Downtempo – A Guide to the Great Artists and Their Best Songs and Albums

What is Downtempo Music?

Downtempo is a killer subgenre of electronic music, with little to no vocals and simple beats. It’s laidback like ambient music but has a beat you can groove to, unlike ambient music.

Okay, that is a total lie. At the bottom of the article we have included several of the best downtempo artists and some of them include vocals, but for the sake of this brief introduction to the genre, and to help familiarize you with it, let’s go ahead and say that most downtempo music uses soft vocals for audible texture but not so much to tell a story.

Partygoers, ravers and clubbers will be familiar with this genre, as well as DJs, of course. 

The music is a lot more chill than others in the electronica genre. Seasoned DJs will leave downtempo to the end of the set when the party draws to a close.

downtempo music

This music is also played in side rooms of clubs or designated “take five” areas. The beats are slower and super groovy, perfect for a break from dancing or wrapping up a party.

Most clubgoers, whether they recognize and know downtempo or not, will automatically get the signal from this type of music that it’s late into the night.

If you’ve ever seen Portlandia, the theme song is a prime example of downtempo music with a chill beat that is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. There are some vocals but they’re airy and non-dominant. 

Non-dominance is a good way to define downtempo. It’s got elements of ambient music and serves listeners the same way: it can be enjoyed either as a focal point or be ignored while still providing an atmosphere. It neither overpowers nor disappears. 

It’s a beautiful genre for summer driving.

You will often hear downtempo in lounges.

It’s great for a casual hangout with friends or any time you need to relax.

A bit of history

It all started with the synthesizer. This instrument became more affordable to people in the late 1960s – early 1970’s and so musicians, being the experimental and curious artists they are, ever-searching for the perfect tool for self-expression, fell in love with it. We had the beginnings of ambient music in the 1970s; 

Electronic music really came into huge popularity in the early 1990’s. The club scene brought in all kinds of new genres after the : electronica ruled the soundsystems everywhere because it didn’t require a live band and provided dancing crowds with non-stop movement to inspire their dancing.

It was an obvious new experimentation with the synthesizer, which at the time had only been around for a couple of decades. There was plenty left to explore on that instrument with so many options.

Downtempo is usually played on a synthesizer as well as a drum machine and a few other things.

Electronica is typically faster paced, and so downtempo was created not as an antithesis but simply as an alternative for lounge areas and chill-out rooms at festivals and nightclubs. 

Dancers could go into these rooms and sit for a while, taking a break from the intense energy of the dancefloor and enjoying a drink. 

You’ll notice rather a hypnotizing element to downtempo, the same way electronica brings you in and holds you.

The genre originated on Ibiza, a Mediterranean island, well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Tourists from all over the world come to Ibiza as a destination for this type of holiday.

DJs have always known how to read a crowd (or, they should) and know how to bring up the energy and bring it down. On the island of Ibiza, where they party til sunrise, the DJs start playing downtempo to bring the crowd down after a full night of partying.

Here’s a “Best of Ibiza” chillout downtempo playlist if you want to feel a little bit of that vibe for a while.

Oh, and downtempo is sometimes called trip hop, taking elements from hip hop, drum and bass and ambient music: these are combined altogether over a lower tempo. These days the music also incorporates more melodic instrumentals.

The Artists

Now that we are familiar with the genre, let’s have a listen, shall we?

Here are some of the best downtempo artists out there. Some were around for the advent of the genre and helped shape it; others showed up along the way and furthered the genre’s popularity by keeping it alive. 

Thievery Corporation

Thievery Corporation has been around since 1995. This electronic duo has opened for Paul McCartney and worked with artists such as David Byrne and Wayne Coyne.

They bring an overtly political message with their music and actions, performing at the Operation Ceasefire concert and supporting human rights and the World Food Programme.

Visit the Thievery Corporation official website


Flume

Flume is a young’un, born in 1991 and has been making music since 2004. He has risen to popularity rather fast, having remixed several famous songs by artists like Lorde and selling 40 000 tickets for his first national tour.

He is from Australia and his work incorporates many electronic elements from hip hop to dub. Here is his self-titled debut album. 

Visit Flume’s official website 


Blue Sky Black Death

Another duo on our list, Blue Sky Black Death hails from San Francisco, California. They produce their music with a drum machine, sampler, keyboard, synth and guitar. They’ve been on the scene since 2003.

The phrase “blue sky black death” is a skydiving phrase alluding to beauty and death. They got their start making beats to rap over but soon gave up rapping to pursue producing. Below you can hear their third full-length album, Noir.

 Visit the Blue Sky Black Death Bandcamp page


Kruder & Dorfmeister

Kruder & Dorfmeister get automatic points from us for their G-Stoned cover, which resembles the famous Bookends cover by American duo Simon & Garfunkel.

Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister comprise this Austrian duo and have been making music together since 1993. They got their start playing big festivals and were instantly loved by the audience. They have gone on to tour the world and continue producing music to this day. They’ve also put out their own solo albums and albums under aliases. They have at least 9 studio recorded albums available.

Here is their first album, G-Stoned.

Check out the Kruder and Dorfmeister Facebook page


Samantha James

Samantha James stands out from others on our list for her vocal style. Many downtempo artists are producers and rarely feature vocals in their work. Rather the vocals are presented as a soft ambience over the beat.

Samantha’s singing is incredibly soulful and gives a whole new life to this style of music. Coming from Los Angeles, she became involved with the underground dance scene there as a teenager.

She has been making music of her own since 2007. Her first single, Rise, was an instant hit in 2006 and she has since toured the world with her wonderful blend of electronic and soul music.

She has two full-length albums and has reached #1 on the US dance charts.

Listen to her first album, Rise, here:

Check out Samantha James on Om Records


Helicopter Girl

Helicopter Girl is a Scottish musician and has been active since 1993. She gives downtempo a unique spin incorporating elements from several genres, including dance music, indie pop and jazz.

Helicopter Girl is widely revered for her vocal style and the lyrics offer a listening experience that speaks utter truth. Straight badass. You’ve just got to give a listen and experience this for yourself.

We’ve included a link to her video for Glove Compartment but we also recommend listening to her song Angel City.

Glove Compartment is mysterious and fateful; Angel City is rockier than everything else on this list, but the vocals are cool, calm and sultry, chilling you right out with icy proclamations.

Check out Helicopter Girl on Dharma Records


Portishead

Portishead are one of the better known artists on this list. They remind us of Helicopter Girl a bit – with their infusions of other genres like indie rock laid on top of downtempo – and a bit of sex appeal.

This is music you can throw on for driving or grooving out at home, and works just as well in a lounge setting. Portishead has been around since 1991, taking a brief hiatus from 1999 through 2005. They took up music again after the break.

They’re an English band, well known in this genre because they were one of its pioneers. Despite their dislike for press coverage, their music has been successful internationally.

Even Rolling Stone referred to them as Gothic hip-hop. They’ve been around so long making this kind of music that they have been played in all kinds of underground clubs and gothic scenes.

Visit the Portishead website here

Talking Beats and Business with Daniel Hartnett of The Corporatethief Beats

Hey guys, YC here. Today was a good day.  I got up, fed my cat, had some coffee and sloppy joe’s for breakfast, and then conducted an interview with beat-maker and online marketer Daniel Hartnett, the man behind The Corporatethief Beats. 

I came across Daniel while doing research on how to better use Twitter to promote my music, as he has some stuff about that over on his Youtube channel.  In this interview, I grill Daniel about his background in music, why he enjoys producing sick beats for a living, and how he ties it all together with online marketing.  It was educational to say the least.  Enjoy our chat!

YC: Hey Daniel, where’d you come up with the name of your business, The Corporatethief Beats? Sounds a bit anti-establishment…

DH: I wouldn’t say it’s the best name or most brandable name if I am honest. At the time it was just some weird name I called my Youtube channel hahaha.

I don’t it’s a good idea to put the word “thief” in your title when your business is in music online sales. But I had built up my channel up with the alias I just continued on.  The one good thing about it is that it’s unique. I see tons of beatmakers with the same name. This can be a nightmare for branding and the consumer experience. I have views and opinions about the political world, but I won’t go down that rabbit hole right now. I did adapt to the theme of the Corporate American culture with my branding for The Corporatethief Beats. You can see it in my logo and the titles of my tracks. In 2015 I did title an instrumental mixtape after the Wall Street movie where Gordon Gekko says “Greed I$ Good”. So I do like to play with themes and social media gimmicks.

