206 posts categorized "Making Beats"

November 18, 2014

Extended Shelf-Life: Bronze Nazareth's 'School for the Blindman' — One of the Best Rap Albums in Decades

Soulfully Hard and Authentic, Loaded with Dope Beats and Edgy Rhymes, School for the Blindman Confirms that Bronze Nazareth and The Wisemen are in League of their Own

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


BeatTips Rating: 5/5

"Roll dice in old piss" —Bronze Nazareth

We often like and celebrate an album because of its power to take us somewhere. The vivid images that it calls up; the memories that it inspires; the emotions that it makes us feel — these are the things that, when present and prominent on an album, take us somewhere.


Hit play on Bronze Nazareth’s enigmatic album School for the Blindman (iHipHop Distribution), and you’re instantly transported to a music world that’s oblivious —thankfully so — to the oversaturated, gutless or otherwise cookie-cutter abstracts that make up most of what we know as mainstream rap music today. But School for the Blindman doesn’t just stand out as an obvious counterpunch to the jingle-filled, 808-dominated rap, it distinguishes itself from all other recent underground offerings as well. In fact, I find School for the Blindman to be one of the best hip hop/rap albums in decades.


Prior to School for the Blindman, the only other hip hop/rap albums that I found that I could listen to straight through with repeat extended plays were lllmatic (Nas) and Supreme Clientele (Ghostface Killah). And like those two classic albums, School for the Blindman also stands out because of it’s stellar, ear-catching production (soul samples & ill drums galore) and concrete rhymes. No beat on School for the Blindman is a mail-in job or simple drum program re-run. Instead, every beat contorts with its own structure and direction.


Truly a “beatmaker’s” beatmaker, Bronze’s production (he produced all but three tracks on the album) illustrates organic drums, well-conceived chops and arrangements, uniquely filtered phrases, and a powerful injection of feeling. As per Bronze’s style and sound, the art of sampling shapes the entire framework of School for the Blindman. And as with his previous efforts, all of the frequencies sampled and flipped make up amazingly hypnotic sonic textures that hold you at attention and demand frequent replays. (Bronze employs a smooth but defiant sampling style that priorities feel over needless complexity; thus the main reason that his beats draw you in.)



As far as the rhymes go, here, too Bronze shines. On “Fresh from the Morgue,” which features one of the dopest sounding hooks ever and a verse from The RZA, Bronze drops this quotable, “I’m so ill bring in the nurses to see him/my bitch purse is bulimic.” This kind of smart, layered slant rhyme is a staple throughout School for the Blindman. But then there’s the deeply personal “The Letter,” where Bronze’s knack for double (even triple) entendre reaches new stylistic and emotional levels: “I was the worst friend, couldn’t see poison through veins/losing you in vain from making tracks/I shoulda stopped the train.” The verse on “The Letter” and other songs on School for the Blindman cement Bronze’s place among the best producer/rappers of all time.


Although this is a Bronze solo joint, as with vintage Wu-Tang — the Wiseman’s direct influence — The Wisemen show up in force. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7, and June Megaladon are present, each adding their distinct voice and flow to the tracks that they appear on. Each member of the Wisemen carries an aggressive but subdued demeanor. To be certain, they represent a street, workman-like ethos. I’m sure that the labor realities (or lack their of) in Detroit has something to do with this. Indeed, The Wisemen offer up an everyday-man familiarity. Plus, for those who have actually spent time in the streets because of the hard draw of life, and not because of a prospective rap career, The Wisemen are especially refreshing. They paint the scenes of daily life in the hood — the highs, lows, and ironies — with confident strokes of well-stated details.


In addition to Wisemen features, School for the Blindman also gets a literal Wu-Tang assist, as Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, and The RZA all appear. RZA shows up on four joints (3 of them bonus cuts) and is in top form. Other features include Rain The Quiet Storm, L.A.D. aka La The Darkman, and Killah Priest.


Another paramount feature of School for the Blindman is the level of authenticity that it exudes. The feel of the whole album is as hard as it is emotional, as street gutter as it is fine art. Each song brims with confidence and emerges as an exact, creative and sure-guided piece of art. This is because Bronze is deeply conscious musically and politically (peep the Martin and Malcolm messages), and as such, he’s concerned with recapturing feeling, a specific feeling, one from a soulful and more noble time in Black American history.


With this focus as a guide, there are no bells and whistles on School for the Blindman, only rough-stock beats and rhyme darts! Which means that the level of confidence — even, decadence — on School for the Blindman is the kind of natural confidence that only comes from a certainty in one’s self and chosen journey. And that’s just it: Right now, Bronze and the Wisemen collective are in a rap league all of their own. They draw energy from the essence of their squad; they don’t come off as an overworked caricature of guys from the street. Instead, they showcase an honest handle on their station in life and demonstrate that they’re an authentic and earnest crew, not a fastened together boy band masquerading as a rap clique.


When I reviewed The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God more than a year ago, I asked, rhetorically, if The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan? My answer was no, of course. But I submitted then that The Wisemen’s aim and effort to stay true to their pedigree and influences is what allowed (allows) them to create something authentically theirs — something that would stand for others to attempt to emulate, match, or surpass. This, I continued, was the continuum promise of a dope pedigree. But after listening to School for the Blindman, I no longer think that the question of whether The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan is applicable. Direct Wu-Tang influences aside, Bronze and The Wiseman have successfully navigated a course that now has them in a league all of their own. In today’s rap scene, there are few collectives (if any) that are comparable in style, sound, weight, and consistency to The Wisemen.


BeatTips Rating Breakdown

Favorite Joints

“The Letter”
One of the most moving songs that I’ve heard, any genre! This hard-hitting “letter” to a dead friend, taken to soon by the jaws of drug addiction, is absolutely chilling…and beautiful. Bronze is himself on every track for sure, but on “The Letter,” he travels deeper into his heart and taps into a pain that’s made up of a triple cocktail of loss, confusion, and guilt. The beat (which, by the way gives a clinic on how to pitch up a sample and loop it) holds this sort of smooth rumble to it. So effective is the filtering, the chops, and mix on this joint, it sounds as if the vocal “oooing” — that rides through the better part of the track — is separate and on top of everything. And the drums, which feature a highly tucked, almost muffled kick and a punching snare that features a chorus on every 4th hit, are simply masterful. With three primary sampling elements (as far as I can tell, there could be more) that dissolve into each other, this drum-work scheme sounds even more impressive.

