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.
Tony Dofat is a world-renowned, Grammy-nominated producer, global DJ, audio engineer, music professor and author of four books about the business of music. He was one of the original hitmen, from the legendary squad of producers inside Bad Boy Records, working alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs and artists like Mary J. Blige.
Also known as the godfather of the remix, Tony is best known for his work on Mary’s “You Remind Me” and the insanely popular rework of that track. He was also nominated for a Grammy for his work with his longtime friend and collaborator Heavy D, on his reggae album, Vibes. He’s also worked with a range of artists including Will Smith, Tina Turner and the Notorious BIG. We caught up with Tony to learn the art of the game and the difference between making music back-in-the-day and now.
This is an edited version of the interview, for the full interview, listen to our podcast below.
Melodics Magazine: So how do you compare your background of learning to read and write music with today’s producers who are just laying everything down on computers?
Tony Dofat: Reading and writing music is definitely helpful because it helps you understand and speak the language and speak to fellow musicians or someone else who’s musically inclined. It’s great to have the terminology and understand how to count measures and what an E or A scale is.
Now I’m teaching students the essentials and why it’s important to learn and understand theory. You don’t have to become an educator or have a Master’s in music to make records, but you have to learn the fundamentals.
MM: If I walked into your classroom today what would be one of the first things I’d learn?
TD: Before you start making songs you have to understand what genre you’re working in, so I teach music genre and what makes genres different. Like the differences in why this is called funk and why this is called disco and why this is jazz. This knowledge will help you determine the type of artist you want to be.
Then I explain how one genre led to another—how funk birthed hip-hop and then how that turned into the remix. Then we talk about the timing of each genre.
Some students think theory is boring, but I try to keep it interesting and choose songs that are relevant—that everyone is listening to—and I point out different beats and rhythms of structure. I teach them the difference between a beat and a rhythm. A lot of people don’t know the difference. These are the essential things that a producer really needs to understand and that will help your career drastically.
MM:At the time you came up, early hip-hop music production used live studio bands, right?
TD: From my era, growing up, everything was live. Everything was acoustic. There were no drum machines. There were no computers. We didn’t even have internet. So it was all acoustic and analog music— the most they had was maybe a four-track and an eight-track and you would have to get the performance just right.
So, there were a lot of mistakes but those mistakes are what make the songs what they are and what made people like the songs. That’s one of the things that I really love about older music—you had one shot to get it right. That’s the same method I applied to my records when I first started. When you listen to all of Mary’s early records there were mistakes in every song and even vocally and we just let it go out and people loved it.
MM:What kind of tools did you use back then?
TD: Just one keyboard and one drum machine. The Korg M1 was a standard, the Triton, the Roland D 550 or the D 50 and the Akai MPC 60 or the MPC62. And then there’s an MPC3000, or the MPC2000 or MPC2000XL and the E-MU SP1200. I’ve owned all of those machines, but right now I just own two MPC2000XLs. I don’t use them, but If a client asks for that particular sound, I still have my sound cards built on those ready to go.
MM:What’s the importance of samples in hip-hop production?
TD: A lot of people used to get on us about sampling, but hip-hop is based on sampling. Hip-hop is based on the DJ playing someone else’s records. If we didn’t play it then it would just be funk. We make it hip hop because we take the best parts of the song—the break—to make people act the fool. We take that and we loop it.
MM:What are you looking for in a sample when you remix a song like Mary J. Blige’s, “You Remind Me?”
TD: Great musicians who made funk only had a little break that was maybe a minute-and-a-half. With the creativity of hip-hop, we turned that one little break into another full song. Our little secret back in the 90s for finding the right songs was to look at people’s reactions when you play music. If they’re not acting crazy then you’re not doing a good job.
It’s all based on two-and-four bar loops and just keep looping it back. Once you have that skeleton it’s gonna be hot and everyone will love it. If you just keep adding elements that don’t fit, you’re gonna mess it up and end up overproducing. That’s why the biggest hit records are the ones that are simple and contain the least amount of instrumentation.
MM:Has your sound changed over the years?
TD: My ear is the same. I can use today’s technology, but I won’t let it hurt my sound. It’s hard for people starting out today because they have no knowledge of the past. They haven’t developed a sound yet-they have a sound that’s given to them. In my era, we had to make our sound. In my masterclasses, I teach students how to develop their own sound kits and not rely on downloaded sound kits.
As a producer, your sound is your identity. If you have the same sound kit as everyone in the room then you’re not differentiating yourself. I sculpted my own sounds. Yeah, I sampled but that process is different. A lot of new producers are talented, but they can reach higher if they just stop being lazy.
MM:Overall, how has production changed over the years, like triplets are big now?
TD: I think music has been the same for the past 10 years. The only thing that changed are songs and artists. I think if a producer today played a track from 10 years ago it would still sell. The tracks are pretty similar and the sound has been recycled from 10 years ago. Possibly the only things that change are a pattern, but the triplet high hats have been going on for six or seven years.
We didn’t really use a lot of 808s or low frequencies like 50 or 60 Hz, but today a lot more of that is being used. They use a different layering, but it’s still pretty much the same style.
