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How to make HipHop beats

How to make HipHop beats
He was a whizz with the cricket bat, but he never used to talk like that.

He was a whizz with the cricket bat,
but he never used to talk like that.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time chilling in my crib with Hip Hop’s number one bad dawg TW. And it has to be said he lives up to his reputation. In only a few short weeks he has disputed a speeding fine for driving 36 mph in a 30 zone, ripped up a demand for unreturned library books and cursed mildly under his breath at a supermarket self service checkout. Yes you’ve probably guessed I’m talking about the big daddy man Tim Westwood.

While we’ve been hanging he’s hooked me up with some apparently off da hook beat making tips. These tips were all told to me in a thick Brooklyn/ Surrey accent which was punctuated with meaningless words, phrases, air horns, explosions, bleating lambs, merry-go-rounds, etc. What this vicar’s son doesn’t know about cooking up growling crunk flavas is truly forgettable.

Legal notice – all of the above text is 100% undiluted bull.

So, with that in mind we are going to look at creating a simple HipHop beat (see pic 1). In a genre where a track really lives and dies by its drums, it makes a lot of sense to spend as much time as you can getting them right. Sound choice of course is vital; this can’t be emphasised enough! If you want a big, beefy sound you are going to need some big, beefy drums. Obviously, there are sample packs which have some great sounds available, but it’s also worth trawling through your own record collection and sampling choice hits to personalise your music. No amount of EQ, compression, or any other processing for that matter is going to help if your original sounds are not making the grade.

Pic 1 - The basic loop

Pic 1 – The basic loop

If you find your sampled beats have great tone but are lacking a little meat you can layer up other sounds to reinforce them, a low 808 kick for example can make the most genteel hit sound like the hammer of Thor when layered underneath. The same goes with the snare and the clap. In this beat I’ve layered a snare from a DMX drum machine with a clap sampled from vinyl. One has plenty of grit and snap, and the other provides the crack. Loading different samples and playing them together is a great way of creating new drum sounds. If you are having trouble fitting sounds together, try playing around with the ADSR envelopes, as often just shaving a touch off the attack will blend the two nicely.

Looking at pic 2, you can see that I’ve layered the kick at the very start of the bar with another 808 kick to emphasise “the one” of the beat and to anchor the beat securely. Make sure the timing on the first beat is tight on the grid. Also, I’ve pulled the snare and clap slightly back to give a looser feel, with the snare and clap hits staggered a little to accent that looseness. It’s useful in general when programming drums to play around with velocities and small timing changes to give a more organic element. As the beat continues over the arrangement of your track try to vary the velocities and timings subtly to prevent it from sounding overly looped and static.

Pic 2 – Lag it

The hi-hats here are playing a very simple 8th note pattern, but I’ve moved them off the quantise grid and varied the velocity a touch to lend a more human feel.  Here we have to be careful as we are trying to create a feel that is loose yet solid. Too little movement and it will sound like its being played by a German undertaker, too much and it will sound as if you’ve been hitting the sauce like Lemmy on a whisky distillery tour.

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As for processing, I’ve used a little parallel compression which is basically running the drum track to a compressor and squashing it heavy times yawl, then mixing a bit of the compressed signal alongside your original drum track. This is a great way of getting some serious weight and punch in to your tracks, but still keeping the compression subtle.  I’ve followed this with some distortion that I’ve been pretty liberal with, but as it’s all mixed low it’s not too intrusive, it kind of backlights the rhythm with a touch of filth. In general both acoustic and electronic drums can benefit from a subtle touch of the dirt. As for the EQ on the kick, I’ve cut out a lot of the woolly sounding lower mid range so that we have plenty of bottom end without the mush. The only boost on the kick is 1db at 40 Hz.  Also I’ve used a touch of natural sounding room reverb just to add a little depth and spring to the sound and help to define its acoustic space.

Now bring da heat with those beats or big Timmy will drive up in his Fiat Punto and drop da bomb on yo ass.

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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