Bronze Nazareth - "The Letter"

Bronze Nazareth - "King of Queens"


“Fresh From The Morgue” ft. The RZA (This joint is multidimensional dope! Soon as the hook drops, you’re rocking along to the song.)
“King of Queens” (Prod. Ernesto LTD)
“4th Down” ft. Salute, Kevlaar 7, Phillie (Pay attention to the sample flip on this joint!)
“Gomorrah” ft. Killah Priest (Prod. by Kevlaar 7)
“Worship” ft. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen
“The Records We Used to Play”
“Jesus Feet”

Bronze Nazareth feat. Killah Priest - "Gomorrah" (Prod. by Kevlar 7)

Bronze Nazareth feat. RZA - “Fresh From The Morgue”


Sureshot Singles

“4th Down” ft. Salute, Kevlaar 7, Phillie
“Carpet Burns” (bonus song)
“Gomorrah” ft. Killah Priest (Prod. by Kevlaar 7)
Worship Ft. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen
“King of Queens” (Prod. Ernesto LTD)

Bronze Nazarath feat. Salute, Phillie, and Kevlar 7 of Wisemen - "Worship"

Sleeper Cuts

There are no sleeper cuts on here; all of them will catch your attention on the first listen.


Gripes and Weak Moments

NONE


Final Analysis

What ultimately makes School for the Blindman sore is its very nature — a subdued, soulful — beat send-up with authentic rap voices. You get the feeling that Bronze knew what he wanted this album to be — a “school” where the echoes and retransformations of soul music helps to guide the thoughts and imagery of each listener. Thus, School for the Blindman delivers an effect that is more like a savvy, entertaining documentary, than a CGI-laden action feature film. So much authentic nuance abounds on this album that you almost miss the polish and forget that Shool for the Blindman is, afterall, a feature and not a documentary film, if we stick with the film metaphore.


I’ve always been of the opinion that an album should be examined (critiqued/reviewed) on what it aims to do, what it purports to be. By this metric alone, School for the Blindman gets a BeatTips Rating™ of 5. The album is a classic. Still, what makes it superb is not that it excels in what Bronze set out for it to be, but that it goes beyond. School for the Blindman demonstrates a timeless combination of theme and execution through a collection of beats and rhymes that live up to each other. And when the beat and rhyme fit as if they were born together, there’s no tougher combination. This occurs again and again on School for the Blindman.

Afterword

I’m almost puzzled as to why Bronze Nazareth and the whole Wisemen collective do not receive decent, ongoing coverage by rap music publications and even those music blogs that seem to pride themselves on pushing good music to the front, trends be damned. But the Wisemen represent a continuum essence, something held over from the concept of hip hop/rap music as a quality experience that pulls you in with dope beats and rhymes and authentic nuance. The Wisemen do not fit within or defer to a caricature of “pop cool” that prioritizes smedium t-shirts, skinny jeans, fake fun or emo synth-lines. They are not an outfit of over-hyped misfit angst pushing out contrived adolescence over sub-par beats. The Wisemen are blue collar stars, indicative of Detroit, the city they rep. Moreover, they are students and masters of a specific rap aesthetic, an art style and sound that holds meaning to them (and countless others around the world). Subsequently, they’re little concerned with trend-chasing critics who seem more interested in being the tastemakers of only one, often diluted branch of hip hop/rap music.


So the only reason that I’m even slightly puzzled by the lack of coverage that The Wisemen receive is because of what they represent and offer. Listen, hip hop/rap music is an indefinite music form. This means that there is no time — era, nuance, style, theme — in its vast tradition that can’t be summoned up, celebrated, and mastered. But as long as music publications fail to realize this important fact, unfortunately, The Wisemen (and any groups of similar stock and trade) may get overlooked.


Here, I’m reminded of something I learned as a kid, and something I tell my son: To be true to yourself is a blessing and a burden. Fortunately, Bronze Nazareth and The Wisemen have accepted the burden along with the blessing.


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

November 06, 2014

BeatTips Interviews Minnesota

A Frequency Runs Through It

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


(Photo credit: Amir Said)


Understanding. It’s one of the primary keys to crafting quality beats. Understanding is something South Bronx-bred beatmaker Minnesota has plenty of. He understands why beatmaking (hip hop production) has moved into the forefront. He understands that one of the beatmaker’s most fundamental roles is to provide the right frequency for a rapper to rap to. And, most importantly, he understands the essence of a dope beat and what it takes to become a skilled beatmaker.


Minnesota (or “Minnie” as he’s called by those who know him best) is the rare no-nonsense but jovial type. Bronx born and bread, he witnessed hip hop as a young child in the late 70s, which gives him a perspective not matched by many today. Because he studied the hip hop from its inception in the Bronx to its meteoric rise worldwide, he has an acute understanding of how hip hop culture and rap music mixed from the 70s on into the 200s. A beatmaker (producer) who enjoys discussing the intricacies of the art of beatmaking, Minnesota’s knowledge of the craft runs deep, and he’s also one of the biggest advocates for beatmaking education that I know. While working on an earlier edition of The BeatTips Manual, Minnesota and I got together to do a series of formal interviews. Below, I’ve put together the highlights of those discussions.


BeatTips: When did you realize that you had skills to make it?

Minnesota: Well, production wise, I was always indirectly into music. It was somethin’ that I always loved. So from the second that I picked it up… I bought my first beat machine in 1994. By 1995, I was selling tracks. I was taught by Scratch, the producer of KNS (he did “Déjà Vu” for Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz). I was coming out of the street, getting into music. I got the ASR; well, no, the first thing I got was the EPS 16 by Ensoniq.


BeatTips: 1994? Good Year! So what skill do you think you’ve developed the most since then?

Minnesota: The tide of music is generic right now. So I really had to learn how to dumb-it down. Doin’ music that’s acceptable to masses of people. The music that I usually be doin’ is some Advant Garde shit, music that’s ahead… A lot of times when I do a beat, I don’t like to do it with my ears, I like to do it with my spine. I like the no-brainer—the first 5 seconds of the beat is hittin’ you.


BeatTips: A lot of producers that came out of that mid-‘90s period resisted change.

Minnesota: Not me, ‘cuz see, there’s always my artistic mind and then there’s my hustlin’ mind. There’s always the mind that wants to get a lot of paper [money]. And then there’s always the mind of creating something because it’s some real ill shit. So there’s two minds. I could do something for someone like Mariah Carey, and then I could do something for someone underground… But just being a producer, sometimes you’ll be hard-headed, just wanting to go in one direction. When that happens, you become your own worst enemy.


BeatTips: What’s currently in your setup?

Minnesota: ASR-10


BeatTips: You don’t mess with the MPC?

