7 posts categorized "Music Appreciation"

July 18, 2013

O.C. Smith and Gordon Parks - "Blowin' Your Mind": Skill, Rhyme, and Rhythm

The Single Most Important Thing About Rhyme, and the Significance of the Core Rhythm and Groove

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Skill. If you’re bold enough to set out on that journey of writing rhymes, then it’s damn well something you better have. But how do you get it? When it comes to rhyme, the typical thing to do is study the rhyme-greats of the hip hop/rap tradition.

For those fairly new to rapping (and here, I’m talking 5 years experience or less), the easy starting point is Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas, Eminem, Kanye West, you get the picture. And for those willing to take it back—that is, those interested on discovering the core metrics of the modern lyrical skill set, there’s the mighty lyrical sextet of T La Rock, Silver Fox, LL Cool J, Rakim, Kool G. Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. (NOTE: there are some who focus on the trinity of Rakim, Kool G. Rap, and Big Daddy Kane to the exclusion of LL Cool J. I can assure you that such an act is utterly, ridiculously, stupendously, and but-ass-crazily foolish, as early LL Cool J is lyrical sickness! That’s "dope" for all the squares who front, or "amazing" for the part-time rap reviewers and crowd followers.)

For the extra accelerated students of rhyme, you know, those who want to know the base components of the rap tradition, the origins of it all, there’s the “originator’s class”—Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, and Kool Moe Dee, and the countless unsung M.C.s from 1973-1978. Anyone of the aforementioned dimensions of hip hop’s rhyme lexicon that I've laid out here will give you some level of skill. But if you want to really teleport to the essence of the oral tradition of “rap” that gave way to modern “Rap”, then you have to go off the path—way off the path…

This is where I found myself years ago, fever-thinking about how to improve my rhyme skill. Regular BeatTips readers know that I began rapping before I made beats. And for me, the goal was to capture skill and develop my own unique voice. This meant that not only did I have to study the greats of hip hop’s rhyme lexicon, I had to find a horizon that not too many rhymers had gone to before. And I found that horizon in O.C. Smith’s “Blowin’ Your Mind” from the Shaft’s Big Score soundtrack (1973).

Modern rhyme lexicon aside, nothing taught me more about how to rhyme than O.C. Smith’s rap (lyrics by Gordon Parks) on “Blowin’ Your Mind.” Smith, an acclaimed vocalist with a background in jazz, does more high-level rapping than singing on “Blowin’ Your Mind.” First, there’s the natural adlib before he begins the first verse. After the instrumental has cooked, twisted, turned, and rattled for 1 minute and 24 seconds, and after the horn section does a 4-second staccato crescendo, Smith slides in abruptly-smooth with the command, “Now, look here…,” before he begins a rhyme that doesn’t focuses on rhyme itself:

“Who twists your spine, till it feels like jelly and it heat your blood till it’s boiling wine?—/
Who splits your heart in a zillion pieces?—”

The magnificent thing about this two-line opening is that Smith doesn’t rhyme “rhyme”, he rhymes “rhythm”. That is, his lyrics go against and to the rhythm of the instrumental. Smith is not concerned with crafting a concise rhyme, he’s only concerned with putting you on to (or reminding you) just who Shaft is—a bad motherfucker! And for that purpose, the purpose of conveying in-your-face information in a heavily rhythmic lyrical cycle, Smith doesn’t even bother with a typical ABACDA rhyme scheme. Instead, in the opening verse, he runs off a deceptive AB-based rhyme scheme, where nothing “rhymes” cleanly or neat. He pulls this off with various oral techniques—vocal drags, gaps, pauses, and elongations, all of which he uses in deference to rhythm, with no emphasis on presenting a clean rhyme. It’s not until the third verse does Smith offer a clean AABBCCDD rhyme scheme:

“Wo, he’s a smooth cat/
And knows where it’s at/
A bad spade/
Don’t pull your blade/
A super brother/
A gone mother/
A cool dude/
And shovels his food—”

And even though this is the cleanest rhyme of the song, Smith’s delivery is anything but. He raps this rhyme scheme in a rhythmic breakdown, one that drives the instrumental bridge in the song. Skill.

It was upon listening to “Blowin’ Your Mind” that I made my most important discovery about the art of rhyme: Rhyming is about the rhythm of words and their relationship to the rhythm of the instrumental; that words rhyme cleanly, or even at all, is a secondary notion. This single thought, that rhyming, particularly at its highest level, is about the negotiation of two rhythms—that which the rapper brings and that of the instrumental—and words that mean what they say, gave me the basis for the rhyme skill I always sought. Not only did it give me a deeper understanding of how to master the various tropes and nuances of modern rhyme (1985-to the present), it helped me figure out everything from how to develop my own breath control techniques to how to identify those word frameworks that work best with my style and voice.

