48 posts categorized "Sample-Based Beats"

April 17, 2014

The Notorious Fair Use: Why New Sampling Case May be the Beginning of the End of the Infringement Shakedown

Amid Leroy Hutson's Infringement Accusations, the Will to Test Fair Use in the Courts Grows Stronger

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

It looks like the late Notorious B.I.G.’s impact on music may have a second act. Only this time, the impact will likely hold critical implications for sampling and U.S. copyright law. On March 31, 2014, in what was considered to be a preemptive lawsuit, the estate of Notorious B.I.G. filed for declaratory judgment in a California federal court, seeking relief that B.I.G’s 1994 song “The What” — off of the classic album Ready to Die — was not a copyright infringement of the 1974 song “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” performed by Leroy Hutson (co-written by Hutson and Michael Hawkins). While the suit raised the issues of valid copyright ownership, statute of limitations, and the doctrine of laches (waiting too long to file the claim), and producer indemnification, it was the fair use claim that undoubtedly had many of those on both sides of the sampling and copyright law quandary closely watching how this case would turn out.


The Complaint

According to the complaint filed by lawyers on behalf of B.I.G.’s estate, Leroy Huston “began a campaign of accusations against Plaintiff [Christopher Wallace PKA ‘Notorious B.I.G.,’ ‘Biggie,’ and ‘Biggie Smalls’], claiming that the Recording [‘The What,’ produced by Easy Mo Bee and featuring Method Man] violated his alleged copyright in ‘Can’t Say Enough About Mom.’” The complaint describes Hutson’s “campaign of accusations” as having began in 2012, when lawyers for Hutson sent Bad Boy Records notice of alleged copyright infringement, and having included numerous requests for financial compensation (as much as 50% of all income attributable to the recording) and part ownership (also as much as 50%); each request routinely made with the accompanying threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit. [source case: Notorious B.I.G. LLC v Lee Hutson, 2:14-cv-02415 (3/31/14).]


In other words, Hutson repeatedly harassed Bad Boy Records (and Atlantic Records, Warner Music Group, and EMI), likely in an attempt to force a quick financial settlement in exchange for not filing a copyright infringement lawsuit for an uncleared sample of Hutson’s song. These “ongoing, intensifying, and ultimately baseless accusations,” especially Hutson’s recent (and second) attempt to get a “legal hold” placed on “all royalties of the Recording” and to put a stop to “all distribution of the album [Ready to Die],” are what prompted the estate of Notorious B.I.G. to file civil action for declaratory relief.


They Were Never Scared — the Law Was Always on Their Side

Rather than cave to the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit and settle out of court (as the labels tend to do), the estate of Notorious B.I.G. retained an expert to help assist them in analysis and comparison of the two songs at question. Citing in the complaint their expert’s findings and including Easy Mo Bee’s (the producer of the B.I.G. track) meticulous, multidimensional description of how he composed “The What,” the estate of Notorious B.I.G. — which did not deny the actual sampling — asserted in the complaint that the “use has not violated any valid copyright interest held by” Hutson, and, more importantly, that the “use” is both “de minimis and fair use.” Thus, B.I.G.’s estate rejected the common infringement shakedown and balked at paying Mr. Hutson or assigning an owner percentage to him, particularly without first doing their own due diligence. Having done their due diligence, B.I.G.’s estate concluded that “The What” did not infringe upon “Can’t Say Enough About Mom,” and they demonstrated their preparedness to prove it in court. In other words, Hutson’s infringement shakedown attempt was thwarted mainly because the estate of Notorious B.I.G. was, unlike the labels and most established artists, never scared to affirm fair use.


Thing is, When determining unlawful appropriation, the courts engage in a substantial similarity analysis in which quantitative and qualitative factors are assessed. An allegedly infringing work is considered substantially similar when it is nearly indistinguishable from the copyrighted work it appropriated. Quantitative analysis examines whether the sample constituted a substantial portion of the appropriated work, NOT whether it made up a substantial portion of the allegedly infringing work. Qualitative analysis considers whether the sample (copied portion) is qualitatively important to the allegedly infringed work as a whole. This means how critical, qualitatively speaking, is the sample (copied portion) to the appropriated work, and as a whole, how similar are the allegedly infringing song and the song it sampled. In order to determine proof of substantial similarity in a copyright infringement case, the courts conduct a two-part test of extrinsic similarity and intrinsic similarity. The extrinsic test is objective in nature and requires the party who brought the infringement claim to identify specific criteria which it alleges have been copied. (For a more thorough understanding of fair use and a proper fair use analysis, please read my book The Art of Sampling.)