YC: What’s your job title, would you say?

DH:
 I am qualified in music production and sound engineering from The Academy of Sound Dublin. Since 2008 music production has pulled me into online marketing too. I have had to become a jack of all trades to make this online machine work right. During my music production studies, I also studied Digital Marketing at Dublin Business SchoolI dabble in a lot of things online not just music. I podcast, vlog and have some other niche sites that are unrelated to music too. But for my music production side of my business, I use titles like Beat Maker, Sound Engineer, Digital Marketer.

YC: When did you start making beats?

DH:
 I have been playing music in bands since I was 13 years old. Also, my parents really pushed me with playing instruments. Which I am super grateful for now. I played the guitar and wrote a lot of simple acoustic songs in college. I wasn’t really into hip-hop then. I listened to a lot of grunge music like Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Nirvana etc. One of my friends noticed that I was trying my best to record my songs with Audacity. He gave me a loan of his laptop which had FL Studio on it. Then he gave me the gist of how to make hip hop beats using this software.

I was hooked and I really started to get into hip-hop music. He told me to take an introductory music production course, so I signed up to Galway Technical Institute. This was my first taste of music production and working in a studio. It was here where I obtained skills for using Apple’s Logic Digital Audio Workstation. Not that there was anything wrong with Fl Studio, I just prefer LogicIn 2010 / 2011 I set up my own website www.thecorporatethiefbeats.com. It was around this time I moved to Dublin and attended the Academy of Sound which I studied there for 4 years. Academy of Sound gave me the necessary skills in ProToolsAlong with the process of how to work with bands in the studio.  During that time in Dublin, I worked as a runner and as a sound tech for the theatre company called Tobar Na Run.

YC: What gear did you have when you started your career and why did you have said gear, ie. birthday present when you were 12?

DH: I don’t have a complicated set up. I like everything simple. Too much stuff just confuses me and hinders my workflow.

    • Audio Interface : Apogee Duet {Simple High Quality Sound and Portable}
      iMac: Bought it in 2008 never had any problems.
    • KRK RP8 G3 active studio monitors: Good quality monitors never had any problems.
    • M-Audio Keystation Midi Keyboard. I don’t need an expensive midi synth as most my sounds are controlled by VSTI’s.
    • Native Instruments Machine. Amazing tool, you can literally create beats without an interface. The sound libraries with this tool are worth the money alone. There is a bit of a learning curve with this piece of kit. I haven’t used this tool to it’s full potential yet.
    • Logic Pro X: This is my main production tool. I use a lot of the stock synths and just tweek them to what I want.
    • Sylenth1 VSTI  I have the sylenth1 synth which is my main go too synth. I am just used to it. Along with the fact that I built up a library of sounds and templates over the years.
    • Native Instruments Komplete 9. This is all I need I use. There a lot of the synths with this tool. I rely heavily on patches and bend them to my sound or layer them with other sounds.  
    • Microphones Shure Beta 57a / Shure Beta 58a : Must haves for any musician or sound engineer.

I understand how they work like the ESX or the ES2 from years of making beats. Most of the time I just saved my own templates.

YC: I assume you’re into hip hop, from all indications.  Who are your all time fav hip hop artists?  

DH: It’s hard to answer this question. Even though I love the raps and lyrics from the classic rappers like Biggie 2Pac and Jay Z. Their raps just don’t resonate with me enough to build a thorough connection to. With rap artists like Nas, Kanye West, Drake, Kid CuDi, Lupe Fiasco, Travis Scott, J Cole, Chance The Rapper, Logic, Kendrick Lamar, Bryson Tiller, I can feel a better connection to the material because of they are more or less the same age as my generation. I have different artists for different days. Some hip-hop artists I like, but don’t understand the lyrical content I just like the way that they rap like T.I. Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Jeezy, Jadakiss, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz Cameron, Wiz Khalifa, Chamillionaire.

YC: Any new favs you’d recommend, like say some underground lesser known shit?

DH: Not really sure if these are considered underground. Artists like Hopsin, Kid Ink, Action Bronson, Atmosphere, Charles Hamilton.  

YC: What’s your favourite kind of beat?

DH: This is just too hard to answer hahah 🙂 I like complexity hidden in simplicity. Hahaha. I am a big fan of the music producer Danjahandz. He is Timbaland’s right-hand man. Listening to his beats, parts of them sound so simple. But it’s the way Danja places all these parts together. Along with his knack for using vocals as an effect within the song, to act as countermelody against the singers vocal is just sheer GENIUS!…A good example of Danja’s best work is seen on Gimme More by Britney Spears.

Also…Hello Good Morning by Diddy

And Sexy Back by Justin Timberlake.

For hip-hop music producers like Kanye West, Just Blaze,  Boi 1da, Travis Scott, Noah Shabbib, T-Minus, Kane Beats, Franks Duke, Dr Dre, anything they touch turns to pure gold.  I like dark seedy beats with some light of melody. I’m not really a boom bap kind an of a beat maker. Some modern beats that I like include The Language by Drake (produced by Boi 1da).

Also…Bad Ass by Kid Ink (produced by Devin Cruise)…

Ni**as In Paris by Jay-Z and Kanye West (produced by Hit-Boy, Kanye West, Mike Dean)

Rich as F*ck by Lil Wayne / 2 Chainz (Produced by T-Minus)

Lord Knows by Drake / Rick Ross (Produced by Just Blaze)

YC: Do you like to recreate beats much?

DH: I don’t really do remixes or samples beats anymore, as they are really hard to promote online. Most online sites will just remove them once you upload them. I made a remix of a Lady Gaga’s song “Love Game” a while back and nearly lost my Youtube Channel in the process. Along with a sample hip-hop beat I created using Supertramp’s “Logical Song” caused the same issue which made it even worse. I do some request work from time to time and I will use samples for the artist. But I don’t actively promote sample-based beats anymore. I do take inspiration from the controversial ”Type Beat” method that you might see on Youtube. This is only a gimmick to get in front of the right buyers on Youtube. Most of the time my beats are an amalgamation of various type beats that I gained inspiration from at that given moment.  

YC: How long does it take to make one of your beats?

DH: That’s hard to say if I have a good workflow maybe a couple of hours and come back a day later and do the mix. I don’t usually mix and create on the same day.

YC: How much does it cost for a beat?

DH: Lease rights varies between $20 – $97 depending on the type of lease license. Exclusive Rights varies based on the popularity of the lease. Exclusive rights range from $350 – $2000

YC: 
Who buys your rap beats, typically?

DH:
 Great question. It’s surprisingly a lot of the time its companies using the music for background jingles on videos, radio shows, podcast and Youtubers. I have also got a couple of loyal beat buyers that purchase on a regular basis with custom work.

YC: Any cool songs online featuring one off your beats we can check out?

DH: Here’s some…

Kid Berg – White Boy Dope

Ty Brasel – Hope Dealer

YC: Do you ever sample live drums?

DH: Only at college we experimented a lot creating weird sounds.

YC:
 Are you a hi fi or low fi kinda guy?  ie. do you like smooth slick sounding shit or dirty grimy glitchy sounding shit?

DH:
 A bit of both. Really.

YC:
 At what point does beat making and internet marketing intersect for you?

DH: I set out a marketing plan for creating content for the release of the music and try to use my content to promote the music. Rather than using the music itself as a marketing tool. Examples include beat snippets on Instagram or beat making videos are good tools to promote the music without having to give it away for free.

YC: When did you start becoming an internet marketer?

DH: Around 2010 / 2011 is when I started my site. I knew that I had skills that could be used for other parts of the internet. I learned from music marketing expert not rely just on music sales. That I should use my skills to provide other services too. This is great advice that I still apply my goals too.

YC: Who inspired you to do that?

DH: My brother and I are obsessed with internet marketing. It’s given us freedom. But I think I just continued to try new things. Some of the old stuff tends to stop working so you need to adapt. Pat Flynn’s website Smart Passive Income was the first site that I stuck with when it comes to learning about online marketing.

