143 posts categorized "MusicStudy"

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 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."

May 17, 2014

BeatTips Beat Breakdown: The Game - "Old English," Produced by Hi-Tek

Crafted Like a Horror Flick Score; Groove Engages with Its Slow-Tempo Urgency

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

I was confused upon my first listen of "Old English" (Doctor's Advocate, 2006) by the Game, produced by Hi-Tek. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't comprehend how well put together the song was. It was haunting — figuratively and sonically. Nothing that I had previously heard from Hi-Tek prepared me for such a wonderful, powerful piece of music.

The beat is centrally characterized by the groove. First, you're welcomed by this milky smooth, deadly bass line. A measure perhaps better served for a suspense sequence in a horror flick, the bass movement that Hi-Tek goes with here is nothing less than sinister and instantly haunting. No doubt the bass line was played live originally, but I have a strong suspicion that Hi-Tek sampled it and "worked-it-over."

Then, sticking with the horror-flick theme, Hi-Tek paints in this three-note organ arrangement that crawls up the spine of the beat. Rather than over-playing the organ, a mistake most likely made by even the best beatsmiths and those inclined to overproduce, instead, Hi-Tek lets each stab sustain itself. With its singular tonal impact, it's clear that he saw fit not to corrupt its nature. Because of this, each stab of the organ — masterfully agreeable in pitch and mood with the bass — makes the bass line seemingly maneuver from side to side, weaving the groove in its own sort of rhythmic spell. And for added accentuation, Hi-Tek throws in what appears to be a sampled guitar phrase that fades at the end. (Like the bass line, I'm convinced that he sampled the live guitar phrase and worked with that.) He follows the guitar accentuation up with a desolate, spaghetti-Western style whistle.

For the drumwork, Hi-Tek sets out to remind you, in case you've forgotten, that this isn't a movie score, but instead a beat...in all of its defiant glory. His use of a short-truncated stomp-kick bookends all of the action, while the rim-shot snare knocks on the "2 & the 4" like a count down. And for the hi-hat, a difficult decision for many, here on "Old English" Hi-Tek uses a brushed half open hi-hat, which he floats politely across the entire arrangement — no gaps, no stutters, or drops.

As for the rhyme, Game (formerly the Game) rightfully so dives in for a story-style rhyme. Even though the groove is slow and steady, Game takes on the tempo and works in double couplets, i.e. four-bar rhyme schemes (abab acac). Finally, the hook, song by Dion, drags across the instrumental measure more like a cautionary tale than a hook on a hip hop/rap song.

The music and video 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."

January 27, 2014

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

Genius and the Intimate Intensity of an After Hours Lounge

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahmad Jamal Trio - "Darn That Dream" 1959

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

September 09, 2013

BeatTips MusicStudy: "Keep It Thoro;" Prodigy and The Alchemist

A Menacing Apparatus; Song Personifies How Light and Heavy Textures Co-Mingle and Combine, Giving Beat a Powerful Sonic Impression

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When particular names in beatmaking get tossed around with praise, it's not always easy to pinpoint exactly what all of the acclaim is for. But then, there are some names where it ain't hard to tell. For me, some names are heavy weight for a collection of songs, while others are big time for just one song in particular. Such is the case with beatmaker/producer, The Alchemist. Although The Alchemist has an impressive catalog, my favorite Alchemist beat is the joint that underscores Prodigy's (of Mobb Deep) "Keep It Thoro."

"Keep It Thoro" is an absolutely menacing audio composite. Aside from Prodigy's heavy New York slang-laced phrasings and dead-pan, masterfully confident delivery, it's the beatwork of The Alchemist that makes the song so defiantly hard. The core groove is built around a dusty, lounge-act sort of piano sample that jabs the exact same tone—in 1/8ths—for a count of 7 times, before there's a change in the phrase—a loose note kicks off, and moments before the sample loops back to itself.

For the bass parts, Alchemist doesn't go with a bass line. Instead, content with the rhythm of the hypnotic piano sample, he uses just three bass sound-stabs to anchor the groove. Two of the three bass-stabs are simply low- and high-pitch versions of the same exact sound stab; the third bass-stab—which Alchemist uses to slide into one of the others—has a slick, boom texture to it. Here, I want to point out that even though this third bass sound-stab is "different" from the others, its own texture and sonic qualities actually makes it fit perfectly with the other two bass-stabs. Alone, these other two bass-stabs are very understated. But by balancing out their spacing, and NOT overusing them, Alchemist positions them as vital pieces of the overall sonic composite.

Historical Analysis and Experience

Some beatmakers might not—at first—understand The Alchemist's arrangement of higher tones with lower ones, but reality is, this technique of clashing textures and levels is one of the most fundamental mainstays of the beatmaking tradition. Such a technique was first (necessarily) implemented with hip hop/rap's earliest DJs, who were charged with the task of mixing songs—using turntables and a DJ mixer—with varying tones, textures, and tempos. In order to mix such songs in what was then known as the "hip hop DJ style," these early sound architects learned to highlight the use of repetition in the songs they were playing and mixing, focusing specifically on the "breaks" of each song that could further be extended through even more repetition—that is to say, looping, via various turntable tricks like the "backspin" or "the spin-back."