But “Blowin’ Your Mind” didn’t just teach me more about rhyming, it taught me a great deal about how to make beats. When you first hear “Blowin’ Your Mind,” you’re struck by the cinematic orchestration of it all; of course, it was a theme song for a movie soundtrack, so that’s to be expected. But it’s the nature of this orchestration that interested me the most.

Everything centers around the rhythm and the groove. The bass part, deadly repetitive and menacing, stabs over and over with a 4-note sequence that splits anchoring duties with the drums. Then there’s the rattling tambourine and spots of the shaker here and there. And no Shaft-like instrumental would be complete (or perfect) without twanging rhythm guitar passes. The drums bump and role, certainly, but the earlier described bass sequence leads the rhythm section for the most part, so the drums are grounded, content with holding a steady backbeat. And sure, there’s a big, over-the-top brass section on “Blowin’ Your Mind,” but that was par for the course when it came to 1970s film scores. Only, the brass section here, just as with the strings, dances and jabs in and out to the movement of the core rhythm.

The main takeaway from my study of Gordon Parks’ arrangement on “Blowin’ Your Mind” was how to keep the core rhythm going, while adding in changes that didn’t corrupt the feel and mood. The type of beats that I’m mostly interested in (those that motivate me to wanna rhyme the most) are those that commit to a deliberate rhythm. I can appreciation orchestral beat productions (when they’re done right), but sometimes those beats come off as an overreach with useless changes and unnecessary sounds. Instead, I dig a well-maintained groove, one complete with a solid back beat and strong rhythmic force, where the melody defers to it. This is exactly what “Blowin’ Your Mind” offers. Skill.

Oh, yeah, my infamous "Gun-shot" snare drum sound was created from, and patterned off of, the snare at the :36 mark…

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

O.C. Smith and Gordon Parks - "Blowin' Your Mind"

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

March 31, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Johnny Pate's "Bucktown" and the Drum Lessons of Soul, Funk, and Disco

To Understand Key Elements of the Drums in Soul, Funk, and Disco, It's Important to Be Familiar with those Music Forms

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

While many beatmakers might be aware of the connection between soul, funk, and disco to hip hop/rap music, it's not always so clear to see, or better yet to hear, exactly how soul/funk set the foundation for hip hop/rap music and beatmaking. Well, within the overall rhythmic influences of these musics, lies the most glaring connection: the drums.

Below I've included Johnny Pate's "Bucktown (Main Theme)," a song from the 1975 action ("blaxpoitation") flick Bucktown. I chose this song because it straddles soul, funk, and disco all at once; a sound that, in 1975, sat as a unique mix of the three forms right before the complete onslaught of disco. For our purposes here, with this song what you want to focus your attention on is the drum framework; you can hear the drums best between the 0:17 - 0:49 marks. Notice what it sounds like? If it were just the drums, wouldn't most describe it as a hip hop/rap drum beat? And therein lies the point...

Which brings me to this: I receive a number of emails and private messages in The BeatTips Community (TBC) from people concerned about making their drums "funky", "funkier", or "more soulful". Invariably, I always ask, "Well, are you listening to any funk or soul?" In every case that I've replied back with this question, the answer reply has always been the same..."No." Further, in every case, the answer have also included this, "I want my drums to sound like..." DJ Premier, Pete Rock, J Dilla...and so on.

Imagine wanting to talk (sound) like a supreme court justice or a successful corporate lawyer without ever studying jurisprudence (law theory, philosophy, etc.). Although the art of beatmaking and making music in general is altogether a different practice and culture, I find it just as ludicrous to want to make "funky" or "soulful" drums without ever studying or listening to funk or soul music.

When someone says that they want to make drums that sound like some of beatmaking's most notable pioneers, I get it. For many, it's just a reference point for the style and sound that they like; it's the zone in which they'd like to work from. Understandable. But what's usually lost in this oft-repeated statement is the fact that all of beatmaking's notable pioneers studied and listened to funk, soul, and disco. Though each pioneer ultimately emerged with their own unique style and sound (of course, they are all collectively representative of the same fundamental understanding), they did not arrive without clear guides from funk, soul, and disco drum arrangements.

But beatmaking pioneers notwithstanding, it's misleading to believe that one can understand how to inject soul music's influence into their beats, or make something funkier, or add a disco backbeat, while being completely unfamiliar with soul, funk, or disco. (How can one know to include key elements and stylings of musics that they've never listened to before?) Such a prospect is so fundamentally flawed that it can produce a false sense of musical understanding— something that can certainly disrupt the development of any beatmaker.