YC: How much do you hate normal 9-5 shit?

DH:
 I will be the first to put my hand up and say that I am tied to my computer. But I make time for friends and family. I am not a crazy clubbing person, I am happiest when I have something positive to create. My other sites also take up some my time but I like having a diverse amount of things to do. Even though I like making beats I would go crazy if it was the only thing I did.

YC: What other instruments do you know how to play?

DH: Guitar, Piano {Not so great}

YC:
 What’s your sickest track, according to yourself?

DH:
 Good question. I really like my pop / rnb tracks kind of show my music production range.

YC: Did you study music, and if so, where?

DH:
 Galway Technical Institute is where I started with my music production. I went to the Academy of Sound after that and spent 4 years. It was here where I qualified with a higher Diploma in music production and sound engineering. Guitar and Piano are just by ear. I did receive some formal training when I was younger during primary school.

YC:
 What were the best skills you got out of Academy of Sound Dublin?

DH: I got to test very expensive gear. Tools like destressors, compressors, manley massive passive, DBX compressor, neve compressors. I also worked with the SSL Nucleus. I also love the sound of working with tape. I really heard the difference with reel to reel. I can hear how rounder and thicker my beats sound after going from the SSL to the tape machine back in the box.

YC: Did you have any other dream jobs?  ie. claims adjuster, preacher, airline pilot.

DH:
 Musician in a band. Hahah

YC:
 What sites of yours should people be checking out?

DH:

Getchorus.com – How To Write Hip Hop Lyrics and Learn How To Rap Website.

The Corporatethief Beats – Buy Hip Hop Beats.

My Blog Here – Learn Music Marketing

Free Email Marketing For Musicians Course

YC: So you seem to have a handle on the Twitter platform, as you offer a course on this, right?

DH:
 Yes. I just find Twitter is an easy starting platform for young musicians. Facebook does have an amazing advertising platform. But I feel that with Twitter it’s much easier to strike a conversation with strangers compared to Facebook which seems a little too personal for some people. With the Twitter course, I found that Twitter does come with a lot of grunt work which can become tedious over time. Over a couple of years, I found a couple of hacks that can really help the average musician. This will help them automate some simple process that doesn’t need to be repeated daily. They can get the course here.

How To Promote Your Music On Twitter

YC: What are you trying to basically get through to people with your course?

DH: Just to be clear. This is not a get rich quick digital marketing course. This not a how to make money on Twitter course either.Twitter comes with a whole lot of grunt work, which can become tedious over time. I found tools like Hootsuite and Buffer. But even these tools became a chore of their own. I needed to find a way of promoting my evergreen content and adding new content more efficiently without having to be on Twitter or Hootsuite 24/7.

YC: Do you think that the majority of musicians are realistic business people?

DH:
 I firmly believe that musicians have many skills to offer people. But they don’t see the value they have right in front of them. They focus on immaterial things like views, likes, and follower counts. If they could just see how valuable some of the skills they have most musicians would be much better off.

YC:
 Do you think that Twitter is the best platform for promoting music and why?

DH: It’s not perfect. Facebook is just a pay to play game. It’s as simple as that. I can strike up conversations with strangers all day on Twitter and nobody thinks it’s weird or creepy. If I do the same thing on Facebook it comes across as kind of sad for some reason. I think people have a personal touch with their Facebook pages. With Twitter, this can be an easy starting point with little resources other than time.   

Who Is Cardi B?

 

On October 11, 1992, a star was born in the Bronx. Her name is Belcalis Almanzar, otherwise known as Cardi B.

Since then, Cardi B has held a plethora of occupations in the spotlight. She began as a stripper and gained attention when making her debut as an online personality through social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram. Through social media, she revealed her comedic personality, which brought her to online fame.

Cardi B began to go viral! Her funny videos and snippets of stripper chat were circulating on all platforms and she became an Internet celebrity in New York. Her Bronx accent, her bossy attitude, and her hilarious charm soon brought Cardi B to a worldwide audience.

Her savvy self-marketing skills and go-getter attitude allowed her to create a brand for herself with her newfound fame. With that, she released her first music track in 2015. She was on the remix of Shaggy’s song “Boom Boom”. She also released a track and music video called “Cheap Ass Weave” that put the spotlight on her.

That same year, Cardi B became a cast member for the popular reality TV show Love & Hip Hop: New York. This show focuses on the lives of hip hop music artists. She remained on the show until 2017, making and releasing consistent music throughout that time.

In 2016, Cardi B dropped her first full-length project, Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1.  Everything from the cover art to the catchy lyrics began to gain attention from media outlets, radio stations, and hip-hop blogs. Cardi B became the woman to watch.

Feature Pick

Gangsta Bitch Music Vol 1 [Explicit]

Buy On Amazon

In February of 2017, Cardi B landed a promising music deal with Atlantic Records. Many people were shocked that an online sensation could land such a significant deal with a major label. This in itself was monumental for hip-hop.

Many rap fans were skeptical, while others were thrilled. People waited on new released to see what the young woman was made of. It turned out to be shmoney! Cardi B didn’t disappoint, as the hits kept coming! She released a second volume to Gangsta Bitch Music in 2017. She started appearing on magazine covers and being endorsed by other celebrities. She became the newest international rap sensation.

In June of 2017, the famous Bodak Yellow was released. If you haven’t heard of this song yet, where have you been? It is the anthems of anthems, an iconic bop! You can find it playing anywhere—at the club, in the grocery store, at your local shop, at Starbucks, etc! Bodak Yellow has surpassed expectations, becoming a certified platinum record after holding the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Ever since her hit single Bodak Yellow, Cardi B has become a permanent face in the music industry. She is well respected by fellow music artists and has been congratulated on her successes by so many other well-known rappers. She recently worked on “MotorSport” with Nicki Minaj & Offset, which was a great feat of a collab from fans of female rap.

Fast Facts

  • Cardi B turned to stripping to escape an abusive situation with her boyfriend. She also wanted to rise from poverty. Stripping helped her take control of her own life and put her on a path to success.
  • Her sister’s real name is Hennessy, like the alcoholic beverage. Because of that, Belcalis was nicknamed Bacardi, which was then shortened to Cardi. That is how her rap name was formed.
  • Cardi B is from the Highbridge part of the Bronx, where a multitude of artists, such as A Boogie, come from.
  • Cardi B is engaged to Offset, a rapper from the group Migos.
  • She currently has 4 songs on the hip-hop charts on Itunes: Bartier Cardi (feat 21 Savage), No Limit by G-Eazy (feat A$AP Rocky & Cardi B), Motorsport, and Bodak Yellow.

Cardi B has a multitude of other tracks that are up for release. She is a fan favorite in hip-hop, and the fans are hungrily waiting for more. This week, she released a single called “Bartier Cardi” featuring 21 Savage. She also continues to make her regular (and hilarious) appearances on social media, maintaining the same humble and funny personality that she began with/ The crowd is going crazy for rapper Cardi B and we can see why!

The Origins of Hip Hop Music

first ever hip hop concert kook herc 1973

You hear it when you tune into your radio.

You see it fashioned when you’re walking through the streets.

You listen to it being spoken through slang words people speak.

Love it or hate it, you certainly can’t deny it, Hip-Hop is everywhere.

This relatively young music genre which started in America has now taken over the entire globe. 

Rising up from the shadowy underground to the mainstream spotlight through it’s relentless journey.

How hip are you to the beginnings of this now house-hold genre though?

Do you know exactly where it was started, the many influences it originally drew from and who the pioneers of the music are?

Unless you are a true Hip-Hop head, you probably don’t know how this breakthrough genre came to be and the fascinating grass-roots story behind it.

Let’s rewind to the origins of Hip-Hop so you can keep your musical knowledge fresh as a flat top fade.

The Borough That Birthed Hip-Hop

“So you thought that hip-hop had its start out in Queensbridge? If you pop that junk up in the Bronx you might not live!” – Krs One, Legendary Hip Hop MC

The revolutionary sound of hip-hop was born in the Bronx borough of New York.

Now there has been endless debate about the validity of this, even sparking off heated feuds between rappers who claim differently.

However it is now widely accepted in the Hip Hop community that the Bronx is where it originally started.