Minnesota: Nawgh, none of that shit… It’s always the n*gga, it’s never the machine! I will say I lack certain keyboard sounds, the Ensoniq [ASR-10] doesn’t come with all that. There was a time when I was getting ready to get rid of it and I had gone with Tariq to Virginia. And we were in the studio with Pharrell [and Chad, the Neptunes] and I was getting ready to get rid of my machine…And I had gotten to see Timbaland’s setup and Pharrell’s setup, and at the base of their shit was the ASR-10. It’s a machine that might not be modern, but you can really get it off. I’m not close minded. There’s other different shit that I’m going to fuck with. At the time, I just didn’t come across any other machine that I wanted to use… I was never really big on the 1200 [E-Mu SP 1200]. And MPC’s just remind me of updated 1200s. I was really more for the keyboard, ‘cuz I could play by ear… The sounds in the ASR come in layers. I can strip layers, I can take two different sounds and glue ‘em on, you know what I’m sayin’. Tone it, glue it on, pitch it, then I’ll have a different sound.


BeatTips: I remember once when you and I were in the studio and you were telling me about this clap that you had made; you had layered some percussion over it. Is that a stable of your sound? Do you do a lot of layering?

Minnesota: Yeah, I do a lot of layering. Layering and pitching, you know what I’m sayin’. That’s the good thing about the ASR. I mean, I’m not going to say that you can’t do it on other machines, but there’s a certain warm sound that the ASR already comes with. Its got like a raggedy warm sound already. So even if I’m doing a keyboard beat, it sounds a little different then a nigga on an MPC.

Ghostface Killah - "Beat the Clock" (Prod. by Minnesota)


BeatTips: When you sample your drums, how do you do it? Do you sample them dry or do you do all your effects after?

Minnesota: Nawgh, I do everything dry. I don’t know if that’s a downside or not; I just grew up lovin’ warm music. I do all my shit dry. Unless I’m in the studio and I want to go a certain way.


BeatTips: What do you owe your sound to?

Minnesota: I like to do music that hits you right away, music that you feel. That could be a downside, though. ‘Cuz the music that’s out right now is microwave shit. You understand. It comes and it goes! But me, I just like that real, real good shit. I try to give it raw. Even with my keyboard joints… I don’t like to be boxed in as a producer. I can do anything. I can do Reggaeton, I can do R&B. But my forte is spittin’ out the joints that I like, and I’m known for that.


BeatTips: You did the theme song for Def Poetry Jam. Them violins was crazy. Now, for that beat, for something like that, you would think that you had to have a musical background where you were taught how to arrange music traditionally.

Minnesota: Well, what happened with that was there was a sample that couldn’t be cleared. So we had violin players come in and I had to hum it to the best of my ability. I like the beat. But we got close, but far, from the original tune… Even still, it fit so good with what was going on with Def Poetry. But the original sample, they was talking house and swimming pool money to clear it! People like how the final beat came out. But honestly, in my heart I didn’t like it, but that was a paper [money] situation.


BeatTips: Right now, reflectin’ back on your career, what producer or producers had the most influence on you early on? Who took you in early on?

Minnesota: SHOWBIZ!!! From Diggin’ In The Crates. That nigga opened my ears! Back when niggas was just sampling. Showbiz was the one that told me that I was listening to the records all wrong. Like, I would sample 1,2,3,4. He taught me 3 ½, 4 ½, 2 ½; like to catch it so awkward where nobody would be able to figure out what you did. He was the first person that showed me how to chop. And I just took it to Mars. He was on the SP 1200… I can always say that I owe all of that to Showbiz from Diggin’ In The Crates.


BeatTips: So how were you choppin’ before Show put you on?

Minnesota: Musically, it was like, when I got on the machine… you know how some producers are crazy over the megabytes and the gigahertz. I don’t know about none of that shit. I’m not technical AT ALL! My setup is hilarious to producers, when they come to my house, ‘cuz my shit is hooked up to a CD player! Niggas be buggin’ like, “Yo, where’s the studio?” I’m like, ‘Fuck a studio.’ I’m always more for the feeling of the music, or more for the frequency. Niggas be having the biggest studios and THEY BE TRASH!!! It’s never the machine, it’s the nigga. Like, if you put Pharrell on anything, he’s gonna come up with something wicked.


BeatTips: Considering what you just said, for somebody’s that’s never been into producing, how would you recommend they spend $3,000?

Minnesota: Man, let’s not lie: If I wasn’t a ASR nigga, I would’ve been one of the MPC niggas…an MPC something! ‘Cuz that is a hot machine. I’ve pressed on the buttons and I like the way it does drums. You can do like the stutter kicks…You can’t do that on the ASR…


BeatTips: You got joints with the stutter kick. So how do you do that on the ASR?

Minnesota: I gotta slow the shit down. If I got a beat going at 93 beats per minute, I gotta slow the beat down to like 51 and then play in the kicks, and then turn the BPM back up. That’s the downside to the machine. And the ASR doesn’t timestretch. That’s the only other thing that I hate. Other than that, man… But what I would recommend to someone is some kind of MPC. I hate the Triton. I never liked the sounds in it.


BeatTips: Are you into downloading sounds?

Minnesota: Nawgh, but there was this one kid that came by who did that. He used Fruity Loops. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give his beats a 6. And he was like, “I dig. I don’t dig like you do. I dig on the computer.” He said he could find records. That’s cool, but there’s just certain things that you’re only going to find on vinyl. Like artifacts. Extinct shit, where you could sample it, put it out, keep your mouth shut, and you don’t have to clear nothing. The thing that I would like to say to all producers is Shsh!… Stop talkin’! ‘Cuz this is our own “intellectual property”. People shouldn’t know about our oil. This is our oil! They know too much about our oil mine. Let’s shut up and we can get away with a lot of shit! If they want to find the sample, let them go look…FOREVER! We tell on ourselves too much… We tell on ourselves too much, musically! Producers: Shut Up. We got the power. You know, these idiots get on the music sometimes and fuck it up. But the producers have always been the ones who have had a burning passion to keep a certain frequency alive. So we control the music, you know what I’m sayin’. A producer shouldn’t be going home like, “I’m a do a street beat.” These people are defining us so much that they’re even fuckin’ with the producers’ mind now. And psychologically, it’s just got a lot to do with controlling our music and everything.


BeatTips: So what do you tell somebody who’s got the skills, but they can’t seem to break in… What’s their next move, how should they approach it?