And while some beatmakers can perhaps clone a DJ Premier or Pete Rock drum pattern, this type of mimicry does not serve as a substitute for the original thing! For one, obviously mimicked styles stand as clear and unabashed cheap knock-offs of someone else, just mere shells of ideas without the essence or subtle nuances of the original creators. But worse, this form of mimicry mostly exists devoid of the caliber of knowledge, understanding, and general music appreciation that produced the original benchmarks.

This is why I believe that it's important that beatmakers not lose a sense of the fundamental connection that hip hop/rap music and the art of beatmaking has with the soul, funk, and disco music forms, especially when it comes to the drums in hip hop/rap music. With a strong sense of this connection, your production repertoire—no matter how varied, whether you're sample-based or not—will always retain its link to hip hop/rap's foundational elements. But without a sense of this connection, your production repertoire runs the risk of losing this crucial link.

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

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

March 19, 2012

BeatTips.com Beat Battle, February 2012 Winner Announced

Castro Leads the Field in the Second Contest of the Year

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

The winner: Castro Beats - "Oh Lord"

Here's the February, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle breakdown. You can also read it in TBC at: Winner of the February 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Is...
And you can hear all of the beats for February 2012's battle here: BeatTips.com Beat Battle, February 2012

Castro - "Oh Lord"

You’ve been hammering a way at your own style and sound now for a while. And I can say, without any trepidation, that you do have your own style and sound… It’s all here! There’s the “Castro drums”—the booming, well-balanced kick that shapes the groove, the tucked in punch-snare, and the truncated tambourine hi-hat sound. There’s the synth-line stacking; you’re a pro at this now (you’ve been practicing your chords or what? dope!). And the two most important things that caught me about this joint: (1) the dead-steady rhythm; and (2) the furious, hungry feel that the beat gives off. This beat is so pure to its own style and sound that it could run the gambit of uses—everything from gutter rap, to air-out-the-club music, to sci-fiction/mystery film noir.
Special points: That minor embellishment at the 1:02 mark is powerful, not so much because you can hear, but because you can feel the change and rise of tension. And the synth stinger that crashes in around the 1:20 mark raises the ante even further. All around solid composition!

One more thing, what also makes your style and sound so interesting is that your drums pay homage to your natural sampling intuition and instincts, while your synth lines service your non-sampling influences.

2nd Place:
Uhohbeats - "This is My Prayer"

This beat was similar to the one you entered into the January battle. That’s no surprise, though, because you used the same source material, no? Either way, there is enough of a difference for this joint to stand on its own. Now, I don’t know if this joint was the “A” or “B” version, but I was drawn to this one more. It’s slower, and therefore, it simmers and grips you. Most importantly, this simmering feeling coupled with the relaxed drumwork leaves more room for a rapper to dig in to.

3rd Place:
Waldo - "Question/Answer"

Beautiful. The groove is serious on this. The drumwork is deceptively simple, that up and down tumbling drum pattern with delicate brushes of percussion? Yo, that’s not easy to pull off, and you crush it. This beat acts like it wants to lull you to sleep, but it’s the drums that turn the otherwise passive sample into danger.


SPECIAL AWARDS
Segundo Award for Consistency and Contribution
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The DJ Pas Rhyme Award for the Beat that Made Me Write a Rhyme to It (All New Award!)

Castro – “Oh Lord"

(For breakdown, see 1st Place breakdown above)

Get Paid With Heart Award for the #1 Crossover Joint that Still Pays Homage to the Beatmaking Craft
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TBC Most Improved Award

Anomaly – "Aqui Te Esperare"

Your sense of rhythm—or perhaps better stated, your ability to incorporate a clear, sustainable rhythm structure in your beats—has improved substantially. You’re approaching that one plateau of understanding that every good musician eventually reaches: to enjoy and embrace simplicity is the key to anything complex or otherwise that you can imagine. Your ideas used to be sporadic, unfocused. Now, I hear a deeper level of control and direction in your music. You’re no longer trying to force all of your musical influences. Instead, you’re toning everything down and getting to the heart of what you want to say with each specific beat.
One thing, though. I strongly recommend that you look into sampling your own drum sounds.

Honorable Mentions:

d.C. – “Concert for Rose”
The drums on this joint were bangin’ harder than usual. Good! This beat had a more sinister feel but with your customary audio polish. Also, this beat had more edge to it than your previous “cinematic” efforts. One thing’s for certain, when you make harder, straight-forward drum arrangements, the overall beat sounds more raw and gutter.