So at question were three things: 1) As a whole, how similar is “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?;” 2) How critical, qualitatively speaking, is the sample (copied portion) to “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?;” and 3) Does “The What” sample a substantial portion of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom?” In my own analysis and comparison, I found no substantial similarity between “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom.” In fact, if there ever was a more clear cut case of fair use, I haven’t heard it. Quantitatively and qualitatively speaking, the sample is a 4-second snippet of a barely audible fade out that appears — only once on the entire 5:54 long song — at the 5:50 mark. This snippet is neither substantial to the melody, rhythm, chorus, or main theme of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom.” And even an “ordinary person” could tell that “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” is a song about a son’s tribute to his mother, wherein he repeatedly professes his love and respect for his mother. Whereas “The What” is a braggadocios song about a skeptical worldview (the hook says, “Fuck the World!...”) in which the protagonists praise the values of being independent, street wise, and well armed. Certainly, the estate of Notorious B.I.G. came to a similar conclusion in their own analysis.


Origins of the Infringement Shakedown, and Why Hutson thought He Could Threaten His Way to a Nice Financial Settlement

To truly understand how the “infringement shakedown” came to be, you must first look at Grand Upright v. Warner Bros. and Bridgeport v. Dimension Films, two landmark court cases involving sampling and copyright law. (I cover both cases in greater detail in my book The Art of Sampling.)


In Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc. (New York, 1991), songwriter/recording artist Gilbert O’Sullivan filed suit against recording artist Biz Markie and his then-record labels Warner Bros. Records and Cold Chillin’, charging that “Alone Again,” a song on Markie’s album I Need A Haircut, contained an unauthorized “digital sample” of O’Sullivan’s 1972 hit song “Alone Again (Naturally)." The court found that Biz Markie/Warner Bros., et. al had willfully committed copyright infringement, granted an injunction against Warner Bros. to prevent further copyright infringement of Grand Upright’s song “Alone Again,” and referred the defendants for criminal prosecution. But before sentencing, the parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Although the question of fair use was never raised in Grand Upright, after the court’s decision, many labels took a better-to-be-safe-than-sorry stance, insisting that all samples be cleared. More importantly, following Grand Upright, the art of sampling was, in effect, criminalized and assigned a stigma of “theft” and “piracy.” A stigma that still plagues the art of sampling today.


Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films (Tennessee, 2001) centered around the use of N.W.A.’s song “100 Miles and Runnin’” in the 1998 No Limit Films produced/Dimension Films distributed film “I Got The Hook Up.” For part of the creation of the song “100 Miles and Runnin’,” N.W.A. had sampled a small piece of Funkadelic’s song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” This was all done without Funkadelic’s permission and with no compensation paid to either Bridgeport Music, which at the time owned the publishing rights to Funkadelic’s music, or to Westbound Records, which at the time owned the sound recording copyright to “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Bridgeport Music, Westbound Records, and other plaintiffs filed suit against Dimension Films, et. al, claiming that “100 Miles and Runnin’” infringed on their copyright in the song “Get Off Your Ass and Jam.” Dimension Films/No Limit argued that the sample in question was de minimis (legally insubstantial), and therefore, it did not amount to actionable copying under copyright law. The district court found the de minimis defense to be appropriate, and granted summary judgment for Dimension Films/No Limit. However, the appeals court reversed the district court and ruled that sampling of a sound recording — regardless of length— was, in effect, unlawful without the permission of the copyright holder. "Get a license or do not sample…," the circuit court wrote, essentially making the outrageously ridiculous claim that any unlicensed sampling of a sound recording violates the copyright of the copyright holder.

BUT, it’s important to note that the circuit court did not consider fair use (as they should have) in their decision. In fact, the court expressly noted that its decision did not preclude the availability of a fair use defense, even in the context of sampling. Which implies that the court, despite its nonsensical ruling, actually recognized that some instances of sampling do qualify as fair use.


Since Grand Upright and Bridgeport, RIAA labels have sought to clear samples — no matter the nature of the use — rather than take the chance of being sued for copyright infringement; “sample trolls” like Bridgeport Music have gone wild with infringement suits; and just the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit has prompted lopsided undue settlements. This has lead to a tepid approach to sampling by the RIAA labels and many music makers. In turn, an ad-hoc (mostly one-sided and useless) sample clearance system has emerged. But as I make clear in The Art of Sampling, clearance of all samples isn’t the law, it’s just become industry custom!