MM:You’re also a sound engineer. Is that an important skill for a producer to learn?
TD: It’s very beneficial for a producer to learn frequencies, learn dynamic processing, and learn everything about the tonality of a sound because it’ll make your job a lot easier when you’re sculpting and creating sounds. I learned just from working with some of the greatest engineers, but they couldn’t give me the sound that I was still looking for.
I was looking for a specific sound, so I had to learn software from all of the consoles and I had to learn every button on the console to operate it myself.
MM:I want you to solve a debate for us—MPC vs. MIDI keyboard with drum pads.
TD: There are some differences because with MIDI there is a delay, it’s minimal but there is latency. The feel of the pad is also different and having everything self-contained in the MPC is a lot easier. You can just click on a pad and develop a tune in just a matter of seconds and you don’t have to learn all of these VST plugins. You can edit it, and truncate the beginning and the decay at the end. You can do all of that instantly and add filters and just program your beat right in the machine as opposed to using your controller and your software.
Essentially it does the same thing and software like Ableton does make it easier because you can automatically cut your loops and sounds. But would you rather rely on a computer to do it or would you want to do it by ear? That’s the difference because every producer has their own style of truncating sounds.
K.Flay (née Khristine Meredith Flaherty) is a singer, songwriter, rapper, multi-instrumentalist, and producer who got her start making music in her dorm room at Stanford University. Fed up with the misogyny in rap, she grabbed a mic, laid down some tracks on her computer and dropped the (now extremely hard to get your hands on) mixtape Suburban Rap Queen. Four mixtapes, two EPS, two full-length albums, and two Grammy noms later, she’s back with her third full-length release, Solutions, fusing pop, rock, hip-hop and electronic sounds.
“I’ve mostly created in my parents’ basement,” says the 33-year-old K.Flay about her preference of making music in unpretentious environments, like the modest subterranean floor of her parents’ Brooklyn and then Bay Area homes—also her obvious comfort zone. “It’s definitely not a professional environment in any way, (but), I wrote, recorded and produced everything down there.”
It’s no coincidence that, when working on her latest effort, Solutions, released by Night Street/Interscope Records on July 12, K.Flay made sure her recording spaces, albeit not her beloved basement, were appropriately comfy. She recorded part of it in Nashville, at a studio a friend built on his countryside property and the rest in Los Angeles, at producer Tommy English’s back house/studio.
“These studios are embedded in home environments, where there is a lack of pretentiousness,” says the Illinois native. “Everyone is different and everyone wants different things out of their creative environment. For me, what I aim to do is figure out how I can approximate the safety of my parents’ basement but add the creativeness and expertise of talented producers.”
From the sounds of Solutions, and the accolades it has received from music critics, it appears K.Flay’s modus operandi has worked. She “starts her third studio CD with the wonderfully autobiographical statement song “I Like Myself (Most of the Time)” and ends with a wistful tune about her father, “DNA,” wrote the Chicago Tribune. “In between, we get to celebrate all the gloriously different sides of an artist who resists getting boxed up in one genre,” writes The Guardian. The first single off her latest release, “Bad Vibes,” backed by a pop-rock, hip-hop sound, is a song about learning to let go of the negative things in your life.
Melodics Magazine caught up with K. Flay, right before she headed off on her “The Solutions Tour,” to learn about her journey to making her newest album. We dug into her artistic process, how necessity drove her to make her own beats and why she values collaboration. She also talks about what fans can expect from her soon-to-be-released microcast.
Melodics Magazine:You kind of stumbled upon music. For our readers that don’t know, how did you begin your career?
K. Flay: Initially, it was sort of, goofing off. By the time I got to college, I was listening to stuff like the Beach Boys, the Talking Heads, the Beatles, that kind of stuff. And then, whatever was on the radio. But, I hadn’t consumed independent music, and then I was confronted with all of that. I was like, this is f**** up. I’m 18, 19-years-old, and I think I know everything. I got into an argument with someone at my dorm and was like, “Why is this on the radio? I could write something like this.” And his response was: you’ve never even written a song.
MM: How’d that first songwriting session turn out?
KF: I’ve always enjoyed crossword puzzles. Songwriting, in many ways, is kind of like word puzzles–there was something about that process that clicked with me right away.
MM: At what point did you become emotionally invested in music?
KF: I think it was my junior year of college. The agenda started to become, “Oh, this isn’t just a song, there is an element of self-discovery that I am getting in touch with.” And, that felt very exciting for me.
MM: You are a singer and a songwriter, but you are also a producer. How did you learn to make beats?
KF: At the beginning, I was self-contained. I produced, made my beats, sang, all out of necessity. I didn’t know people who could do it for me and, necessity is always a great instigator. All of my production stuff was self-taught, from watching YouTube tutorials and then meeting people on campus, where there was a very small recording studio for the engineering program there.
A good friend in college was in that program and he was the first person to show me Pro Tools. I learned what I know through trial and error. Sometimes, I watch sessions by trained engineers and they absolutely shred it. I’m not quite as good, but, I have a pretty good system.
MM: Three albums later, has your process for creating music changed at all?
KF: For me, the shift was really in the last two records, and it was finding producers that I could really become creative partners with. When I was producing my own stuff… there were elements of that process that I enjoyed. But it wasn’t the primary thing I enjoyed about making music.