The First Hip Hop Show Ever

The story of the first Hip-Hop performance has since become a legend, almost mystical.

Again there is a lot of debate on the exact details of how it went down which may have been lost in translation over the years.

This is how it has been written in Hip-Hop history though:

A Jamaican born Bronx resident by the name of Clive Campbell, DJ name of Kool Herc put on a party for his sister Cindy on August 11th 1973.

It was a back to school party that they hosted in the recreation room of their apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, South Bronx.

The venue was small and stuffy with enough space to squeeze up to around 300 people.

first ever hip hop concert kook herc 1973

Dj Kool Herc had been heavily inspired and influenced by both his father who was a musical technician and his upbringing in Jamaica Kingston.

His father Keith Campbell was very involved with music. He was a part of a band, had a huge record collection plus musical equipment that his son would later become skilled with.

Clive’s child-hood in Kingston Jamaica surrounded him with the sights and vibrations of street sound-systems that boomed the rhythms of dub, reggae and dancehall. He watched eager-eyed as DJ’s would set up parties in the street and bring people together through the music they played.

This left a burning impression on the young Clive Campbell, planting the seeds that would become the catalyst of a new sound that he would help spark.

Just as street DJ’s and travelling sound systems of Jamaica spread the sound of their popular music, Dj Kool Herc adapted this idea and was the first to set up a sound-system party that blasted a whole new kind of music. What would come to be known as Hip-Hop.

With two trusty vinyl turn-tables hooked up to a amp, Kool Herc rocked the party at Sedgwick Avenue. It would be the first of many “jams” in the Bronx.

Herc had also pioneered a certain DJ-ing technique that is still definitive of Hip-Hop Music to this day: break-beating, (breaks for short).

He would play the same record on two turn-tables and keep spinning one of the records back to break of the drum-beat.

This would extend the sound of the drum beat, the part in the song that he noticed people loved the most.

Break-beating became the backbone of hip-hop music which other pioneering DJ’s such as Afrika Bambaata would also use.

It also fuelled the popularity of an emerging type of dance known as b-boying or break-dancing as it would later be named.

This off the wall and wildly energetic form of dancing identified itself with the music and became one of the corner-stones of Hip-Hop culture.

The Early Influences of the Genre and Further Innovations

As Hip Hop parties became more regular in the Bronx, with DJ’s setting up their systems in rec’ rooms, abandoned buildings and local parks, more original techniques were invented and included into the sound of Hip-Hop.

Perhaps the most famous one being “Scratching”, invented by Theordore Livingston who went by the DJ name of Grand Wizard Theodore. The Grand Wizard came up with the technique whilst experimenting at home on a Technics SL-1200 turntable.

He noticed that the record would automatically return back to the correct RPM even when he jigged it back and forth on the plate with his fingers. Something that a lot of previous turn-tables didn’t do.

He thought the sound that the record made when being scratched was fly’ and started doing it at his shows. Scratching soon caught on and trended amongst other DJ’s who developed the technique even further.

They would battle it out against each other in live performances to see who could scratch a record in the most impressive and ear pleasing ways.

Scratching has been used in hip-hop and other sub-genres ever since and is the most recognizable DJ technique associated to Hip-hop music.

Another DJ-ing technique to become an integral part of the genre is known as cutting. Invented by Grandmaster Flash another Bronx resident who was most famous for his hit record “The Message” with his group the Furious Five.

Flash also invented this technique when experimenting with his equipment at home.

Cutting is the technique of playing the same record on two turn-tables and pulling each record back and forth to repeat a certain lyric or piece of music in the song.

This produces the looping effect known as cutting. A technique that has had audiences hooked to Hip-Hop ever since.

Emcees

Asides from DJ’s and the new innovations they were bringing to the music, MC’s (commonly spelt emcees) also started to come into the picture. 

Short for Master of Ceremonies, these were the guys and gals who would speak into the microphone whilst the DJ played. Also inspired from the reggae and dancehall music of Jamaica where there would be a “toaster” who would chant over the music the DJ was playing to hype up the crowd.

These Hip-Hop Emcee’s would become known as Rappers. Singing stylistic rhymes over the beats that the DJ’s spun.

One of the first hip-hop MC’s at the time was Coke La Rock. He was the Master of Ceremonies when DJ Kool Herc played his shows, shouting out people in the audience and stringing simple rhymes together that flowed with the beats.

Mc’ing added another original element to the music that would gel within the genre. Later as competition between MC’s grew, more complex lyrics and robust rhyming styles developed. Even though Hip-Hop music and MC’ing were joint to the hip, you could now class MC’ing as an art-form in itself as it begun to take a life of its own.

Apart from the DJ’s and MC’s that helped to shape Hip-Hops unique sound there were numerous musical influences from other genres that also played a big part in creating Hip-Hop.

Leading up to the time when Hip-Hop began to surface, Disco, Soul, funk, R+B and Motown were the popular genres during the 60’s and early 70’s.

Artists like James Brown and the Jackson 5 were topping the charts. Hip Hop DJ’s would take tracks from these genres and infuse them with the beats and the DJ’ing techniques they invented. The new sound that they produced was Hip-Hop.

The greater affordability of drum machines and other electronic music equipment during this period also helped to boost Hip-Hops explosive growth in popularity.

More and more people wanted to be a part of this new wave of music and now they could now easily become a part of it.

DJ’s, MC’s and Breakdancers started to pop up everywhere. It was a craze that bubbled from the Bronx and spilled over the rest of New York.

Hip-Hop’s Social Roots

The Bronx in the 1970’s was a very socially deprived area. Many of the buildings were derelict, violent gangs roamed the streets and a local municipality hardly existed.

The middle class that existed there before had uprooted and moved to the suburbs, taking most of the local economy with it.

On top of this the nationwide recession had hit the area hard and the industry that existed there previously had drastically declined.

Unemployment rates were at all time highs and so were the amount of people on welfare.

The majority of locals who lived in the area were of African and Hispanic decent.

Times were tough and the people had to get by with very little and not much to do. Which is why they often turned to crime.

It’s important to note that conditions such as these were the social and physical environment that birthed Hip-Hop at its roots.

The forgotten younger generation of the time expressed themselves through this new art form almost out of a sense of desperation.

They created something truly special out of the fragments of a broken society.

The environment around them was grim and their future prospects bleak but Hip-Hop gave them a vibrant new outlet.

The parties that DJ’s threw united the local people and gave them something fun to enjoy.

It was a current of artistry that they owned.

A culture that they could identify with.

An escape from the everyday turmoil that they were surrounded by.

Party Songs

The first Hip-Hop songs were very much feel good party songs and tongue and cheek self-boasting songs by Emcees. Music that everyone could get down to. That was what Hip-Hop’s original ethos, fun, unity and having a good time through positive expression.

It was only later in the 80’s where Hip-Hop artists started to include social commentary in their lyrics that it took a more socially conscious tone. The original being “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5.

Generations of socially and politically minded Hip-Hop acts would then follow. This did something profound for the people of the genre, who were mainly out casted by the rest of society due to their socio-economic class, it gave them a voice.

Now they could share their points of view, living standards and depict their life experiences through their music and audiences from all backgrounds were listening.

In this way, Hip-Hop became a platform from which they could raise awareness and influence societal change.

The “fad” that never faded

Back in the 70’s when it first hit the public, many of those on the outside looking in didn’t think this new think dubbed “Hip-Hop” was going to last.

They thought it was just a new fad that the younger generation were in a craze over.

They didn’t really acknowledge it as an actual music genre, probably because it was so different from anything else that had come before it.

They expected it to be here today and gone tomorrow.. but it didn’t.

Like a tornado twisting out of control and swallowing everything in its path, this thing called Hip-Hop was unstoppable.

It spread across New York like wildfire. DJ’s, MC’s, Break Dancers and Graffiti Artists were found in every Borough of New York.

Street Parties, Club Nights and Underground Venues would stay playing Hip-Hop until the early hours of the morning all over the city.

People would travel hours from Borough to Borough to see their favourite Hip-Hop artists perform.

Dj’s and Mc’s from different neighbourhoods would spur each other in competition in order to produce the hottest new sounds or freshest new lyrics.

