50 posts categorized "The Art of Rapping"

November 18, 2014

Extended Shelf-Life: Bronze Nazareth's 'School for the Blindman' — One of the Best Rap Albums in Decades

Soulfully Hard and Authentic, Loaded with Dope Beats and Edgy Rhymes, School for the Blindman Confirms that Bronze Nazareth and The Wisemen are in League of their Own

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)


BeatTips Rating: 5/5

"Roll dice in old piss" —Bronze Nazareth

We often like and celebrate an album because of its power to take us somewhere. The vivid images that it calls up; the memories that it inspires; the emotions that it makes us feel — these are the things that, when present and prominent on an album, take us somewhere.


Hit play on Bronze Nazareth’s enigmatic album School for the Blindman (iHipHop Distribution), and you’re instantly transported to a music world that’s oblivious —thankfully so — to the oversaturated, gutless or otherwise cookie-cutter abstracts that make up most of what we know as mainstream rap music today. But School for the Blindman doesn’t just stand out as an obvious counterpunch to the jingle-filled, 808-dominated rap, it distinguishes itself from all other recent underground offerings as well. In fact, I find School for the Blindman to be one of the best hip hop/rap albums in decades.


Prior to School for the Blindman, the only other hip hop/rap albums that I found that I could listen to straight through with repeat extended plays were lllmatic (Nas) and Supreme Clientele (Ghostface Killah). And like those two classic albums, School for the Blindman also stands out because of it’s stellar, ear-catching production (soul samples & ill drums galore) and concrete rhymes. No beat on School for the Blindman is a mail-in job or simple drum program re-run. Instead, every beat contorts with its own structure and direction.


Truly a “beatmaker’s” beatmaker, Bronze’s production (he produced all but three tracks on the album) illustrates organic drums, well-conceived chops and arrangements, uniquely filtered phrases, and a powerful injection of feeling. As per Bronze’s style and sound, the art of sampling shapes the entire framework of School for the Blindman. And as with his previous efforts, all of the frequencies sampled and flipped make up amazingly hypnotic sonic textures that hold you at attention and demand frequent replays. (Bronze employs a smooth but defiant sampling style that priorities feel over needless complexity; thus the main reason that his beats draw you in.)



As far as the rhymes go, here, too Bronze shines. On “Fresh from the Morgue,” which features one of the dopest sounding hooks ever and a verse from The RZA, Bronze drops this quotable, “I’m so ill bring in the nurses to see him/my bitch purse is bulimic.” This kind of smart, layered slant rhyme is a staple throughout School for the Blindman. But then there’s the deeply personal “The Letter,” where Bronze’s knack for double (even triple) entendre reaches new stylistic and emotional levels: “I was the worst friend, couldn’t see poison through veins/losing you in vain from making tracks/I shoulda stopped the train.” The verse on “The Letter” and other songs on School for the Blindman cement Bronze’s place among the best producer/rappers of all time.


Although this is a Bronze solo joint, as with vintage Wu-Tang — the Wiseman’s direct influence — The Wisemen show up in force. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7, and June Megaladon are present, each adding their distinct voice and flow to the tracks that they appear on. Each member of the Wisemen carries an aggressive but subdued demeanor. To be certain, they represent a street, workman-like ethos. I’m sure that the labor realities (or lack their of) in Detroit has something to do with this. Indeed, The Wisemen offer up an everyday-man familiarity. Plus, for those who have actually spent time in the streets because of the hard draw of life, and not because of a prospective rap career, The Wisemen are especially refreshing. They paint the scenes of daily life in the hood — the highs, lows, and ironies — with confident strokes of well-stated details.


In addition to Wisemen features, School for the Blindman also gets a literal Wu-Tang assist, as Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, and The RZA all appear. RZA shows up on four joints (3 of them bonus cuts) and is in top form. Other features include Rain The Quiet Storm, L.A.D. aka La The Darkman, and Killah Priest.


Another paramount feature of School for the Blindman is the level of authenticity that it exudes. The feel of the whole album is as hard as it is emotional, as street gutter as it is fine art. Each song brims with confidence and emerges as an exact, creative and sure-guided piece of art. This is because Bronze is deeply conscious musically and politically (peep the Martin and Malcolm messages), and as such, he’s concerned with recapturing feeling, a specific feeling, one from a soulful and more noble time in Black American history.