Minnesota: You know, breaking in is based on politics a lot of time. There’s such a pretentious ethic that goes with the music game. You know, when you’re dope, you’re dope. But it’s like…one name gets you to another! Like when you find that one person. I don’t give a fuck if he’s in the mail room at Sony. He knows somebody, he’s gonna play your music for somebody…Point is, you gotta get with people that truly have a burning desire for your sound, your music. You gotta go with the one-name-gets-you-to-another approach. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be a disloyal person. You kind of gotta go from branch to branch, to kind of move forward… And another thing for producers is get any exposure that you can! Get in front of a camera, ‘cuz we all have a laid back way where we don’t wanna be seen, or we don’t wanna be heard. Now, it’s a different era. It’s about being visible. ‘Cuz you can be trash, but visible and everybody’s gon’ come and get your shit. There is a different game being played. You just gotta have your artistic mind and your business mind, your hustler mind, like in reference to hustling your music. Like if the South is poppin’, you go to the South. Stop runnin’ down to these motherfuckers, tryin’ to shop beats to these idiots. We in New York, but New York is not poppin’ right now, ‘cuz there is such a hateful, pretentious ethic that these black people use on each other. If you go in the South, yeah, you might not get $20,000 a beat, but you might get $6,500 cash, and they buy four of ‘em from you at once!


BeatTips: How would you say that you broke in? A lot people credit 50 Cent for using the Mix Tape movement as a way to break in. But I remember the Money Boss Players’ mix tape movement years before…

Minnesota: Times change, and you can’t be no asshole. 50 provided a climate of somethin’ that really happened with music. There was some real criminal shit going on in Queens; and he’s talented, you can’t take that away from the nigga…We [Money Boss Players] always down-played the street game. We was a small circle, and we was always real rap niggas…The Money Boss Players was me, Lord Tariq, C-Dub, Big Eye, Eddie Cheeba, and Trè Bag… You know what though…See, people look at rap…Like, I love 50 Cent and the G Unit movement. I love Murder, Inc. I love the Dipset…I’m not a hater… I love the Ruff Riders…What happens with our music is…I don’t know if I’m going off but this is something that I really gotta get out…What happens with our music is they can’t push drugs on the black community anymore, like they used to.

When crack came out, it was on every corner. Every 100 feet…Crack was an epidemic. It really hit us. It tore the black community a new asshole. So now, the new drug is thug! The kids don’t wanna’ be the junkie no more. Everybody wants to either be the shooter or the dealer. Now there is a machismo…And it’s creeping into the music…Let me put it to you like this. I like where the South is coming from with theirs. Because hard core is having its time to burn itself out. The South is bringing a playful thing into it… In ’91, ’92, the ganstas in the street was waiting for A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders of the New School to drop… See, music is spiritual government. It’s like a silent government over masses of people. Music can make you go kill someone! I pay attention to frequencies. I’m a producer. I see how certain frequencies hit people and their faces cringe up. You can’t stop music from goin’ in. So the government had to control our community through the music, ‘cuz they can’t push drugs on us! Producers…we provide a frequency to a poet. We’re frequency providers, you know what I mean…


BeatTips: Word… Yo, to you, what’s the difference between a beatmaker and a producer?

Minnesota: Well, everybody’s different…And that always transcends in your music… I don’t know how to explain it but check it out…You listen to Premier, you can hear Brooklyn in his music. You can hear he comes off the cloth of ‘80s in his music. In his frequencies that he picks to put out and sell, you can tell he’s somewhat of an elder, that he’s been around some shit. You can hear that he was some type of street dude in his music. Or you can take the Neptunes, the Virginia sound. You could hear that the Virginians really loved hip hop music. But they have a southern tinge on them…But you can also hear that they loved New York hip hop. We are ALL musicians!!! Even if we’re sampling, we’re just musicians…I don’t like the producer or the beat man shit! What I’m saying is this: I know how to make songs. I’m dope at it. I’m in a song zone, now. I hate just doing beats, now. Almost every joint I do, I hear the song to it…I’m just now getting into the song part of it, ‘cuz I was always trying to sell beats for money… I loved Ghostface on “Beat The Clock”. Big Pun grew up over here with me. And I underestimated him, but he made me see his vision. That’s what I loved about Chris [Big Pun].


BeatTips: Some people have told me that they don’t really get into listening to music. Do you listen to music on a regular basis.

Minnesota: I used too. You gotta understand. The crack babies are doing our music right now! I know I’m ol’ school in a lot of ways. [These new cats] cater to a mind state, a massive mind state. The music game is fucked up because the producers are not A&Rs. You put producers and DJs behind desks, you’ll get doper music; you’ll get a lot more good frequencies. But you know what though, there are a lot of good things resurfacing. Like Little Brother. That sound is a certain sound.


BeatTips: About a year ago, we was buildin’, and you mentioned somethin’ real about what Kanye West brought. Speak on some of that…

Minnesota: Well, if I can say one thing that I always say about him. He evened the playing field! He killt' the machismo… He brought back the ‘nigga, be comfortable with yourself’. I like that shit. He just evened the playing field to where you didn’t have to be just that nigga over there. And you couldn’t discriminate against him because he’s the producer. There’s a different stigma. The public will allow you freedom if you’re the beat man. But if you’re a rapper, it’s like, “nigga you gotta be this way”… Kanye’s music feels good, let’s not even sit there and lie… The first thing you gotta understand… I just want to get to somethin’ about the South. If you’re doing hip hop music, you’re doing Bronx music! That shit, we did that shit. When I was running around playing tag in the Bronx, I was listening to southern music, if that’s what it is, man Batta [Afrika Bambatta] and ‘em with the “Planet Rock”, and they rocked the planet with it. And then it went to Miami, and then it stretched out from there. Miami bass was South Bronx music! If you’re doing rap music, whatever the fuck you do, you’re doing Bronx music! The culture was birthed here. And New York stretched it out, and it went wherever it needed to go. Every sound that was ever featured, they did it hear a long time ago.


BeatTips: How does the business work? How do points work? And Explain how you will have to chase people down for your money.

Minnesota: If you can, I think that everybody should start out with two lawyers. I mean, everybody gets jerked, it’s fucked up… To a beat, there’s always 200%. There’s 100% writer’s and there’s 100% of the frequency [music]… Yeah, it’s fucked up. I have had situations. It’s ugly when it comes to paper…There’s just so much shit…And one more thing. Yo, tell a friend to tell a friend: DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT CALLING A MOTHERFUCKER 90 TIMES for your paper, in one day. Because they have a reverse psychology, where they make you feel bad about calling for your money, like you’re a bum. NO!!! You worked for it. Get your lawyer. These people behind the desk might make $60,000.00 a year, and now this record company owes you $50,000.00 off of one hit. GET YOUR MONEY. These jerks… These cock heads…These A&Rs. I don’t know where they get them from…


BeatTips: I hear this a lot: “If you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it.” How do you look at that?

Minnesota: That’s ignorant to say. No one has pristine eyes. Everybody’s got a different story. Your background, where you come from…Your life is gonna’ go the way it’s gonna go…Like me, I know music. There’s no arbitrary time frame, but you gotta be where it’s goin’ on. You can be a half-decent producer, but be around people who are consistently gettin’ some money. You have to be around it… be in contact with the right people!


