73 posts categorized "Sound Design"

June 13, 2011

Chris Athens Breaks Down Mastering, Part 2

Sterling Sound's Senior Mastering Engineer Drops Jewels; Mastering Still a Worthy Step in the Recording Process

Interview by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

BeatTips: What are the fundamental dynamics of mastering?
Chris Athens: You mean in terms of what we exactly do?

BeatTips: Exactly, like if you go into a mastering lab anywhere across the country, what are the main things that you’re going to get?
Chris Athens: When you go to a mastering session, the first process will be the mastering engineer will generally ask the client what it is they’re looking to accomplish. Sometimes the clients don’t have a clear idea of what it is they want to accomplish, they just want their record to sound good. But sometimes they will say something specific, say like, they might describe where they did it and how they did it and what they were hoping it would end up sounding like. Then you listen to the tracks that they actually have in your environment, and that actually begins the process of evaluating the mix. Typically, the way I work, some guys like to work a bit more linear, I like to load up the whole record, listen to it, see where the record’s at as a whole, kind of organically. Then you start to make slight adjustments, some songs may need more bottom end, some songs may need more top end.

Some songs need everything, then you work from there. Once you sort of hammered the whole record into place, so it sounds like sort of a cohesive whole, then the process of actually putting the songs in order begins… spacing them out the way you want them. Most urban records you listen to tend to be almost DJ style, people want stuff to kinda come in on the one, or on a beat that makes sense psychologically when they’re listening to it. Putting songs in order is a skill all in its own essentially. Not really putting them in order, cuz usually the clients know what they want, but actually spacing them out, fading them properly, getting them to come in so they feel right. And because it’s a beat-oriented music, and because so many producers are DJs, then tend to be really sensitive to how the record flows, timing wise.

BeatTips: A lot of people’s misconception of mastering is that it’s basically volume boosting.
Chris Athens: Well, the truth is at this point, anybody can make a record loud! It’s gotten so easy that most people actually make records too loud. And I’m talking about producers, mix engineers and the mastering engineers. I frequently get records sent to me for mastering that are already louder than I would’ve made them when I was done mastering them; and sufficiently distorted and all these other things… Listening to records to evaluate their distortion and their dynamics is really a skill. Not everybody has it. You would be amazed at people that are actually really good at producing and being an artist, but are really terrible at listening to records, in terms of what they think sounds good. Lot of times people will evaluate stuff in their car when their car system isn’t really that good; or on speakers in rooms that aren’t set up that well and they think it sounds good and it actually doesn’t.

BeatTips: So in situation where somebody brings to you a project that is mixed particularly well, what do you bring to the stage, what do you add to that?
Chris Athens: If it’s an album, what I’m bringing to the table is evaluation. I’m sort of the last double-check that everything is cool…

BeatTips: Like quality control?
Chris Athens: Almost like a quality control, exactly. And typically what I do to a record that sounds really good is similar to what I do to a record that doesn’t sound good. I just do less of it. I use my level of taste and experience to not step all over it, to let it be what it is and to find whatever weak links it may be in the record and fix them.

Read Chris Athens Breaks Down Mastering, Part 1

For more information on Chris Athens or Sterling Sound, visit Sterling Sound

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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 12, 2011

TBC Thread of the Day: "Proper Signal Chain for mixing samples?"

Finding the Right Signal Chain for Your Style and Sound, When Your Mixing Samples in Your DAW

By DARRELL KELLOWAY (DK) and AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

DK: "Is there a proper signal chain for mixing samples (pre-recorded material off records) such as drums, basslines, and non-drum sound instruments?"


Sa'id: dk, First thing. When you say "*signal chain* for mixing samples," do you mean to ask about what signal chain to use to when tracking (recording) into your DAW? The reason I ask is because, if you're at the *mixing* point, you're already past the signal chain point...