MM: How does the collaborative process usually work for you?
KF: In the last record, every song was recorded in an apartment or a house. I think there is something to that. Everyone is different, everyone wants different things out of their creative environment. For me, what I aim to do is figure out how I can approximate the safety of my parents’ basement but add the creativeness and expertise of talented producers. I was initially hesitant to collaborate in a certain way. My thought was, I do my own stuff, I am a one-woman entity. But, I think, collaboration is incredibly powerful and, good things can happen.
MM: Would you collaborate behind-the-scenes with other artists?
KF: I’m starting to see in my creative life, that I can do more writing with other artists on their records. I’m starting to understand my role, not just as an artist, but how I can be part of the support staff. And, I love it, honestly. I’ve been enjoying it so much. When it’s done, and when you do it well, it is really just about making space for somebody to be unabashedly honest and creative.
MM: There aren’t many female producers, especially not in hip-hop. Do you consider yourself a role model?
KF: What’s interesting is I haven’t worked with many female producers. I do understand there is an element of my experience and what I do that, for young women, especially young women starting in music, that can be slightly role-model-ish. I do see the importance in that as far as looking out into the world and looking for representation.
MM: How did you find your sound for Solutions?
KF: The initial inspiration point was LCD Soundsystem’s record This is Happening. It felt like very excellent lyricism along with those kind of drum machine sounds. That felt compelling to me. I certainly do not think Solutions is anything like that record. But spiritually, that was the first thing – the first song on the record, the synthesizer, that was an LCD-inspired synth. And, there is more synthesizer presence on this album.
MM: What else inspired you on this album?
KF: The other kind of inspiration was tempo in a lot of ways. Most of the songs have a fluid tempo to them. There is one ballad on the record, but I wanted the songs to feel like uptempo, I guess. On the last record, there were lots of moments of intentional darkness. That is not the place I am at and not what I wanted to put out into the world right now. [Editor’s Note: K. Flay dates musician Miya Folick and has been open about being in a dark place before their relationship.]
MM: Let’s break down two of your tracks on Solutions—”Sister” and “This Baby Don’t Cry.” On “Sister” you worked with Joel Little, who worked with Taylor Swift and Lorde and on “This Baby Don’t Cry,” you worked with Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons and Tommy English, who worked with you on your last Grammy-nominated album. When you made those songs, were you guys working all in digital or was it analog?
KF: On “Sister,” the guitar is analog, and some of the synthesizers are as well—we used a live prophet on that track.
On “This Baby Don’t Cry,” I’m pretty sure the whole song is analog instruments. I played bass, Tommy played guitar, the claps and the drums are live samples. Honestly, at first, I found the rhythm of the clapping pattern to be slightly brain-melting. It took me like a full five minutes to get it fully implanted in my brain
MM: What’s your preference—drum pads or real drums?
KF: On “Sister,” the drums were programmed. On “This Baby Don’t Cry,” we used live drum samples and Tommy and I sampled the hand-clapping for that song as well.
MM: What were Dan Reynolds’ contributions to “This Baby Don’t Cry?”
KF: Dan had the initial idea to make it a punky, riff-driven song. I was almost at the end of the album writing process, and that felt like a spirit and a vibe I was missing. He played that riff on bass and right away I started writing lyrics.
MM: Overall the track has a very 80s feel to it, what was the inspiration behind that?
KF: The inspiration for the track was really just to keep it as basic but as impactful as possible. How do we use the fewest number of instruments but still make the song feel huge? We went through a few different versions of the song—all of which contained more sonic and melodic elements than the version you hear today. But we ended up feeling like the best version was the simplest. That felt like the brave move. To strip layers away.
MM: Just as your tour approaches, you launched your own microcast, “What Am I Doing Here,” which is a shorter form podcast. Tell us more.
There are millions of Alexa and Google Homes in the world right now, and no one is creating content for that medium. For me, what’s exciting about making anything is when there are no rules. This is a similar situation. I love produced content like podcasts and radio. This is kind of the new frontier in that world because no one has really explored it. What I want to do and the premise of the show is, I’m often not home, so, how can I bring that experience of where I am and what I am doing here into someone’s home space? That is really exciting for me and really the inspiration for it.
some cool news. I HAVE A MICROCAST!!!
(it’s like a podcast, but shorter) and every week i’ll be answering the geographical & philosophical question
If you’ve ever bobbed your head or wiggled your hips to the remix of Post Malone’s “Rockstar featuring Ozuna or Farruko’s “Krippy Krush (Remix)” featuring Nicki Minaj, 21 Savage and Travis Scott, then you, my dear friend, have been hit by Trapeton (aka Latin Trap aka Trap en Español) fever. This latest international pop music craze—blending elements of Reggaeton, hip-hop and even its kissing cousin, Afrobeat—is blowing up all over streaming, especially YouTube and Spotify.