BeatTips: I write that the equation looks like this: the person + the device = success. What order would you rank the machine…What order do you rank a person’s background… What order do you rank where a person lives…What order would you rank a person’s music introduction?

Minnesota: Motivation, Personality and Talent. Talent don’t mean nothing! I got a ton of it. I should be making somewhere in the lower millions. But my personality. My brutally honest shit is a thorn in the industry. Motivation, I’m 60/40…60% motivation, 40% beware of people!


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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


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

October 24, 2014

Nottz - “Shine So Brite,” An Illumination of Beatmaking's Impenetrable Force Field

Song Punctuates Beatmaking's Ability to Suspend Hip Hop/Rap Music in Time

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


Here's a simple truth: Within the beatmaking tradition (of the broader hip hop/rap music tradition), the more beatmakers who make beats, the more fluid the notions become about what constitutes a dope beat. But hip hop/rap music, perhaps more than any other twentieth-century American popular music form, has the incredible power to reuse, retool, reconceptualize, and recontextualize the very fundamentals that gave rise to its existence. Because of beatmaking, hip hop/rap music's chief compositional process, hip hop/rap is one of the only popular Western music forms that can rotate in new generations of music makers who feature sounds that authentically span any of its pivotal styles and eras.


This means that any serious student of the beatmaking tradition can reproduce any one moment in hip hop/rap's history (particularly its most soulful moments), in the exact style, sound, sonic template, feel, mood, and texture. Thus, for all intents and purposes, hip hop/rap music has an impenetrable force field. One in the form of a legion of beatmakers (now and in the future) whose commitment to hip hop/rap's core musical processes, protects (in effect) against its own demise.


By perpetually reusing and recalibrating beatmaking's most unique processes and methods, in the finest, dare I say truest manner, these beatmakers ascend towards the graces, and sometimes ranks, of beatmaking's most important architects and pioneers. To be certain, these beatmakers that I speak of (both masters and novices) may not always get the recognition from the mainstream — or even the underground — that they deserve. However, all of these beatmakers embrace and enjoy their personal role in helping to preserve the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. This is why I've always appreciated Nottz and the music that he makes.


Nottz Makes Timeless Hip Hop/Rap Music

It is from the basis of this context that I was compelled to breakdown Nottz' song, "Shine So Brite." Nottz, who's music is by and large both a fine example of and homage to the soulful "boom bap" sound of the hip hop/rap music tradition, is acutely tuned in to the essence of using recorded music in his creative process. And his mastery of the art of sampling (as well as the art of arrangement) is on full display in his song "Shine So Brite."


From the first note, "Shine So Brite" aims to intimidate. The "1" drops, and over the aggressive, mid-pitched guitar sample is a fist-full-of kick that makes the "twang" of guitar strum spring forward like a countdown to a nefarious missile launch. In fact, this is why "Shine So Brite" bounces so hard: the punch of the primary sample phrase lands on the "1," "2," "3," and "4." Over the top of the kick is a truncated crash-cymbal that stalks the full measure, stabbing, in lock step with the chromatic pattern of the primary sample phrase, at the quarter points of each bar.


As for changes, the organ parts that Nottz works in are absolutely stone cold! Eerie and deadly serious, the organ phrases skip over the core rhythm, sounding like Jimmy Smith in a 1960s Harlem rib shack. Then there's the sampled vocal harmonizing, a spiritual musing that directly reinforces the soulful casing and arrangement of the beat. Finally, the "scratch-hook," a fundamental mainstay of hip hop/rap music, is used here in conjunction with Nottz' rapping of a refrain, which is itself doubled-up with a high-pitched vocal rendering of the same refrain. And to round out the hook section, Nottz goes with a very light (barely audible) melody synth line that glides and fades in and out almost without notice.


With "Shine So Brite," Nottz is not taking hip hop/rap "back" to a glory time any less or more than he is helping to take it forward. This is the beauty and real genius of what Nottz is doing with "Shine So Bright." He's tapping directly into the energy and essence of one of beatmaking's (hip hop'/rap's) most notable schools of sounds, staying within its fundamental parameters, and giving it a fresh and entirely respectful interpolation. The result: A timeless sound that engages on its own merits and terms — a sound that both old and new beatmakers can enjoy, study, and appreciate alike.


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

Nottz – “Shine So Bright”

Nottz – “Shine So Bright” (Official music video)

Nottz "Shine So Brite" from Raw Koncept on Vimeo.

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

October 16, 2014

BeatTips Inside the Beat: Creating an Arrangement to Fit an Idea

Using Your Composite Idea as a Guide to Capture the Essence and Feel You Envision

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Eight years ago, my father died. He was the first person to introduce me to music... Because of his interest in "hi-fidelity" stereo systems, premium speakers, and recording equipment in general, I suppose you could say he was also the first person to introduce me to audio recording. But his love for music and audio equipment aside, he's also responsible for producing some, let's say, rather turbulent times when I was a kid. So while working on a new beat one day, I was playing back some of those times in my head, and it helped me to come up with a composite idea for beat.


I like to use the term composite idea to refer to the complete picture, i.e. the framework or blueprint that I get in my head for a beat/song. It's like a photographic snapshot that I both see and hear. Perhaps you could say that it's a little more than intuition. But for me it's a special moment in my creative process. So I like to dignify that moment by giving it a name.


For the song "I Remember My Dad," included below for study, the composite idea that I had was for a beat with some sort of overall challenging pitch/tempo scheme. Something that could audibly parallel the real shifts in happiness, anger, and disappointment that my father provoked when I was a kid. And, because above all, he really was a kind-hearted, no-nonsense sort of man, I wanted the framework of the beat to convey this conflict while honoring him as much as I could. I wanted a sound that not only expressed his tragedy, but a sound that also authentically reflected both the good and bad of those times, and how they filtered through to help shape who I am today.


With this in mind, I immediately thought about sampling some strings. So I went through a couple of albums that I have with female jazz vocalists. (Incidentally, there are some terrific string arrangements to be found with female jazz vocalists.) Among the records I listened to, I didn't find anything that quite fit my composite idea. But by listening to those records, I did get a clearer picture of it. And now with a sharper focus, I stuck with the female vocalist theme, and shifted my diggin' search from jazz to soul, where I found exactly what I needed to begin the foundation of my composite idea.


There was this really uplifting choir & harps section on this one record. By itself, it was light. But I knew that after I sampled it, I could add weight, i.e. bass, boom, dirt, etc., as well as some "color" to it. This way I could make it sound haunting and robust. Of course, part of boosting it up came before I even sampled it, when I adjusted the EQs on my mixing board, where I have my DJ mixer routed to before it hits the inputs of any of my samplers.