With this focus as a guide, there are no bells and whistles on School for the Blindman, only rough-stock beats and rhyme darts! Which means that the level of confidence — even, decadence — on School for the Blindman is the kind of natural confidence that only comes from a certainty in one’s self and chosen journey. And that’s just it: Right now, Bronze and the Wisemen collective are in a rap league all of their own. They draw energy from the essence of their squad; they don’t come off as an overworked caricature of guys from the street. Instead, they showcase an honest handle on their station in life and demonstrate that they’re an authentic and earnest crew, not a fastened together boy band masquerading as a rap clique.


When I reviewed The Wisemen’s Children of a Lesser God more than a year ago, I asked, rhetorically, if The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan? My answer was no, of course. But I submitted then that The Wisemen’s aim and effort to stay true to their pedigree and influences is what allowed (allows) them to create something authentically theirs — something that would stand for others to attempt to emulate, match, or surpass. This, I continued, was the continuum promise of a dope pedigree. But after listening to School for the Blindman, I no longer think that the question of whether The Wisemen match or surpass the Wu-Tang Clan is applicable. Direct Wu-Tang influences aside, Bronze and The Wiseman have successfully navigated a course that now has them in a league all of their own. In today’s rap scene, there are few collectives (if any) that are comparable in style, sound, weight, and consistency to The Wisemen.


BeatTips Rating Breakdown

Favorite Joints

“The Letter”
One of the most moving songs that I’ve heard, any genre! This hard-hitting “letter” to a dead friend, taken to soon by the jaws of drug addiction, is absolutely chilling…and beautiful. Bronze is himself on every track for sure, but on “The Letter,” he travels deeper into his heart and taps into a pain that’s made up of a triple cocktail of loss, confusion, and guilt. The beat (which, by the way gives a clinic on how to pitch up a sample and loop it) holds this sort of smooth rumble to it. So effective is the filtering, the chops, and mix on this joint, it sounds as if the vocal “oooing” — that rides through the better part of the track — is separate and on top of everything. And the drums, which feature a highly tucked, almost muffled kick and a punching snare that features a chorus on every 4th hit, are simply masterful. With three primary sampling elements (as far as I can tell, there could be more) that dissolve into each other, this drum-work scheme sounds even more impressive.

Bronze Nazareth - "The Letter"

Bronze Nazareth - "King of Queens"


“Fresh From The Morgue” ft. The RZA (This joint is multidimensional dope! Soon as the hook drops, you’re rocking along to the song.)
“King of Queens” (Prod. Ernesto LTD)
“4th Down” ft. Salute, Kevlaar 7, Phillie (Pay attention to the sample flip on this joint!)
“Gomorrah” ft. Killah Priest (Prod. by Kevlaar 7)
“Worship” ft. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen
“The Records We Used to Play”
“Jesus Feet”

Bronze Nazareth feat. Killah Priest - "Gomorrah" (Prod. by Kevlar 7)

Bronze Nazareth feat. RZA - “Fresh From The Morgue”


Sureshot Singles

“4th Down” ft. Salute, Kevlaar 7, Phillie
“Carpet Burns” (bonus song)
“Gomorrah” ft. Killah Priest (Prod. by Kevlaar 7)
Worship Ft. Salute, Phillie, Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen
“King of Queens” (Prod. Ernesto LTD)

Bronze Nazarath feat. Salute, Phillie, and Kevlar 7 of Wisemen - "Worship"

Sleeper Cuts

There are no sleeper cuts on here; all of them will catch your attention on the first listen.


Gripes and Weak Moments

NONE


Final Analysis

What ultimately makes School for the Blindman sore is its very nature — a subdued, soulful — beat send-up with authentic rap voices. You get the feeling that Bronze knew what he wanted this album to be — a “school” where the echoes and retransformations of soul music helps to guide the thoughts and imagery of each listener. Thus, School for the Blindman delivers an effect that is more like a savvy, entertaining documentary, than a CGI-laden action feature film. So much authentic nuance abounds on this album that you almost miss the polish and forget that Shool for the Blindman is, afterall, a feature and not a documentary film, if we stick with the film metaphore.