Second thing:
I don't think that the use of the word "proper" is the best way to phrase your question or kick off this thread. Perhaps the word "effective" is better. "Proper" sounds dogmatic, as in there's only one way. In regards to signal chains, there are multiple effective ways that different people like to choose, for various reasons

Third:
If you are asking about what signal chain to use before the mixing point, well, then consider the fact that an *effective* signal chain completely depends on the beatmaker (and mixer) and the style and sound he or she (or they) is/are going for. Different sounds produce different signals, but the degree of difference changes with the sample. For example, a stand-alone bass sample will generate one kind of signal; while a sample that contains basslines, drums, and non-drum instruments will generate yet another kind of signal.


DK: First of all, thanks the reply.

Secondly, I agree wholeheartedly that "effective" would have been a much better word for what I'm asking. The best thing about TBC is that we have no "know it all's" here that claim to know everything and therefore bring down the integrity of the boards. Amen to that.

Back to my original question though, I meant once the samples are tracked into the DAW, is there a certain signal chain on the inserts that would help me mix my samples more efficiently? For example, say that I have a high-pass filter applied on my primary sample track (the sample contains a guitar, strings, piano chords, organ etc) and I planned on "bumping" the sample like you described in the BeatTips Manual. Say, I wanted also wanted to compress the sample and add some reverb as well. Would the proper plugin sequence on the inserts be 1) high pass filter 2) compression 3) reverb, or should I compress the sound last? If so, is there a reason behind doing so?

I remember you posting here a few months ago that it helps to know your sounds, and to have that sound available if possible before entering the mix phase (eg. using a kick drum with lots of low end in your beat before tracking it into your DAW).

Before sampling, I also use your trick of playing around with the DJ mixer so I can get the sound that I'm looking for before sampling. What I mean in this case is that for this particular I noticed that the bassline didn't really stand out, but I wanted the strings and the organ sounds (the mids and the highs) to stand out so they would be easier to chop. Doing so, I turned down the low end on the dj mixer so the bass was less audible when I sampled it. This did help me get the sound I was looking for, but if I was looking to tweak it even further in my DAW, which plugin effects chain would be the most beneficial for what I'm trying to do with the sample?

Thanks


Sa'id: Dk,

OK, now I get what you're asking...
Generally speaking, compression would be last on the chain you described. As for the high pass filter and the reverb, that depends on what you're trying to achieve. I usually work my levels (EQ/Filters) before I apply reverb. But then there are other times (for instance, sometimes when I re-sample my own snare sounds) where I apply the reverb (for the elongated sound and roominess) before the EQ. In cases like these, I'm interested in the "shape" of the sound before the "color" (feel, EQ) of the sound. So once I get the shape of the sound (the duration, spacing), I can then go about modifying how it knocks (or doesn't), shuffles, or tucks through the mix, etc.

It's often a good thing to compress last because compression actually "squashes"/restrains the fullness of a sound. In fact, with my style and sound I tend to avoid compression as much as possible. This is why I've spent a great deal of time knowing my sound before I track into my DAW... The idea is to have the sound as close to complete as possible before I mix. This way, when I mix it or turn it over to someone else to mix, there's no guess work—The sound scope is already there, like a map... Check out my interview with mix engineer Steve Sola in The BeatTips Manual where he discusses receiving a near-finished mix, before he even touched it.

As for the DJ mixer amplification/EQ, please note: I pretty much have the left and right EQ bands (channels) set to a default! In other words, I don't adjust my mixer for every record (or other source material) that I sample. Instead, my DJ mixer's EQs stay the same... But remember, I route my DJ mixer through my analog Mackie board. And it is there where I may modify the Hi's and Lo's of the source material, before I sample it. Keeping my DJ mixer with my custom default EQ setting helps keep my own style and sound.

Finally, remember, once you get any bass part into your DAW, you can just duplicate the tracked bass part (as needed) and boost the low end (I like to use the multiple band EQ) on the duplicates or turn their volume up.


Participate in this TBC thread here: "Proper Signal Chain for mixing samples?"