Rex Rey – “Music Makers & Dreamers”
Solid all-around sound scope. The ambient feel clashing (in a good way) with the break-beat drum feel made for an interesting mix. Saxophone parts were excellent, and the understated bass line “glued” together the whole piece nicely.

Speologic – “Science”
This beat is very similar to the Boyz N Da Hood theme song. Have you seen that movie? Main differences between that theme song and your beat is that your beat is set at a faster pitch (higher key) and the drums swing more. The saxophone parts work well. The overall rising nature of the piece, along with the shuffling drums, is what really makes this beat.
One thing, though. This joint is more film score than “beat” beat.

NOTES.

Mike Millz – “Stolen Emotions”

The primary sample is solid and looped perfectly. But the drum programming lacks a clear direction and commitment. With such a powerful sample, the drum pattern has to be tight and steady. With this type of sample and arrangement, a simple “K K S K K S” pattern would have worked just fine. At certain points (too many), the kick is all over the place. A misplaced kick drum is a sure-fire sign of a less effective drum program. Trust the structure of the most dominant part of your beat (in this case, the primary sample), then build an accompaniment for it. Don’t think that you have to do more with the drums. Just do what works—supply a solid backbeat and call it a day. (Hit me up through email, so I can break it down further.)

Andy Mayhem – “So Tired”
You can hear punches (where you're "punching in" the samples). Also, I was waiting for something else to happen, but it never did. As the beat is, it sounds like a shell idea.

SC Beatz – “Hight Votage”
Your consistency is here. The changes are flawless. My only concern is that this is more film/television music/score. Sure, it’s a beat, but I had trouble envisioning what type of rapper it would be for. Again, this joint is solid. I just hear your more R&B polished side in it, and I’m not sure if that was your intention or not.

Don Productions – “Who Are You”
On the surface, this beat is put together decently enough… But here’s the thing, it sounds too contrived, nothing distinct! It’s like a knock-off caricature of a familiar idea, concept, and sound. It doesn’t sound like it’s your own style and sound. In fact, it sounds mentally forced like you’re following some conceptual script. I can say this because I’ve heard a number of your beats, and some had a natural feeling, whereas this one doesn’t. For instance, here you incorporated a number of unnecessary clap hits (listen to the 1:02 mark, and the 1:24 mark). I never heard distractions like that in your beats from a couple of years ago. Stuff like that happens when you’re looking for extra stuff to add to the jumbo stew…

I know you’re still working your way through the Maschine and all; and in fact, I don’t know what you used to make this joint. But my big warning to you use is to recapture your ability to insert feeling into your music before it’s too late. That live beat-battle-intentionally-no-sample-Dr. Dre-keys-with-a-side-of-Just-Blaze-elements will never sound bad, because to do it requires some base level of proficiency. But that said, I don’t think it will ever lead you to your own distinct style and sound.
Note: This is two beats now back to back that shared these same non-distinct, forced qualities…

Brandon – “DRMG”
Sounds like a rough idea. Try turning the tempo up and adding a drum fill at every 8th or 16th bar. That Stylistics song is inviting, but unless you can make it swing, or chop it up into new moving parts, it might not be worth messing with.

MelloKid – “What”
I liked this. I wanted to point out that the heart of the beat happens at 0:23 through 0:46, before that change. Listen to the tightness of this part of the beat. Think about who could rhyme over it, then go back and listen from the 0:47 mark and ask yourself if it would enhance their rhyme flow or distract from it.

Final thoughts.

Cool thing about this battle was that you could hear the directional moves that several members have made. That’s important, because a clear commitment to one direction or another leads to your own style and sound.

In comparison to last month’s battle, I’d say that January’s battle was the more competitive one; and so that’s the bar to beat for each month…

My apologies for posting the results of this battle so late. I took an extra week to listen to everybody's beat two more times before I made my final notes. As a result of the delay, March’s battle will begin on the 19th, and the submission deadline will be extended until the 27th.

Finally, I want to welcome all of the new members to TBC! Each month we’re growing stronger, and I count on everybody to raise the bar of our discussions. Thank you for doing so.

One more note: The BeatTips.com Beat Battle is for BeatTips.com subscribers and TBC members only. If you have not subscribed to BeatTips.com, please do so before the next battle begins. You can subscribe to BeatTips.com by going to the home page, [url]http://www.beattips.com[/url] and clicking the “Get email updates” button near the top right, just beneath the menu bar. TBC members who are not subscribed to BeatTips.com will not be able to participate in future BeatTips.com Beat Battles.

The March BeatTips.com Beat Battle will begin on Monday, March 19, 2012!!!

