38 posts categorized "Programming Drums"

September 04, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #27

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, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number

Whenever lists of this sort appear, they’re generally presented with little or no serious discussion about the list beforehand. Perhaps that’s fine for pure entertainment purposes. But for readers to get the best learning experience from a review list of this kind, I believe there are a number of things that readers should know up front. Thus, I’d like to offer an important disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list and the criteria used to determine which beatmakers were added.

The Nature of this List

The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is one of the first sub-projects of the BeatTips Art of Beatmaking Education Project (ABEP) that I recently started. The fundamental purpose of the BeatTips ABEP is to help preserve, promote, and expand the beatmaking tradition of hip hop/rap music through a series of specialized projects. In this way, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list is meant to serve as a discussion, MusicStudy, and general research portal.

Next, the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time purposely omits the word “producer”, and here’s why. In the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, the term “producer” is often synonymously used to describe a beatmaker. But as I point out in my book The BeatTips Manual, this is not always appropriate particularly because the definition of “producer” can be murky: “Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. And although this description broadly covers every dimension of hip hop/rap music, the term hip hop production is used most commonly to refer to the making of the hip hop/rap instrumental — the beat. So technically speaking, a beatmaker, one who makes beats, is a hip hop producer; ergo, a beatmaker is a producer.” But “producer” is a loose term that can be used to describe anyone within the process of the final sound of a recording. Simply put, a beatmaker is someone who actually makes beats. A beatmaker can indeed be a producer; in fact, most double as both. (Further, being a beatmaker is not in anyway less noble than being a producer!) However, and this is a critical point, a producer need not be a beatmaker. Hip hop/rap music is littered with people who have “producer” credits, even though they never actually made (or assisted in the making of) any beats. Thus, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time List only includes beatmakers. Of course, each beatmaker on this list has also rightfully earned the title of producer.

There are four other important things to know about the nature of The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. First, the purpose of this list is to educate. Hopefully, new beatmakers will be introduced more appropriately to some prominent beatmakers that they’ve only heard about in passing. And beatmaking veterans will be reminded of just how far the beatmaking tradition has come. In either case, I’d like this list to prompt some serious exploration and reflection from readers. Preserving and expanding hip hop/rap’s beatmaking tradition requires historical examination, present-day review, future speculation, and, at times, constructive (helpful) debate.

Second, this isn't a list to appease anyone that I know personally. I can count a number of beatmakers as friends; and I’ve interviewed many well-known and lesser-known (but quite acclaimed) beatmakers. That aside, I’ve made no effort to show favoritism in the making of this list. My objectivity — and naturally subjectivity — in the making of this list was based on the catalog of work of each beatmaker that I seriously considered.

Third, this is not a list intended to be safe, so as to not offend anyone. Top lists of any kind tend to offend one group or another, so I'm all right with that. And certainly, a top 100 list would have given me enough coverage to include everybody’s favorite. Even a top 50 would have allowed more room for adding all of what many would consider to be the obvious names. Still, a top 30 list presents a challenge, especially when you consider beatmaking’s classic past and its mixed present. I’m not interested in gathering up an easy list of names. Instead, I want readers to seriously think, perhaps even broaden their own thoughts about how, why, and where they rank their favorite beatmakers.

Fourth, The BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time is not a "hottest in the game right now" list. I deeply respect longevity, particularly because it requires talent, drive, integrity, and hustle. I'm less interested on shining a light on just this moment in time. In fact, I believe all-time lists offer a better learning (and discovery) experience for readers. This is especially important for new beatmakers who are often less familiar with the names and critical works of earlier times.