So on "Keep It Thoro," The Alchemist is acutely aware of the fact that it is the repetitive nature of the sampled piano phrase that actually makes the bass parts sound even more pronounced; which, in turn, gives the overall track a "booming" sonic impression.

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

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

"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy, produced by The Alchemist


"Keep It Thoro" - Prodigy (Official music video)


March 25, 2013

"God Bless the Child" Dedicated to Imperial's Newborn Son

Inspired Music Always Makes for Feel-Good Music

By DAVE WALKER (IMPERIAL)

To celebrate the birth of my son on 15th March 2013, I am releasing an instrumental hip-hop single for free download.

I did a lot of crate digging in 2012 and came across 'Horn Culture' by Jazz saxophonist, Sonny Rollins. There is a really rich and chilled track called 'God Bless the Child' with some very tasty Sax improvisation. I chopped the track into various samples and loaded them into Logic's EXS24 sampler towards the end of 2012. It remained unused, until the sample came to mind about four weeks before the birth of my son, for obvious reasons. It seemed right to make a track using it.

Musically, my version of 'God Bless the Child' represents the influences I was listening to at the time I produced it and I now feel a personal connection to the track name. I hope my son finds at least some of the enjoyment in listening to this in years to come, as I have had creating it.

Go, get 'em, kid, this one's for you!

-Imperial

You can listen to the full track in the player below.

Dave Walker (Imperial)
imperialbeats.co.uk

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

August 28, 2012

It's Never *Just* a Loop

Truth Is, Creating a Loop is Only Part of the Equation

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

With regards to sampling, no statement is more misguided (and irritating to me) than someone saying, "It's just a loop." Whether sampling and then looping a 2- or 4-bar phrase of music, or piecing together spare-part phrases and sound-stabs, there's much more going on in the total creative process than some beatmakers care to acknowledge—or that some hip hop/rap bloggers even realize.

The gleaming misconception about sampling is that it's easy; that anyone can do it. While it's true that anyone can buy a digital sampler and press record, the notion that anyone can automatically acquire a skill for what goes on before and after they press record on that sampler is ridiculous. Truth is, no matter what any beatmaker samples, no matter how much or how little he or she samples, the total creative process of sampling requires any number of decisions to be made at various levels within the process. And these decisions, prompted by the residue of skill and understanding, are not always easy to make.

The Main Decisions Made Before, During, and After a Sample is Looped

What Should You Sample?

What to sample is obviously (well, perhaps obvious to those who actually make beats) the first decision to be made. And, of course, this decision depends on everything from one's mood to motive (purpose), to their style and sound preference, to their imagination and individual work ethic. For the purpose of this post, I've used the song "Heartbreak Hotel" by The Jacksons.

I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" for a number of reasons. First, it's a well-known hit—with a great groove—by a popular group (certainly a song easy enough for readers to locate online). Many people are familiar with the record; so coming up with a beat and song that references such a hit, while still creating something "new" and appealing, is a bit of challenge. Second, I wanted to choose a vinyl record that could readily be found in used record shops or at online vinyl record stores, or in a relative's basement or attic. Third, "Heartbreak Hotel" has been sampled before, and I wanted to demonstrate the versioning tradition that runs deep in hip hop/rap music's roots by offering up my version. Fourth, because "Heartbreak Hotel" has a dominant drum pattern; and as such, I wanted to show how even a sample with drums can be tailored to your style and sound. (Also, any seasoned beatmaker knows the type of obstacles drums in a sample can present.) Finally, I chose "Heartbreak Hotel" because I'm a big fan of The Jacksons, and this is as good as any reason to thoroughly listen to one of my favorite songs by them (actually, it's one of top 10 favorite songs of all time).

What Section or Part Should You Sample?

Now having settled on the song, what section of the song should I sample? The beginning? The middle? Near the end? Either way, it's gotta be a part of the record where the groove is "open" (well, as much as possible with a record like this). So that being said, it comes down to either the intro, the lead-up, or the bridge. I ruled out the bridge, simply because I heard something before with that part. And the strings intro isn't the part of the song that most people are familiar with.

So I go for the "2nd intro," or what I'm calling the "lead up," as in lead up to the first verse. But exactly where in the lead up? There's approximately 35 seconds between the beginning of the lead up and where Michael Jackson's first verse vocals begin. And within that 35 seconds, there are slight embellishments on the basic groove of the song. Not to mention, at one point in this lead up, we hear one of Michael's signature vocal exclamations. No one wants that in there, right? Wrong! I do. I think it's dope; so I decided that no matter what, it had to be in the phrase that I would sample. (In my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" below, you'll hear it.) Note: If I was using "Heartbreak Hotel" as source material for a beat for another rapper, I'm not sure what section I would've used. But since I'm rapping on this joint, I know which part of the song will suit my style, delivery, and flow.

So, How Do You Sample It?