Having sampled this choir & harps spare-part phrase (I discuss compositional phrases in The BeatTips Manual) via my Akai MPC 4000, I chopped it (manually, not auto-chop) to spec. Then, I filtered it using my MPC's high-pass filter. Once I had the feel and the sound in place, I duplicated the sample and created two versions of it, one at the original pitch level that I sampled it at, and the other several pitch levels down. So now I had, C&H (choir & harps) pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2.


With the two choir & harps phrases, C&H pitch 1 and C&H pitch 2, I created a 2-bar sequence with C&H pitch 1 starting the first bar and C&H pitch 2 at the opening of the second bar. Together, this 2-bar sequence made up a "break" (in The BeatTips Manual I explain this concept of the break in greater detail).


At this point, half of my composite idea was already set. What I needed to do now was to work in the right drum framework. In keeping with the theme of contradiction (or contrast), I wanted to build a drum pattern that was solid enough to rock on its own. I didn't want anything soft or deferential to the choir & harps sound. Also, I wanted to use hi-hats and rides in a way that helped to push and shuffle the beat along as I rhymed to it. Note: I only used one hi-hat and one ride, BUT I used them in at least four different ways, ranging from different velocity and duration settings on the hi-hat/open hat to elongation and truncation on the ride hits.


After I created the drum pattern on my MPC, I recorded it into Pro Tools. In Pro Tools, I quickly added some reverb and light EQ to each of the drum sounds, then I sampled the pattern — not the individual drum hits — back into my MPC. Once back inside my MPC, I assigned the entire drum pattern to one drum pad. This is what I used as the drum framework: a drum break created and customized by me. Note: This didn't take long at all, because I only recorded about two bars worth of the drum pattern into Pro Tools. Once I sampled back inside the MPC, I chopped it down and looped it. Now the framework was nearly complete!


But I still wanted to add in some stylistic changes.... First, I sampled a vocal part (from the same record as the Choir & Harps) that had some bass behind it. I did this on purpose, because I knew that I was going to turn it into an elongated sound-stab that could play and rise up at certain parts of the verse section of the arrangement. Once I sampled it, I chopped it down. I wanted to make it rise and to sound somewhat brighter, so I filtered it with the MPC's notch filter and turned up the volume on it.
(I should point out that when I had the entire beat tracked into Pro Tools, I had to slap a limiter on this sound-stab so that it didn't rise too much.)


Next, I sampled a piano & guitar riff, which I chopped down and filtered with my MPC's high-pass filter. I had to cut a lot of the original treble to make it much warmer, and to make it blend with the fade of the choir & harps sample.


Finally, I worked in my customized floor tom. Here's where knowing your sounds really comes into play. I used my floor tom, at two different pitch levels, not as percussive elements but mostly as bass support for the choir & harps sample. When you hear the song below, listen carefully to how I arranged the floor toms. You will notice that the timbre of the floor toms work like a bass when pitched, arranged, and combined with the fade of the choir & harps sample. Because I know my floor tom sound, I know what it's capable of and how it can be used like a bass-stab.


When I was finished with the beat, my composite idea was realized. And the only thing then left for me to do was to write and record the composite rhyme that I had....

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

Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "I Remember My Dad" by Sa'id


Sa'id - "I Remember My Dad" beat breakdown

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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"

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

October 07, 2014

K-Def Interview Feature with ReDef's John Notarfrancesco

With His New Beat Tape, 'Back to the Beat', Produced Along with The 45 King, This Beatmaking Vet is Proving Why He's Still on the Rise

Interview By JOHN NOTARFRANCESCO, Intro by ZACH COLE, Edited by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


Photo courtesy of Redefinition Records

The New Jersey based hip hop producer K-Def established a solid following under the wing of the father of modern beatmaking and Juice Crew founder, Marley Marl. For K-Def, the learning curve was steep, but he was quickly catapulted into the spotlight when he served as a key producer on The Lords of the Underground’s classic LP, Here Come The Lords.


Well-versed in the art of manipulating samplers to craft just about any boom-bastic sound he wanted, K-Def earned a reputation as one of hip hop’s finest producers with an ear for hard-hitting and catchy beats. He has produced for the likes of Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, El Da Sensei, Diddy and KRS-One. Additionally, his group Real Live (with rapper Larry-O) released The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama (1996), a widely respected album that featured the song “Real Live Shit.” Below is a featured interview with K-Def, as told to John Notarfrancesco of Redefinition Records. (Interview Intro by Zach Cole, Edited by Amir Said)


K-Def: I first learned about sampling through the Casio SK5. The SP…that machine was crazy man. I remember I went to Power Play studios in like 88 with my cousin Larry O. I think Biz, Extra P (Large Professor), Roxanne Shante were there. We were there at the time with KRS (KRS One). I remember seeing the SP (12, not the SP 1200) hooked up with the slave running off of it. I would see what they were doing and I would hear my boys talk about it and started to see what I could do with it. That was before I got it. Anyway, some time later, I had an SP and I didn't have it long, because it got stolen, I think it was the 12 that was stolen. After that, I went and got the 1200 (SP 1200). But the 12…yeah, it had the big ol' Commodore floppy connected to it. It was ugly. It was big and ugly. I went down to Rutgers (University in NJ) to a party or whatever and they stole it outta the car. I only had a few tracks that I was messing with on the 12, I didn't have it long before I got that 1200.


You know, at first I was happy with it, but then I started getting pissed off because I had to push the record speed up really fast so I could get enough time in there, and then still had to add drums. It had very limited time, and it was in mono. The great thing though, the illest thing about the SP1200 was that it had the cut offs. If I take Nautilus and chop that up (hums bassline). Instead of trying to chop each note, you can take the second downbeat and tap it twice on a pad, and it will still play out the rest of the sample after the second tap. You could do some good stuff with that. That was the greatest feature, because when it cut, it really cut. Pete Rock was really good at that. If the down beat was off, or it didn't flow right with the drums, he was good at getting it to work for him. Those little things started frustrating me about the SP.


A few of my boys had it, and I would watch them make miracles out of it, it was like they had unlimited time, but then I started seeing how much they had to mess with it to get the sounds in, and that’s obviously part of why it had that gritty sound. It was 12 bit or whatever, it wasn't even 16. That grainy gritty sound…it would sound hot on some particular drums or even some loops, but at the end of the day, you would either use it for drums or some horns or something short and simple, and you could make it work. I think Hip-Hop was the way it was back then, because of the limitations of the SP. If you had access to a studio and could record multiple passes, then you know, that was great, but many of us, I know myself, I just had a lil four track recorder. It wasn't like I could go too far. But I wont front, it was fun for drums. It helped me understand how things worked. The SP didn't let you do too much, but you had to do a lot. I've seen dudes fill up all the banks on there, on one disc. I’m not knocking it, but at some point, the word 'Stereo' came into play and maybe that's why they didn't make more after that. The rack mounts like the 950, 1000, 1100, 3000, and all that. They added functionality.


