A Brief History of Hip-Hop Part 10 – The Production

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Rap songs started out simply enough. It was what the DJs had available. They had record players and they had plenty of records. That was all that was needed, at the start. DJs could extend the break of the record to make a repetitive loop of one part of a song. In this manner, an eight bar break could be extended indefinitely.

When the turntable became an instrument and DJs worked hard to improve their sets with technical tricks, the emcee became very important. It wasn’t long before the emcees were improving as well. They tried to outdo each other with rhymes on the microphone. They wrote longer and more complex verses, and soon began to write actually songs.

Now, song production came to the forefront of the culture. The first rap songs were done over a break of a record that was looped repetitively over and over. Since many of the rappers were using the same records, they need to do something to set themselves apart from their peers. Drum machines, sequencers, and synthesizers were soon used to create the backdrop of the song.

Afrika Bambaataa used an eclectic mix of synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers to create an electronic sound. This funky electronic sound created a new genre all of its own but his experiments with sound collage mixing influenced hip-hop culture.

Producers would “sample” a portion of a record to borrow a sound or loop to create a new composition. This was similar to what DJs did when they extended breaks but with the advent of the technology, sounds could be easily layered on top of each other. This way a rapper wouldn’t just be rapping over a break, there would be other sounds added to it.

A lot of rappers started to sample portions of James Brown’s music. He remains today one of the most sampled of all artists in hip-hop. His unique sound and dance style really influenced the start of the culture so it was great to see his music become even more of an influence in the 1980s.

The technology allowed producers to layer sound upon sound, much the way Phil Spectre created the wall of sound technique for rock music. Rap music producers created walls of sound in rap music that often seemed chaotic. Some sounds would be deliberately jarring as was the case with Public Enemy’s unique sound. This chaos was seen as a reflection of the society that the music was coming from.

Sampling is really the foundation of rap music. Hip-hop started out by looping up breaks and just progressed from there. Some people outside of the culture may think that sampling is just redoing a song and being lazy but it is actually the basic core of this music form. I will agree that some sampling is lazy and uncreative. With the technology available today, sampling can be a creative and unique. We shouldn’t forget that it can still be a tool that can be used effectively to make great music.

Next up

Part 11 – East vs. West