Hip hop production  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
record producer

Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. Modern hip hop production utilizes samplers, sequencers, drum machines, synthesizers, turntables, and live instrumentation. Though the term encompasses all aspects of hip hop music, it's most commonly used to refer to the instrumental, non-lyrical aspects of hip hop. This means that hip hop producers are the instrumentalists involved in a work.



Hip hop instrumental music is classified as music based around a clearly defined drum beat with looped musical segments on top, from either sampled music or originally sequenced.

The pipeline of hip hop production involves one or more of the following:



DJs (starting with DJ Kool Herc) began using several breaks (the part of a funk or jazz song in which the music "breaks" to let the rhythm section play unaccompanied) in a row to use as the rhythmic basis for hip hop songs. Kool DJ Herc's breakbeat style was to play the same record on two turntables and play the break repeatedly by alternating between the two records.

The emergence of samplers and sequencers allowed the drum beats and samples to be manipulated with greater precision and granularity and recombined in more complex new ways than was possible with vinyl alone, which gave birth to hip hop production.


The Roland TR-808 drum machine was introduced in 1980, and consisted on an analog machine with step programming method. The 808 was heavily used by Afrika Bambaataa, who released "Planet Rock" in 1982, in addition to the electro hip hip groundbreaking classic "Nunk" by Warp 9, produced by Lotti Golden and Richard Scher, giving rise to the fledgling Electro genre. An especially notable artist is the genre's own pioneer Juan Atkins who released what is generally accepted as the first American techno record, "Clear" in 1984 (later sampled by Missy Elliott). These early electro records laid down the foundations that later Detroit techno artists such as Derrick May built upon. In 1983, Run-DMC recorded "It's Like That" and "Sucker M.C.'s," two songs which relied completely on synthetic sounds, in this case via an Oberheim DMX drum machine, ignoring samples entirely. This approach was much like early songs by Bambaataa and the Furious Five.

Kurtis Blow was the first hip hop artist to use a digital sampler, when he used the Fairlight CMI for their 1984 album "Ego Trip", specially on the track "AJ Scratch". The E-mu SP-12 came out in 1985, capable of 2.5 seconds of recording time. The E-mu SP-1200 promptly followed (1987) with an expanded recording time of 10 seconds, divided on 4 banks. One of the earliest songs to contain a drum loop or break was "Rhymin and Stealin" by the Beastie Boys, produced by Rick Rubin. Marley Marl also popularized a style of restructuring drum loops by sampling individual drums, in the mid 1980s, a technique which was popularized by the MC Shan's 1986 single "The Bridge" which used chops of "Impeach the President" on two Korg Delay/sampling triggered by a Roland TR-808. The Akai MPC60 came out in 1988, capable of 12 seconds of sampling time. The Beastie Boys released Paul's Boutique in 1989, an entire album created completely from an eclectic mix of samples, produced by the Dust Brothers using an Emax sampler. De La Soul also released 3 Feet High and Rising that year.

The 1990s and on

Public Enemy's Bomb Squad revolutionized the sound of hip-hop with incredibly dense production styles, combining tens of samples per song, often combining breaks with a drum machine. Their beats were much more structured than the early more minimal and repetitive beats. The MPC3000 was released in 1994, the AKAI MPC2000 in 1997, followed by the MPC2000XL in 2000 and the MPC2500 in 2006. These machines combined a sampling drum machine with an onboard sequencer and became the centerpiece of many hip hop producers' studios. The Wu Tang Clan's superproducer RZA is often credited for snatching the eye of hip hop from Dr. Dre's more polished sound in 1993, with his more gritty sound with low rumbling bass, sharp snares and unique sampling style. With the 1994 release of The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Sean Combs and his assisting producers ushered in a new style where entire sections of records were sampled, instead of short snippets. Records like "Warning" (Isaac Hayes's "Walk On By"), and "One More Chance (Remix)" (Debarge's "Stay With Me") epitomized this aesthetic. In the early 2000s, Roc-a-Fella in-house producer Kanye West made popular the "chipmunk" technique, which had been first used by 80's electro hip-hop group Newcleus with such songs a "Jam on It". This technique involves using a digital pitch shifter to make a vocal sample very high pitched, resulting in a vocal sample that sounds similar to the singing on the television show "Alvin and the Chipmunks". West adopted this style from J Dilla and the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA, who in turn was influenced by Prince Paul, the pioneer of the style of speeding up and looping vocal samples to achieve the "chipmunk" sound.



