The Elements of a Beat.
There’s many different ways to make a hip-hop beat. An important thing to remember is that there are no real rules to make one, and there can be many different methods to achieve one result. The only judge is your ears. However there are constants with hip hop beats. Most beats have at least two basic elements, drums and bass.
The kick drum or bass drum is the heaviest drum that you will hear in a beat, it is complimented by the snare drum, which is usually a higher pitched, lighter drum sound. The hi-hat is usually described as a “tick” sound and used to set the groove of a beat. There are many ways to get drums for use in your beats. Most software and some pieces of hardware come with sounds you can use. These sounds may vary from sampled acoustic sounds to synthetic, machine generated kits. Producers sometimes create their own collection of drum sounds sampled from sources such as vinyl records or even mp3s. Its not unusual for a producer to lift sounds from a different rap song. Drum sample packs made for specific styles of hip-hop are also readily available on the internet. For instance, a jazzy type beat usually has drums of a more acoustic style, whereas a Trap drum sample kit would be entirely synthetic.
Bass is what gives a production a meaty feel. It occupies the lower frequencies of a production, helping to give a fullness to a beat. An important characteristic of bass in hip-hop production though, is that it can not only be heard, but it can be felt. It’s main purposes is to accentuate the rhythm, and provide power to the beat. A good bassline may dramatically enhance, or even save an otherwise uneventful production. Like drums, bass sounds also vary from acoustic, sampled, and synthetic, and can also be acquired in sample packs. Drum sample packs usually include bass sounds. Varying styles of rap music use bass in varying ways. For example, many Boom-Bap beats make use of a sparse bassline of only 2-3 notes using live or sampled electric bass. In Jazzy Hip Hop an bassline may be much more complex and intricate and can feature runs up and down the musical scale. Acoustic or electric bass samples are frequently used in this style. In trap and drill music, a style of single hits of deep synthetic bass in specific points in the beat mark the genre.
Not all hip-hop beats use portions of music from other musical productions, but this is the foundation of hip hop production. Many of the best songs of all time were made from samples of other musical works. Some of these songs left the sample in a recognizable state, while others chopped these samples into bits and pieces so that it’s it is very difficult, if not impossible to tell what the original sampled song was. There are no rules to what can be sampled in hip-hop, as disco, gospel, rock, classical, soul, jazz, folk music, music from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and India and more have all been used in American hip-hop songs. Some popular methods of sampling are recording a loop and adjusting the pitch and tempo, and taking small portions of multiple productions to make them sound good on one beat. The use of musical samples have declined in mainstream hip-hop since the 90s as there are clearance fees and possibly royalties to be paid to rights owners when selling music that contains the work of another. Producers have been sued years later for earlier sampling something thought to be too obscure to be remembered. With this said, there are people who feel like the decline in sampling has had a detrimental effect on hip-hop music.
A beat would sound uneventful with just drums on it, so it would need some other type of dressing. Producers that aren’t too keen on making sample based beats usually use a synthesizer to generate sounds. A synth is a device that lets you play and manipulate synthesized sounds. Some of them be can be complex enough to allow someone to create suprisingly realistic sounds that can mimic acoustic instruments. With a synth, you simply choose the sounds you desire and play them on your beats. A common practice is to lay down the main melody and add all accompanying sounds around that foundation. Synth keyboards and virtual instruments usually have electronic sounds varying from soundscapes, to drum hits, bass and special effects such as vocal chants, explosions, and “riser” sounds (that raise in volume and pitch simultaneously) frequently heard in southern hip-hop. Synths usually come in the form of a keyboard or drum machine, but a synth “module” is a box like device that contains sounds and the ability to manipulate them, but doent have the ability to trigger them, and would need to be hooked up to a different device or “controller” in order play those sounds. Theres also plugins for software that are virtual synths (more on this in the “What are Plugins?” section). The quality of the actual synthetic sounds varies between machines and software.
These make up the basic elements of a beat, but to make a good beat there are other things to know.. check out the Rhythm/Nod Factor section.