The Criteria

When making the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list there were many different things that I considered, far too many mention here. But there are 8 main criteria that I used in making this list:

(1) Body of work. Without the work speaking for itself, there could be no serious consideration of any beatmaker who made this list. And while I did not deem it necessary that each beatmaker on the list had a massive catalog, the sheer number of beats (recognized and respected songs) of certain beatmakers could not be ignored. Therefore, a larger body of acclaimed work was, appropriately, given more preference. Also, special attention was paid to how many songs a beatmaker had within the cannon of hip hop/rap music, as well as whether or not a beatmaker contributed to the career of another pivotal hip hop/rap artist’s career. I should further add that the body of work that I've considered here is hip hop/rap only! Whether a beatmaker could or did produce music outside of the hip hop/rap genre had no bearing on where I ranked them with respect to hip hop/rap music. If I were ranking all-time horror film directors, it would be silly to include the comedic works of those directors as consideration in where they should be ranked. Likewise, neo-soul, drum-n-bass, dub step, etc. has no influence on a hip hop/rap ranking.

(2) Critical acclaim for a clearly distinguishable and/or signature sound. Preference was given (as I believe it should have been), to those beatmakers who either established their own well-recognized signature sound or contributed considerably to one or more of the 8 distinct periods of beatmaking.

(3) Minimum of at least three critically acclaimed (not just top sellers) songs, albums, collaborative works, etc. within the last 30 years. Part of being a standout in any art medium is recognition within the field. Sometimes this means big hits, other times it means well-respected songs that most skilled beatmakers know of or appreciate for what they are. And note: this particular criteria reflects the reality that some of the best in any given field are overlooked for various reasons. However, this does not diminish their work. Moreover, history is loaded with artists who didn’t get their proper appreciation until late in or well after their careers.

(4) The number of lyrically acclaimed rappers — in their prime — who rapped over their beats, and/or the subsequent “classic” songs created over the last 30 years. This is of particular importance for two reasons. First, it serves as proof as a particular beatmaker’s automatic place in the canon of hip hop/rap music. Second, it demonstrates the popularity and respect of a beatmaker among the best rhymers of their and other times.

(5) Real, not misperceived, impact and influence on other top beatmakers
of all time. Everybody has to be influenced by someone. But who influenced most of the beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list? Not surprisingly, many influenced each other.

(6) Real, not misperceived, overall impact (or likely impact) on the beatmaking tradition. In other words, what was their recognizable impact on the beatmaking tradition itself? For instance, what developments, styles, techniques, ideas, etc. did they contribute to the beatmaking tradition?

(7) Longevity. How long was a beatmaker able to maintain his career. For various reasons, some beatmaker’s careers were cut short, while others have continued to blossom since they first began. Thus, longevity wasn’t measured in a sheer number of years, but in terms of body of work within the frame of time a beatmaker made his name. Think of it this way: Jimi Hendrix’s entire body of work is just four years…

(8) Projected influence and impact on future beatmakers. Of course, this is speculation at best. No one can predict the future. Still, we can recognize the lasting contributions made to the beatmaking tradition by certain beatmakers.


One final note about this list: It’s not static. That is to say, the beatmaking tradition is constantly expanding, therefore, this list will necessarily need to be adjusted to account for new production output by beatmakers, as well as new research by myself. Thus, each new year, in September, a new BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All-Time list will be generated.

Click here to see the breakdown for #27 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.

January 21, 2014

Using Multiple Drum Sounds for Movement, Depth, Texture, Variation, and Masking

There Are a Number of Different Creative Uses for Drum Sounds and Drum Sound Arrangements

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

With the bevy of quantize (time-correction) features, plug-ins, and effects available in today’s EMPIs, the temptation is to over rely on them, especially when it comes to creating movement, depth, texture, and variation. But the truth is, there are a number of different ways to generate movement (particularly swing and shuffle) and to add depth, texture, and variation by creatively using multiple drum sounds. The key is to know and understand the different types of layering and arrangement schemes and the results that they’re likely to produce.

Working with Two or More Kicks for movement, texture, and knock
One of the most common methods for adding knock (a hard, dominate drum pulse) is to layer together two or more kicks. But this isn’t the only effect that two or more kicks layered together can produce. Two layering techniques that I frequently use are “punch and boom” and sound fattening.