Sampling (music)

Sampling is integral to hip hop production. Samples are usually recorded from vinyl and imported into samplers/sequencers.

Sampling is controversial in modern hip hop. Seeing as sample clearance can take substantial parts of profit out of record sales for artists who sample, producers opt to create completely original recordings using computer-generated beats. Another solution is to overdub or re-record the sampled part with a live musician and then interpolate it enough to disassociate it from the sampled material entirely. The fees associated with the latter solution and the costs associated with the former can be significantly lower than sample clearance fees.

A particular brand of "sped-up" sampling which famously used by Roc-A-Fella artist Kanye West (and less prominently Just Blaze, Danny! and various other hip hop producers from the post 2000 generation), is now popuarly considered as its own style of hip hop production. Although Wu-tang clan member RZA introduced this style of production before Kanye, it is Kanye West's vast amount of production work with artists (such as Common and Jay-Z in recent years) that has popularized the use of sped-up samples.

While the majority of producers sample a relatively default niche of 1960-1980 soul, R&B, disco, and funk records, any record of any genre from any era is often fair game for sampling. Jazz records from every era are also sampled. Producers such as P. Diddy, Dr. Dre have been known to sample blues artists such as Bill Withers. Due to the aforementioned concerns with clearance fees, many producers opt to seek out very rare and obscure records to lend their records a unique style and to avoid being forced to pay a clearance fee. People Under The Stairs openly acknowledge not clearing their samples, hoping that the record companies whose artists they sample don't take action.

Drum Beat

beats (music)

The drum beat is another core element of hip hop production. Its speed and complexity dictates the pace and impact of the recording. While some beats are sampled, others are created by drum machines such as the Roland TR-808 and the Alesis SR-16. Others yet are a hybrid of the two techniques, sampled parts of drum beats that are arranged in original patterns altogether. Another mainstay in hip-hop is the use of the Ensoniq ASR-10 synthesizer to provide beats, particularly by The Neptunes and the MPC 2000.

Since the percussive element of hip hop music is the very punctuation of its sound, the sounds a producer chooses to represent the percussion are important. Some producers have drum kits all their own, such as Dr. Dre, Timbaland, DJ Paul & Juicy J, Swizz Beatz and Neptunes. Some drum sounds, such as the TR-808 cowbell, remain as historical elements of hip hop lore used in modern hip hop to lend a more credible and mature sound to the recording.

Studio parts

A producer's studio is the environment where they produce music. It can be as varied as a four-track sequencer and a collection of tapes or a multi-million dollar studio loaded with advanced sound processing hardware.


In hip hop, a multi-track recorder is standard for recording. Digital ADAT tape recorders have become standard over the years. Alternatively, a producer can use a PC as a multi-track recorder, with or without external hardware (outboard).

Vocal recording

Generally, professional producers opt for a condenser microphone for studio recording, mostly due to their wide-range response and high quality. A primary alternative to the expensive condenser microphone is the dynamic microphone, used more often in live performances due to its durability. The major disadvantages of condenser microphones are their expense and fragility. Also, most condenser microphones require phantom power, unlike dynamic microphones. Conversely, the disadvantages of dynamic microphones are they don't generally possess the wide spectrum of condenser microphones and their frequency response is not as uniform. Many hip-hop producers typically used the Neumann U-87 for recording vocals which imparts a glassy "sheen" especially on female vocals. But today, many producers in this musical genre use the Sony C-800 tube microphone, vintage microphones, and high-end ribbon microphones tuned for flattering, "big" vocal expression. Compressors, both software and hardware, are also prevalently used during recording and post-production.

