1 posts categorized "The Moments "Sexy Mama""

November 29, 2010

Beatmaking as Learned Through Soul Music

Referencing Parent Music Tradition for Guidance


Beatmakers draw inspiration from a variety of music forms and sources. And it should probably go without saying that each of those sources has both a direct and indirect influence on the way in which a beatmaker constructs their beats. So here, I want to discuss why and how certain music forms outside of hip hop/rap—in this case soul—can be studied.

Hip hop/rap music shares a rather strong kinship with soul music, in particular, early funk. Of course, with much of the soulful-less hip hop/rap music that permeates (some might say pollutes) the so-called "mainstream" air- and web-waves, it's hard to see the familial relationship between hip hop/rap and soul music. But the truth is, there is a deep, fundamental and undeniable connection between hip hop/rap and soul music.

For starters, the most basic drum clichés in beatmaking are actually either direct duplicates or simple modifications of drum patterns laid down in soul songs. Furthermore, the repetitive groove structures that characterize all soul songs (ca. 1965-75) are the same structures that underscore the most fundamental arrangements in beatmaking. For these reasons (and many others I will hopefully discuss in the future), I believe that it's important for beatmakers (especially those who want an extra arrangement edge) to study soul music as much, if not more, as they study hip hop/rap.

When it comes to studying soul music, especially as it relates to beatmaking, the first area I recommending studying is the drum arrangement, or what I often like to refer to in The BeatTips Manual as "drum frameworks." In nearly every soul song (ca. 1965-75) that I've studied, the drum frameworks dictate the manner in which the groove moves. In hip hop/rap music, it is often said that the drums are "out in front." But what does that really mean? Well, as it turns out, it depends on who you're talking to. For some, the phrase is used to refer to the level or rather volume of the drums in the mix. Still, for others, the phrase, "out in front," refers to the dominant role that drums often play in a typical beat. Although both "out in front" references are accurate, they are often rather misleading.

The way I like to look at it is the same way that I look at drum frameworks in soul songs. In soul music, the drums (even in heavily syncopated arrangements) are usually "tucked"—pulled back in the mix—to some degree. So for me, drum frameworks are much less about being merely "out in front," and more about being right in the pocket. What I mean to say is, drums are still a part—albeit a major part—of the rhythm, and as such, drums set the timing and space for the groove. Drums are not, however, solely responsible for shaping the groove. Instead, the groove is shaped by a combination of elements, including the drums, and more prominently, the bass and rhythm guitars and the piano.

Thus, when studying soul music as it relates to hip hop/rap, the next important thing to examine is the groove—how it's made, how non-drum musical elements fit together, and how drum frameworks keep those elements together in the pocket.

Below I have included the song "Sexy Mama" by The Moments. Aside from being one of my favorite soul songs of all time (any genre), it also happens to be one of the songs that was most pivotal to my understanding of drum frameworks. Moreover, it's an excellent soul song example for study.

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

"Sexy Mama" by The Moments

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