life into every lyric as only she can. Having discovered "No One Could Love You More" much later than some of their other music, I can't help but wonder how much of my musical understanding could have (would have) benefited, had I "found" Gladys Knight & The Pips' "No One Could Love You More" much sooner.

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

Gladys Knight & The Pips - "No One Could Love You More" (1971)

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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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