I’ve always been of the opinion that an album should be examined (critiqued/reviewed) on what it aims to do, what it purports to be. By this metric alone, School for the Blindman gets a BeatTips Rating™ of 5. The album is a classic. Still, what makes it superb is not that it excels in what Bronze set out for it to be, but that it goes beyond. School for the Blindman demonstrates a timeless combination of theme and execution through a collection of beats and rhymes that live up to each other. And when the beat and rhyme fit as if they were born together, there’s no tougher combination. This occurs again and again on School for the Blindman.

Afterword

I’m almost puzzled as to why Bronze Nazareth and the whole Wisemen collective do not receive decent, ongoing coverage by rap music publications and even those music blogs that seem to pride themselves on pushing good music to the front, trends be damned. But the Wisemen represent a continuum essence, something held over from the concept of hip hop/rap music as a quality experience that pulls you in with dope beats and rhymes and authentic nuance. The Wisemen do not fit within or defer to a caricature of “pop cool” that prioritizes smedium t-shirts, skinny jeans, fake fun or emo synth-lines. They are not an outfit of over-hyped misfit angst pushing out contrived adolescence over sub-par beats. The Wisemen are blue collar stars, indicative of Detroit, the city they rep. Moreover, they are students and masters of a specific rap aesthetic, an art style and sound that holds meaning to them (and countless others around the world). Subsequently, they’re little concerned with trend-chasing critics who seem more interested in being the tastemakers of only one, often diluted branch of hip hop/rap music.


So the only reason that I’m even slightly puzzled by the lack of coverage that The Wisemen receive is because of what they represent and offer. Listen, hip hop/rap music is an indefinite music form. This means that there is no time — era, nuance, style, theme — in its vast tradition that can’t be summoned up, celebrated, and mastered. But as long as music publications fail to realize this important fact, unfortunately, The Wisemen (and any groups of similar stock and trade) may get overlooked.


Here, I’m reminded of something I learned as a kid, and something I tell my son: To be true to yourself is a blessing and a burden. Fortunately, Bronze Nazareth and The Wisemen have accepted the burden along with the blessing.


---
The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

September 26, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #5

A "Top" Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number.

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


The Nature of this List

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


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


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


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


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


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


The Criteria

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Click here to see the breakdown for #5 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.

---
The BeatTips Manual by Amir Said (Sa'id).
"The most trusted name in beatmaking."

September 07, 2014

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: #24

A "Top" Beatmakers List with a Deeper Meaning and Purpose

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

NOTE: If you've already read the disclaimer about the nature of the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time, jump to the bottom for the link to the corresponding list number.

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

The Nature of this List

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Criteria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Click here to see the breakdown for #24 on the BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time list. Note: Each day in September, one number from the top 30 will be revealed, continuing from #30 all the way to #1.

October 03, 2013

Rhythm Blending and Masking Constrasts vs. Timestretch

Creating Cross Rhythms to Lock Up Timing

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

In The BeatTips Manual, in the section on timestretch, I discuss why I don’t rely on timestretch as much as I do on rhythm matching and contrasting. One of the biggest problems dealing with any sampled phrase of 2-bars or longer is the tempo change. Let’s remember, when you sample a song, you’re usually sampling a group of live musicians that played in real time when they recorded the song. As such, the tempo ebbs and flows. Humans are not machines, so natural timing moves slightly. Thus, a song moving at let’s say 90 BPMs (Beats Per Minute) may actually move between 89.7 – 90.3 BPMs over a measure of four bars or more. So the shorter the sequence, the tighter the BPM will be. Conversely, the longer the sequence, the more the BPM is likely to move slightly up or down. All told, tempo change within a sample creates a sequencing and arrangement challenge, especially when it comes to building drum patterns.

There's No Rule in Beatmaking that Says You Have to Use Timestretch: Rhythm Blending

Whether you like to call it rhythm blending (as I do), beat matching, or beat blending, the concept is all the same: combining/blending/mixing two or more rhythms to make one new rhythmic structure or sound wall. So instead of relying solely on timestretch to solve the arrangement and timing problems that can arise from tempo changes within a sample, utilize creative rhythm structures to achieve similar and often even better (more natural sounding) results.

BeatTip: Work on developing an ear for picking sounds, rhythms, or even melodies that go together or contrast nicely. This is better than forcing sounds and rhythms to fit simply because you have an idea (inclination) and the power of timestretch. Every idea that you have is not supposed to work. And if you’re not careful, timestretch can become a means for forcing some ideas that might have been better left alone.