They continued to mould the music in ever more diverse ways, experimenting with new sounds, techniques and styles.

It was a very exciting time for the genre, as the vast melting pot of those involved constantly mixed and elevated the music in new ways. 

From the Big Apple To The Big Wide World

Since it’s beginnings in the Bronx Hip-Hop has now become a World-Wide phenomenon which is still going strong to this day.

From the favellas of Rio De Janiero to the Streets of Seoul you will find Hip-Hop culture in every corner of the globe.

Whether that is Hip-Hop DJ’ing, Mc’ing, Breakdancing or Graffiti Writing. Each and every aspect of Hip-Hop is never to far away.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an Inuit head-spinning in an igloo somewhere or dropping some sick flows.  Oh wait…

Though the Hip-Hop music that we see in the mainstream in this day and age may look and sound a lot different that it’s original forms, as it has lived through many different types of styles and sub-genres. 

All the original elements that built Hip-Hop music still exist under the surface. Dj’ing, Mc’ing and expressing yourself through raw, street-born rhythm and sound.

Now you can stay Hip to the origin story of this amazing art-form and keeping Hopping to the beat.

Native Instruments Kontakt Digital Sampler VST Review

Hey guys, Daniel Kern here, and if you don’t know me, well, I am a music producer who comes from Vienna, Austria and I work professionally as a composer, arranger, and freelance musician.  I have done many projects in my day, and today I am here to talk about Kontakt, which is a long-standing piece of go-to digital sampling software using VSTs that is used by producers everywhere, and, I must say, something that I use frequently for my own various musical projects.

Let me get to the point – Kontakt is amazing!  If you’ve been in the music production business for very long, this is probably something you know yourself.  You may also know that Kontakt has gone through various incarnations, and that it is not necessarily easy for a beginner producer or musician to penetrate its complexity right away.

New to this and don’t know anything about it?  Ok, so Kontakt is a VST Plugin environment from the company Native Instruments that allows the user to integrate different kinds of Libraries either in Kontakt’s .nki file-format or you can also upload .wav files and spread them across a virtual keyboard for use however you like. So it actually makes it possible to create “your own VSTs”, or, you could say, Kontakt-Libraries. 

However, it is worth noting that you can use your own recordings as well – slice them, dice them, pitch them up or down, or put different samples on different velocities of the same key, etc.  All without having to worry about programming a VST Interface.  This is what I use Kontakt for, and I like it a lot.

These days, you’ll find Kontakt as part of a software suite called Komplete.  On it’s own, Kontakt is still impressive, but Komplete takes it up a notch.  Komplete itself comes with an incredible amount of libraries, to be more specific: 87 instruments and over 18.000 sounds to choose from! All in all it’s over 500 GB worth of goodies, and so your hard drive had better be ready.

Feature Pick

Native Instruments Komplete 11 Software Suite

Buy On Amazon

But thats not all. There are nearly infinite additional products you can purchase (or download for free) from other companies in order to augment and adapt your situation, such as Project Sam, Samplephonics, 8DIO, Sample magic and many more.  FYI, I recently developed a few Kontakt Libraries myself, so look for them on my website at www.danielkern.at.

Each of KONTAKT’s instruments has its own unique interface, providing you with different options to select presets, adjust the sounds you want to use, modulate them, etc.  This means you can make music for all different types of genres.  I have done soundtrack work, hip hop, and even some chiptune / 8-bit stuff with Young Coconut.

In the KOMPLETE bundle you will receive not only sample-based instruments like Pianos, Drumsets, Percussion and so on, but also Synthesizers like Reaktor, FM8, Razor, Kontour, Massive and many more.  This package has kept me busy for ages, and so I suggest you stay organized, or you might get lost in there.

The bundle also includes a load of Virtual Effects like Guitar Rig, Driver, different EQs, Compressors, Reverbs and so on.

Basically, it’s like this: If you are new into producing, this bundle is a great start and gives you everything you need for getting started, so I highly recommend it.

There are a bunch of other VSTs that KONTAKT Instruments cant compete with, but in nearly all of my productions you will find at least one or two Kontakt stems.  As I said, it’s great, so if you can afford it, I’d say go for it.

Read an interview with Daniel about Kontakt to learn more about it

What are the Main Genres of American Music?

“Good” music means something different to everyone these days, and this is highlighted by the growing number of genres and sub-genres that circulate in both mainstream and underground circles.

Most of these genres have evolved over the years due to several cultural and societal influences, and this is why every region of the world has its own particular “flavour” when it comes to music, from the Latin music of Mexico, to the Goan trance music of Southern India.  

Today, however, we want to focus on the many musical genres of the United States of America.

For a person who has just started to explore the vast reaches of music, it can get very confusing at times learning what’s what, since every major genre does break down into smaller and more select sub-categories.  Upon closer inspection, some of these genres seem fairly ridiculous.  

crunkcore cuddlecore cowpunk

To accurately depict the thousands of sub-genres that exist all around the world is a fairly impossible task, so we have learned to generalize into a reasonable number of “main” genres of music.

What Are The Main Genres Of American Music?

Each genre has its own favoured instruments that operate in particular scales or modes, a certain style of vocals (or lack thereof), and a definite rhythmical pattern behind the beats.  An experienced music lover will be able to tell the difference in genres simply by listening to a song, but, from time to time, a new permutation will always surface, eschewing convention.

Blues

What began as the Mississippi Delta Blues quickly became the biggest and most influential American music genre there is.  Adopted by the African-American population from traditional African music, blues became a medium of expressing agony through slow moving rhythms and emotional, and sometimes tragicomic lyrical situations.  The genre attained massive commercial success when artists from Chicago created a variant called Chicago blues.  You’ll find the influence of blues on other genres such as jazz, gospel, RnB, and hip hop.

Jazz

This genre of music evolved in the early 20th century.  The early artists were all African-Americans.  It has also lead to the birth of many genres in its time, but jazz music is primarily associated with the use of blue notes, performed on instruments like the saxophone and the massive double bass.  The boundaries and scope of jazz is something that has lead to various debates in the music community, and the fact is that no one has yet settled for an accurate description that accurately encompasses the entire genre.

Rock n’ Roll

Rock music started hitting the streets in the 1950’s, and it evolved as a subset of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, classical and folk music that had been around since the 1940’s. The primary focus in rock is on the electric guitar, and the many solos that can be created with it.  The bass guitar and drums are also highly in focus here, and, for some time, even synthesizers were the rage (and they’re coming back!).  Today, we relate any music that is slightly ‘heavy’ with it, and this has also lead to the combination of rock with other various sub-genres. 

From rock, we get the birth of folk rock, classic rock, punk rock, blues rock, jazz rock, soft rock, heavy metal, hard rock, alt rock, and prog rock.  

Let’s hear from the puzzled panther himself, Darby Crash, famous punker.

Rock is something that is omnipresent in all cultural references today, and it is no secret that we associate rock musicians with a rebellious lifestyle, incessant substance abuse, tremendous fan bases all around the world, and an ever present sense of self-destruction.

Back when rock started, it was decidedly more light-hearted and fun, with only a slight edge.  

Country Music 

Country music is certainly one of the oldest forms of commercial music.  It originated in the 1920’s in southern parts of the United States, and it has slowly spread to all parts of the world.  It is also known as country & western music, and has been embraced by countless artists, including The King himself, Elvis Presley.  

The defining characteristic of early country music was an acoustic guitar, with just the vocals of the singer to accompany it.  In this way, it is similar to blues music, however, a different group of Americans were responsible for creating it – those who lived south of the Mason-Dixon line.  

These days, country music expresses itself as rock, as pop, or even dance music, but the original version of country music was much simpler and expressed the feelings of those in the south.  

Folk Music

Also called “roots” music, folk music is both similar to country and blues, in that it has historically found its origins in the lower social classes of people in society.  That said, folk music has always had a revolutionary streak, as it has typically been used as a means of protest, telling stories, and providing political commentary.

Instrumentally, folk music can be said to be similar to both country and blues, with the primary instrument of folk music often being an acoustic guitar (mouth harp can also frequently be heard).  However, folk music is not limited to simply just guitar, and there are other specifically instruments which often turn up in folk songs, such as banjos, jugs, spoons, and the accordion.  