Congratulations to Castro
Castro email me at: [email]beattips@gmail.com[/email], include your full name and complete address for where you’d like your book delivered. Also, include a pic so I can feature you on the home page of BeatTips.com, and a phone number to where you can be reached at for your interview feature.

—Sa'id

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

February 07, 2012

BeatTips.com Beat Battle, January 2012 Winner Announced

Upright Edges Out Uhohbeats in Tightly Contested Battle

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

The winner: Upright - "Bear Fruit"

Here's the January, 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle breakdown. You can also read it in TBC at: Winner of the January 2012 BeatTips.com Beat Battle Is...
And you can hear all of the beats for January 2012's battle here: BeatTips.com Beat Battle, January 2012

Upright - "Bear Fruit"

One of the most sinister, all-around dope beats that I’ve ever heard… It’s dark, eery, rambunctious, and hypnotic. It’s mysterious and yet hauntingly familiar. This beat makes a powerful statement…

The first thing that hit me about this masterfully crafted beat was the swing. On my first listen, of course I heard the bass part (I address that below), but it was the swing of this joint that grabbed me. Not only could I feel the swing, I could hear it. It tumbled and shuffled along with an emphatic, menacing, decadent arrogance (and, man, how hip hop is that?); I felt like it was taunting me and daring me to try to rhyme to it… Excellent room for various rap styles.

And dig the arrangement of this joint:
Two slow-dragging harmony lines that feature a progression that dissolves more than anything else; combined with warped, wavy, wobbling bass stabs—absolutely fantastic! Then the drumwork is flawless, no missteps whatsoever. Each sound—from the silhouette-heavy hi-hat to the tuck-punch snare to the straight forward and clear kick—is a spot-on match for the feel created by the aforementioned harmony chords and bass part arrangement. The tom fill, which is totally unexpected, works as a magnetic change that keeps the listener—more importantly, the lyricist—on his or her toes. I dig the use of toms in any capacity, and Upright’s choice to let their velocity speak rather than tuck them in the mix demonstrates his deep understanding of a drum element many beatmakers often get wrong. Finally, the placement and limited occurrence of the open hi-hat shows great discipline on your part. As I listened to and studied this beat, I wondered if you at first had the open hi-hat running more regularly throughout. If you did, your removal of it exemplifies another important quality of a master beatmaker—knowing how to revise, i.e. knowing what to remove and where and when to remove it.

One more thing: That “Something terrible has happened” vocal sample at the :41 mark is just a beautiful touch.

2nd Place:
Uhohbeats - "Lost in My Own Mind"

First impressions: All around good feeling soulful beat with extraordinarily tight construction. Uhoh, this level of construction has become a staple feature of your beats. I should add that with this beat, your understanding of how to flip and merge different parts of the primary source material has greatly improved (and note, your skill with this was already on an advanced level before).

This beat conveys a sure-minded composition. In that I mean, you fully committed to the direction that you wanted to go in. There are no wasted parts or changes that don’t belong. Instead, everything works; every element flows (effortlessly) with the next. The drums are sick (as usual). The salt-n-pepper shaker hi-hat pattern is perfect—it’s velvet hardcore brush taps give the framework a dope shuffle. Then, on the main breakdown, the hi-hat pattern switches up to a sparse staccato pattern—brilliant programming!

This beat battled it out for first place—for four days straight! It’s a perfect beat in every way…. Just as I did with Upright’s beat, I considered everything from which rappers would sound dope on it, to what feeling it conveyed, to the nature of the composition; I even considered what type of episode of the shows “Entourage” and “Californication” this beat would serve as a perfect ending for! In the end, it came down to feeling. One beat was smooth, sharp, and deadly; the other was raw, sharp, and deadly. In other words, they were both sharp and deadly, but the raw slightly edged out the smooth.

3rd Place:
BrandonF42088 - "RobinJonez"

This is slick-funk, 2am, slow-roast shit. (Damn if it didn’t taunt me into rhymin’.) So subtle, so smooth. I really dig this soulful, spine-crawling type of beatwork. It offers great space for dope lyrical word play and inspired flow. Another thing that I really like about this beat is that you immediately get it; you immediately knod your head to it; it sticks with you.


SPECIAL AWARDS
Segundo Award for Consistency and Contribution

DC - "Gorge"
Your beats have their own distinct sound, style, and quality to them. And with this beat, you demonstrate how to be creative while staying squarely in your own zone. I dig the drums, especially the heavy rolls. And the change at the :57 mark gave this joint a dimension of urgency.