After the SP, I got the MPC60 and then the 3000. When the MPC3000 first came out, the whole hip hop community was begging for a new SP, but EMU never did it. Just like when Roger Linn left Akai and Akai got stuck, and after that I don't think they were the same.


Pete Rock was nasty with the SP and so was my boy Nate from Patterson (NJ). Those were the best guys I've seen rock the 1200. They could chop stuff up so fast like it was second nature. People said that about me on the MPC3000, but man, if anyone were to ask me? I will say that Pete Rock is the Don Master of the SP. Anything anyone could ever wanna know about the SP, Pete is the guy for that. Excluding Pete Rock, a lot of beats on the SP just didn't have that studio vibe, that thick sound. Guys could use it in their bedrooms, but when they took it out, it didn't have that quality sound, it wasn't gonna work. Pete was around guys who knew what to do with sound. Like Eddie F. And Marley? Marley was the 1200 master! He had stuff that he did on the 1200 that inspired other guys to get the 1200 and do their own thing with it.


Pete was meticulous, he amazed me because whatever he picked…he already knew what he would do before he brought it into the machine. When he did the Champ MC Remix for “Keep It On The Real,” he chopped those drums up and man, if you play the original break he sued, it was going 100 miles an hour, but his was around 86 and it had a feel that when you play the original record, it was low, it was fast, but Pete just tuned it down, tapped it out. He owned the drums he sampled, he made them his own. He could take 2 sounds and program it in a way that it was like he was playing it. I'll tell you something, I think he was doing what I was doing, he would compress stuff or EQ it before he sampled it in. That's what a smart dude would do. Even if I did a beat CD, I would EQ or run it through a compressor to get it to sound right.


Extra P (Large Professor) was nice, too. He did a beat with Spinnin Wheel. The “Its a Boy” remix for Slick Rick. It made me really say, like…wow. I was like what is THAT? Then when I heard how he took all the drum pieces from the different sections of the original, I was like that’s genius. Extra P was another one of those guys. He did some stuff that sounded so clear and clean. I think the "Resurrection" Remix, that took me to another plateau. He took one loop, "Spirit," and chopped it up and to this day I still can’t figure out the parts that he used to make it because with the 1200, there’s a way you can get it to blend cutoffs in a smooth way, and I haven't seen too many guys master that or that machine in that way.


Oh yeah, Buckwild. When I heard Buckwild's “C'mon Wit' The Git Down” Remix (for the Artifacts), I was like “Those drums ... man!” When I heard those drums I thought it was so hot. It made me say this guy knows what he's doing. His shit sounded harder than the record that he sampled it from or anyone else who ever used it since. That break, even though his was mono and the original was stereo, the 1200 was so gritty that it gave it certain dynamics that just made it so great. I gotta give Buckwild credit for that one. But after a while, at some point, you gotta move forward. The people dictated that they had enough of that sound, not so much the man using the box, but the audience responded to different sounds. But when it was relevant, when it had its day, man, that was IT.


DJs have an advantage when they make beats. The instincts of the DJ is to get the best sound quality and understand how the listener receives it. Pete Rock had that. He would put the drums in your face first and anything else, he made it fit and sound the way it needed to fit with the drums. He was the first to chop up "Brethren" and just make em smack you in the face. The stuff he did on his second album, that stuff was not even normal. "I Got a Love" and all of that? Not normal. Those songs were crazy. Pete Rock was a special identity because he could take all these lil sounds that weren't meant to go together, or in the same key, and he could make 'em fit. He could track and track and track and just keep loading sounds and adding new layers. Most guys would just use whatever came out of the machine and that was it. Some of the gifted ones could do it all in the machine, to the degree where you would think they used other equipment or multiple tracks, but not too many could really do it like that.


Now there's a different sound and style, but at the time...man, those guys that were doing it. Diamond D and them, they would be reigning terror nowadays. But now the sounds and technology is so different, and the audience as a whole, they want a different sound. The 12 was a good piece but by the time it got its due, it was on its way out.


Everyone was laughing at me when I had the MP. Me and Marley bought the MPC 3000 at the same time, we went to the store and bought em. I think Pete moved to the MP much later when he got a deal with Akai. When I was using the MPC60, I had plenty of arguments with guys that I lost until I got the 3000. Then, people heard that and would say, 'its in stereo?! And it has cut offs?!' I was like yup, stereo, cut offs, filters, modulation AND you can assign what to cut off or not. You had options, the 16 levels, and all of that. I figured out some tricks that I could benefit from the 1200 and that I could make it work on the 3000.


K-Def's Equipment Through The Years

• Casio SK5 – I think I got that in 87, 88
• SP12 – It was just stupid, like 2 seconds of sampling time
• SP1200 – I rocked that for a short period of time, 10 seconds was better but not enough
• MPC60 – I grabbed that in '89 and then I added the S1000 in 92
• MPC3000 – I got on that in '94, with the S3000 too
• Cubase – I moved on to that in '97 and ever since then i've been doing all of my music on


Cubase. It does whatever I need it to do. When I first started guys would knock it and say “Yo, that’s not real, that’s not the way its supposed to be,' but look at it now? And I would tell them, “Yo, you're using a sampler, its a machine, with a computer chip inside. Your ears dictate what your music sounds like, not what you use.” When I jumped on the computer I was like a kid in the candy shop and it just keeps growing, I just keep getting better and adding on to my capabilities. I feel lucky that I started early as opposed to jumping on the bandwagon later. Strictly hardware manufacturers will need to make a new machine every year just to keep up with the potential and new functions. I just wanna say, don’t knock the technology because you prefer a certain machine, because you're going to limit your self to that one piece as opposed to learning new things and getting better and mastering the full range of music production. I'm a one man band, but it pays off because the more I do, the better I get and I can do it all own my own. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'll never go back to hardware. I can say to each his own, and do what you feel works best for what it is that you want to accomplish.


Some of K-Def's favorite tracks produced on the SP1200

• Buckwild – "C'mon Wit Da Git Down (Remix)"
• Extra P - "Resurrection (Remix)", "Fakin The Funk"
• Biz Markie - "Just A Friend"
• Pete Rock - "I Got A Love," "Escapism," "For Pete's Sake," "Can't Stop The Prophet (Remix)"
• Beatminerz - "Who Got Da Props," "I Gotcha Open,"" (and a few others from those albums)
• Diamond D - "Flow Joe"
• A Tribe Called Quest – "Lucien", if that was done on the SP. They had a lot of good music
• Marley Marl – Forget about it man, I could name a thousand songs. Oh, but check it, the beat for “The Bridge” – that wasn't done on the SP. That was done on the DigiTech. A DigiTech sampler and an 808 drum machine. To this day I still wonder how he was triggering it, but man, he did it. The TR-808 to the DigiTech sampler. He had four of them. [Editor’s note: In Marley Marl’s interview in The BeatTips Manual, he details how he did it.]