Now that I've chosen the section of the record that I want to use, I have to decide how to sample it. Wait, what? You mean there's no one way how to sample a record? That's right! Some beatmakers sample in stereo, some in mono. Some sample wet—that is, with effects—, some sample dry, no effects. Some sample in 24 bit, 16 bit, even 12 bit.

For starters, I always sample in mono. Next, I always sample wet. I never sample any audio without its signal first flowing through my Numark DJ mixer (aside from the EQs on my mixer, a DJ mixer makes me feel linked to the earliest roots of our tradition). My DJ mixer routes into my Mackie mixing console, where I do further EQ'ing, like "beefing up" (making a sound heavier or warmer) the sample. Then I run the signal from there—the DJ Mixer's output on the Mackie—into either (a) My Akai MPC 4000; or (B) my Akai S950. For the sample below, I sampled a portion of "Heartbreak Hotel" into my Akai S950.

What about the pitch question?

Do you sample the audio leaving the pitch as is, or do you turn it up or down? This decision, like others in the creative process, mostly depends on the ultimate beat/song that you envision. For my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix," I turned the pitch up a bit before I sampled it, then I fine-tuned it as I arranged my drums (and note: NO timestretch function was used in the making of this beat/song).

Did somebody say chopping?

Of course, how to chop something is one of the big decisions in the sampling process. But I supposed the more complete a phrase is, the less difficult it is to loop, right? Not always! In fact, depending on what's actually in the phrase, getting it to loop "correctly" (according to your own rhythmic standards), it can be rather difficult finding and fine tuning the best start and end points. (In The BeatTips Manual I discuss looping, as well as composition, in greater detail.)

Here, let's remember that all of these aforementioned creative decisions have been made before the drum arrangement enters the picture. Of course, as those above decisions are being made, one should already be thinking about the ways in which to arrange the drums...

Which Way to Go with the Drums?

Even if one skips most of the aforementioned processes, he or she must still come up with a suitable drum framework. To pull this off takes a decent arsenal of drum sounds, a knack for choosing the right ones, and the ability to arrange those drum sounds into a drum pattern that works effectively with the so-called "loop" sample. So, again, decisions, decisions.

With audio that already has drums in it, you can fall back and let the drums in the sample do the work, only adding in light touches of your own drum sounds. Or you can also add your own drums to completely "mask" (cover up) the drums in the sample. Or you can match your drums with the drums in the sample; but this can be very difficult, especially if you don't posses the right kind of drum sounds.

Now, with a song like "Heartbreak Hotel," who could blame someone for going easy on the drums, that is to say, doing nothing much at all. Well, I never sample anything without a base idea of how I'm going to arrange the drums. Moreover, depending upon the extent of the groove—i.e., the feel and the level of kick and snare drums—that I've sampled and the ultimate groove that I'm going for, I will usually not only mask and match the drums, I'll flank everything with my own signature percussion. And this is exactly what I did with my "Heartbreak Hotel Remix."

*Editor's Notes:
The construction of the sample(s) is only part of the equation. Diggin' for the actual source material is another major part of the equation. Also, never forget the matter of the overall sound design. Here, I'm referring to the "color" of the sample that's achieved through sound modification techniques like filtering and EQ'ing, etc.

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

Sa'id - "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" (Prod. by Sa'id)

Download "Heartbreak Hotel Remix" by Sa'id

The Jacksons - "Heartbreak Hotel"

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

August 22, 2012

BeatTips MusicStudy: Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

Early Funk From Obscure, Little-Known Band

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

One of the things that makes digging for "new" music so exhilarating and rewarding is the fact that you never know exactly what you're going to discover. Even if you're searching within a specific genre of music, the sheer number of recordings that may exist is staggering. And when it comes to funk music—particularly early funk, ca. 1965-1974—, the recorded output of music runs deep. A fact that's further made even more impressive when you consider the number obscure and lesser-known early funk bands who made only a few recordings during that time.

Bobby Boyd Congress certainly fits the category of "obscure" and "lesser-known" funk bands. To my knowledge, the only recording of the band is a 1970 self-titled album that they recorded in France. (You ever notice how France has always maintained a deep reference for quality American music, especially musics in the black American music tradition?) Still, I'm convinced that Bobby Boyd Congress, a quintessential New York funk band, made more recordings in or around New York City at the same time. Therefore, I believe (I gotta believe!) that somebody somewhere has something else of this superb funk outfit. And as long as I'm "diggin'," I won't give up trying to find it.

Finally, I'm compelled to mention that several months ago, a music professor (someone whom I hold in great regard) asked me about the relationship between the drum patterns of modern beatmaking and that of those of the early funk music typified here by Bobby Boyd Congress. Specifically, he believed that the relationship was less apparent in beatmaking in the early 1990s. I strongly disagreed. As I pointed out to him (and in my book, The BeatTips Manual, I show the link in greater historical detail), it was precisely the drum patterns of funk songs like Bobby Boyd Congress's "Dig Deep In Your Soul" that pioneering beatmakers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock drew their inspiration from.

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

Bobby Boyd Congress - "Dig Deep In Your Soul"

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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.

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

March 24, 2012

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

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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Sa'id

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

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles - "Inspired By Fire"


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

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

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

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