At its core, Latin Trap, as it’s most widely known in English-speaking countries, is what happens when you fuse Reggaetón with Trap music. On one side of the equation you have Reggaetón, a blend of Caribbean dancehall, Latin rhythms and hip-hop, while on the other end you have Trap music, a form of hip-hop that originated in the American Southern states as a sound that combines brass, triangle, loud kicks, snappy snares, low-end 808 bass samples, and most notably—aggressive triplet hi-hats. With the two genres combined and paired with a bravado-fueled artist singing and/or rapping in Spanish over the sparse beat, you have an infectious melody.
The artist most closely linked with Latin Trap’s blazing success is Puerto-Rican born Bad Bunny, who has a rhythmic cadence and low, slow slurring vocals that put him in a class with the Migos and Future from Atlanta. Hailed as the King of Latin Trap, he’s steadily been one of Youtube’s Top 10 Most Viewed artists and has done major collabs with chart-topping pop acts like Cardi B, Drake, Will Smith, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. His artistry has a dual nature, where he’s boasting on one track and then goes all emo on the next, he’s also as comfortable flowing over a trap beat as he is traditional Reggaeton. Considering Latin Trap has its roots in Reggaeton, his ability to ride both rhythms makes perfect sense.
What is Reggaetón?
Latin Trap is often viewed as the resurgence of Reggaetón, though the two styles are somewhat distinct. Today’s Reggaeton sounds like DJ Snake’s banger “Taki Taki” featuring Cardi B, Ozuna and Selena Gomez, as well as Justin Bieber on “Despacito” with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, or J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente,” featuring Beyonce—a little bit pop and a little bit Moombahton, a mix of house music and reggaeton, and a little bit dembow. Dembow is a riddim built from dancehall artist Shabba Rank’s 1990 hit song, “Dem Bow,” produced by reggae and dancehall producer, Bobby Digital, who earned his name for being one of the first in his genre to experiment with digital rhythms. A riddim is Jamaican for the rhythm that accompanies a track and is stripped of its original vocals so that it can be used by other artists.
The dembow riddim, with its pulsating drum machine sounds, became the backbone of the Reggaeton sound. Reggaeton is said to have formulated in the early 90s in San Juan, Puerto Rico when DJ Playero put out mixtapes featuring Spanish freestyle raps over hip-hop and reggae fusions. At the time, Reggaeton was mainly underground because its themes were too aggressive or vulgar for radio play. There was also the musical collective, The Noise, consisting of a band of rappers, DJs and producers, including DJ Nelson, DJ Negro and Ivy Queen who were doing their part to bring Reggaeton out of the streets of San Juan and onto the mainstage.
But the most widely known Reggaeton artist, who is also known as the King of Reggaeton today is Daddy Yankee, who got his start on one of DJ Playero’s mixtapes that were recorded in a small studio back in 1991. Daddy Yankee would later go on to craft an explosive international Reggaeton hit in 2004 called “Gasolina,” featuring a catchy chorus and the dembow banging beat, that was said to definitively put the genre on the international music map.
In the 90s, there was another branch of Reggaeton emerging from Panama, led by El General, whose 1988 release of “Estas Buena,” a Spanish-language cover of Shabba Rank’s “Dem Bow,” sounded just like it came out of the Jamaican dancehall. El General found success with another track, “Tu Pun Pun,” that received American airplay, riding on the wave of the dancehall popularity of the time. He also experienced some cross-over love when he was featured on a pop music hit with C&C Music Factory. Some music critics call El General the father of Reggaeton, but others argue that his music was more Reggae en Español, because it was just Spanish-language Reggae, while Reggaetón has more of a kinship with hip-hop. This is one of the main reasons that Latin Trap is said to have its roots in Reggaetón music, especially since many Latin Trap artists ride the fence of both genres—hip-hop and reggae.
The early-to-mid aughts also gave birth to a Reggaeton movement within New York City, with rapper Noreaga’s release of “Oye Mi Canto,” in 2004 featuring reggaeton artists Gem Star, Daddy Yankee and Big Mato, as well as New-York based sister-twin duo Nina Sky. Nore and Nina Sky, with their Puerto Rican roots, fused the music of their native land with the hip-hop they grew up within NYC.
What is Trap?
Trap music originated in Atlanta in the early aughts. With this musical style, it’s like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Some wonder whether the genre rose from its lyrical content or from its musical style—rapid-fire hi-hats and pared-down drum patterns programmed on the Roland 808, with pitchy resampled funk or hip-hop samples. Rapper T.I. claims to have coined the term when he released his seminal hip-hop album Trap Muzik, with trap being a reference for a place where drugs are sold and the content of the album centering around that lifestyle.
Other music critics suggest that trap music is really all about the sound, which can be credited to producer Lex Luger, who started out making beats on Fruity Loops featuring hard-hitting 808 kicks, spooky synthesizers and crisp snare drums creating a boombastic orchestral blast. His sound cemented its place in hip-hop with Atlanta-based rapper Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in da Paint,” single off the album of the same name released in 2010. Around the same time, producer Shawty Redd was also in Atlanta creating dope-boy music with Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, also signaling the birth of trap, as these productions featured a multilayered, drum-laden style while the rappers’ lyrical content focused on life in the drug game.
Today’s Trap music has elevated itself to pop music status, with artists like Migos, Future and 2 Chainz crossing over into the mainstream, yet continuing the tradition of trap music from both a content and musical perspective.