More K-Def:
• Stream the 'Back to the Beat' Beat Tape on BeatTips
• Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-Def
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/DJKDEF
• Instagram: http://instagram.com/djkdef
• Redefinition Records: http://www.redefinitionrecords.com/collections/k-def

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

Beat Tape Notable™: 'Back to the Beat' by K-Def and The 45 King

Enjoyable Beat Tape That's Consistent Throughout

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Consummate pros do what they do best.

No fuss. This is what comes to mind when listening to Back to the Beat (Redefinition Records), the sonically pleasing and refreshing new beat tape by the well-respected beat vets K-Def and The 45 King. With this collection of beats, K-Def and The 45 King — both sample-based stalwarts with DJ backgrounds — focus on grooves that highlight warm, lush, and aggressive sample-based phrases and drums that knock but never over power.


The knock factor of the beats on this collection is one of the things that I find most refreshing. Because of contemporary music’s volume wars, sound dynamics have often been squeezed out of the audio picture — literally and figuratively — in favor of over compressed, master-blaster like levels; and drum sounds have all but become casualties of this audio clusterfuck. Fortunately, this is not the case with the beats on Back to the Beat, where the drums are clearly distinguishable and crisp, and the non-drum sounds are full of character.


As for my picks on the beat tape, the entire 12-beat offering is solid throughout, but “Lion,” “Tiger,” and “Changing Keys” are the clear winners. (Incidentally, “Tiger” and “Changing Keys” hold the distinction of being the joints that I want to rhyme on. K-Def, 45 King, let’s make that happen…)


Beat tapes often leave you wondering how much better the project could have been if it had rhymes on it, or who would have sounded great over which beat. Such speculation is fun and it does make the listening experience more bearable. But as beat tapes go, Back to the Beat is quite enjoyable without vocals. I think this is both because of the various vocal snippets that lace a number of the beats on here, but also because of the high quality of the beats. An achievement that I would expect nothing less of from two consummate pros like K-Def and The 45 King.


K-Def & The 45 King - 'Back to the Beat' (Redefinition Records)

October 06, 2014

To Loop, or Not To Loop Individual Sounds?

Prolonging Sounds May Be the Answer to the Question

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


When it comes to modifying individual sounds, there's one common question: Should you loop individual sounds? Here's my take: I rarely loop any individual sounds, hits or stabs, other than maybe a snare that I want to give a roll-effect to. Instead, what I do is, I aim to "prolong" sounds by duplicating (copying) them, and then either splicing them together or layering them (programming them) to play either as: (a) slightly overlapping sounds; or (b) as blended (layered) sounds with different beginning/start and end chop points, and with each sound having a different velocity and/or volume level.


When I make beats, there's two fundamental concepts of arrangement that I may use. For some beats, I try to approach arrangement and structure as closely as possible to how a typical 1970s era groove (soulful rhythm section) would have been arranged. In keeping with that, the only way a sound can be extended and/or looped in a traditional live band setting is through the actual playing and prolonging of the notes (sounds) of particular interest. The other concept of arrangement that I use is more along the lines of a mid-1990s era, up-front drum programming. So for me, when it comes down to it, the looping of individual sounds in beatmaking is actually more about the prolonging of individual sounds, not the looping of them. And, therefore, when I want to prolong or sustain a sound, I opt to use more natural techniques to achieve that effect.


Let me be clear, there isn't anything particularly wrong with looping individual sounds. But I often find that the looping of individual sounds can often sound more artificial. This can make the overall beat sound unbalanced or overly modified, usually devoid of feeling and a nice swing. Also, for me, I've always felt that the looping of an individual sound limits its spacing and "fit" within a beat. That is, once a sound is looped to itself, it's "sound potential" (what the sound could be) is capped and locked into a burdensome loop. In other words, the loop of the individual sound can cause the sound to stand out throughout the beat in a way that does not necessarily compliment the beat.


For example, let’s say you have a saxophone phrase and you want the last quarter of it to repeat. There’s two ways to do this. One way to do it is, you loop the part of the saxophone that you want to repeat. This gives you the sample with its tail end looped to itself. Consider for a moment how that would sound….


Another way to repeat the last quarter of the sax phrase is to duplicate the original sax, then use the two samples — the original and the duplicate — together. What you do is chop the last quarter from the original sax, then chop the duplicate down to ¾ of its duration, essentially leaving only the last quarter of the original saxophone phrase. At this point, you can play the repeat of the last quarter of the sample—wherever you like in the arrangement, not just at the end of the saxophone phrase, because you’re not locked into the looped version of the sample. Note: By using this method and technique, you play (arrange) each sampled phrase in a way that feels more real and less synthetic, artificial, or contrived.


Still, all of this having been said, there are some occasions where looping an individual sound is helpful. For instance, let’s look at that same hypothetical saxophone phrase. What if you didn’t want to use the entire phrase itself; what if you just wanted to use it to make sax sound-stabs? In that case, chopping the sample down to small stabs and looping them can be helpful, depending, of course, on how you intend to use the stabs. For example, you could loop a sax-stab so that it rumbles, then you could combine that rumbling sax-stab with another sound stab. The possibilities for sound-stabs, from everything to texture to variance to vibe to feel, is endless.


Bottom Line
When deciding upon whether or not to loop an individual sound, always consider the overall feel of the beat that you’re working on. In most cases, duplicate an individual sound first, then combine it with it’s original. This will often put you closer to the sound that you’re going for. But if that doesn’t work, sure, you can also loop the part of the sound that you want to repeat (or give off a chorus effect, etc.)


Also, remember that merely looping the end of a phrase does not necessarily give the feel of the phrase repeating naturally. Think of a guitarist repeating the same riff over and over. Now think of that guitarist prolonging one part of the riff before he returns back to the riff’s beginning. Imagine how this human loop sounds; imagine the feel, nothing artificial! Incidentally, this is a great guide to use when thinking about chopping down lengthy phrases or multi-bar measures.


Finally, as beatmakers, we work in a world of electronic music production, wherein we can program EMPIs (Electronic Music Production Instruments) to do things that a human can’t. In some ways, this is an advantage, in some ways, it’s a disadvantage. Either way, we shouldn't deliberately sacrifice a human feel and sensibility just because production technology presents us with endless possibilities.

---
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."

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

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