Punch and boom scheme
The punch and boom scheme refers to a two-layer kick scheme involving a punchy kick in tandem with a boom kick. The effect achieved can be anything from a booming kick that punches through, to a rounded boom with prolonged sustain. Typically, this scheme involves layering a standard sounding kick over an 808. But even here, you’re only limited by your imagination. For instance, any kick, especially a sustained 808, can be adjusted in the sound envelope. Adjustments in, let’s say, the attack of each kick allows for even more stylistic customization.

But the punch and boom scheme is not only for creating unique sounds and texture, it can be used to create movement as well. When layered, the boom “moves” the punch. That is to say, the effect of the layering of the two kicks is that it increases the combined span of the kick sound. This means, even though there are actually two kicks present, they represent, in effect, one sound. And the manipulation of the sound properties of each kick (separately) effects the combined sound property of the two kicks together. NOTE: whether you use this layering scheme during the making of a beat or not, you can save considerable time by simply making the kick before hand. For example, I have a kick called “PB Kick”, which stands for “Punch Boom”. Whenever I’m making a beat that I think calls for a punch/boom layer effect, I just use my PB kick, and adjust its velocity and/or ADSR to the specific beat that I’m working on.

Important note about ADSR: Every sound (dynamic tone) has three components: attack, sustain, and decay. Taken together these three components (parts or dimensions) are known as the sound envelope. (I should also point out that I like to extend the definition of sound envelope to mean: the entire span—from start to go—of a sound.) With regards to synthesis techniques — synthesizers/samplers — there is a fourth component, release; taken together these four components are known as the ADSR envelope. When you modify or remove any one or a combination of these ADSR components, the sound’s properties change, rendering an array of different effects. Thus, it’s important to understand what each component within the ADSR envelope represents, if you’re to modify them in ways that best serve your beats’ arrangements. (In The BeatTips Manual, I discuss the ADSR and drum arrangement in even greater detail.)

Also, you should note that while there are various ways to blend/mix a punch and a boom, one general idea to follow is that the boom should remain at a low velocity and the punch should be light on the high and high-mids.

Sound Fattening
Sound Fattening refers to a two- (or three) layer kick or snare scheme wherein a weak or shallow kick or snare sound is fattened or rather “beefed up”. Often, like with the punch and boom scheme, sound fattening layering techniques are usually done to create more knock. However, this is not why I typically fatten up sounds. Instead, I use a sound-fattening layering scheme whenever I what my kick in the drum pattern to be more out in front, particularly when the volume of the non-drum sounds is too low. Think of a the effect of a louder break-beat inspired drum pattern. I also use this scheme when I’m thickening up a sample (part or whole) or the entire texture of beat. For instance, if I fatten up a sample or non-sampled sounds and I want the drums to match the weight and texture, I’ll fatten up the drums as well, or a I might just fatten up specific parts of a primary sample or the non-sampled sounds that make up the core groove.

Multiple Drum Sounds Arrangements

Syncopation is a mainstay in beatmaking. But lesser known is the many different ways in which drum sound arrangements can effect everything from the swing to the overall feel of the beat. For example, using the same hi-hat at two different pitch levels and filtered/EQ’d differently — one high, the other low — can push, shuffle, or pull a beat, depending on the actual hi-hat arrangement and other sounds within a beat.

Drum sound arrangements can also be used to mask gaps in sounds, loop-glitches, and pitch-shifts. Furthermore, they can be used to effect the feel of the tempo without actually changing BPM settings. This is especially helpful, as it’s an alternative to using quantize features to fix or correct unwanted blemishes. Personally, I try to avoid quantize features because I like my arrangements to be blended and cut together as natural as possible, something akin to a DJ cutting, mixing, and blending different sounds and rhythms together. This, plus other techniques and customized — NOT STOCK — drum sounds, help me maintain my own style and sound.

