So we all know the instantly recognisable arpeggiated chords from Dr. Dre’s iconic Hip Hop classic Still D.R.E — but what is the actual music theory that underpins this catchy slice of hip-hop history?
Initially these chords might seem kind of strange. The first is C-E-A, followed by B-E-A, and then B-E-G.
Each chord only changes a single note from the previous one, making for a delightfully simple, yet very effective little progression.
An easy way to figure out what is going on is to look at the bassline, which alternates between A (which accompanies the first chord), and E, (which accompanies the last two chords).
With the bassline defining the root notes of these chords, it becomes clear that these are actually inversions. C-E-A, our first chord, is the first inversion of A minor, which means that the root note, A, has been moved up the keyboard, above the other two notes.
The next two chords (B-E-A, and B-E-G), are the second inversions of Esus4 and Eminor respectively. The second inversion means that both the root note AND the third have been moved up the keyboard, leaving the fifth, B, as the lowest note in these chords.
It’s like a minor i-v chord progression, with a suspended chord thrown in there to add a little tension and release.
Still D.R.E.’s 3 basic chords have left an everlasting impact on hip hop. Yet this song is a great example of how using simple chord inversions can lead to really exciting chord voicings that still don’t need you to move your fingers a large amount.
Download Melodics for guided courses on practical applications of music theory like using chord inversions, and many, many more.
When he was growing up in Tours, France, French-English hip-hop/electronic beatmaker, producer and finger drummer extraordinaire Beat Matazz dreamed of, much like his heroes AIR, being surrounded by analog synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines. With time, as he fell in love with the music of Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Prefuse 73, James Blake, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Amon Tobin, caught their vibes, and began to build his own collection of customised studio gear and software. Electronic music production led him towards his current area of expertise: finger drumming.
Beat Matazz has been presenting his furiously funky finger drumming routines to live audiences since 2015, but earlier this year, he took things to a new level when he ousted all challengers to win the Sample Music Festival 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin with a ridiculous routine. Since then, he’s been building relationships with Herrmutt Lobby’s Playground App, Akai, and us here at Melodics. With an upcoming Melodics lesson based on his winning performance in the works, we spoke with him about finger drumming and his time at the competition. Check out his winning performance here (scroll to 2:33)
Could you talk a bit about your musical experiences before you started finger drumming? I started out at age six as a classical percussionist, xylophone, marimba, and timbales. When I was a teenager, my teacher agreed to teach me drums as I wasn’t to keen on classical music. These experiences gave me the rhythmic skills to drum in many bands for many genres. I played pop, hip-hop, electro-funk, experimental, world music and even in a marching band.
How did you end up adding finger drumming to your skill set?
In parallel with drumming, I started using music software like Reason and Ableton to make music for fun. After years of composing, I became frustrated and bought my first Akai MPC500 [sampling workstation] off Leboncoin (the French version of Craiglist). Hardware-based beatmaking made sense to me, and a gigantic world opened up. It allowed me to link the unlimited creative paths afforded by software to a tactile instrument. I remember sampling George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and thinking, “Oh my god this sounds like a perfect hip-hop instrumental!” At the time, I was attending an art school in Nantes. I was very focused on sound art and music. They kicked me out, which gave me the perfect opportunity to fully devote myself to music.
You discovered finger drumming by using the Akai MPC500. What was it about the process that inspired you to devote so much time to developing your skill-level?
I love the portability of pad controllers and the musical genres that rely on them. The research process you go through to create these very personal textures and sounds are very important to me. You can tune samples far more than you can tune a real snare drum. I can also put more of myself into the rhythms of the music by playing them. I love the trance state I enter when I’m in my home studio. Thanks to my previous drumming experience, and having created tracks with software, I already had the core skill sets. I just needed to combine them. I tweaked my finger positioning and started to work and play hard.
What sort of approach did you take when you started practicing your finger drumming?
I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. I’m very spontaneous when I create and have no habits. My approach is always the pursuit of pleasure, and feeling the desire to create. Since I started playing and making music, that hasn’t changed. My first sample mine was old vinyl I found in flea markets. Even the most shitty records sometimes have two chords that make my day. Fat basses are what I need to feel, so I got an old analog synth: the Korg MS-10 (plugged into the Korg SQ-10 sequencer). The people who designed that marvelous device where thirty years ahead of their time. It’s become a spine to my beats.
How did you transition into taking part in events like the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition?
After spending years developing my techniques, I knew I had to make the world know what I’ve worked for. Last year, I won a battle in Paris at the Bataclan, a legendary 90s hip-hop venue. Being acknowledged by the hip-hop network changed how I looked at myself and my music. It also made me be more specific in my thinking around who would be hearing my music. Battle audiences know exactly why they’re at the end. Battling is so raw; you find out what the crowd thinks of you instantaneously.
What were your thoughts on the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin?
The skill level was very high in Berlin. The team was so nice and devoted, and so were the participants. When I was there, I understood that I had found my place. Geeks were able to scratch and jam for hours, with or without spectators. It was a space where musicians were speaking a common language, all with the feel of a real community, and the codes and sounds that quote the subculture. It was real and vibrant, and it felt so good to be part of that experience. The experience was great. We need to gather together and feel those vibes more often.
Stay tuned for a new Melodics lesson from Beats Matazz. Find out more about him here on YouTube or Facebook.