What is Latin Trap (Trapeton)?
The worlds in which Latin Trap and American Trap converge is most notably when artists collab, but it’s also in the way the Roland 808 drum patterns sound, along with how the vocals flow in triplets, where you have three notes—either in a word or phrase—cascading over one beat. The triplet flow is also known as the Migos flow, the Versace flow, and the infamous mumble rap. But where mumble rappers and Trapeton artists diverge is where songs are sung either in all Spanish or bilingual style and the rhythm contains Latin flavor and elements of the dembow riddim most closely tied back to Reggaeton.
Latin Trap came about as the convergence of Spanish-language remixes of trap club bangers and Reggaeton artists gravitating toward a more hip-hop influenced sound. Besides Bad Bunny, artists like Ozuna, Farruko, Messiah and De La Ghetto are leading Latin Trap’s assault on the mainstream.
In this track “La Ocasión,” featuring Latin Trap and Reggaeton all-stars De La Ghetto, Arcangel, Ozuna, Anuel Aa, Dj Luian, Mambo Kingz, you can hear the influence of Trap—the staccato triplet rhyme flow, the punchy vocal ad-libs, the lo-fi bass, the crazy skittering hihats and the snappy snares—in an ominous orchestration.
Usually, a wave of music lasts about a good decade. Latin Trap is now just a little bit over 10, but hip-hop has lived long past 30. If the current focus on Latin-inspired music on the global stage is any indication of the genre’s long-lasting success, then Latin Trap just may go on to live as long as its hip-hop brother.
To celebrate DJ Scratch’s 30-plus years in the rap game, Melodics Magazine culled through his massive discography and picked out 20 of his best samples and beats.
Throughout the 1990s, hip-hop developed a plethora of pioneering DJs who eventually stepped behind the turntables and became legendary producers. DJs like Pete Rock, Premier, Marley Marl, Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri and the late Jam Master Jay are just some of the distinguished names who went from world-class DJs to influential producers without sacrificing one art form for another. In fact, both art forms are closely connected. In many creative situations, elements of DJing can be used for music production, too.
Nobody personifies this better than DJ Scratch, born George Spivey, a legendary DJ and a whiz kid on the turntables. The three-time Grammy nominees acrobatic skills on the 1’s and 2’s led him to win several DJ championship titles. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is the 2010 Master of the Mix winner and was a three-time “Turntablist of the Year” honoree at the Global Spin Awards. And he’s a New Music Seminar Battle for World Supremacy DJ champion.
Scratch, who was a protege of the late Jam Master Jay, would eventually lend his turntable skills to EPMD and become their official DJ. After his stint with the iconic rap duo, Scratch would become one of the central figures of the 1990s East Coast hip-hop production era. He crafted stellar beats for Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, PMD, Das Efx, among many others.
Scratch is a master at sampling and taking unconventional sounds or vocals from rare vinyl LPs and turning them into musical gold.
“I always approach producing like how I approached DJing. I didn’t want to do what was popular…I always wanted to create something [different on the turntables],” he said in 2017. “If you really take a look at my discography, I didn’t sample stuff that everybody was sampling. In the ’80s, early ’90s, everybody sampled James Brown — everybody. And I was like, ‘we need to do something different.'”
Check out DJ Scratch’s 20 Best Samples and Beats below.
Original Sample: Ohio Players – “Funky Worm”
Using one of West Coast hip-hop’s foundational samples, “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players, DJ Scratch adds the twinkling Moog synthesizer to the slow-pounding beat. Along with the vocal samples from Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” and Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” the song has a G-Funk feel but is still dripping with East Coast flavor.
Scratch went into his collection of 45s and pulled out this 1975 gem from soul singer Greg Perry. He used the entire song to craft DMX’s solemn song from his 2003 album, Grand Champ. From the flute and piano riffs to Perry’s monologue, to the funky bop, Scratch flipped something old to new again with his unique sampling skills.
Scratch grabbed the crackling snare from Iron Butterfly’s 1968 song “Get Out of My Life, Woman” but the haunting violin groove on the song is from Lalo Schifrin’s 1967 Mission Impossible score, which brilliantly sets the mood for Wu-Tang Clan’s menacing rhymes.
Scratch used the monstrous drum and snare pattern featured at the beginning of Power of Zeus’ 1970 song “The Sorcerer of Isis (The Ritual of the Mole).” It’s a classic breakbeat that’s been used by many legendary DJs, including Pete Rock.
16. Busta Rhymes – “We Could Take It Outside“
Original Sample: Henry Mancini – “The Windmills of Your Mind”
DJ Scratch and Busta Rhymes have created a plethora of classic bangers together. This is one of many featured on this list. In addition to cutting up Run-DMC’s vocals from “Beats to the Rhymes,” Scratch looped Mancini’s tranquil piano to set the mood.
15. Beanie Sigel – “Purple Rain” (Feat. Bun B)
Original Sample: The Dramatics – “In the Rain”
The piano riff and guitar lick from the Dramatics classic soul ballad are placed perfectly on Beanie Sigel’s solemn ode about lean addiction.