Below I have a included a beat that demonstrates some of the schemes and effects that I’ve discussed earlier in this tutorial. I recorded the beat to play through for about 40 seconds with all of its elements, 8 tracks, then for specific elements to drop out so that you can hear the changes and the immediate effect that each dropped element has on the beat. This way, you can reverse engineer the beat and get a better idea and understanding for why I added particular drum elements and structured the arrangement the way that I did. The 8 tracks include: kick, snare, hat 1 (“hat X”), break (primary sample), hat 2, clap, bass-stab (boom), and a tambourine.

Particular things to listen for:
How the clap alternates where it hits.
How hat 2 seems to play quarters, but there's never a fourth hit in the sequence.
How the tambourine shadows hat 2.
How the bass-stab (boom) fattens the front of the primary sample, giving it a rounder sound and thus sustaining its effect.
How hat 2 and the tambourine layered together shuffles the beat along, which creates a great pocket to rhyme in.
How "hat x", which is something like a crash, effectively represents a change.
How all of the variation gives the beat one solid texture and nice depth.

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

"Cut 1013" - Produced by Sa'id

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

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."

September 15, 2011

BeatTips Readers Poll™: When You Make Your Beats, Do You Start with the Drum Sounds or Non-Drum Sounds?

For Many Beatmakers, Getting the Beat Started with the Drum Sounds or Non-Drum Sounds is Part of a Creative System

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

For this BeatTips Readers Poll™, the aim is to see how everyone else likes to start their beats: Drum sounds first, or non-drum sounds first, or sometimes drum sounds first, sometimes non-drum sounds first? Interested to see if there will be a consensus. Feel free to post comments.


Drums. Every beatmaker knows their importance, but each one of us takes a slightly different approach to how we cook 'em. And even before we get into the finer details of flipping our drums and locking in our drum programming, we all have a preference for when we start work on the drums.

My default approach is to start with non-drum sounds. A major part of my creative system is seeing the music in my head without the drums. I've gone through great lengths to customize my drum sounds, so much so that when I pull sounds from my drum sound library (to match), they're the right ones—95% of the time—for what I'm trying to do musically. Therefore, when I'm making a beat, I like gather the riffs and non-drum tones first, before I assemble the drum arrangement.

Still, there are sometimes I'll start with drum sounds to get a beat going. But this depends on the mood that I'm in and the direction that I want to go in expressing that mood, or if I'm making a sample-based joint or a non-sample-based one. More often than not, when I'm making a non-sample-based beat (which I play outlive on my Fantom, then ultimately sample), I start with the drums. This is particularly helpful for me, because it establishes a rhythm and vibe guide for me to follow.

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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 06, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Traffic's "Glad" Taught Me How To Shuffle

Lessons From One Of Progressive Rock's Most Engaging Bands

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Beatmaking, the chief compositional method of hip hop/rap music, allows for one to pull from a wide variety of musical forms (and sources) for instruction. For instance, progressive rock has always been a mainstay influence in my style and approach. And no other progressive rock band—other than Led Zeppelin of course—has had a direct hand in how I construct drum frameworks, and subsequently, my sense of time, more than the group Traffic.

Here, in their song "Glad," listen to the percussion hats that strike with suspenseful urgency on the quarter notes. And see if you can make out where the kick "hits" on the up-tempo sections of the overall arrangement. Then around the 5:00 mark, the arrangement dives into a slow, milky smooth bluesy-funk jam session that drummer Jim Capaldie laces delicately, with the sense and craftsmanship of a cat burglar. Indeed, there have been few songs that have shown me how to incorporate—and more importantly, account for—the "shuffle" element in music, while at the same time helped me improve my sense of timing.

