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.
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