Beat Breakthrough talks to different music producers about the beats that were significant in their development. On our first ever instalment we talk to Philly producer Oddkidout about some of the beats that have shaped his progression.
What is the oldest or one of the older beats that you can find? Tell us the story behind it.
Beat Name: Untitled
This is the first beat I’ve ever made. My parents bought me Logic 9 for my 15th birthday, so this beat is about 6 years old. I was so excited, I opened up the program without reading any manuals and literally just started creating. As I was moving things around and programming sounds haphazardly, I was starting to get a feel for the program. I had so much music stored in my head for so many years that when I sat down in the program, it all began to just pour out. I ran downstairs after I made the beat and played it for my parents, who were shocked that I even could figure out the program and create something musical within an hour.
I didn’t sample anything for this beat, but I created it with mainly apple loops (which are royalty free samples that come with Logic). So I hadn’t comprehended Midi yet, but was just starting to drag files onto the grid and learn how to layer and chop. At the time, I was listening to a lot of 90’s hip-hop and jazz, so naturally I was choosing boom bap drums and a vibraphone for the melody. I still think it’s a cool beat. I mean I would never, ever send it to anyone or put it anywhere because it is completely amateur. But, it’s special to me because it’s my first. And I’m proud that my first beat still makes my head nod 6 years later.
Name a beat you have made that represents a turning point in your production career? What made this beat so significant?
Beat name: Amore (feat. GoGo Morrow and Bonic)
I’ve had so many turning points in my production career so far. I love all types of music, so whenever I create a song in a genre that I usually don’t do, it spawns off a whole new direction of creation for me. I literally had a turning point beat two days ago, it’s the best feeling ever because it represents growth. But, I think one of my favorite turning points was when I created my song “Amore (feat. GoGo Morrow and Bonic) on my EP, WITHIN. It was so significant to me because it was the first time that I had created a full song, from start to finish, with vocals on it. And to have GoGo and Bonic be the featured artists was such an amazing look. I was used to creating beats and then dishing them off to other people to use. In this scenario with Amore, I had control over the direction of the song, and was able to bring vocalists in and add them to what I was doing. It also inspired me to be more than a bedroom producer. It showed me that there’s more to just making beats, and that the true art is conjuring up a full package of instrumentation and vocalization. It’s inspired me since then to work in that mindset.
Want to learn how to play ‘Amore’ yourself? Download Melodics and get started today with a suite of lessons designed by Oddkidout himself.
We have a laid-back jazz infused hip hop lesson called ‘Vib’ now available on Melodics. The samples for Vib come from the Smokers Unite sample pack on the Loopmasters website and can be downloaded for your own productions.
To mark this release the team has decided to do something a little different and have made a list of some of our favourite laid-back hip hop tracks.
1) MF Doom – Saffron Original Sample:Sade – Kiss Of Life
Starting off the list is the one and only MF Doom. The masked emcee has rapped over many amazing productions in his career. The track ‘Saffron’ contains a Sade sample and some Special Herbs for Metal Fingers himself.
2) Pete Rock & CL Smooth – They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y) Original Sample:Tom Scott – Today (Featuring The California Dreamers)
The legendary combination of Pete Rock and CL Smooth released two albums and an EP in the heart of Hip Hop’s golden era. The sampled horn for ‘T.R.OY’ is arguably its most iconic element.
3) Souls Of Mischief – 93 til Infinity Original Sample:Billy Cobham – Heather
‘Yeah, this is how we chill from 93 ’til’.. The lyrics to the hook say it all. The original sample is sped up significantly, most likely on a SP-1200. This was common on jazz samples at the time because the SP-1200 did not have much sample time.
4) Nas – Still Dreaming (Featuring Kanye West & Chrisette Michele) Original Sample:Diana Ross – The Interim
One of my favourite tracks from Nas’ Hip Hop Is Dead album. The verse and hook from Kanye West sit beautifully with Chrisette Michele’s vocals. Oh and how can we forget that Diana Ross sample capping off a truly beautiful track.
6) The Herbaliser – A Mother For Your Mind Original Sample:Roy Budd – The Car Chase
A hip hop duo out of South London. They are renown for there jazz influenced productions. Other notable career accomplishments include making the soundtrack for the movie ‘Snatch’.
7) Nightmares on Wax – Les Nuits Original Sample Of The Bass Line:Quincy Jones – Summer In The City
Sampling one of the most heavily sampled tracks of all time Leeds producer Nightmares On Wax put together this song back in 1999. As the video suggests this song is perfect for going on long scooter rides and singing in a laundromat.
Flying Lotus is no stranger to the experimental. His adventurous productions have made him a household name amongst beat makers around the world. Tea Leaf Dancers utilises a Free Design sample and has sultry vocals from British songtress Andreya Triana.
10) Apollo Brown – Blue Ruby Original Sample: Unknown
Our final beat is a pure instrumental from Detroit based Apollo Brown. Apollo was fired from his office job in 2009 and gave himself one year to make it as a producer. Three months later after the release of his first LP ‘Clouds’ he was signed to Mello Music Group.
So what do you think of our list? Is there something that we missed? If so let us know in the comments.
Next week we have some more lessons from our growing team of Melodics Artists. You will have to wait and see who it is. But I can promise that it will be ‘Massive’!