In the song below, I use a 4-bar phrase that pounds on the initial hit (start of the sequence) then dips and rises three times before it gets to the loop point then loops over again. Instead of using timestretch to manage the shifts in tempo, I used three different hats—in three distinct ways—to shuffle and drag the flow of the beat and to keep the rhythm steady. I used a kick-drum scheme (six tumbling kick-hits) that seems to go against the flow. Finally, I used a straight forward snare on the “2”, which I heavily syncopated near the end of the fourth bar in anticipation of the entire four-bar structure starting (looping) from the beginning. Collectively, I used all of the drumwork to create cross rhythms and a contrast structure that masks the primary sample’s tempo and pitch changes.

Sa’id – “Remember Me” (produced, rhymed, & written by Sa’id)

---
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)


July 18, 2013

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

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

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 22, 2013

BeatTips Rating: Big Noyd, Large Professor & Kool G Rap – “Naturally Born” (prod. by Ayatollah)

Vintage Rap with Fresh Bite

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

BeatTips Rating: 4.5/5

The knee-jerk tendency is to say that these four rap veterans have “brought back” this style and sound. Truth is much more simpler than that: This style and sound has never left.

Ayatollah has always made smoothly grungy sample-based beats with drums that matter more than thin tin cans. Big Noyd has always made karate-hard rap music that was street serious in rhyme tone, flow, and approach. Large Professor has always dropped rhymes with a steadfast delivery and lyrical chip on his shoulder that conjures up the MC bravado that triumphed at the height of the park-jam era. And Kool G Rap—1/3 of the lyrical trinity that includes Rakim and Big Daddy Kane—has always worked beats as part street poetic, part human film projector, using rhyme bars to seer close-up street experiences and lyrical dexterity in the minds of rap fans.

So the aptly titled “Naturally Born” is not new in the sense that these four stewards of hip hop/rap music are drudging up something lost or forgotten. What is new (or perhaps renewed), however, is the force and intensity of this latest non-tinkerbell offering from four rap pros who collectively tout a long list of similarly biting songs.

The beat is no less than one of Ayatollah's best. Apparent here, as with all of Ayatollah's work, is real-feel timing and a slicing snare that registers in the mix just above a tuck. Then there's the main sample work, where Ayatollah uses a small guitar pluck and riff to rupture the smoothness and otherwise sadness of the strings. Chopping ain't easy; and looping your chops is never as easy as the uninitiated to beatmaking would have some believe. And here, Ayatollah keeps the theme and feel of the beat steady, splashing in a perfect tambourine sprinkle here and there throughout. Through in the scratch hook, cut up by DJ Dutchmaster, and what you have is a hook that comments on the present while nicely backing the theme of "Naturally Born" with some of rap's 2nd Golden era voices.

If “Naturally Born” is any indication of the quality to be found on the forthcoming Coalmine Records compilation, Unearthed, then I suspect it will be one of 2013’s best reviewed and best selling hip hop/rap projects.

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

December 10, 2012

Flipping Samples Without Auto-Chop

Why I Prefer Manual Chopping, and Why an Over-Reliance on Auto-Chop Can Dictate a Limited Arrangement Path

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

When is a short-cut just a “short-cut”, and when is it just a crutch? I find myself asking this question whenever I think of those beatmakers who believe that auto-chop has always been the primary way for chopping up samples. I also ask myself the auto-chop question whenever I see an online beatmaking video where someone works the auto-chop button, then arrogantly says that they "flipped" a sample. More importantly, I often wonder does process and tradition even matter to some beatmakers, or is it all just about speed? Workflow and final results aside, I still believe that much can be said for process and tradition.

Handcrafting a Japanese sword (dig it: I know beatmaking's not entirely parallel here, but stick with me on this analogy), or making a pair of quality Italian leather shoes. Sure, both the Japanese sword and the Italian leather shoes can be mass produced faster and much cheaper, and sometimes with similar results (or close enough). And even today, I’m certain that many of the traditional Japanese sword craftsmen and the hand-craft Italian shoemakers make some modern-day concessions in their creative processes. But whether it be materials used or a narrowing of the number of steps taken in the process, I doubt any of these concessions ever become a crutch to these artisans. This is because tradition and quality takes precedent over technology in their world. This does not mean that new technology is bad. On the contrary, technology serves at the disposal of the craftsman and his tradition. In other words, technology that helps the process and does not circumvent the role of the creative and experienced mind is good.