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

Traffic - "Glad" (from the John Barleycorn Must Die album)

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

June 28, 2011

5th Seal Vlog #7

Brooklyn Beatsmith 5th Seal Drops His Latest Beat Vlog

For vlog #7, 5th Seal raids the infamous (and well-tread) dig spot A-1 Records in New York City (and runs into one of the greatest ever on the beats). As per his other installments, he offers a glimpse of the making of one of his beat gems. 5th Seal is a friend, so I'm happy that he's gaining a new level recognition.

The video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

5th Seal Vlog #7

5th Seal Vlog #7 from 5th Seal on Vimeo.

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

June 22, 2011

BeatTips "Setups in Action": Akai MPC 1000, Fantom Xa, and Propellerhead Recycle

Profile of Pat King's Hybrid (Hardware/Software) Setup

By PATRICK KING

Complete Setup:
Akai MPC 1000, Roland Fantom Xa, M-Audio BX5 monitors, (2) Technics SL-1200MK2 turntables, Vestax PCV-002 mixer, Vestax Handytrax turntable (Portable), Sony MDR-7506 headphones, iMac G5 PPC (Tiger OS 10.4.11, 1.8 GHz, 2 gigs of RAM), Digidesign Mbox with Pro Tools, Waves plug-ins, Propellerhead Recycle 2.1, Record collection.

Signal flow:
MPC stereo out to TRS inputs on the M-Audio BX5 monitors. I keep Auralex MoPads on stands beneath the speakers in order to decouple them from the surface it rests. I use the Roland Fantom Xa mainly for sounds like bass, or melodic strings to layer on tracks in the MPC. Whenever I want to use the Fantom Xa, I route the Fantom’s output A mix into the MPC record in. This gives me standard audio quality (44.1KHz, 16-bit). When I’m not sampling from the Fantom, the way that I audition (listen to) sounds through is that I listen through my headphones. As for my Vestax DJ mixer, when I want to get a vinyl record sample into my computer for editing, I go from the turntable to DJ mixer. I route from the L/R record output of my Vestex DJ mixer to the Mbox source 1&2 line inputs, then I record sample on to a stereo audio track.

Though my production setup consists of several pieces of hardware and software, the main unit and sequencer that I use is the Akai MPC 1000. I transfer drum sounds and samples, (that I usually edit on the computer), to the MPC through a USB connection. I store everything on a 1GB compact flash card.

Method & Process:
When I get new vinyl records I start off by sitting down and listening to them on one of the turntables through the Vestax DJ mixer, with everything set to zero, no EQ frequencies accentuated initially. The minute I hear something that catches my attention I make a note of it on paper. I write down things like the instruments I want to use and what part of the song its located at, then continue listening for more parts to assemble a new arrangement. If the sample is complex I record it into Pro Tools and (bounce it to disk). What I mean by “complex” is that to me, it’s a sample that has a lot of nuances. In order to control those nuances I use Recycle to chop them up and manipulate those sample more precisely, then I export the results a WAV. files to the MPC.

For me, the advantages to editing on the computer rather than on the MPC is that it's less time consuming, and that increases productivity. But I can see how it could be the reverse for someone who does edit on the MPC, especially older MPC models, like the MPC 60 II or even the 2000. Another reason that I like to edit on the computer rather than the MPC is because I like seeing the waveform of the sample on a 17-inch screen, versus the small screen on the MPC. To me, its easier to work with and break down. If its a simple sample like a one bar drum break, I just record into the MPC; maybe use the slice feature and some filters. I should point out that the MPC is not limited in editing capabilities, it’s just not as efficient as a computer is in my production process.