Digital audio workstations

DAWs and software sequencers are used in modern hip hop production as software production products are cheaper, easier to expand, and require less room to run than their hardware counterparts. Some producers oppose complete reliance on DAWs and software, citing lower overall quality, lack of effort, and lack of identity in computer-generated beats. Sequencing software often comes under criticism from purist listeners and traditional producers as producing sounds that are flat, overly clean, and overly compressed.

Popular DAWs include:


Synthesizers are used quite often in hip hop production. They are used for melody, basslines, as percussive stabs, and for sound synthesis. The use of synthesizers has been popularized largely by Dr. Dre during the G-Funk era. Modern use of synthesizers is rampant by producers such as Jim Jonsin,Cool and Dre, Lil Jon, Scott Storch, and Neptunes. Often in low-budget studio environments or environments constrained by space limitations, producers employ virtual Instruments in place of hardware synthesizers. Virtual Instruments are also now becoming more common in high-budget studio environments.

Live instrumentation

Live instrumentation is not as widespread in hip hop, but is used by a number of acts and is prominent in hip hop-based fusion genres such as rapcore. Before samplers and synthesizers became prominent parts of hip hop production, early hip hop hits such as "Rapper's Delight" (The Sugarhill Gang) and "The Breaks" (Kurtis Blow) were recorded with live studio bands. During the 1980s, Stetsasonic was a pioneering example of a live hip hop band. Hip hop with live instrumentation regained prominence during the late-1990s and early 2000s with the work of The Goats, The Roots, Common, DJ Quik, and OutKast, among others. In recent years, The Robert Glasper Experiment has explored live instrumentation with an emphasis on the instrumental and improvisational aspect of hip hop with rappers such as Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, and Common as well as neo-soul singer Bilal.

Instrumental hip hop

Instrumental hip hop is hip hop music without vocals. Hip hop as a general rule consists of two elements: an instrumental track (the "beat") and a vocal track (the "rap"). The artist who crafts the beat is the producer, and the one who crafts the rap is the MC. In this format, the rap is almost always the primary focus of the song, providing most of the complexity and variation over a more or less repetitive beat.

Instrumental hip hop is therefore hip hop music without emcee accompaniment. This format affords the producer the flexibility to create more complex, richly detailed and varied instrumentals, with less emphasis on vocals. Songs of this genre may wander off in different musical directions without the vocal constraints of the MC.

Although producers have made and released hip hop beats without MCs since hip hop's inception, those records rarely became well-known. Jazz keyboard legend Herbie Hancock and bassist/producer Bill Laswell's electro-inspired collaborations are notable exceptions. 1983's Future Shock album and hit single "Rockit" featured turntablist Grand Mixer D.ST, the first instance of turntables in jazz fusion and gave the instrument widespread exposure.

The release of DJ Shadow's debut album Endtroducing..... in 1996 saw the beginnings of a movement in instrumental hip hop. Relying mainly on a combination of sampled funk, hip hop and film score, DJ Shadow's innovative sample arrangements influenced countless producers and musicians. In recent years, artists such as RJD2, J Dilla, Pete Rock, MF Doom, Danny!, Madlib, and Blockhead have garnered critical acclaim with a number of instrumental hip hop albums.

Instrumental hip hop has yet to be fully recognized as a genre unto itself, and is often clumped in with trip hop, downtempo, electronica, or industrial music. This may in part be because it is so hard to classify, as when a hip hop beat is separated from rapping and varied enough to hold a listener's attention by itself, it can go off in many musical directions.

Instrumental hip hop is sometimes confused with instrumental funk songs as hip hop originated from funk in the first place.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hip hop production" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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