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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 08, 2011

Chris Athens Breaks Down Mastering, Part 1

Sterling Sound's Senior Mastering Engineer Drops Jewels; Mastering Still a Worthy Step in the Recording Process

Interview by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

BeatTips: What is the fundamental concept of mastering?
Chris Athens: Mastering is the last creative step in the record making process, prior to an album being sent to a pressing plant for mass production. In general, the process of mastering usually includes the sequence of songs, the spaces between the songs, fades, any last minute editing that has to be done. Then of course, the last minute flavor, which usually has to do with EQ—compression, leveling.

BeatTips: What’s the primary difference between mastering and mixing?
Chris Athens: Mastering is an interesting stage, cuz when you’re a putting a record together, typically a mastering engineer is very objective about what you’ve done. Mix engineers tend to get involved really deeply into a record; it takes a long time. Mastering engineers usually come with a fresh perspective, and sort of a very immediate sense of how things should sound. So it’s opportunity for the record to be fine tuned, and really the best of the record to be brought to light. That’s the main function of the mastering engineer.

BeatTips: Is there a different skill set required?
Chris Athens: Yes and no. It’s hard for me to say specifically because I’ve done both. But I would say that what you’re looking for in mastering is to maximize the things that are best about the mixes. In general, I don’t know if the skill set is all that much different. Mix engineers have to have great ears, they have to be very creative. So the art of listening and evaluating tracks is really not that different from mixing and mastering. The techniques are a little different.

BeatTips: Is it generally understood that the mastering engineer should be someone separate from the mix engineer, or if a person could do both, do you recommend that they do both?
Chris Athens: The end result is all that really matters! But by and large I’d say there’s two advantages to hiring a mastering engineer that is a professional at doing that specialty: one, you get the aforementioned objectivity; the other is, from a technical standpoint, most mixed environments are compromised sonically. So when you’re mixing in a control room in a mix room, there are certain anomalies acoustically that usually happen that aren’t normally present in a well designed mastering room. And there’s a number of reasons for that. Usually it has to do with the quality of the acoustics and the focus on monitoring. Mix rooms focus on functionality, how to blend that many tracks into whatever. Mastering rooms tend to focus on the quality of playback sound. So it’s easier to evaluate something. So just as a quick for instance, a lot of mix engineers prefer to work off of small two-way systems—Yamaha NS-10s or your typical two-way monitors. My monitors are very high resolution three-ways with a really good sub system; I use Dynaudio C4s. So it can be really to difficult to be objective when you’re mastering a record on the same speakers you mixed it on.

For more information on Chris Athens or Sterling Sound, visit Sterling Sound

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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."

April 17, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Royal Flush - "Ice Downed Medallion" Prod. by EZ Elpee

Hungry Beatwork and Rhyme; Appreciated More in Middle of a Storm

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

"Motion picture/analyze your world Flush'll hit ya..." That's the emphatic declaration that Royal Flush makes to open the New York hood classic, "Iced Downed Medallion" from his debut album, Ghetto Millionaire (1997). Speaking from the rapper/lyricist part of me, I've always considered Royal Flush to be one of the illest lyricists in rap. Cut from the same Queens lyricst bloodline that bled inside of areas like Corona, Queensbridge, Lefrack City, and Astoria Projects, Flush was a street-respected M.C., circa 1996-98. Unfortunately, however, Flush never rose to the level of notoriety that I felt he deserved.

Thing is, Royal Flush came on the scene—with the right skills—at the wrong time. It was 1997/98, right in the eye of Diddy's (formerly known as Puff) storm. This was when Puff was throwin' shit in the New York rap game with the shiny-suit, bubble gum-rap mystique. (Note. Puff's reign would eventually help lead to the undermining of New York's hip hop/rap structure—a near fatal blow that New York has yet to recover from.) The years in rap 1997/98 would also serve to mark the beginning of Jay-Z and Hot 97s (New York's #1 hip hop/rap radio station) meteoric connection to the top. Had Royal Flush come on the scene just two or three years earlier, he would have missed what I like to call the New York Kill Zone of '97/98, and in all likelihood, he would have gained as much (perhaps more) shine as Mobb Deep, AC, or O.C.