Mud and Deception on the Profile of Fair Use

The profile of the fair use doctrine has all but faded in the music industry, as the RIAA labels have demonstrated no will to test fair use in the courts. But the lack of will to test fair use in the courts isn’t surprising. When it comes to the question of sampling and fair use, the RIAA labels and many well-known music lawyers, notably Dina LaPolt, have long tried to discredit fair use, typically misrepresenting it and even attacking its very concept and role in U.S. copyright law. Of course, these attacks have not been born out by a proper reading of the fair use doctrine as it's codified in the U.S. code. Strikingly, LaPolt and other similar opponents of fair use routinely mis-define fair use: On one hand, overlooking the fact that fair use is a critical safeguard meant to protect against the expansion of the "limited monopoly" of copyright holders, and on the other hand, consistently describing fair use as nothing more than "JUST a defense," rather than a right of the public.


The Will to Test Fair Use in the Courts Continues to Grow

Whether the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. was simply shielding itself from any potential lawsuit from Leroy Hutson or aiming for some grander statement, I think it’s clear that this case, one way or the other, is a watershed moment in the history of the sampling and copyright law quandary. Notwithstanding the other issues raised in the filing, namely the validity of Hutson’s copyright ownership (sorry, a Wikipedia citing certainly does not establish Hutson’s copyright in a song), this is a perfect test case for sampling and fair use.


On April 2, 2014, two days after the estate of the Notorious B.I.G. filed their complaint, Hutson formally filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, in Manhattan — Hutson et al v. The Estate of Christopher Wallace et al — against the estate of B.I.G., Bad Boy, EMI, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. This New York case was stayed, pending a resolution of Hutson’s Motion to Dismiss the California case.


On July 3, 2014, the preemptive suit brought by the estate of Notorious B.I.G. was dismissed (as perhaps it should have been, given that the California court had no jurisdiction), and legal action continued to move forward in the New York court — where the estate of Notorious B.I.G. filed a motion to dismiss on September 5, 2014 — all the way up until October 24, 2014. On December 21, 2015, the New York court filed its decision, granting B.I.G.’s estate’s motion to dismiss.


However, none of the fair use issues raised by B.I.G.’s estate were addressed in the court’s decision. Instead, the court held that since Hutson could not prove ownership of the copyright in “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” (Hutson acknowledged a settlement that he made with Rhino and Warner Records in 2008 over Curtom Records recordings in which he granted copyright ownership of “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” and other recordings to Rhino), he lacked standing to sue B.I.G.’s estate for copyright infringement.


So what now? Does this mean that B.I.G.’s estate will face a lawsuit from Rhino for the same alleged infringement? I highly doubt it. But if they do, I can’t see the defense by B.I.G.’s being any different or less persuasive. So while Judge Sullivan didn’t get into the fair use issues that B.I.G.’s estate raised in its defense, this case is still important. For one thing, B.I.G.’s estate had the will to fight this copyright infringement lawsuit; their aggressive action will only serve to prompt others to do the same in the face of similar lawsuits. Second, and more importantly, the action taken by B.I.G.’s estate raises the profile of fair use and helps make the will to test fair use in other sampling/copyright infringement cases much stronger. I’ve long held that the infringement shakedowns in music sampling would end sooner or later. On the heels of this B.I.G. case (and the Jay-Z TufAmerica v. WB Music Corp. et al case, which I cover in the following section), it looks like the ending’s going to be much sooner.

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

The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Method Man – “The What” (Prod. by Easy Mo Bee)

Leroy Hutson - “Can't Say Enough About Mom<"

NOTORIOUS B.I.G. LLC vs. LEE HUTSON d/b/a SILENT GIANT PUBLISHING COMPANY

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

December 16, 2013

Kanye West Flips “Strange Fruit” for “Blood On the Leaves,” and There’s Nothing Wrong with That

Sampling in Hip Hop/Rap Need Not Be Politically Correct

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

First, it was “Blood on the Leaves.” Outrage from all over for how Kanye West appropriated Nina Simone’s heart wrenching rendition of “Strange Fruit,” a 1939 song about lynching (a song some today curiously describe as being sacred). Then, it was “Bound 2.” More group-think outrage about a decadent song and video which features a topless — and unapologetically erotic — Kim Kardashian, the mother of Kanye West’s daughter and his soon to be wife…