In more recent times, folk music has been embraced by anyone who appreciates what the genre stands for.  For instance, when Bob Dylan hit the scene in the early 1960’s, he fancied himself a folk singer like his hero Woody Guthrie, but Dylan didn’t come from poverty, as you might expect a true folkster to be.  By the time Woodstock rolled around in ’69, folk music was practically mainstream, but no less affecting.  

Today, folk music can even refer to a sort of throwback to this hippy movement in the ’60’s.  For example, if you hear mild mannered acoustic music where a male and female are singing “la la la” or “whoa, whoa, whoa” in harmony, you could try to call that folk music, but, by its original meaning, it clearly is not.  

Hip Hop and Rap

Relatively new to the growing list of American musical genres is hip hop, or rap music. The primary focus here with hip hop is on hard beats and DJ scratching, as well as a type of rhythmic spoken word put overtop.  Also, synthetic sounds are a big part of hip hop music, as well as samples, which involves clips from other recordings re-purposed to create new artistic expressions.  

Although hip hop evolved out of the urban ghettos of the United States in the 1970’s, today it has come to symbolize success and has spread far into mainstream culture, not just in the U.S.A., but all around the world.  Hip hop has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Pop Music

Pop music is perhaps the most confusing of any genre, because it really isn’t a genre at all. Pop is short for popular, and referring to music with popular appeal.  Thus, pop music can refer to any song from any genre, so long as it is popular.  There is, however, a conflicting idea that “pop” is a genre, and has its own characteristics.  For our purposes today, we will go with the former definition.

As it refers to popular music, pop music usually is considered to be offensive to some hipster music fans, who revile anything enjoyed by the masses.  This is almost a fair assessment of pop music, since it often strives to appeal to broadest group of people possible, in order to sell the most records possible.  This is generally done by targeting teenagers, who are the most impressionable fans out there (except for pre-teens, children, and babies).  

Of course, it is possible for well crafted music to be “pop” music, but the basic premise of pop music is that it is meant to please the most people possible.  As such, it is frequently about everyone’s favourite topic – sex, whether it be directly mentioned or implied.

Pop music isn’t just about sex.  In fact, sometimes it can be about violence as well. Actually, whatever it is about, it doesn’t matter.  Pop music is the only genre where the characteristics of the music itself is secondary to its popularity.  Imagine if there were a genre of music called “rich”, where the only quality the music needed to have was being written by rich people.  How obnoxious…

Conclusion

There are, of course, more genres of music out there.  Many of them are sub-genres of the genres we’ve already mentioned, such as soul, gospel, funk, zydeco…the list is practically endless.  

We hope you found this article interesting.  If so, please leave us a comment below!

young coconut musician

How To Write A Rap Song

how to write a rap song

Here we explain how to write a rap song.  Writing a rap song can change your life, so you may want to try it.  You might not get rich from doing it, but it can be a creative outlet unlike any other.

What is Rap Music (and when did it start)?

Rap music essentially is words spoken rhythmically over a beat, usually a drum loop of some kind like an 808.

Initially a domain exclusively belonging tо African-Americans in New York in the mid to late 1970’s (which part of NY can still find debate), rap has long since gained worldwide popularity, with people from all over the world giving rap a try. 

Doesn’t matter what age, what nationality, or language you are.  Anyone with rhythm can theoretically rap.

The best rap, in my opinion, should contain an undeniable blend оf poetry and motivation. Thе legendary rapper Tupac Shakur (aka 2Pac) considered himself more оf а poet than а rapper, I believe he once said, because his words could stand on their own as both a story and a poem. 

Here’s one of Tupac’s poems called “Where there is a will”:

Where there is a will

there is a will

to search and discover

a better day

Where a positive heart

is all you need

to rise beyond

and succeed

Where young minds grow

and respect each other

based on their deeds

and not their color

when times are dim

say as I say

“Where there’s a will

there’s a way!” – Tupac Shakur

Before we get into how YOU can write a rap song, let’s have a listen to one of his most famous recorded rap songs, the classic “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”.  And get your pen and paper ready, ’cause soon you should start taking some notes.  

There is a reason that Tupac is considered one of the best of all time.  His flow is amazing, his imagery is creative, his cadence is a great blend of being authoritative and laid back at one time.  With “murderous lyrics”, Tupac dominates yet another track.  Explore his catalogue if you haven’t already, when you have time.    

Now, if you are looking into rap, and want to do your own thing, though…then let’s get into how that can be done.


The Words and The Beat

Rapping has two main aspects: the words and the beat.

For the beat, you’re gonna need one, just like LL Cool J once rapped.  For this, you can either create one digitally, or simply find one online and play it and try to rap over it.  Or you can beatbox…actually, get someone else to beatbox, so you can do the rapping.  One way or another, you need a beat to rap to.

Ever heard of an 808?  It’s a classic drum machine that produced some of hip hops most legendary tracks.  

Here’s a video showing an 808 in action, recreating, in fact, Boyz in da Hood by Easy E of N.W.A.  With a beat like this going, you may even want to throw down your own flow over top just to see what happens.

Next, we have the whole song so you can hear now what was done with it, if you haven’t heard this song already (it’s a classic).

Once you’ve got a beat, you can think about the words to go with that beat / over it.  Sometimes, the beat you use will inspire the words, and other times, the words are something you’ll have to think about separate from the beat, and then try to graft onto the beat.

It depends how you want to do it.  In any case, you’re going to need to come up with some words.  This probably means writing something down somewhere, either on a notepad, your phone, your computer, or a napkin.  

Or, you can improv the words over the beat, aka freestyling, which will teach you the art of improvising, which is a skill unto itself used in many rap battles. Watch these two guys rap battle and then try to figure out what makes people call them some of the worst rap battlers ever.  

No offence to these guys, because at least they’re trying, but this just goes to show that freestyling is a skill that some people really have to practice to get good at.  Add to that the pressure that you’re battling someone, and you can cave in under the pressure.  Not everyone has it in them to just automatically know how to do it from the get go.

Now watch his guy (Ashtin Larold) smack up his opponent with what appears to be some off the cuff remarks that has the crowd in awe.

Keep in mind, freestyling is just one element of rap and most rap songs don’t really employ freestyle into the song structure too much.  Rather, the raps you hear in rap songs are carefully crafted.  

That said, you’ll be a better rapper in general if you learn to freestyle.


How are rap songs structured?

How should a rap song “go”? 

Well, most songs, in general, are structured like this: verse 1, chorus, verse 2, chorus, breakdown or bridge, chorus, and an outro, which is sometimes also known as a “coda”. 

To quickly break down what each of these song structures are, let me fill you in if you don’t know.

The intro: Often, in pop or rap songs, the intro may not have vocals or words in it.  It’s just a brief musical section to lead up to the verse.  It can even be the same music as the verse.  Anyway, it doesn’t usually last long and then the verse starts.  

The verse: In a story, it would be called the “exposition”, where characters or ideas get introduced to the reader, or in this case, the listener. Whatever the song is going to be about, the verse starts to explain it.  Essentially, it’s the reason for the song itself.    

The chorus: The actual word “chorus” means “choral”, as in choir, as in lots of people singing the same thing.  In a pop song, or rap song, it’s essentially the catchy hook of the song that everyone is theoretically going to remember, or want to sing along with.

The bridge:  That’s basically part “C” of a song, so that it’s not just 2 parts.  This gives the song variety, and it’s sometimes called the “middle eight”.  It’s a short detour to break the song up, basically.

The outro: This is the part of the song that takes you out of the song.  The outro is an additional part of the song that is the opposite of the intro.  Generally, in my experience, I hear a lot of intros, but less outros as they are more uncommon.  

Here is a chart showing 5 different types of song structures you can tap into.  

typical song structures

Other popular schemes for writing a song have 2 verses before each chorus, while still others keep the second of the two verses the same each time. 

The chorus, by design, should be very catchy.  And so should the intro, for that matter, since it’s the very first thing the listener hears.