Speaking from the beatmaker (producer) part of me, "Iced Down Medallion" was one of the most aggressively programmed beats I've heard. Produced by EZ Elpee, the beat utilized a straight-forward, two-bar loop of a 70s music phrase (I don't name sample sources that I'm not sure about their cleared status) with the bass frequency of the phrase filtered milk-smooth, and the high (mid/treble) levels left just as warm and even when let out. For the drum framework, Elpee went with a standard double-kick snare pattern. Wisely, he tucks the kick while exploding the snare with a handful of reverb. And the hat, which is truncated (no prolonged sustain), is a shaker that he politely sprinkles over all measures. It is further worth noting that because of how the bass frequency of the sample is filtered so fat and warmly, the kick—which is actually truncated short—sounds so much more rounder and booming every time it lands on the one, and as it sets up the two.

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

Royal Flush - "Iced Down Medallion"

Royal Flush - "Iced Down Medallion" (Official music video)

April 10, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Love Come Down"

Personification of the polished, post-disco sound of 1980s R&B

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Whether you're into the most rugged boom bap or the cleanest orchestral sound, at some point, you learn to value the ability to add a level of polish to your beats. One thing that all of my beats share, to some degree, is "sheen" or polish. No matter what base style of beatmaking that I'm working from or what overall sound that I'm going for, I always incorporate an element of polish. In fact, for me, giving my beats—even the most grungy, hard core joints—some sheen is an important component to my own style and sound. But this approach, subtle as it may perhaps be, is something that I developed from listening closely to early 1980s cuts like Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Love Come Down."

If it could be said that the musical arrangements of early 1970s soul, funk, or rhythm & blues were best characterized by raw, organic or wide open jam-session like sketches, then it might be best said that the arrangements of early 1980s R&B was characterized by slick, streamlined and heavily formulaic arrangements. Although I favor the music of the early 1970s over the early 1980s, I'm still able to appreciate the technology influenced slickness that the early 1980s R&B ushered in.

One of my favorite songs from early 1980s R&B was Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Love Come Down." Released in 1982 (the same year as Michael Jackson's Thriller), "Love Come Down" featured an arrangement scope that captured the nuance and possibilities of the newly minted synthesizers of the time. Furthermore, "Love Come Down," which utilizes a smashing electric snare on the "2" and a bouncing synth-bass,
personified the slick arrangement style that would go on to characterize the sound of 1980s R&B. But that's not all that "Love Comes Down" exemplifies.

Listen to "Love Come Down" (especially the drum sounds) and you will notice that the vibe of the arrangement is highly electric, with an assembly-line like formula quality to it, something akin to modern beatmaking structures. In fact, you could see why "Love Come Down's" arrangement could more easily be achieved with today's EMPIs (Electronic Music Production Instruments) than the rougher—warmer—sounding music scopes of the early 1970s. (Also, on King's song "I'm In Love," listen to the hand-claps layered over the smashing electric snare, another technique utilized in modern beatmaking.) Yet for all of the formulaic qualities that "Love Come Down" has, the song still manages to simmer with both warmth and polish, while it avoids sounding "too mechanical." That's a lesson that I think of every time I craft a new beat.

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

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Love Come Down"

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "I'm In Love"

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

April 04, 2011

Boog Brown Passes My MC Lyte Test

Amid Questions Surrounding the State of “Female Rappers,” Boog Brown Impresses…Without the Hype

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Discussions about "female rappers" carry little weight with me, because I rate the rapper and their rhyme, not their gender. However, when pressed about my list of top female rappers, I always began with MC Lyte. For me, MC Lyte—in her prime—sits comfortably in the 1st tier of great lyricists, regardless of gender. But as far as any list that excludes male rappers, I rate MC Lyte #1. Therefore, before I can rate any female rapper that has appeared after MC Lyte, I first have to hold them up to what I call the "MC Lyte Test."