Typically, I avoid publishing commentary on matters like these, opting, at most, to share my brief thoughts among close friends and colleagues. That was my reaction when “Blood on the Leaves” was blasted by a broad swath of different people, all seemingly jockeying to prove just how distasteful “Blood on the Leaves” was. But wait: Hip hop/rap need not be politically correct to be dope. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself…
And more recently, that was my initial reaction to the “Bound 2” fall out, which was dismissed as old hat, in poor taste, and un-genius like, as well as parodied by James Franco and Seth Rogin. But what’s all the fuss about? A well-known, modern pop culture figure making pop art? Got it…

Now, before I continue, please let me preface the following by simply stating that I’m acutely aware of the history of lynching in the United States, as I am of the history of black American music and 20th century popular American music for that matter. I’m also adept at speaking about Colonial America, American slavery, and the Ante-bellum and Reconstruction Periods. That said, I’m also very aware of a number of different twentieth-century American popular music and cultural developments, in particular, the art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition. And that is what I’d like to speak to.

The art of sampling in the hip hop/rap music tradition can be celebrated for a number of different reasons by music makers, fans, and scholars alike. But particularly for those who make sample-based beats or those in tune to hip hop’s power to convert anything to its own sensibility, the art of sampling is deeply celebrated for its power to reconceptualize, recontextualize, and repurpose sound recordings in ways that express the hip hop attitude, style, and feel. But that aside — if it can really be put to the side — for the moment, I get it: Some (maybe many) might disagree with Kanye West’s politics or, specifically in this case, his crass flexibility with one of the most profound black American songs of the 20th century. I get that. But whether you’re politically correct (allegedly), indifferent, or not too informed about the lynching and slave histories of the United States isn’t the point here.

Kanye West is pop artist. And by “pop” I mean popular, in the sense of what that word meant almost a half-century ago, not an underhanded way of saying lack of creativity or vision or worse still, today’s mainstream. Yes, Kanye West is a pop artist — one who’s pedigree is rooted deeply in the sampling tradition of hip hop/rap music. Does all of this buy him a pass? No. Does all of this excuse his appropriation of Nina Simone’s wonderful rendition of the beautifully dark and dreary “Strange Fruit?” No. But who said West needs a pass? And who says that he has to excuse himself from making use of his musical training, production skill set, or pop cultural influences and ideas? Moreover, who says he has to excuse himself or apologize for combining his training, skill set(s), and creativity in ways that he chooses, ways that he deems useful for exercising his imagination, emotions, or even observations — no matter how absurd — of culture and society?

Is Kanye West’s sampling of Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” vulgar? Perhaps. But then again, so is a lot of the sampling that makes up the hip hop/rap canon. Is West’s sampling of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” outrageous? Again, perhaps to some. But pop stars — especially those who are creatively capable and riding the high of decadent self-awareness, superficialness, and reality-t.v. like absurdity — are outrageous by the nature of the fame construct that they’ve created and are typically compelled to fuel. But, unlike many a pop star who’ve been lead by a thousand of wizards behind the curtain, this guy, Kanye West, knows his shit! Call him an asshole, say he’s arrogant, say he’s always looking for attention, tell him he’s a fake genius. He’s no doubt heard it all before. Still, the man is an artist. Or if you like, he’s an artiste. Again, that doesn’t give him a pass. But that also doesn’t mean he has to be bound by convention, especially when the art of sampling, by its nature, has the power to transform and reconceptualize convention. So, however you fancy him, Kanye West is a student of music history and music production (and, like it or not, pop culture). Which means, when it comes to the art of sampling, he’s schooled in the “cut”, the “rupture”, the “break”, the “sound-stab” and, of course, the (sped-up) “vocal sample”.

So is West’s use of Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” shallow? Listen, if you’re critiquing “Blood on the Leaves” based on political science, or on the (misguided) notion that “Strange Fruit” is sacred, then maybe it is to you. Even as great and meaningful as it is, “Strange Fruit,” like any sound recording, is, in the end, source material to the sample-based musician. And one of the greatest traits that a sample-based musician or a rapper can have is objectivity. While I do not know if the idea for the song came before the beat was assembled or if the track was made prior to the beat, what is clear is that a piece of Simone’s vocals on “Strange Fruit” was flipped, sonically and conceptually, and transformed into something new. If you have a hard time with a talented, self-aware, outspoken, and vane music artist converting a line from one of Nina Simone’s better known recordings into a backdrop for rhyme-rants about 21st century bitch problems or the gaps of socio-economic status, cool. Maybe one of those cable talk shows can use your (useless) outrage. But don’t bother trying to describe “Blood on the Leaves” as a bad musical move, especially when you may not quite get the art of sampling.