If the opening refrain sounds boring and doesn’t really grab the listener, no one will make it to anything comes later because you didn’t have them at “hello”, so to speak.

guy listening to music with headphones

Take a listen to this track by Big Boi (of Outkast fame), called Shine Blockas.  The song starts with the intro, then the first verse where Big Boi raps, then a chorus, then a second verse where Gucci raps, then another chorus, then a breakdown, then a variation of the chorus where he raps it like a verse, then another chorus, then the outro.

Just keep these various parts of the song in mind when you listen, and this way, when you write your own song, you can be a lot more systematic about it.  This can be good because this way if you’re more of a technical person, rather than the “artsy” type of person, you can treat the song more like a “project” that you can tackle piece by piece.

How to approach lyrics

We’ve discussed the fact that you’ll need a beat, and words, and how you may also want to try some freestyling, just to see how that goes.  We also discussed how the structure of the song can go, if you’re trying to emulate some of the more popular forms of rap song or pop song.

But writing the actual lyrics to a rap song can be a big stumbling block for a lot of potential rappers.

Luckily, there’s a philosophy out there that can apply to anything and make things way easier – keep it simple!

If you keep the overall topic for your song simple, you can get a song started faster.  You might think this is possibly a bad idea, because if it’s too simple, it might sound stupid. 

You can’t just expect to rhyme a bunch of words about your dog and they’re going to be amazing, ie. “My dog Rex ate my leftover tex-mex, so I flexed my pecs and ejected him!”  I just made that up and it’s kind of dumb, but that’s ok.

weird dog picMaybe rapping about your dog isn’t the best topic, but it’s also not the worst topic.  Any topic is fair game, really.  If it inspires you to write something, don’t ignore it.  

Rhyming is also a huge part of rapping, and it helps to connect the words in a way that is memorable.  Luckily, lots of words rhyme, so you kind of just have to start writing, and rhyming words will probably come to mind.  

But what words to you rhyme in a sentence?  Probably not words like “a”, “and”, and “the”.  These words are not the subject of a sentence, they just help glue the sentence together, and so it’s weird to try to rhyme them in a song.  Generally, the words you want to rhyme are the “important” words in a sentence.  

Just remember that certain words are less easy to rhyme than others.  Say you use the word “apartment” in a sentence, it’s tricky to rhyme that word with something, unless it’s “compartment”, or “department”.  If you say “cat”, you’ve got more options – “bat”, “rat”, “fat”, “gat”, “gnat”, “brat”.  So you can go like this: “My cat was being a brat, so I grabbed my gat and then SPLAT!”  

You may also notice that lyrics like that, even if they’re ridiculous, mainly exist because of the rhyming words.  Like, I didn’t kill my cat with my cat.  The words just rhymed.  But a lot of rappers do that.  They rhyme words and it ends up creating a story.

Check out this song by Kool Keith called The Girls Don’t Like The Job, for an example of some creative rhyming and basically making up stories out of thin air.  Listen for the way he uses rhymes.

Listening to songs like this should show you that rules are meant to be broken.  

Weird rhymes can really make a song interesting, but if your rhymes don’t rhyme at all, then they’re not really rhymes, and it becomes more like a poem than a rap song. 

Rap songs can get pretty weird, but they can also be pretty straightforward too.  You don’t want to write a rap song that isn’t about anything and just rhymes random words, because it will end up sounding like that.  

First and foremost, you have to have something you want to say.  Then you find the language to say it.

Take a listen to One Times Got No Case by Sir Mix-A-Lot, which uses some interesting language.

What inspires you?

Songwriting is an art form, so you have the choice to take it seriously, or play around with it.  Just don’t take it too seriously, or you might put too much pressure on yourself and get writers’ block.  If something comes to your mind, jot it down.  That could be the beginning of your future hit, who knows?

If you’ve never done this before, try thinking about something that has happened to you recently which sticks out.  It can literally be anything.  Someone you met, something that happened, something that bothered you, or something you liked. 

If you have some ideas brewing, try to think of them like you’re telling a story, because a lot of great rap is simply stories.  Nas.  Tupac.  Biggie.  All storytellers.  They aren’t usually just putting words together for no reason, the greats are almost always trying to convey a story and get a point across.

And don’t think you have to slave over your lyrics endlessly.  Sometimes the first thing that comes to your mind can work, although some rappers are notorious editors and really polish things up a lot. 

Check out this song by the Beastie Boys, which contains what sound like a bunch of ad libs.  What’s an ad lib?  It’s where you record some vocal thing off the cuff, and leave it in there because you like it.  It’s not pre-planned, but it sounds good. 

Basically, they had Q-Tip in the studio, and they decided to basically lay down a track while he was there.  Turned out great.  Not to say the track isn’t well produced, because it is, but it has an element of fun that you can only get from messing around with your friends.   

Using samples in your track

This Beastie Boys song brings up another thing to think about – using samples!  

This is another tool in your toolbox for making a rap song, and I’d say it’s more “advanced”, because you are going beyond just rapping now. 

Samples, as you may know, is when you take other recorded material and fit it into your own song, to add some extra flavour to your track.

Some samples use a musical element from one song and it can feature heavily in the resulting track, even becoming the main hook, although it may not have been the main hook in the original song it was taken from. 

Other samples are used differently, as in used here and there for comedic effect, or to make a point of some kind.  

The above song I shared earlier, “Get It Together”, uses a sample from a song by Eugene McDaniels called “Headless Heroes”.  It’s from a different era than the Beastie Boys song, and it’s a different genre (ie. angry folk funk).

Listen to the original song and see how the Beasties used the song in their own song to make something new.

Speaking of the Beastie Boys and samples, the Beastie Boys album, Paul’s Boutique, is often said to have the most samples used of any album ever.  

At the time, the Beastie Boys didn’t seem to think they’d get sued, and so they used maybe 100 samples by various artists to piece together an album which was later hailed a masterpiece.

This isn’t something you’ll probably do if you’re just getting into rap, since it’s more of something that DJ’s do to spice up their set, by throwing in crazy obscure samples.

When a DJ uses a bunch of samples in their live set, they aren’t going to get sued, but when you take those samples and put them on your actual album, it’s a different story, because now you’re officially making money off of other peoples’ work.

Check out this Beastie Boys track to hear how they use a whole lot of samples to make the track cool.

(W)Rapping Up

To finish up, to be a rapper, you need to always have a beat handy, some words ready to spit, maybe a notebook or 2 full of ideas for when you might lay down a track.

Carry that pen and paper in your bag with you throughout the day.  You can also do this with your phone, like we said, but the greats all did it with pen and paper, or using a notebook, or on a napkin, so that’s what we recommend.  

You just never know when lyrics are going to come to your mind, and you want to be ready to write them down.  You wouldn’t want to miss out on those seemingly insignificant eureka moments. 

Somebody like Eminem, considered one of the best of all time, is always writing stuff down.  Maybe you should to.

Anyway, good luck with writing your first rap song.  If you have a link, once it makes it online, please share it in the comments below!

The Worst Rap Group Ever of All Time Award Goes To…

jake paul and team ten

Bad rappers are not rare.  They are out there, spitting lame rhymes, repping awkward flows that go nowhere and say nothing.  A lot of times, the worst rappers are kids or teenagers, like good ol’ Raindrop if you remember him at all from YouTube.  Here he is in all his rap battle glory… 🙂

When it comes to rap groups, specifically as in a bunch of bad rappers banded together to suck ass, there’s a wide selection of those to choose from as well from over the years.  Now, have you ever wondered – who is the worst rap group ever of all time?  So did I, so I looked into it.

Of course, “worst” depends on your definition of what that means, but I’ll throw a few names out at you and see if they stick. 

Crazy Town 

For example, there’s pseudo rap group Crazy Town, that group from the late 1990’s that wrote the mostly-rapped song “Butterfly”. The song was picked up by alternative rock radio and featured some rather bland rap verses from Shifty Shellshock.  I don’t think it was picked up on hip hop stations though…

The problem is the “worst rap group ever” tag doesn’t really stick with these boys, because, for one thing, they’re not really a rap group.  They’re more of a nu metal / rock band.  Also, this song only half sucks.  The backing music ain’t half bad, which was written by Flea and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  After hearing the sweet RHCP track “Pretty Little Ditty”, Crazy Town sampled the song, eg. airlifted it wholesale over into their song so they could rap over it.  This song was a surprise smash from the new band at the time.  I hope John and Flea got paid a little something for that band ruining their song’s integrity, assuming they gave permission to the band for using it.  As for the rapping itself in Butterfly, it’s pretty basic – nothing to write home about. That said, I can’t rightly call this band the worst rap group of all time, although I desperately want to.