The MC Lyte Test (a test that could equally be used for male rappers as well) is a set of parameters that I use to rate any female rapper. These parameters include: style, delivery and flow, word mastery, sound, feel, non-contrived attitude, and raw edginess.

Since MC Lyte graced the mic in 1988, various female rappers have emerged with respectable skills. In fact, there have been a number of female rappers that many music critics and fans alike have lauded with great acclaim. But political correctness aside, since MC Lyte's prime, there's only been two female rappers who have passed my MC Lyte test, and a couple more who had the potential to, but never did.

Well, now I'm compelled to let it be known that Boog Brown passes my MC Lyte Test.
Like MC Lyte, Boog Brown understands the rhythm of words. She molds them, folds them, blends them, caresses them, and snaps them. Equally comfortable with straight and slant rhyme, Boog Brown chooses words for their full value, not for the brevity of writing rhymes. Moreover, she doesn’t rely on gimmicky deliveries or overly wordy rhyme schemes and phrasings. Such rhyme tricks have impressed (mesmerized) some, but I’ve always found those sort of rhyme gimmicks to be cliché and boring. I dig rhymes straight up. Gimmickry, particularly the borrowed and oft-used type, is usually less engaging, if not outright whack. Straight forward inflection/intonation, especially when it's delivered with believable—non-contrived—attitude, is dope.

What also impresses me about Boog Brown is her delivery and flow. It's agile and multi-directional, not grounded and predictable (listen to "Masterplan" produced by Apollo Brown). Moreover, she utilizes superb breath control; you never hear her take extreme gulps of oxygen or stumble over her pauses, both marks of a complex lyricist with just as much style as substance.

On "Understanding" (also produced by Apollo), Boog Brown shows off how she presses go, then drops a string of well-measured lines of dense poetry that regularly come together to give insider looks at various snap shots of life. And in the tradition of the most advanced lyricism, she drives by each bar of her lyrics without glancing at its effect, without giving a glimpse of uncertainty or exhaustion. Such confidence echos the pedigree of all dope complex lyricists, male or female.

Then there's Boog Brown's sound. It's effortless, smooth, and genuine. Even when she's romantic (check out “Hey Love”), her sound and feel is in tact, not compromised. And while many female rappers fall pray to a lack of expression in their rhymes (perhaps a side-effect of a male-dominated tradition), Boog Brown strikes through with a clarity and feel that never sounds forced. Rhyming, in its highest degree, is an art wherein words are made to grab, dance, punch, rock, and shock, all with style, and no sense of effort on the part of the rhymer. Once you can “hear” the effort—the forced flow, the superficial borrowed style, the clumsy lyrics—the magic of rapping ceases to exist. And this is where Boog Brown excels. She doesn’t fall into the “Look at me, I’m a female M.C. mantra.” Instead, she soars on her own lyrical terms, without the benefit (or detriment) of “female M.C.” charity praise.

What's Next for Boog Brown

Although Apollo Brown’s beats have certainly served Boog Brown well, most of the beats off of their stellar Brown Study album carry a similar texture and form, and they usually move in the same “mid”/mid-tempo range. That’s no knock against Apollo Brown—that sound is dope. In fact, he’s mastered that sound and feel; it compliments the drum frameworks that he favors for most of his beats. I'd just like to hear Boog Brown on a couple of slightly uptempo joints, or some beats with a different type of swing to them. To Apollo's credit, the “U.P.S.” beat, I think his latest release with Boog Brown and a joint I really dig, finds him using a bit more “bounce” in the beat. Promising signal for what's to come from the the Boog Brown/Apollo Brown enterprise.

Still, the thought of Boog Brown branching out and incorporating beatwork (and different production nuances) from other perennial beatsmiths (I’d really like to see her paired up with Statik Selektah, DJ Premier, The Alchemist, or Kevlaar 7), is something I can’t help but consider. Currently, Boog Brown is sitting on the cusp of league MVP-caliber talent. But I believe if she maneuvers right—that is to say, split the wig open of the hype machine by matching her rhyme skills with other key beatmakers—she could be looking at a hall of fame career.