DJ Scratch is very precise when it comes to sampling. In this instance, he sampled the dramatic horns from “Boys With Toys,” which effectively gives the song a sense of urgency for the listener to pay attention to Kweli’s impactful lyrics.
13. Will Smith – “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (DJ Scratch Remix)
Original Sample: Stephanie Mills – “Put Your Body in It”
While Scratch is mostly known as a producer, he’s also a great remixer as well. Will Smith’s 1997 song was already a club hit, but Scratch flipped it and turned it into an ‘80s skating rink jam. By slowing down the funky instrumental on Mills’ 1979 song, he turned Will’s track into an ‘80s version of “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll.”
When it comes to sampling, Scratch is not afraid to use music from rare recordings. For this Flipmode banger, he used the synths stabs from Tangerine Dream’s 1977 song. It’s a small sample but effective.
10. 50 Cent – “I’m a Hustler“
Original Sample: Barry White – “Mellow Mood (Pt. 1)”
Once again, when Scratch uses a sample it’s for a purpose. Much like the title of Barry White’s song, the orchestral sample sets the mood for Fif’s urgent lyrics of getting rich or die trying.
9. LL Cool J – “Ill Bomb”
Original Sample: David Porter – “I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over”
David Porter’s tickling piano groove was most famously sampled on The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic 1994 song “Who Shot Ya.” But Scratch went a different route with Porter’s soulful tune. The ingenious producer took a snippet of the horn riff (heard midway in the song) and Porter’s vocals to create a definitive East Coast banger for Uncle L.
Scratch sampled some classic ‘80s songs for Busta Rhymes’ head-nodding track. He took the computer blips and funky groove from Spicer’s 1982 jam to lay the foundation. And if you listen closely, there are interpolations of Malcolm McLaren’s 1982 songs “Buffalo Gals” and “Zulu’s on a Time Bomb” in there as well. This is a complete ‘80s to ‘90s party jam.
During his stint with EPMD, DJ Scratch produced some great songs for the iconic rap duo. This is one of them. There are a plethora of samples on here. He sampled King’s guitar riffs, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and Chuck D vocals from “Timebomb,” among others. Scratch also cut up Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up” as well.
5. Sadat X – “Maybe It’s Me” (Featuring Dres)
Original Sample: Unknown
There’s no sample on here, but the beat is fantastic. Scratch most likely used an AKAI MPC2000XL to sequence a piano groove that sounds as if he sampled an old piano riff from a vintage jazz album. It’s quite impressive.
Scratch sampled the tranquil guitars and soulful hahs and woos from the New Birth song, while Swizzy and Nas Escobar deliver their introspective New York street stories.
3. Busta Rhymes – “Gimme Me Some More”
Original Sample: Bernard Herrmann – “Psycho Theme”
Here’s another classic from Scratch and Bussa-Buss. The creative producer looped a snippet of Herrmann’s orchestral violins, which pierces through the chaotic production. And like the title of Herrmann’s song, Busta goes lyrically psycho on the track.
This is, arguably, one of DJ Scratch’s greatest beats in his discography. The catchy piano riff heard throughout is from Soho’s classic b-boy jam “Hot Music (Jazz Mix),” which is a sample from Wynton Marsalis’ 1986 song “Skain’s Domain.”
1. Busta Rhymes – “New York Shit”
Original Sample: The S.S.O. Orchestra – “Faded Lady”
S.S.O. Orchestra’s 1976 soul tune “Faded Lady” has been sampled multiple times in hip-hop – most notably by Diamond D on his 1992 song “I Went for Mine – and Scratch looped the breakbeat brilliantly for Bussa-Buss’ New York anthem “New York Shit.”
Starting out as a DJ back in 1993, Buddy Peace has naturally progressed into the realms of beat making and production. Known for his attention to detail and his ‘collage like’ offerings, Buddy continues to push musical boundaries. This week were able to ask Buddy a few questions about some tracks that have inspired him through out the years, and also delve into his creative process when it comes to production and DJing.
On your Youtube Channel you have a series of Finger Drumming videos called the ‘Bag Lunch’ Sessions. Each episode sees you finger drumming in a different location including a schoolyard, train and even a rooftop. Can you give a bit of insight into what inspired this series and the eclectic locations?
I really wanted to make some battery powered pad-tapping performances where I wasn’t bound by plugs and mains outlets, just me outside with a battery powered sampler and a recorder. They weren’t all rigidly rehearsed, mostly I just familiarised myself fully with my pad arrangement and got a rough idea ready, and then just powered through. They were made around some of the coldest times of year too and the will of myself and that of the cameraman didn’t hold out to laborious sessions, so I made them as quick as I could. I just wanted to have something interesting in each session, just different and pleasant or somewhere I passed by a lot in London. The train one was fun, and the rooftop one was cool because of the time of day. You can get some lush sunsets round London sometimes.
You stated in a previous interview “Some ideas I have start rattling in my brain and I can’t work on anything else until they’re finished, I get proper tunnel vision on things like that.” Are you able to explain this and how it relates to your creative process?
It’s a process that still retains control over me to this very day… Sometimes I have ideas that grab me by the collar and won’t let me go, and I’m basically a slave to them until I’ve seen them through – not all the time, but usually with the bigger ones that’s how it goes down! I’m a little better these days with time division though actually. I had to spread my efforts around a bit more efficiently to get certain things done, but yeah I do get that locked on tunnel vision thing happening a lot!
