Anatomy of a hip-hop song: Local producers weigh in on what it takes to make a great track
GirlGrabbers are Brikabrak, Qknox and Gypdahip
Ah, GirlGrabbers, the trio of Qknox, Gypdahip, and Brikabrak --- the beatmaking, deejaying, record sampling, genre bending crew of musicologists, each bringing to the table a different style, humor, experience and education. There seems to be, amongst the guys, a solid respect for their perspective areas of expertise and a knack for rare music that makes the structure of the group cohesive.
These guys are the truest representation of music foundation: They work, not only from soul samples, but are heavily influenced by jazz and other genres that built hip-hop. Throughout a recent meeting with the production team, there was a Goonie reference that called for pulling up a clip from the movie that supports Qknox's hands off method of sampling, several song changes and explanations of favorite records and the typical respect for hip-hop awe.
There was also talk of Timbaland and how he changed the game with his drums and out of this world creativity, and a collective gasp from the room as they discussed how truly talented DJ Premier is. The most telling point of honesty, however, came at the mention of the late, great J. Dilla. Gypdahip said, "Dilla made it cool to come out of the basement, you know? He made it cool to be artistic and make beats. He definitely made it cool to do this and to be good at it.
Westword: Let's talk about signature sound. I want you guys to break it down because you have such different ideas of inspiration.
Gypdahip: When Timbaland came with that new drum sound, we all knew it was him. He completely changed the game. The same thing with Premier. You know when you're hearing a Premier beat because it has those sounds that won't let go. The same thing with Flying Lotus.
Brikabrak: It's good to have someone who wants to do their own thing because it makes it different. It switches up the process in a way that allows for new shit to come through and be heard, not just the same old shitty beats everyone else is making.
Qknox: There's a process you go through where you write down Coltrane's solo, when you transcribe Coltrane's notes and you learn that. I will copy drum patterns and try and create it. I'll chop up my sample that exact same way. My whole life, I've been waiting to make "Take Notice." My whole life! There's something about learning from your favorites and making it your own.
G: Right. There's a way you know exactly what's going to go into making something your signature sound. Hitting right in the four, for example, like Premier does. The way that he does voices. Preemo taught me how to copy the bass drum with a chop. It's that rhythm that you know it's him.
How do you relate delivery and cadence to the overall greatness of a song?
Q: I don't care what you say: It's the sound of your voice. I'm not a content kind of guy. I like to do it like I'm doing the FOE album: Get it after it's already done and do my own thing by providing a remix. I would have to trust that rapper in order to give them that creative freedom of giving them an untouched beat.
G: I like for someone to come in and lay the verse down over the beat while it's kind of dry, and then kind of throw feelings in, when you can throw an explosion in there. You can just add more to the beat when the verse is there.
Q: I hate working with singers, and I hate working with rappers; they feign ignorance, and they act really diva-ish, and they act like they don't know anything about what you're doing, and so they can't tell you what they want. It manifests itself in all sorts of ways. When you're not prepared to say what you want, or you say things that aren't true. There are a lot of rappers that try to entice cats. And a lot of rappers don't have money to really do what they want in the first place.
What are the main components of a beat? Go.
B: I need a really hard snare.
G: It depends on what kind of music you're doing. In hip-hop, you gotta have that snare and that kick. You can't use some built in Triton drum or those wack ass Casio beats. You gotta have boom-bap in that shit. That's all you need, and maybe a cowbell! [laughs]
Q: A lot of those early records in hip-hop are Triton drums. You can't have any rules because it becomes an outline for things. You have to be able to have the freedom. It's like John Cage and 4:32 -- it's about the idea more than the content. There's a part in never seeing the Blair Witch.
There are some great beat pickers in the industry: Erykah Badu, Common, Hi-Tek. Not all beats are for rappers. Sometimes I'll think about a rapper over it, and I'll make it for a rapper. A lot of the time it will go out on a beat CD, and House, for example, will make a freestyle over it and that's how it comes together.
B: it's hard to go back and listen to a beat or a song you worked on and not imagine a rapper over it. Once he raps over it, it becomes a really ill thing. Ghostface is one of the best beat pickers ever.
When was the turning point in beat infinity, when everything changed?
G: Pete Rock - Soul Brother Number 1. All his shit has been banging. He dropped that first beat CD on BBE, and that was one of the first CDs I bought that was just instrumentals, and I was kinda pissed 'cause I thought there would be rappers on it, but the beats on there were so fucking tight.
The way he did his drums and freak his samples! That's really what got me into wanting to sample. I was using Reason and using patches and doing little things, but that CD helped me figure out what I had to make a sample. I had to figure out how to work that shit to use it how I wanted to use it and that shit changed the game for me.
B: Experimental producers are the turning point. There's EL-P, and since day one, you could always tell they were on some weird experimental shit. He's somebody that worked with a lot of people, and when he went solo, you could really tell he went out on his own.
He hides samples. It's something that sounds like nothing else you've sampled. I love Wu-tang and Dilla just because they try to show their samples in a completely new way. Digging is probably the biggest part of hip-hop.
Q: Madlib and Dilla made it cool and not nerdy to know these songs and music. They sampled everything in movies. To just blatantly take the commercial on TV or something and put it into a record.
Chronic 2001 changed the game. I still can't listen to that album and not be scrunched face the whole time. I've been waiting for Detox forever. I know that when it comes out, it's gonna change the game just like Chronic 2001.
What is your process for sampling and actually creating? Do you have rules?
Q: There's this part in the Goonies when the kids finally find the treasure, and they take what they want, except for Willie's things. I don't sample certain records or certain records because that's my "save that shit for Willie" moment.
Rasaan Roland Kirk is that moment for me. He's a multi-instrumentalist, and he's blind and part of it is because I don't know what I would do to it, and the other part is that this motherfucker works so hard that I can't work that hard. There's nothing for me to do there. I don't want it to seem like I'm improving on songs when I sample them 'cause a lot of songs don't need improving. Music is all about respect.