Side note: I think Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of the most important Black American songs ever recorded. And often, when pinned down for my single favorite song, any genre, I offer “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Yet, if Kanye West, or DJ Premier, or any other sample-based musician flips it well, more power to them. Because, you see, in hip hop/rap, whether we like the political correctness of a sample flip or not, if it sounds dope, it’s dope!

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

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)


September 19, 2012

Boom Bap Can't Die; It's in the DNA

If You're Planning on Abandoning Boom Bap Because You Think It's Less Viable, You Should Reconsider

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Tripmaster, a regular BeatTips reader, left a great comment for an article that I wrote last year, "Mainstream, High-Concept Approach to Beatmaking Scuttles Hip Hop". In his comment, he mentioned a debate that he had with a friend regarding whether or not boom bap is dead. He argued, and rightfully so, that "boom bap will never die." Still, he also wondered if he was perhaps "out of place" for maintaining his connection to boom bap. I posted a reply comment for Tripmaster, and I thought posting it here as an article would be beneficial for other BeatTips readers. Thus, here's Tripmaster's original comment, followed by my extensive reply.

"this was a great piece. thank you for the much needed reassurance. sometimes i can't help but wonder if i'm holding myself back for not wanting to conform to the current vernacular in pop music. still though, sometimes i feel like that out of place old 40 year old glam rocker who's stuck in the 80's. i had a debate with a friend of mine regarding whether or not boom bap is dead. i argued that boom bap will never die, but being the huge fan of dubstep/glitch hop that he is, my buddy begged to differ." —Tripmaster


My reply:

My mantra: Make the music you want! Every music form has its own tradition and sub-traditions, and it's up to each musician to determine what they will embrace. That being said, conformity, particularly the kind that leads one to simply abandon the core aesthetics of the tradition that they're working in, is also a choice.

You should never question yourself for adhering to styles, sounds, and principles that helped make hip hop/rap music the great tradition that it is. In the case of boom bap, the notion of it ever dying is counter intuitive. Boom bap is a concrete style and sound of hip hop/rap; it's not a fragile fad piggy-backing off of hip hop/rap! Boom bap, in its broader meaning, encompasses a distinct approach, similar to the ragtime (style) usually associated with jazz. But unlike the once popular ragtime, a style and form closely associated with jazz that is all but non-existent today, boom bap is so embedded into beatmaking's lexicon and hip hop's/rap's lyrical dimension that it can never die.

Although there are, and will continue to be, "off-shoots" of hip hop/rap music, these derivative styles will never overtake the fundamental styles and approaches of hip hop/rap. That we still honor particular rhymers and beatmakers, that new beatmakers and rhymers admittedly echo the sounds, styles, and approaches of beatmakers and rhymers from 20 years! ago is something that speaks to the durability of hip hop/rap's core aesthetics. By comparison, it's worth noting that ragtime did not remain as a "go-to" style and form for 20 years; however, its chief practitioners, Jelly Roll Morton and Scott Joplin, continued to be revered by jazz musicians long after the form was displaced as a "go-to" (if you will) style. Boom bap was not displaced; there are simply other styles and forms that beatmakers can choose. Indeed, today, boom bap still exists as the chosen "go-to" style and form of hundreds of thousands of beatmakers around the globe.

With regards to dubstep, I think it's cool, I like it. It's not mutually exclusive to boom bap—both can be enjoyed. But the overall reach of dubstep isn't necessarily rooted in a hip ho/rap lineage. Dubstep, though it relies mostly on the same electronic music production tools as boom bap (drum machines, samplers, turntables, etc.), is a different beast altogether; one with its own direction, popularity, and lease on life. So a consideration of the death of boom bap, based on the fondness of the life of dubstep, is misguided. Point is, boom bap—as an approach, outlook, stylized slant, etc.—is intertwined with hip hop's/rap's identity in a way that assures that it will be in use for as long as there is something known as "hip hop/rap". In other words, boom bap is transcendent; no one era after the '80s can contain it, but all can claim it.

