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Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. Modern hip hop production uses 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. A hip hop instrumental is commonly referred to as a beat, and hip hop producers are commonly referred to as beatmakers.



Beginning DJ Kool Herc in the late 60's, DJs 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 danceable music. From here, Herc would alternate between two turntables, from break to break, to create an ongoing loop called a breakbeat—a technique which was termed the "merry-go-round". The emergence of samplers and sequencers allowed 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 1980s

Kurtis Blow became 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, which gave rise to the fledgling Electro genre, along with the genre's own pioneers Derrick May and Juan Atkins. The song interpolated Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express." In 1983, Run-DMC recorded "It's Like That" and "Sucker MCs," two songs which relied completely on digital beats, 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 SP-1200 promptly followed with expanded recording time. 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 80s. The Akai MPC60 came out in 1988, capable of 12 seconds of sampling time. Dr. Dre with World Class Wreckin' Cru recorded 'Juice' and 'Before You Turn The Lights Out.'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. 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.

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 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.


Drum Beat

The drum beat is a 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.


Sampling 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 a cohesive musical pattern, or "loops." The first rap records were produced by recording a DJ on turntables, scratching a vinyl record and working different dance beats together. 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. 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, and the following year rap duo Eric B. & Rakim popularized James Brown samples with their album Paid in Full.

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. In 1991, Jazz-sampling pioneers Pete Rock & CL Smooth and A Tribe Called Quest both appeared on the scene, popularizing their brand, 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, Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Nas' Illmatic and Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die.

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. Kanye would go on to resurrect the sped-up soul sampling of RZA, circa Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, scoring 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. 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, 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. As a result, more major producers and artists have moved further away from sampling and toward live instrumentation, such as Wu-Tang's RZA and Mos Def.

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,

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, Mello-D and the Rados, 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 Oliver.

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.

See also


  1. [ref name="Chang" Chang, Jeff. Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. St. Martin's Press, New York: 2005. ISBN 978-0312425791]
  2. Hermes, Will. "All Rise for the National Anthem of Hip-Hop", New York Times, October 29, 2006. Retrieved on September 9, 2008.
  3. Marisa Brown. "Planet Rock: The Album", R 27616.
  4. Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Licensed to Ill", AllMusic.
  5. Steve Huey. "Paid in Full", AllMusic.
  6. Steve Huey. "Straight Outta Compton [Clean]", AllMusic.
  7. Stanton Swihart. "All Souled Out", AllMusic.
  8. John Bush. "The Low End Theory", AllMusic.
  9. 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.
  10. [Ethan Brown, (2005). Straight Outta Hollis, Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustler. Anchor. ISBN 1400095239. "[Unlike] popular hip-hop producers like the Bomb Squad, Dre instead utilized a single sample to drive a song."]
  11. Dan Love, Feb 11, 2008. "Deconstructing Illmatic", Oh Word Collection.
  12. XXL staff, Thursday Mar 9 10:28 AM CST. "The Making of Ready to Die:Family Business", XXL MAGAZINE.
  13. "Kanye West" biography, Gale: Black History Month.
  14. 9/10/2004 8:57:27 PM, foxxylady. "CAN HIP HOP LIVE WITHOUT SAMPLING?",
  15. Dec 5 2005, 05:04 PM. "DR. DRE INTERVIEW FROM SCRATCH MAGAZINE", Music Industry Online.
  16. Dave, 3/19/2006 9:10:26 AM. "Hip-Hop News: Late Rapper Has Album Pulled Over Copyright Infringement", Rap News Network.
  17. Morgan Steiker, July 29, 2008. "RZA: Interview",
  18. Hillary Crosley N.Y., May 30, 2008. "Mos Def Hits The Studio With Mr. DJ ", Billboard.

Instruction on how to make beats; [222941]

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