I get the feeling that you’ve moved into a creative space where you deliberately make beats that can be used both as stand-alone instrumentals and for rappers. No doubt this is due to your burgeoning success on the licensing market. Only thing that I would caution is that as you do gain more success in licensing, do not forget about making joints specifically for cats to rap to. Your arsenal is deep and always polished; I’d hate to see your sound lose some of its hunger and rawness.

The DJ Pas Rhyme Award for the Beat that Made Me Write a Rhyme to It (All New Award!)

DJ Pas – “Light Pas"

Immediately drew me in. Halfway through my first listen, I stopped the beat, began it again, and started writing a rhyme to it. I dig the break; I dig the simplicity of it; I dig how the drums trail the sample, how they’re not locked completely on top. That style is reminiscent of Marley Marl’s early drumwork.

Because I was so inspired to immediately write a rhyme to this joint, I had to create a new award and name it in your honor.

Get Paid With Heart Award for the #1 Crossover Joint that Still Pays Homage to the Beatmaking Craft
There’s a tie: between Castro Beats – “Daggers” and Influence1210 – “Getting It Together”

Castro Beats - "Daggers"

Castro, you’re quite the methodicalist. I hear a focused experimentation in all of your beats. This is good because even with all of your experimentation, there are always signs that you know where you’re trying to go with a particular beat. On this beat, there are a collage of different things happening. In a fundamental way, this beat puts you in the mind of a Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad beat. Only your construction here works in some of today’s synth themes; and it does so in a way that gives this beat a decadent balance. This beat is certainly not for a weak lyricist or a rapper with a shallow voice. It’s imposing and the balance of sounds gives it a weight that only the most self-assured and lyrically agile rapper could handle. (Ay, yo, wait a minute. I should rock on this beat, come to think of it…)

Influence1210 – “Getting It Together”
Superb!
Influence1210, your musicality is immediately and absolutely apparent. In fact, this is a brilliant piece of work; I was immensely impressed. However, this joint doesn’t fall squarely in the hip hop/rap side of things. Could someone rap over it? Certainly. But it has a more “urban dance/pop” feel to it. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Like I said, this beat is superb. For its design and scope, it’s everything it should be. But for me, it even goes beyond that because it doesn’t just mimic an urban dance tune, it delivers a unique punch and feel, something that certainly pays homage to the art of beatmaking.

TBC Most Improved Award
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Honorable Mentions:

SC-Beatz – “The Street Tip”
Again SC you return with a beat that showcases your usual shine and polish. However, the transition at the :56 mark takes this beat to new heights of SC-Beatz-craftsmanship. To be certain, this is more of an orchestral style composition. But it doesn’t have the clunkiness or coldness that you often find with that style.

One thing I should point out is that this beat is so grand that it would be better served for a film score. As a beat to rhyme to? Not so much.

Krazyfingaz – “Asylum”
Solid. This was some gothic, netherworld shit with a boom-bap underpinning. This beat has a lot of angst to it, which is good because it gives it an edge. The drums keep the sound scope together.

Greenmonstermuzik – “If You See Me”
Nice flip of a well-known classic song. The embellishments are dope; drums dope; and the bounce on this joint is crazy. Ghostface would destroy this beat!

Jtnonefive – “Crazy”
This beat displays a RZA, Wu-Tang Clan influence. The framework locks in from go! Get a rapper on with a devastating flow and you’ll have an ill song.

NOTES.

Jerz-E-Ric – “By Any Means”

This beat has a stadium-level weight to it, a sound and feel that would serve well even a less experienced MC. Decent, polished construction from start to finish. But two notes that I want to make: (1) This beat sounds “safe”, it’s like a run of the mill “beat battle” beat, the kind you regularly hear on the live beat battle and beat showcase circuits. Not necessarily any flaws, but on the other hand, there aren’t any chances being taken here, which ultimately leaves the beat less interesting and soulless. (For comparison, check Castro’s beat. It’s interesting, it’s pushing towards its own uniqueness.) And (2) Although this beat does stand on its own merits, particularly with the inclusion of the guitar work, it exemplifies the Just Blaze-bread “big drums” style and sound.

Mike Millz (The Beatsmith) – “Midnight Madness”
Nice mood and sound scope. This joint is laid back, too laid back. It has no “teeth” to it. The kick is dramatically understated; if it had been more forceful or even louder in the mix, the entire beat would have presented differently. Also, the snare sounds like it wants to be opened up and let out.

MelloKid – “ K echo”
Straight forward boom bap. The Bass part is one event/note too many. Stay out of your own way with one too many bass-stabs. The drums are on point, but let the drum framework and the main sample work for you.