Finally, remember this: The "mainstream" music climate says more about what the purported major media gatekeepers (on radio, broadcast television, print and online publications, etc.) and major record labels feel can safely be pushed and sold to the masses than it does about quality music, or what beatmaking styles and forms that are prioritized by beatmakers around the world. So make the music that you want, using the styles and forms that you want, in the way you want. If for you that means sticking with boom bap, go for it! You're in good company, and there's an audience that prefers it.

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

September 08, 2012

BeatTips Sample Flip Award: Eric “Vietnam” Sadler: Leaders of the New School – “Sobb Story”

Poly-Sample Sound Collage Laced with Agreeable Rhythms

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

James Brown’s album Black Caesar (the sound track to the motion picture Black Caesar) is a staple in many DJs and beatmakers record collections. (I have three copies of this album myself). And no matter how many times I listen to it (every once and a while, I take it for a straight-through spin), I always learn and hear something new. I suspect this has been the case for many beatmakers over the years, as the songs on this album have been sampled and flipped numerous times.

Now without mentioning the name of the actual song that was sampled (find the album and listen for the song), this BeatTips Sample Flip Award goes to veteran beatmaker (producer) and Bomb Squad (Public Enemy) alum Eric “Vietnam” Sadler for his beatwork on the Leaders of the New School song “Sobb Story.”

Sadler’s beat features the Bomb Squad’s signature poly-sample collage sound. There’s the ever-present break-beat running in the background , sound effects, ruptures, and cuts. And, of course, there’s the primary sample for which the beat is built around. True to the Bomb Squad’s signature, Sadler combines the primary sample and the backing break-beat in a way that has
two distinct rhythms merging as one. This is DJ style beat matching at its best—no software program correcting the tempo (“Sobb Story” was released in 1991) and stretching everything to fit neatly, just Sadler’s great sense of timing and a knack for blending or creating cross rhythms.

Leaders of the New School – “Sobb Story”

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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."

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."

March 21, 2012

Reactions to the “Otis” Beat Demonstrate Hyper Scrutiny

The Night “Otis” Leaked, Twitter Hashtag Replies Revealed Something Alarming About the Nature of Today's Beat Critiques

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

As the Jay-Z/Kanye West song “Otis” leaked and bulldozed its way to trending topic status on Twitter last year, I was surprised (well, actually not really) by the level of vitriol and indirect shots that were brought against it by loads of beatmakers (producers) against the “Otis” beat (produced by Kanye West). In my quick, non-scientific poll and survey of a substantial number of “Otis” tweets that night, it was obvious that most people liked “Otis”; while some people thought that is was simply OK; and still, a small minority disliked it. But whatever the consensus was or wasn’t, one thing was clear from a beatmakers perspective: Many beatmakers were alarmingly critical of the beat that night.

Among beatmakers you will find some of the most opinionated music makers in the world. Beatmakers scrutinize the beats of fellow musicians differently than the average hip hop/rap fan and music listiner, because beatmakers are usually keenly aware of any number of methods and processes that can go into the creation of any beat. We know the styles, sounds, and techniques that are being referenced. And because hip hop/rap music, perhaps more then any other twentieth-century American popular music form, is infused with the ethos of competition, many beatmakers often listen to beats with a competitor’s ear. In many ways, this is why we rate, or dare I say judge, beats on a set of metrics that are different than most people. So I can understand why so many beatmakers took to Twitter that night and offered up their opinions on the way in which that sampling of an Otis Redding recording was rendered.

But a closer look at the pulse of the “Otis” hashtag replies from last year revealed something among sample-based beatmakers that I found to be alarming: hyper-scrutiny. Although all sample-based beatmakers interpret and perceive source material differently (and, subsequently, the samples that they cull from said source material), I don’t believe that any one interpretation can automatically be deemed superior to another. When there’s two flips of the same recording to compare, we can all toss our vote for which flip of a sample was dopest. For instance, Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” was sampled and flipped by a number of beatmakers, but which one was best? I suppose a healthy debate is suitable there.

But with regard to the “Otis” beat, the debate among beatmakers on Twitter that night centered around the way in which the “Otis” sample was used—many considered it to be a weak flip of a great Otis Redding song. Some maintained that it didn’t have enough chops. Some added that it didn’t use the best parts of the Otis Redding song. Some thought that it didn’t incorporate enough changes. And some believed that the drums weren’t as good as they could’ve been. Thus, those who lobbied such critiques found that they just couldn’t bring themselves to say that the beat was dope, for lack of how the sample was flipped. Yeah, O.K., riiigght… Thankfully, however, there were some who did reply that the "Otis" beat was dope. Simply stated.

