Hip hop production

Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. While the term encompasses all aspects of hip hop music, it is 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. Modern hip hop production uses samplers, sequencers, drum machines, synthesizers, turntables, and live instrumentation. A hip hop instrumental is casually referred to as a beat, and its composer is casually referred to as a producer or beatmaker. In the studio, however, a hip hop producer also functions as a traditional record producer, being the person who is ultimately responsible for the final sound of a recording.


Hip-hop, the dominant turn-of-the-century pop form, gives the most electrifying demonstration of technology's empowering effect [...] [T]he genre rose up from desperately impoverished high-rise ghettos, where families couldn't afford to buy instruments for their kids and even the most rudimentary music-making seemed out of reach. But music was made all the same: the phonograph itself became an instrument. In the South Bronx in the 1970s, DJs like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash used turntables to create a hurtling collage of effects—loops, breaks, beats, scratches. Later, studio-bound DJs and producers used digital sampling to assemble some of the most densely packed sonic assemblages in musical history: Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full, Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, Dr. Dre's The Chronic.
Alex Ross, Listen to This (2010)[1]


Kurtis Blow was the first hip hop artist to use a digital sampler, the Fairlight, in a song. The Roland TR-808 was introduced in 1980. 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 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 MC's," two songs which relied completely on synthetic sounds, in this case via an Oberheim DMX drum machine, ignoring samples entirely; much like early songs by Bambaataa and the Furious Five. The E-mu SP-12 came out in 1985, capable of 2.5 seconds of recording time. The E-mu SP-1200 promptly followed 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 minimal style of using one or two sampled loops in the late 1980s. Dr. Dre with World Class Wreckin' Cru recorded 'Juice' and 'Before You Turn The Lights Out'. 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. Their producer at the time, Prince Paul, mixed sounds from funk, rock, disco and even children's records.


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 1999 [2] and the MPC2500 in 2006. These machines combined a sampling drum machine with an onboard MIDI 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 based on Ensoniq sampler . 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 1980s electro hip-hop group Newcleus with such songs as "Jam on It". This technique involves speeding up a vocal sample, and its corresponding instrumental loop, to the point where the vocal sounds high-pitched. The result is a vocal sample that sounds similar to the singing of the popular cartoon singing animals "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. Kanye West has used the "chipmunk" effect in many of his songs, and has been used in many other artists' music in this generation today.

Basic elements

Drum beat

Main article: Beats (music)

The drum beat is a core element of hip hop production. While some beats are sampled, others are created by drum machines such as the analog Roland TR-808. Digital drum machines such as the E-mu SP-12, E-mu SP-1200, various versions of the Akai MPC, and Alesis HR-16 have also been used. 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 sampler to provide beats, particularly by The Neptunes and the MPC 2000.

Some producers have drum kits all their own, such as Dr. Dre, Timbaland, DJ Paul & Juicy J, Swizz Beatz, Kanye West and The 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.


Main article: Sampling (music)
Hip hop does not simply draw inspiration from a range of samples, but it layers these fragments into an artistic object. If sampling is the first level of hip hop aesthetics, how the pieces or elements fit together constitute the second level. Hip hop emphasizes and calls attention to its layered nature. The aesthetic code of hip hop does not seek to render invisible the layers of samples, sounds, references, images, and metaphors. Rather, it aims to create a collage in which the sampled texts augment and deepen the song/book/art's meaning to those who can decode the layers of meaning.
Richard Schur, Hip Hop Aesthetics and Contemporary African American Literature (2008)[3]

Sampling is using a segment of another's musical recording as part of one's own recording.[4] It has been integral to hip hop production since its inception. In hip-hop, the term describes a technique of splicing out or copying sections of other songs and rearranging or reworking these sections into cohesive musical patterns, or "loops." This technique was first fully explored in 1982 by Afrika Bambaata, on the Soulsonic Force tape Planet Rock, which sampled parts of dance act Kraftwerk and experienced vast public acclaim.[5] This was followed up on in 1986: then-Def Jam producer Rick Rubin used Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin loops in creating the Beastie Boys' debut Licensed to Ill,[6] and the following year rap duo Eric B. & Rakim popularized James Brown samples with their album Paid in Full.[7]

The technique took a bi-coastal turn when discovered by a young Dr. Dre, whose first gig was the DJ of Afrika Bambaata-esque electrofunk group, the World Class Wreckin' Cru. In 1988, Dre began his use of sampling in hip-hop when he produced the N.W.A album Straight Outta Compton, a landmark in the genre of gangsta rap.[8] In 1989, Jazz-sampling pioneers Gang Starr followed in 1991 by Pete Rock & CL Smooth and A Tribe Called Quest both appeared on the scene, popularizing their brand,[9][10] and sampling took on a full role in hip-hop, spreading to prominence in high-profile projects like the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers,[11] Dr. Dre's The Chronic,[12] Nas' Illmatic[13] and Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die.[14]