Chazz Sweet – “Indian Girl”
The sitar pokes out at you too much, if you’re considering this beat for a rapper. But for background in a movie, for example an establishing shot for a locale switch, sure, this beat works great. Also, the overall structure of this beat echoes a Dr. Dre/Mike Elizondo number. But their production always has a very tight rhythm to it, and it never carries needless embellishments.

Your synth work (chords) are very much on point! As a beat for a film score, “Indian Girl” is excellent as is. But as a beat for a rhyme, the sitar is not needed; in fact, it doesn’t help at all.

(With regard to the sitar “poking out”, listen to 2 Legit Productions beat, “Long Haul”. Notice how subdued the guitar is.)

The Beat Pharmacy – “Valley of Centuries”
Drums are dope, nice sound to them. Overall, the beat is decent (transitions are excellent), but it doesn’t grab you. And like several other beats in this battle, this joint might be better suited for a film/television score. If you already haven’t, you should look into licensing.

Donproductionsbeatz – “Nightmare”
First impression: It sounds like a “beat battle” beat—the kind you routinely hear now in on the live beat battle circuit. In particular, I hear the bright, “big drums” trend that’s beginning to dominate the live beat showcase circuit.

There’s room enough for a rapper to do something with this joint. But it comes off as if the idea of a rapper on it was a second thought to you. Also, even though this beat is fairly decent, it appears that you’ve either lost or abandoned the soulful quality that used to figure into your beats. Don P, that’s not a good thing... In fact, this beat sounds labored, not so much natural and distinctly original, more like an attempt at an well-established template. Although you’re able to pull it off to a commendable degree (I’m sure there will be those who dig this joint), it sounds more manufactured than created.


Final thoughts.

This was by far the hardest BeatTips.com Beat Battle to judge… The celebration of the art of beatmaking was so much in effect that it was difficult for me to pick one clear winner. In previous battles, contention for the top spot typically came down to a choice of two. But in this battle, on my initial passes through everyone’s beats, there were at least five beats in contention for the top spot. (The range of beats was incredibly encouraging to hear!) This is a major testament to the level and quality of our community. I’m convinced that in the near future, our battle will be the most important and sought after online.

Finally, I want to welcome all of the new members to TBC! Our ranks are growing, we’re getting stronger, and our collective voice is going to make a difference…watch!

One more note: The BeatTips.com Beat Battle is for BeatTips.com subscribers and TBC members only. If you have not subscribed to BeatTips.com, please do so before the next battle begins. You can subscribe to BeatTips.com by clicking on the “Get email updates” button near the top right, just beneath the menu bar. TBC members who are not subscribed to BeatTips.com will not be able to participate in future BeatTips.com Beat Battles.

The February BeatTips.com Beat Battle will begin on Friday, February 17, 2012!!!

Congratulations to Upright
Upright email me at: [email]beattips@gmail.com[/email], include your full name and complete address for where you’d like your book delivered. Also, include a pic so I can feature you on the home page of BeatTips.com, and a phone number to where you can be reached at for your interview feature.

—Sa'id

December 19, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Led Zeppelin's Approach to the Blues; A Lesson for Beatmakers

Committing to a Music Tradition On Its Own Terms—from Its Foundation, Perspective, and Sensibility

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Considering the approaches that some new beatmakers are increasingly taking to hip hop/rap music and beatmaking, specifically, the approach to beatmaking through the guise of other music traditions, I can't help but be reminded of the brilliance and genius of Led Zeppelin. Instead of trying to change the blues to fit rock 'n' roll, Led Zeppelin used the blues as their core musical influence to formulate their own sound—a sound that helped to usher in a new dimension in rock 'n' roll in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In Led Zeppelin's musical example, I find a good lesson for beatmakers, particularly those who attempt to interpret hip hop/rap music and beatmaking not from its own perspective and on its own foundation but from the perspective and foundation of other music traditions.

A fellow musician and music history enthusiast once said to me that the "brilliance of Led Zeppelin was due to their firm understanding and grasp of rock 'n' roll." My reply was (and still is) this: Sure, Led Zeppelin had a great grasp of rock 'n' roll, but in my view, their brilliance (and genius) was, above all, due to their embrace of, and commitment to, the Black American blues music tradition. What made Led Zeppelin's music so distinguishable was, in great part, each members' affection and admiration for, and deference to, the blues. Musically speaking, the members of Led Zeppelin were less interested in early 1960s rock; they were more into 1940s and 50s blues and the aesthetic preferences that it carried with it. Led Zeppelin's unique sound was the result of their approach to playing—fundamentally—the blues; rock 'n' roll was a secondary aesthetic for them. Indeed, early on they did not draw their core ideas from rock 'n' roll; instead, they drew heavily from the blues—
it was the core musical influence and inspiration for their first couple of albums, especially Led Zeppelin I.