What Makes a Dope Sample-Based Beat?

The dopeness of a sample-based beat isn’t based on the number of chops that it includes; or the number of different changes that it incorporates; or how many different drum sounds that it features. The dopeness of a sample-based beat (and a non-sample-based beat for that matter) is based on how it sounds—how the combination of samples, the drumwork, and any other elements soundtogether. A dope beat is a dope beat, no matter how simple or complex it appears to be! Of course, “dope” is subjective. But if the beat inspired decent enough rhymes from Jay-Z (one of the best lyricists to date) and Kanye West (a very capable rapper in his own right), can’t we all at least agree that the “Otis” beat was dope? And if we are to agree that dope beats make for dope songs (usually), then why was “Otis” not celebrated simply for that, instead of being knocked by many for what the beat could've of been?

Beatmakers, like other artists, have strong opinions. Some of these opinions are fair and articulate, some are unfair and bizarre, some are snobbish and narrow, and some are just down-right petty. Either way, I find it disheartening and non-constructive (to say the least) when many sample-based beatmakers discredit a beat as something on the lower end of the art of sampling simply because they believe that they could have flipped the sample better. This is especially troubling when the beat they’ve sought to discredit actually celebrates sampling in a good light, using a song by Otis Redding, a great soul man that unfortunately a large number of beatmakers aren’t necessarily familiar with today.

And of What About the Use of an Otis Redding Sample and it’s Inspiration?

Here, I also wanted to comment on what some non-beatmakers had to say about using an Otis Redding song and, specifically, the name “Otis” for the likes of what Jay-Z and Kanye West did with it. The use of the name “Otis” and/or a sample of his music as “not deserving”, as one tweet from that night put it, is an ill-informed statement. Let’s be clear: At the base of it, hip hop/rap music converts other forms of music (I discuss this in-depth in The BeatTips Manual. When it comes to sampling, nothing and no one is above being sampled, reconceptualized, and transformed! Sample-based beatmakers are only limited by their imaginations and their understanding of the art form. Whether the final result is dope or not is a separate matter subject to its own debate. But the self-righteous, soap-box statements thrown against “Otis” are far reaching and misguided.

Again: Like the beat, like the song, or dislike it. But do so on it’s merits and intended effect. The notion of calling out a misuse of a sample of Otis Redding (who admittedly I’ve long been a big fan of) as a slick, sacrilegious pop music move is just plain overkill. Relax. Because like the Jay-Z/Kanye West “Otis” song or not, Otis Redding gained millions of new listeners as a result of it. And that’s gotta be a good thing. Inspiration always is…

And think about this: J Dilla’s responsible for creating some of the most engaging music ever recorded. But the fact that he and his music was able to inspire countless beatmakers and introduce scores of people to the art of sampling will perhaps be his most important legacy to the art of beatmaking. I was immediately reminded of this that night I heard what was then the “Otis” leak off of the Jay-Z/Kanye West album WatchThe Throne.

Bottom Line

Scrutiny is good; competition is good. But I’m not sure if hyper-scrutiny advances the art of beatmaking. Be a fan, and a listener… Critique a beat/song fairly when necessary, but also support a beat/song when the art of sampling is being celebrated.

The music below is presented for the purpose of scholarship.

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

October 03, 2011

Nottz’ “Shine So Brite” Illuminates Beatmaking's Impenetrable Force Field

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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

Nottz Makes Timeless Hip Hop/Rap Music

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

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

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

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

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

Nottz – “Shine So Bright”

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

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

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

September 27, 2011

BeatTips Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog: "Bullet in a Horoscope"

The Wah Wah Guitar Back Story; First Series Release

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

In 1999, I started my first company, Wah Wah Guitar Recording and Filmworks. The plan was for Wah Wah Guitar (named as my homage to the proverbial "wah wah" guitar sound featured in many 1970s films, particularly those commonly known as blaxpoitation movies) to serve as my umbrella entity through which my independent interests in music and films would be commercially realized.

Prior to 1999, I had been rhyming and studying the art of rapping for seven years, and I had been developing a skill for beatmaking for six (I began rhyming as a teenager in 1992; I began making my own beats a year later), but for various reasons (distractions, other interests) I had yet to attempt to go pro, so to speak. So when I started Wah Wah Guitar in 1999, it represented the first carnation of my understanding of commerce and entertainment, specifically, independent production, manufacturing, and distribution.