In the 2000s, sampling began to reach an all-time high; Jay-Z's album The Blueprint helped put producers Kanye West and Just Blaze on the map for their sampling of soul records.[15] Kanye West himself scored early hits with "Through the Wire" and "Jesus Walks." His 2004 album, The College Dropout, included two sampled hits featuring Twista which led to the Chicago rapper's Kamikaze selling platinum. On September 7, 2004, however, a U.S. Court of Appeals in Nashville changed the nature of musical copyright infringement by ruling that a license is needed in every case of sampling, where previously a small portion of the song could be copied without repercussion.[16] The law immediately began rarefying samples in hip-hop; in a 2005 interview with Scratch magazine, Dr. Dre announced he was moving more toward instrumentation,[17] and in 2006 The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1994 debut album Ready to Die was temporarily pulled from shelves for a retroactive sample clearance issue.[18] As a result, more major producers and artists have moved further away from sampling and toward live instrumentation, such as Wu-Tang's RZA[19] and Mos Def.[20]

Instruments used in hip hop production
Roland TR-808 drum machine
Akai MPC60
E-mu SP-1200
E-mu SP-1200 sampler 
Two vinyl turntables and a small mixer
Two turntables and a small DJ mixer 

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 multimillion-dollar studio loaded with advanced sound processing hardware.


Main article: Synthesizer

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.


In hip hop, a multi-track recorder is standard for recording. The Portastudio cassette recorder was the law in the in-house recording studios in the 1980s. Digital ADAT tape recorders became standard during the 1990s, but have been largely replaced by Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs such as Apple's Logic, Avid's Pro Tools and Steinberg's Nuendo and Cubase. DAW's allow for more intricate editing and unlimited track counts, as well as built-in effects. This allows producers to create music without the expense of a large commercial studio.

Vocal recording

Generally, professional producers opt for a condenser microphone for studio recording,[21][22] 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 do not 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. It should also be noted that many classic hip-hop songs were recorded with the most basic of equipment. In many cases this contributes to its raw sound quality, and charm.

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. The success of these DAWs generated a flood of new semi-professional hip-hop-producers, who license their beats or instrumentals preferably on digital marketplaces[23] to rap artists from all around the world and caused the creation of a new niche market. 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:

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 Coup, The Roots, Mello-D and the Rados, Common, DJ Quik, UGK 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 Oliver.

Instrumental hip hop

See also: Breakbeat

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 (MC) 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!, Nujabes, Madlib, Wax Tailor, DJ Babu, DJ Krush, Hermitude Swindali 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 classified as trip hop, breakbeat hardcore, drum and bass, oldschool jungle, grime, trap, or industrial music. This may be a result of its varied and experimental nature; a single track can incorporate samples from many different genres of music.

Due to the current state of copyright law, most instrumental hip-hop releases are released on small, independent labels. Producers often have difficulty obtaining clearance for the many samples found throughout their work, and even relatively unknown labels such as Stones Throw are fraught with legal problems.

See also


  1. Ross (2010), p. 60.
  2. Vintage Synth Explorer. "Akai MPC2000 / MPC2000 XL - Vintage Synth Explorer". Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  3. New Essays on the African American Novel (2008), p. 207.
  4. "Sample - Definition and More". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2012-04-04.
  5. Marisa Brown. "Planet Rock: The Album", AllMusic.com. R 27616.
  6. Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Licensed to Ill", AllMusic.
  7. Steve Huey. "Paid in Full", AllMusic.
  8. Steve Huey. "Straight Outta Compton [Clean]", AllMusic.
  9. Stanton Swihart. "All Souled Out", AllMusic.
  10. John Bush. "The Low End Theory", AllMusic.
  11. Steven Leckart, 10.23.07. "Wu-Tang Clan's RZA Breaks Down His Kung Fu Samples by Film and Song", WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.11.
  12. [Ethan Brown, (2005). Straight Outta Hollis, Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustler. Anchor. ISBN 1-4000-9523-9. "[Unlike] popular hip-hop producers like the Bomb Squad, Dre instead utilized a single sample to drive a song."]
  13. Dan Love, Feb 11, 2008. "Deconstructing Illmatic", Oh Word Collection.
  14. XXL staff, Thursday Mar 9 10:28 AM CST. "The Making of Ready to Die:Family Business", XXL MAGAZINE.
  15. Gale: Black History Month.
  16. 9/10/2004 8:57:27 PM, foxxylady. "CAN HIP HOP LIVE WITHOUT SAMPLING?", SixShot.com.
  17. Dec 5 2005, 05:04 PM. "DR. DRE INTERVIEW FROM SCRATCH MAGAZINE", Music Industry Online.
  18. Dave, 3/19/2006 9:10:26 AM. "Hip-Hop News: Late Rapper Has Album Pulled Over Copyright Infringement", Rap News Network.
  19. Morgan Steiker, July 29, 2008. "RZA: Interview", Prefixmag.com.
  20. Hillary Crosley N.Y., May 30, 2008. "Mos Def Hits The Studio With Mr. DJ ", Billboard.
  21. http://water.cisc.gmu.edu/web/becksalvador/itunes-and-producers
  22. "Mastering Rap Instrumentals". ShadezOfBlue™ - Blew You Away. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  23. "RapBeats.net relaunch". RapBeats.net. Retrieved 9 July 2015.


Hawk Memphis [1]

  1. Memphis, Hawk (July 2016). "Hawk Memphis". www.hawkmemphis.com. Hawk Memphis. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
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