December 04, 2009

What is Beatmaking and Hip Hop Production?

Hip Hop's/Rap's Chief Compositional Process


Simply put, beatmaking (hip hop production) is the process by which hip hop/rap music is made. But a deeper discussion of what beatmaking is is much more complex and quite interesting. Hip Hop/rap music grew out of the African American (Black) music tradition, so naturally it’s predicated upon an eclectic mix of rhythm-based music styles—in particular, funk, soul, jazz, the blues, and early disco. Thus, beatmaking is the means (collective processes) by which this eclectic mix of musical influences and styles is fashioned into hip hop/rap music form. In simpler terms, beatmaking is the chief compositional process of hip hop/rap music.

As I describe in my book, The BeatTips Manual, beatmaking, as a musical process, can be broken down into three separate—but equally important—spheres: the Technical, the Logical, and the Creative. The Technical sphere of beatmaking refers to the mechanical processes of making hip hop/rap music. The Technical sphere involves all the steps associated with operating various Electronic Music Production Instruments (EMPIs). This is the sphere where things like sampling, chopping, looping, sequencing, recording, mixing, mastering, and such come into play.

The Logical sphere of beatmaking refers to the structuring and arranging processes of making hip hop/rap music. The Logical sphere involves the application of one's knowledge and understanding of fundamental music structures, typical hip hop/rap music arrangement practices, and some concepts of traditional (Western) music theory, as well as the hip hop/rap tradition's own "theory."*

Finally, The Creative sphere of beatmaking refers to the creative processes of making hip hop/rap music. This Creative sphere involves the application of one's imagination, musical knowledge, music intuition, personal style and approach, and other factors of that sort. Taken together, the three spheres of beatmaking determine the quality of a beatmakers's beats. Of course, each beat is different, and as such, the way in which a beatmaker can excel within the three different spheres will vary. Likewise, how each beatmaker handles their deficiencies, within these three spheres also goes a long way in determining the quality and effectiveness of their beat.

*For a more detailed analysis and description of hip hop/rap's theory, see Chapter 10 in The BeatTips Manual

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