Although I had set up an entity to pursue a career in music, the truth is, I never went after it with the sheer narrow focus that many have. Aside from my strong reservations about how the music industry was ran (and some of the specific industry types who ran it), I also held deep reservations about being a “rapper.” So even though I had the talent and dedication to carve out a music career (indeed, at one point I received legitimate label interest and I passed on the opportunity, see Sa'id's Mental Memoir: DJ Tony Touch Thought "Milk" Was A Monster"), as the year 2002 drew near, my goals shifted.

Before I ever wrote one rhyme or made one beat, I was a writer, one with a particular interest in film, history, and culture. And while I was serious about music, I had to embrace the reality that I wanted to do more than rhyme or make beats. Moreover, I realized that I didn’t want to maneuver from the “inside” of the music industry. So I committed myself to bypassing the exhausted deal-shopping path, and I focused instead on working from the outside. The aim being to create a platform that would allow me to do my own music on my terms and to be flexible enough to pursue wherever that took me.

As I saw it, Wah Wah Guitar would become the entity through which I realized my music goals. It would be the independent company that would permit me to do music completely on my own terms. But an ironic thing happened (well, perhaps not too ironic) three years into this plan: I wrote a book about beatmaking (The BeatTips Manual)! Soon, my rapping and beatmaking aspirations subsided; and it became less important for me to release my own music and more important for me to examine and thoroughly research the hip hop/rap music tradition—specifically, beatmaking—and publish my findings. In short, it became more important for me to document the beatmaking tradition and to work towards preserving the hip hop/rap music tradition as a whole.

Still, this huge shift in focus aside, in the three years that Wah Wah Guitar remained active, I recorded a great deal of music; the overwhelming bulk of it I never released or even let anyone hear. In fact, some of it, I've only heard once or twice—on the day that I made and recorded it! So what exists now is a catalog of complete and incomplete songs and beats; complete and incomplete verses, both one-takes and outtakes; commercial studio session recordings and home practice sessions; and more. And in an effort to continue to help more beatmakers and rappers, I’ve decided to release most (if not all) of this music here on BeatTips.com.

Thus, for the purpose of scholarship (discussion and study) and to extend my work in the study of the hip hop/rap music and beatmaking traditions, I will, at least once each month, post a recording (at random) from my Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog. And along with each recording, I will include as much commentary as possible, which shouldn’t be hard to do, since I’ve kept notes, often very meticulous ones, of every beat and rhyme that I made and recorded during the Wah Wah Years. It is my hope that by releasing this music and personal commentary, fellow beatmakers and rappers will (1) learn more about the fundamental ways that the two art forms—beatmaking and rapping—affect each other; and (2) be able to incorporate some of my ideas and approaches (if helpful) into their own processes.

As always, I encourage any questions, observations, or anything else that will be helpful. So post your comments and get into the discussion.


Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)

The rhyme
The concept for this song (which I never completed) was about a young "good girl" in the hood gone bad. I wrote one verse, just to see if my rhyme matched my initial concept and the beat. But as with a number of my unfinished rhymes, with this joint, I was mostly concerned with further developing control of my delivery, particularly at a quick pace.

The beat
For this beat, I used a one-bar framework that I copied into 2 bars. The beat is driven by a sample that I duplicated. I filtered one copy of the sample with high treble; and I filtered the other copy with dull treble. The main effect of the way that I filtered two copies of the same sample is that it made both copies sound like they had different pitch levels.

For the drum framework of this beat, I built a drum pattern that sounded like it was tumbling over. I had the kick sort of rumbling, while I tucked the snare-hits. The open hi-hat is where I tried a couple of things out. First, I experimented with the open hi-hat in a way similar to how I filtered the primary sample of the beat, in that I filtered it differently on alternating events within the sequence (meaning I programmed the high-filtered part to land, followed by the dull-filtered part). Also, I played the open hi-hat in a way that "pushed" the beat along.

I never built this joint out into a complete song, but it helped me work out different aspects of my rhyme delivery and breath control. Furthermore, it helped me gain a better feel for how to use my hi-hats, something that would soon come in handy.

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

Sa'id - "Bullet in a Horoscope" (prod. by Sa'id, from the Wah Wah Guitar Music Catalog)

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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.
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    "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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