In the beatmaking tradition, core concepts of creativity echo and continue to permeate. Still, technology has naturally sped up the beatmaking processes for many beatmakers. And while I certainly believe that this is a good thing (generally speaking), I also believe that there’s one unfortunate side-effect: To some beatmakers, process is no longer a matter of tradition, but instead, it's a matter of speed and simply keeping up with an unsustainable pace of beat distribution.

Prior to auto-chop functionality, sample-based beatmakers relied on the predetermined chop schemes that were imagined in their mind. But for many beatmakers today, auto-chop serves as an artificial mind. And as artificial minds go, it’s worth mentioning that auto-chop does not come with any of the same kind of instinct or intuition exhibited before its advent. Instead of predetermined chop schemes imagined in the mind, many today are satisfied with utilizing the ridiculously long sampling times that modern samplers are equipped with to (1) simply sample larger portions of songs, (2) auto-chop them into 16-32 regions, and (3) come up with a chop and arrangement scheme based more on what auto-chop dictated to them than on their own predetermined chops. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this method (in fact, it can result in a dope beat), it’s worth noting that such a method requires all but no ear for music, i.e. diggin’ in the crates, and less skill or ingenuity on the part of the beatmaker.

I suspect that most beatmakers with developed ears don’t always use auto-chop like this. For those with developed ears, auto-chop is usually just a short-cut, not a crutch. Still, for others, I fear that auto-chop is increasingly becoming a sort of fools gold. Above, I mentioned that auto-chop often dictates the chop-schemes for some beatmakers. Here’s what I mean by this. Take a 4-bar phrase sample, auto-chopped into 16 regions on an Akai MPC. With the sample perfectly sliced up by auto-chop, you are presented with the sample as it's spread out over 16 drum pads. For many, the creativity begins and ends here, as randomly pressing and holding drum pads until something sounds like a possible arrangement becomes the process. Typically, this process doesn’t include the use of different sample-phrases from other source material or even the same record, as auto-chop dictates chopping schemes that utilize only what was thrown in the slicer—fast and neat. Incidentally, this process/method is one of the root causes for thousands of DJ Premier knock-off and sound-alike beats. But you won't find auto-chop functionality at the core of Premier’s process and method. On the contrary, his style and sound is more the product of a good ear and his unique manual chopping schemes and other individual tweaks and personalized nuances.

So this raises an important question: How does one distinguish the difference between random raps on MPC drum pads, and the predetermined arrangement pattern—a predetermined compositional vision—that usually accompanies a manual chopping skill-set?

In fact, I’m concerned that this auto-chop crutch “process” gives off the illusion that some great level of creativity or imagination is going on. And what happens next is a compound problem: On one hand, a false sense of skill, and on the other hand, an actual skills deficit. This is because when auto-chop is used as a crutch, it lowers the threshold of creativity, and things like understanding sounds, textures, and arrangements cease to be important for some, as auto-chop dictates all of the possibilities, and lulls one into believing that the random drum pad-punching of perfect sample slices will get the job done.

But none of this should surprise anyone. After all, technology has long raised questions about musicianship, musicality, creativity, and imagination. And now it would appear that technology is reshaping what it means to have “skills” in beatmaking, especially in the area of chopping. So where does the skill enter into the equation when it comes to using auto-chop? Is it the source material selection? Is it simply the process of setting the parameters of an automatic 16 to 32-piece/slice/chop—a feet previously only achieved through a beatmaker’s careful selection, good ear, and meticulous manual chopping? I’m not sure where skill begins or ends when this now go-to functionality is used, particularly in the manner I described above. But one thing’s for certain: Auto-chop, and it’s ability to make some beatmakers appear to be doing much more than they actually are, has become more than just a tool for evenly chopping up samples—for some it’s become their main path to creativity.

