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How to produce a great hip hop song

It’s probably fair to say that hip-hop has been the most globally influential style of music since some young wag stepped on Elvis’s blue suede shoes. In this section I will explain the basics of hip-hop production as well as 20 must know tips to make the best hip-hop tracks possible.

With hip-hop its all about the beats – so get inspired!

As we’ve already seen, hip-hop beats started out as breaks from records, beatboxes and sampling drum machines, so its very easy for hip-hop produced on a computer to sound a little lifeless. Live playing and clever quantisation can fix this. The main trick is to keep it sparse and once you have a basic groove going, try taking out different percussive hits before adding more.
If you listen to professional hip-hop productions, you’ll notice that its rare for two different percussive elements to play at the same time – unless its a layered clap and snare, and even then they’ll alternate over a bar or two between both playing and then only one or the other. Wether its MCs, djs or breakdancers, hip-hop is, at its core, about this type of back and forth interaction, and this transfers to every single production element including beats.

Beats are the backbone of all hip-hop on SoundCloud. Whether you’re into the cheeky one-two of Dre’s Eminem productions or the juddering steps of Dj Premier, you need to make sure that if nothing else is playing, your beat still stands up to scrutiny. As US comic Chris Rock put it: “If the beat’s alright, they’ll dance all night.”

STEP BY STEP the drums

I keep them simple at first because I know that I’ll be using a drum loop underneath. I start with a drum loop and add extra snares and kicks to reinforce it.

When working on beats is lay down a hi-hat pattern, 1-the first thing I do. Usually, I do an eighth-note pattern and then go back and change it if necessary after I’ve laid down the other parts.

3-Next I’ll add a sampled kick and snare to reinforce the stock kick and snare sounds. This makes the beat sound a bit thicker and grimier. I also leave a bit of ‘air’ on the tail end – this acts like ‘sonic glue’, giving the beat a more sampled feel.

4-The basic beat is ready and now complete to send into the arrange screen, later on I’ll use this pattern as a template for other sections of the song, were I’ll add snare rolls and fills.

STEP BY STEP The loop

1-When using sampled breaks, I always make sure they’re either royalty-free, so obscure or original they wont be recognized. That way I don’t have to worry about sample clearance. I’m a fan of busy drums so I’ll usually choose an action packed two-bar drum break.

2-Now you must match the tempo of the drum break to the tempo of your song. You can do this with any beat-slicing program.

3-Later on, after you’ve added vocals and such you can use this drum break, were its needed throughout your song.

Beats are the backbone of all hip-hop. As we’ve already seen, hip-hop beats started out as breaks from records, beatboxes and sampling drum machines, so its very easy for hip-hop produced on a computer to sound a little lifeless. Wether its Breakdancers, mcs or djs, hip-hop is, at its core, about this type of back and forth interaction, and this transfers to every single production element including beats.

It’s probably fair to say that hip-hop has been the most globally influential style of music since some young wag stepped on Elvis’s blue suede shoes. In this section I will explain the basics of hip-hop production as well as 20 must know tips to make the best hip-hop tracks possible.

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