Sequencing, Tracking and Rough Mixing: The first track of the sequence I start off with is usually the sample, then the drums, then the bass, I just continue to build sequences and tracks until the beat is complete. When I finish all of my sequences, its time to get them into the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). First off, I disconnect the MPC stereo out from the speakers inputs. I use the Mbox source 1&2 line inputs and connect to the MPC stereo out. I connect the line outputs on the Mbox to the speakers. I then record into Pro Tools, two tracks at a time. I can then control the dynamics of each track. Depending on what I want to achieve, I use different Waves plug-in's. Before I finish the session I record a 2-channel stereo track of the entire beat to Pro Tools from the MPC. When I'm mixing I use headphones to get closer to an accurate mix. Stereo imaging is essential, it’s is how the audio image is placed and meshed during mixing for the listener's ears. After I sequence my drums I leave the kick and snare centered, add some reverb to the snare for depth and pan the hi hat to the left to give off that feel that a real drummer is in that position on the stage. The contrast between mono and stereo instruments is important to understand. Panning and balancing the levels allows room for all of the instruments to breath and have their own space in the mix.

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

June 21, 2011

"If I Can't" Gets Cue From Sampling

Hard Hitting No-Samples-Featured Beat by Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo Follows Sampling's Lead

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

"If I Can't" was one of the best songs off of 50 Cent's smash hit debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003). The song had a catchy hook, a danceable groove, and a decent—uniquely-styled—rhyme. But as much as I liked the song for its overall achievement, I like it even more today because of the lesson in beatmaking it offers.

"If I Can't," produced by Dr. Dre, co-produced by Mike Elizondo, is one of those rare hip hop/rap songs that gives a great window into the way in which certain beatmaking recipes work. More specifically, "If I Can't" demonstrates how the art of sampling has influenced the structural approaches to traditional live instrumentation.

For its core phrases, "If I Can't" uses a straight-forward two-bar alternating AB BA BA AB pattern played with bass piano keys (either from a real piano or a keyboard piano patch). It is this core phrase (structure) that drives the song; therefore, every other element in the beat works to enhance and showcase its impact and feel throughout the song. The next thing that should be pointed out is that the first of four phrases the make up the core phrases starts on the kick ("the one"); it does not come in on the snare ("the two"), and that's important to note.

Thing is, sample-based beatmakers typically chop down music phrases into smaller components that can be triggered by the pushing/playing of a single drum pad, key, and/or mouse click. Because of this, most sample-based beatmakers are often, in effect, "riff makers." That is to say, they (myself included) take various small, medium, and large-themed sound components and literally break (chop) them down into sliced variations that can then, and often are, be played as riffs. In some cases, these chops are broken down together and grouped into one main riff, and in other cases, they are merged together into a series of riffs. Thus, the core phrases in "If I Can't" is essentially a series of riffs (chops) that are played in a pattern (AB BA BA AB), structure, and nuance that owes more to the influence and programming of the art of sampling—and the new structures and forms that sampling has generated—than it does to traditional live instrumentation.

For example...

"If I Can't" - 50 Cent (produced by Dr. Dre, co-produced by Mike Elizondo)

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

June 10, 2011

Why Vinyl Reissues Are a Good Thing

Vinyl Reissues Offer True Value in More Ways than One

This past Wednesday, I spent a brief part of the afternoon diggin’ through vinyl records at a shop over on St. Marks Place, down in the East Village. Although it was a scorching hot pre-summer New York City day, I never did take the opportunity to actually enter the store and get a blast of their air conditioning inside. Instead, I stayed outside in front of the store, diggin' through their “tease” crates of soul, latin funk, and jazz.

Sitting atop several long tables, these crates were loaded with a number of gems, many of which I already have, and a few I'd never been able to get my hand on in the past. Also, in there were two albums that stood out above all the others: Donny Hathaway's Everything Is Everything and Donny Hathaway.

Arguably Hathaway's greatest album and certainly one of my all-time favorites, Everything Is Everything is a masterful piece of soul music that stings your heart and tugs at your body. Self-dubbed as one of my personal "must-haves," I spent nearly five years (more than a decade ago) trying to land a copy of Everything Is Everything. Previously, I'd been able to hold on to several borrowed copies of this LP. Unfortunately, this was one of those albums that people always remembered to ask me to return.