With the Flip of a Bass Line, You Can Make Something Dope
How I Turned a Snippet of “Don't Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey Into a New Song…Without Auto-Chop

I’d heard “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” by the group Odyssey plenty of times before. When I was a kid, my father used to play it a lot (along with Earth Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder). He (we) had the album Hang Together (1980) on vinyl, what else, right? When I grew older, I doubled up on Hang Together after seeing a good condition vinyl copy of it for $12 bucks at one of the record conventions that used to be held at the Roosevelt Hotel, here in New York…In other words, my ears were familiar with this record, especially its textures and tones.

So when I came across “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” one day while rearranging my record shelves to make room for new records, I took it for a spin (no pun intended). Soon as I heard the intro, my ear told me what textures would go with it, and what drum sounds would best compliment the core groove and tempo I imagined in my mind. Again, it was my ear—and equally important my sound reference, which has been built up from years of diggin’ in the crates—that immediately told me what bass parts would fit with the bass tone and style of the “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her” bass line. So I stopped the record, spun it back, and sampled it.

All together, I sampled about 5 seconds of the intro, then I increased the pitch of the snippet by a couple of steps. Next, I further chopped the snippet, then I duplicated the new sample into to two copies of the same sample. One copy (“copy 1”), I left as is; the other (“copy 2”), I fine tuned the pitch (pulled back the pitch just a bit), and faded out the end. I filtered both copies to bring out the sample, but with copy 2, the slightly slower pitched copy, I filtered the bass—beefed it up—even more. Then I layered the copy 2 over the top of copy 1 and ran them through the same channel on my mixing console. This is how I made a fatter sounding bass line that had a dragging feel to it.

Next, I went to work on the drums. Because I understood the source material, I knew what kind of drum framework would go well with it; a simple fK--fS fK fK--fS pattern was all I needed for the base drum pattern. (In chapter 5 of The BeatTips Manual, I cover drum patterns in great depth and detail.) And although the base pattern for this beat is pretty straightforward, there is some complexity, as I used a combination of three different hats and tambourines in a couple different syncopated patterns. The main hat—1/8 notes—is flanked by my custom ride-tambourine hybrid hat, which moves along on the 1/4 notes, making the drum framework shuffle. Then, during the hook (chorus) section, I added another tambourine (lighter sounding and truncated) as ghost notes. I should also mention that for the hook, I altered the base drum pattern, and used a fK---fS----fK-fS---fK---fS pattern.

For the change that leads up to the verse and doubles as the hook section, I used a bass line from a reggae record that I chopped and sped up. I filtered this bass line to match the tone and texture of the bass snippet that grew from the snippet of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her.” Clearly, auto-chop couldn’t have helped me here, as I used an entirely different record—from a different genre and period—to match with the style and sound that I was creating. Thus, the point that I want to make here is that it’s important to develop an ear for music and sounds, and blends and textures, and cuts and ruptures. You can’t always just play a record, sample it, then slice it up over 16 drum pads, then do some random playing around without at least some level of intuitive creativity. No! You’re much better off when you have a pretty good idea of how you want to cut the source material, and how you want to blend and match everything into one cohesive arrangement. This is why taking the time to really listen to music outside of hip hop/rap music is an important part of your development, whether you make sample-based beats or non-sample-based beats. But if sampling serves as the diesel of your compositional outlook, then my friend, listening to music outside of hip hop/rap music—regularly—is an absolute must!

Next, I added a sub-change to the primary change, using a bass sound-stab made from another piece/section of the “copy 1” sample that I used for the core groove. Listen at the 0:28-:29 mark. It’s subtle, but it serves the transition back to the core groove well.

Finally, the real test of the beat came when I wrote my lyrics to it and kicked my rhyme over it…

Bottom Line:
Your imagination is better than auto-chop functionality, so use auto-chop to your benefit when it can be helpful, but don’t rely on it as a crutch! Furthermore, developing your ear is critically important. And one of the best ways to do this is by listening to records, not just sampling them as you come across them. Finally, I have to point out that there’s no way that auto-chop could have helped me in the making of the beat below. For one, I was interested in the composite opening phrase itself of “Don’t Tell Me, Tell Her,” not micro-pieces of it. Also, if you notice, I cut one piece of the new sample and made it a stand alone sound stab that gets cut off every time the bass line plays. This chop and arrangement scheme (and other subtle cut-offs that were included in this beat) could have never been thought of had I simply auto-chopped the intro.

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

Odyssey - "Don't Tell Me, Tell Her"

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."

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

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