You have also been asked if you could have a scotch with any musician dead or alive it would be Jason Molina? What about his music or as a person inspired you? Do you have any songs from him that you would recommend to people who have not listened to his music before?
Ahh… That’s a musician choice which, in retrospect, I wish I had made differently. I said that before he died, and as far as I’m aware his death was very much connected to alcohol. That was devastating, I guess you can only know so much about certain artists but I definitely didn’t know that his private life travelled that path. I was lucky enough to see him play solo before he passed, and it was pure magic. I knew his music so well before then, but what hit me was the way that literally on the first second of him singing his first note, the entire venue – which at that point in the show was full on noisy and chatty – completely fell silent. His voice quite literally shut the whole place up with such quickness and it gave me chills. He and one of his bands (‘Magnolia Electric Co’) made one of my favourite songs ever, which is called ‘Farewell Transmission’. Again, something that just hits you from the very first chord as soon as the track starts. I’m getting goosebumps thinking of it, I have to play it now! So yeah – check that and the whole album, as well as the album ‘Didn’t It Rain’ (by his band ‘Songs:Ohia’), and his solo ‘Pyramid Electric Co’. All gorgeous, all haunting as all hell, and just wonderful bittersweet, soulful, end of the day perfection.
We all have songs that shape us musically as we move through life. Are you able to give some insight into the relevance of these two songs and this album for you personally?
Yeah that’s my trio of childhood right there! Wow. Basically my first 5 years distilled into three track titles. ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ triggers a very exact memory in me as a toddler, sitting playing with cars sitting by the radio. I’m right there as soon as I even think of it, it’s like memory synaesthesia or something. ‘The Show’ was one of the first rap records I full on fell in love with. My brother bought it and we rocked that 45 for all it was worth. As for Dire Straits, that was a firm fixture in the car stereo on many road trips for me as a kid. As far as Adult Orientated Rock music goes, I’m sure that still has power in it to melt me into tearful mess as a full grown man. Ah I can’t front, I still like them!
You’ve worked with many great emcees in your career so far from Sage Francis, Buck 65 to B.Dolan. What for you is the most inspiring thing about collaborating with others when creating music?
It can cut through a lot of the voices you have in your own head when you make stuff solo, which is a good thing indeed. I don’t mean necessarily negative voices either – just those judgmental ones and some that want you stay on that familiar road. When you work with someone else, especially in the same room, you have so many intangible benefits and conscious/subconscious cues happening that all add to the end result (I mean, if you get on, of course!). I think I’ll always enjoy the process of working by myself first if I’m truly honest, but I love the differences and the enjoyment of working with others – it really is a refreshing process and gets you out of your own head.
You have previously said that it all started with DJing for you. Tell us about who ‘DJ Chronic’ is and your first mixtape in 1993?
Haha, good lord. DJ Chronic was the ever so awesome name I gave myself in my very first year of DJing with a Technics hi-fi turntable with pitch control and a Soundlab DLP-3. I was reading a ton of hip hop mags and listening to non-stop rap radio and was crazy inspired by it all and so I gave myself that name after all that weed I wasn’t smoking and started drawing graffiti ganja leaves on everything. My graf was okay actually back then but yeah, that name was shortlived (probably lasted like 6 months) although I did keep scratching and mixing.
What was the first equipment you used for Djing and production. What set up do you have now?
That janky mixture of turntables I mentioned above, as well as I think a Kam mixer, which had one of those shitty built in samplers. You’d sample in and boom, an instant low-grade low-bit barely audible sample at your fingertips. It was fun sampling gunshots though, I had a time with that. My first sampler was a Yamaha SU10, which is dope for loops and things but not a lot else. I did make a lot on it though. It was all Akais after that. I now use mostly laptop but I still have a gang of controllers and pad-based toys around me, loads of Novation goodies, that kind of stuff.
What advice would you give to a person who woke up this morning and decided that they want to become a hip hop beat maker like you?
It helps to have a core love for it, which won’t be shaken by either fame or setbacks. Some people can blow up quickly, some people can take a while, but it’s the same with most areas of music and creative arts – if you’re in it for that fame then you’re missing the most interesting parts. It sounds simple but love for what you do, and of course skill and practice, will take you a long way. You’re also off to a good start if you know music – music in general, as much as possible from all areas. I think in my day things were a little more walled off than today, and it was harder to widen your musical perspectives as you couldn’t look anything up on the internet which was a far off sci-fi idea for many of us. There really aren’t any excuses to broaden your interests these days which is awesome. Get inspired by it, it’s amazing.
The word ‘collage’ has often been used to describe your productions and mixes. Are you able to give a bit of insight into this and how a mixtape by DJ Riz played a role in this development?