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

Boog Brown "UPs" [prod. Apollo Brown]

Boog Brown – “Hey Love”

Boog Brown & Apollo Brown – “Masterplan”

MC Lyte - "Paper Thin"

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

March 28, 2011

Cool & Dre Keep It Fundamental on "Shake"

Game's Song Takes Old Turn; Cool & Dre Make Effective Composition with Return to and Highlight of the Break

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

If you've ever played Madden '09, then chances are, you're familiar with the Gym Class Heroes' song, "Home," one of a small group of hip hop/rap songs that made EA Sports' soundtrack cut for the '09 Madden release. "Home," which was production by beatmaking duo Cool & Dre is a mostly non-sampled affair, complete with heavy syncopation and a dope bass line. Hardly anything like their breakout beat, the instrumental for "Hate or Love It" (the hit song by 50 Cent and Game), "Home" is nonetheless effective. It's not great, and it's not bad...it's good; perfect for one's listening pleasure while driving and, of course, while making Madden '09 selections.

But isn't that one of the ultimate goals? That music provided to a lyricist be effective? In the end, that's mostly what it comes down to: Is the music effective? No matter which music tradition it is, the goal of the musician is to make music that is effective—and by "effective" I mean music that a songwriter draws inspiration from, something that prompts a lyrical response. So it should follow that, in the quest for effective music, a musician should employ those styles, methods, and techniques that allow for the most effectiveness. This brings me to Game's song, "Shake," produced by Cool & Dre.

In the tradition of hip hop/rap's first architects and pioneers, Cool & Dre sampled two breaks from a soul song, and fashioned them into a composition that both motivated and allowed room for Game to deliberately experiment with his rhyme style. The result of the collaboration was, well, effective.

What stands out the most about Cool & Dre's beat is not what they did, but what they didn't do. Rather than suffocate the soul and essence of the sample with loud drums that did not fit; rather than force in an awkward melody line; rather than jam in a useless change or switch-up; they let the sample lead the way, much in the same tradition that hip hop/rap's earliest architects and sampling pioneers did. And Less we forget, sometimes a great beat comes down to the beatmaker having a great ear. So any talk of, "it's just a loop," is off-base and misguided. Plus, in a time where one end of the beatmaking spectrum is an over-produced, bland and boring, gutless, "emo-beat" style; and the other end of the spectrum is a watered-down, poor knock-off of the Southern Rap sound's best offerings, a beat like "Shake," which is straight forward and unassuming, is very much appreciated.

With "Shake," Cool & Dre, who have proven equally capable of crafting sample-based and non-sample-based beatworks, opted out of the "mirror-watching" style of beatmaking; you know, the style where beatmakers ("producers") get so absorbed in themselves that they must put their fingerprint on every morsel of the beat. Instead, here, they cooked up a banger, by following the move and feel of the sample, getting out of its way, and, like a responsible doctor, remembering to "not do any harm." Thus, in keeping with the natural cues of the source material they sampled, they rounded off the ends of the energy that the sample supplied and trusted the architecture of the rhythm and groove. The result being a hard-hitting rhythmic and sonic impression that repeats hypnotically. Surely, something irresistible to hip hop/rap lyricists who aim to push their personal envelope.


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

Game - "Shake" (Prod. by Cool & Dre)

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

March 26, 2011

BeatTips MusicStudy: Roc Marciano, "Game of Death;" Pete Rock on the Beat

Tough Strings, Solid Drums, Jabbing Bass-Stabs, and Punch-You-in-the-Face Rhymes

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

Been following Roc Marciano's development for a while now. He's reached that rhyme confidence level that many rappers fall well short of. Here on one of Pete Rock's more sinister beatworks, Roc Marciano is all bravado, no filler or un-useful slang. Each line of poetry flows effortlessly with each meter of the beat. Dope.

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

Roc Marciano - Game of Death (Prod. Pete Rock)

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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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