Will Smith / Dru Hill / Kool Mo Dee

Next I want to nominate Will Smith, Dru Hill, Kool Mo Dee for the award of most terrible rap group of all time, with their over the top mega rap hit, Wild Wild West.  

Of course, everyone loves Will Smith.  He’s a beloved part of American pop culture known for his early years of Slick Rick-inspired narrative raps from the ’80’s where he raps about parents just not understanding, and Freddy Krueger.  Soon after, the world saw Will become the loveable Fresh Prince of Bel Air, with everyone’s favorite theme song.  Will Smith’s resume for being an affable dude goes on and on, as he starred in more big movies, and gave birth to Gettin’ Jiggy With It.

In 1999, the year Prince predicted as “over, oops, out of time” for our planet, the shit hit the fan and Will Smith finally jumped the shark, teaming up with Dru Hill and Kool Mo Dee to bring us Wild Wild West.  The song is essentially a piece of shit, but luckily it’s a light-hearted one, so I guess I’ve got to cut it some slack.  That said, the trio of Will Smith, Dru Hill, and Kool Mo Dee somehow combined to suck as much as possible for this track.  But, like a turd sailing through the air and into a lake, their time together was so brief, I must excuse them from being the recipient of the award for worst rap group of all time ever.  

Ok, who’s next?  Why, look, it’s…

The Bloodhound Gang

The Bloodhound Gang, were a “gang”, strictly speaking, but since a gang is a group, I want to suggest that they now be hoisted up above the rest as the shittiest rap group in the history of mankind.  In their why-is-this-song-popular mega hit, “The Bad Touch”, we hear lots of rapping, and so that, in effect, makes them a rap group.

While this song is technically a rap song, it’s more of a really bad pop song with monotone vocals spoken quickly that, for some reason, people seem to like.  I never really understood why people took to this track, but it definitely put The Bloodhound Gang in the spotlight where they (did not) belong.  

I will admit, I mostly wanted The Bloodhound Gang on this list because this song is so awful, but, truth be told, they are not a rap group, just a terrible pop / rock band.  So, they have no real place here – get them out of here right now!

Jake Paul and Team 10

I know what you must be thinking.  This is it.  Jake Paul and Team 10 are simply the worst thing ever, so we have now arrived at the worst rap group of all time.  After all, they’ve got what it takes to be the worst, don’t they?  That “Disney channel flow”, the are-you-kidding-me rap lyrics, the super-cringe levels of arrogance, the mystifying levels of popularity.  It’s all there.  

Clearly, no self-respecting person would actually listen to Jake Paul, but, I happen to know there’s a lot of people out there who lack self-respect, which might explain why this video has so many views.  Of course, it has a really healthy level of dislikes, which is another reason we are reaching for the crown to place it on all ten of their heads (with an extra big McDick’s crown for Jake).

<military style drumroll>

And The Worst Rap Group Ever of All Time Award Goes To…

You won’t believe this, but NEWSFLASH – this just in!  A rap group has been found that basically is worse than all of the above groups. So, move along child rappers, pre-teen rappers, joke bands, metal bands that include rapping, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and Jake Paul. The award goes to…

Try Hardz

Try Hardz are a Canadian rap group consisting of two guys – J.K., Y.C., and their “owner”, Randiddleydoodley (a dog).

worst rap group ever of all time

The Try Hardz are definitely weird, and their raps are most heinous and dumb.  They claim to be from another solar system, like the group Gwar.  Perfect.  They also claim to worship the “Three Kings” – Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Alec Baldwin.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean!

Here is a video by the band for a song called “Gordo Surfaces Keppler 22-B Forever”.  Pretty weird, and not in a good way.

Try Hardz have a number of shitty “rap” albums that they have posted on a errant Bandcamp account, none of which we would recommend you listen to (but if you want to torture yourself, here’s the link).  

If you want more evidence that this is the worst rap group of all time, here’s a song we dug up from YouTube called “Series: Safe by the … Beach”, featuring general whackness.  

We hope you enjoyed our walk down memory lane.  Hip hop music can be so awesome, but only when the artists have real talent.  Luckily, there are so many of those out there, there’s no reason to ever have to listen to the stuff we have listed here above.  Whether you do or do not agree with our ultimate decision, we would love to hear from you, so please leave us a comment down below. 

How To Wield The Mini Moog Voyager Like J Dilla

j-dilla
 

There are many great Hip-Hop producers who stand out from the crowd in the genre’s relatively short history, but the man known as “your favourite producer’s favourite producer” is the late J Dilla.

j-dilla

Unknown to many modern Hip-Hop listeners, Dilla revolutionized the music’s direction with his Mini Moog Voyager and samples to create gritty, off-beat hi-hats and bass sounds, jazz-infused samples and soulful synth backing. Dilla inspired countless artists to progress with his direction of Hip-Hop, and among those that know he is revered to this day.

Known for using various MPC samplers, with a range of synths, drum machines and acoustic instruments in his setup, Dilla became synonymous as much with the soulful Hip-Hop movement as the gritty rap underground and club scenes.

He was a driving force behind the Soulquarians group, who worked together to produce some of the most acclaimed soulful Hip-Hop projects of all time. He was a deep inspiration for artists like The Roots, 9th Wonder and Hi-Tek, and he worked closely with legendary artists like MadLib, Slum Village, The Pharcyde and even Busta Rhymes. The scope of Dilla’s influence in Hip-Hop is enormous.

The J Dilla Moog Programming

Dilla frequently programmed the Moog Synth in a special way to get his iconic bass sounds. It is generally known that he would use square and triangle wave oscillators; a typical starting point for his bass would be as follows:

  • OSC 1 – triangle at 32”
  • OSC 2 – square at 16”
  • OSC 3 – square at 16”

He would usually detune OSC 2 & 3 very slightly to get that signature off-key sound and get a little extra resonance. The other setting would be as follows:

  • FILTER cutoff approx. 95%
  • Emphasis (resonance) 0-10%
  • Attack: 0
  • Decay: 60%
  • Sustain: 35-40%
  • LOUDNESS attack: 0-10%
  • Decay: 60%
  • Sustain: 60%

(NOTE these percentages are based on where the dial is positioned, from left to right)

There is simplicity to the way Dilla programmed his Moog synths; there wasn’t a whole lot of science in terms of programming, he just knew what worked for him and applied his unique style of rhythm and melody to every track.

The Dilla Setup

It is generally accepted that Dilla’s keyboard of choice was the Mini Moog Voyager, as well as a MicroKORG that would sometimes come into play.

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In addition to using this gear for producing basslines, Dilla also used to compose chord patterns and melodies based around jazz chords like the minor 9. Incidentally, backing vocals on the more soulful of his songs would be based around those same chords, giving us that soulful gospel sound that was so prominent.

In the last year, Dilla’s own MPC 3000 and his Mini Moog Voyager have been donated to the Smithsonian as part of its Museum Of African American History.

Here’s a video showing how to make a beat on one of these bad boys.

This Moog was custom-built for him, by no less than the great Robert Moog himself; in fact, it was one of the last Moog synths that Robert Moog built for anyone!

The preceding video gives a stunning tour of J Dilla’s personal studio. The man himself is accompanied by his regular collaborators Frank-N-Dank, along with famous rapper-actor Common.

As the camera peers around the studio, we can see the aforementioned MPC 3000, MicroKORG and Mini Moog Voyager. We also get a glimpse of some Technic Turntables, ProControl, ProTools TDM software and a Motif-Rack ES. There is also a drum booth and vocal booth, completing a unique and professional setup where many of Dilla’s classics were spawned.

J Dilla was a groundbreaking, enterprising music producer who progressed Hip-Hop into the new millennium. He is arguably the most influential producer whose name never truly breached the mainstream, while his sound became something that permeated the Hip-Hop and RnB circuits to become industry standards that permanently changed the course of those genres. You could do a lot worse than drawing on his techniques as inspiration for your own music.  We’ll leave you with this..