That Riz mix triggered all of that in me for sure! Goddamn, that tape. That thing was insane. I was into the Steinski stuff from years ago, which I heard on old radio shows and my brother got me into old jungle which I always recognised samples and breaks from, and I just loved the idea of taking chunks of music and contextualising them into whatever form you like. I wanted to start doing that soon as possible, and Riz was a huge inspiration scratching-wise. I love hearing it now and knowing what’s going on – back in ’93 I was just having my wig pushed back by an avalanche of 80’s and 90’s rap and wasn’t sure what were the tracks and what were the mix parts (I did know some of it though at that point from radio tapes and such). Later on I got into DJ Shadow, Skratch Piklz and all them, Beat Junkies, Madlib, Mr Dibbs, DJ Signify, and stuff like that. Lots of DJ stuff but mainly around drum heavy and psyche bits and pieces. I think that’s why I fuck with Gaslamp Killer and the Low End Theory squadron these days. I love all of that stuff so much!
How did you find out about Melodics?
I met some wonderful people through Novation, and was invited to perform a demo for their Launchpad Pro, and Sam from Melodics got in touch with them who got in touch with me, and that was basically it! Sam showed me what it was about and talked me through it, and I was all in. It’s such a great idea and to be honest, a long overdue one! There are a lot of pad-pushers around and with so many innovations in controller technology and interface improvements, it’s an area that’s really growing and developing in such an exciting way. I’m really glad Melodics are here!
You are releasing your Melodics lesson called ‘Disco Frost’ What can Melodics users expect to learn from these lessons?
That one was a steady uptempo jam which is a goodie for just hitting certain pads simultaneously which can be trickier than it looks. It’s not a complex one by any means, but I use mainly separated chops and not whole chunks of beats or samples that often and that’s what this is really. I have a ton up my sleeve though, you’ll hear those soon!
How has finger drumming changed the game for both producers and DJ’s? How do you incorporate it into your work?
It’s kind of what I said above really, the changes in technology mean that you can chop beats very quickly, and you’ve probably already got your controller there ready and waiting for you, so right there you have so many barriers to creativity broken down instantly. From there you can just jam and bat ideas around with those chops, and it’s a cool way to get that rhythm in your hands. Also with DJing meaning different to things to people now, you can use pad controllers to control a DJ set which can be a set in Ableton, so again, you can incorporate all that stuff into a set so easy. I like to do just that actually – recently I’ve really been enjoying making sets using vocals and drums and just layering things up in Ableton, with parts in there to allow me to rock some pad-drums live. It’s so satisfying and while I’ll always love turntable DJing, after doing that for around 20 years or so this way is a really interesting change up for me. I’ll always want some kind of turntable element and I don’t want to change forever or anything, but having a new take on it all is mad exciting.
I understand you have been spending a lot of time in South East Asia and have visited all sorts of locations and places like Bangkok and ‘Noble Remix’ – What has been the most inspiring part of your travels so far and what was your reason for visiting this part of the world?
I can’t believe there was a signpost for ‘Noble Remix’. So dope. My girlfriend is over there a lot and we try and roll as a unit for the most part, so we end up hitting parts all over the place there and digging all over the place. I’m a big fan Zudrangma Records / Studio Lam and everyone involved, they’re a great crew who really put in work for that side of the world and I played at Studio Lam back in 2015 which was fantastic. It’s just madness, such a busy and frenetic place but with such dope musical heritage. They have some beautiful music in their past and right now in the present and I’m always so heavily inspired whenever I leave there, just tons of ideas floating around my head. I discovered Khruangbin in early 2015 too who use a lot of cue points from Thai music, and I’m a huge huge fan of them.
You are stranded on a desert island for a year and can only bring three records with you. Which ones would they be?
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’!
This week we have new cue point lessons from one of Palm Springs finest musical products DJ Day. With a career that has spanned over two decades DJ Day has done it all. From cutting his production teeth in the LA underground with the likes of Exile and People Under The Stairs, to becoming a highly acclaimed DJ behind the turntables.
DJ Day brings us five lessons that are cue point flips of the “Impeach The President” classic break.
In fact one of the lessons will walk you through exactly how to perform the flip and recreate the beat for ‘Top Billin’
The other flips that DJ Day has cooked up include Dancehall, Shuffle and Swing grooves. These patterns can be further applied to other tracks in your library to help add something extra to your DJ sets and production sessions.
We have more coming from DJ Day this week with an interview and a video of him performing some of these lessons. So stay tuned and enjoy the lessons.
Last week we mentioned that we are revamping our free content for Melodics users. This has been done in order to provide our free users with content spanning a wide range of genres.
New Lessons To Try Out:
‘Boom Bap Pack’ – The team went after a real gritty golden era feel for this lesson. A must for any budding hip hop producers
‘Digital Drop’ – Feel the power and drop the bass for this dubstep style lesson.
‘Wiz’ – A modern day hip hop track. Expect drum patterns that can be used for your productions
‘AB/CD’ – Easily my favorite lesson name out of our new content. Play along with the band and connect with the joys of Dad Rock.
Other New Free Lessons Include:
Footsteps in the Dark (Classic Break) , Filling Funk 3, Soul Flip, D’Bangs (Beginner)
New Lessons To Come:
New Trap Beat
So that is where we are at as of today with the New Lessons. We are very excited to complete this initiative and will have the remaining lessons added in soon. We would love to know your thoughts on these changes and which new lesson you are most looking forward to playing.