Since Led Zeppelin’s arrival in 1968, there have no doubt been other rock bands who have drawn from the blues (The Rolling Stones also drew from the blues, at least in their beginning). But in a lot of those cases, those bands approached the blues through the perspective and prism of rock 'n' roll rather than through the perspective, prism, and sensibility of the blues. Here, Led Zeppelin stands out again, because their approach proceeded from the foundation of the blues outward. That is to say, they approached the blues from its own tradition rather than trying to interpret it through the guise of another tradition, a common mistake some beatmakers make by trying to look at hip hop/rap music and the art of beatmaking through the lens of other music forms and traditions rather than first coming to terms with hip hop/rap music's and beatmaking's own perspective and sensibility.

Bottom Line

Despite a musician's ultimate musical goals, if he or she is intent on effectively using elements of a particular music tradition—in this case, the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions—then, clearly, one should go about learning at least the fundamental elements and aesthetic priorities of that tradition. They should not settle for, or attempt to create, misguided interpretations of the tradition's fundamentals—misinterpretations, I should add, that are based on perspectives outside of the tradition they purport to use.

Finally, there's one more thing that seems appropriate to be mentioned here, it's about sampling and non-sampling. Thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with either sample-based or non-sample-based beats; both styles are well-represented and supported within the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. However, it must be noted that beatmakers who dismiss the art of sampling as a second-rate, non-creative process also disrespect the foundation of the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions. Further, such dismissals discount the inherent value of MusicStudy that sampling offers. In fact, for many, groups like Led Zeppelin (and the music gateway that they provide) would be missed, if it were not for the curiosity in new music that sampling processes—like diggin' in the crates—provokes.

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

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

Check out Led Zeppelin's commitment to the blues tradition. Their use of repetition and delta blues-inspired rhythm and lyrics would become paramount factors in their ultra successful and influential music career. Enjoy this rare footage of a stripped down Zeppelin in rare form.

Led Zeppelin - "I Can't Quit You Baby"

Led Zeppelin -"Whole Lotta Love"

Led Zeppelin - "Dazed and Confused;" Lost Performances [early performance, ca. 1969]

---
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 16, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Syl Johnson, the Soulful Belter

Behind Al Green at Hi Records, But Syl Johnson Just as Valuable to Hip hop/Rap Music

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Blues-Soulman, songwriter, and producer Syl Johnson is an ironic example of how being second on the depth chart can sometimes work out for the best. In front of him at Hi Records was a more well-known legend: Al Green. Even still, Johnson carved out his own name and niche.

Like Green, Syl Johnson had an arresting, soulful sound. But if Al Green was the crooner, Syl Johnson was the belter. Syl Johnson distinguished himself through a vocal delivery that was piercing, and way, way out front, a style no doubt owed to his blues roots. His seminal hit, "Different Strokes," (which he recorded at the age of 41), offers a glimpse at the powerful phrasing that could have made him as big--if not bigger than--Al Green, had either been on a different label.

Still, for my deep diggin', I prefer the virtual obscurity of Syl Johnson over the popularity (and most often sampled) Al Green...

And if you didn't know Syl Johnson, check out a couple of these cuts. Listen, and see if anything sounds familiar.

For educational purposes...

Syl Johnson - "Wind Blow Her Back My Way"

Syl Johnson - "I Hate I Walked Away"


Syl Johnson - "Could I Be Falling Love"

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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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  • Top 5 Myths About Sampling and Copyright Law


    "Sampling is piracy."
    WRONG! Piracy describes the wholesale, verbatim copying and distribution of copyrighted works. That is not sampling; that's something entirely different.
    Read more

    "You can legally sample and use any recording up to 1, 2, 3, or 4 seconds."
    WRONG! Under existing copyright law, there is no clear, predetermined length (amount in seconds) that is “legally” permissible to sample.
    Read more

    "If you use samples on a free mixtape, it’s perfectly O.K."
    WRONG! A free mixtape does NOT permit you to use samples from copyrighted recordings without the permission of the copyright holders.
    Read more

    "Sampling is easy; there’s nothing to it. Anyone can do it well."
    WRONG! Sampling is an art form that requires technical skill, imagination, and artistic understanding.
    Read more

    "Sampling involves the use of pre-recorded songs only."
    WRONG! While the art of sampling is most commonly understood to include the use of pre-recorded songs (traditionally from vinyl records), source material for sampling includes any recorded sound or sound that can be recorded.
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