When I obtained my own copy of Everything Is Everything (for $100!), I remember vowing to never lend it out to anyone. It was an original print, near mint copy with one of the cleanest covers (less-worn) I'd ever seen. And I wasn't about to risk losing this gem; it wasn't easy for me to get, and therefore, I maintained, I'd make sure that it would be difficult for me to ever let go. Well, after a couple of moves and a series of vinyl collection re-locations, my copies of Everything Is Everything and Donny Hathaway turned up missing.

It would take another couple of years before I was able to replace both albums. Moreover, it cost me $65 for another copy of Everything Is Everything, and $59 for another copy of Donny Hathaway, neither of which were anywhere near the condition of the one that I had before. So imagine the reverse sticker-shock I felt when I came across a sealed copy of Everything Is Everything and Donny Hathaway, sitting right there in an old milk crate, sandwiched between two sealed copies of Gil Scott-Heron's Pieces of a Man. All four records, $12 each! Goldmine! I thought. Then it hit me: These albums were reissues...

To some (particularly die-hard purist diggers/collectors), reissues might hold little to no appeal. And there are some sample-based beatmakers who will claim that using reissued vinyl is not quite the same thing as using the "real deal," that is to say, vinyl pressed on or near the recording's original release date. To be fair, that's not entirely untrue.

Part of the appeal of original print vinyl is its oldness—it's dusty, scratchy nature. Furthermore, there's the matter of the recording used for the reissue. Does the reissue contain the original master recording—with all of its mixed glory—, or does it use a remastered version? The particular sound that a reissued vinyl record possesses is important to me. I'm not interested in vinyl that carries a remastered version of the original work. But despite some minor misgivings of using reissued vinyl, I see reissued vinyl—and here, I'm specifically referring to "exact reproduction" reissued vinyl, not the re-mastered stuff—as a good (if not great) thing, for a number of reasons.

First, reissued vinyl gives beatmakers (new and old) the chance to have access to wonderful, era-defining recordings in the vinyl format. And although other audio formats (CD, MP3, .WAV) can indeed serve the purposes of sampling, there can be no denying that working with vinyl presents an entirely different feel and aesthetic.

Second, vinyl reissues (sometimes the only option if you're searching for a vinyl recording) offers beatmakers a lesson in sound quality and the audio nuance of recordings from more than 30 years ago—before the digital takeover. By being able to hear the differences in recordings, the tones, colors, and overall sonic impressions, you can extract a number of different musical ideas and sonic frameworks to apply to the sound design of your own beats.

Third, vinyl reissues, by virtue of their format, extend the connection between beatmakers and vinyl, and like sampling itself, they can help reconnect beatmakers to the DJing component of beatmaking. There are a growing number of beatmakers who are interested in working with vinyl, but because of the often difficult nature of obtaining vinyl (i.e., a sparse number of used vinyl records stores around the world), they are not able to get their hands on any. Vinyl reissues addresses this interest (demand) and makes a whole host of great recordings available in the vinyl format, both online and even at some stores that carry new CDs and other related merchandise.

Finally, vinyl reissues help decrease the vinyl record accessibility gap that exists today. No doubt vinyl reissues provide a means for many beatmakers to access vinyl records that they would not otherwise be able to. Moreover, most vinyl reissues are reasonably priced and available online. With increased accessibility comes the potential for scores of music makers to discover (or rediscover) quality music styles and sounds that have, unfortunately, been forgotten.

Bottom Line

Exact reproduction reissued vinyl is a win/win, and I expect even more recordings to be reissued on vinyl. And although the journey of getting *new* vinyl has long been an arduous one (more so now because the availability of used vinyl records is thin), the emergence of reissues of classic works (especially from a number of the most formidable recording artists of soul, funk, and jazz) is making this journey for beat diggers much more agreeable.

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

June 02, 2011

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

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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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