Anatomy of a hip-hop song: Local producers weigh in on what it takes to make a great track
Kid Hum (aka Dylan Avery) is a complex character. He is incredibly thoughtful and instinctive in his answers, as if he has already asked himself any question you can pose for him. His answers are terse, but not to be missed are the gems that are more telling of his production style than any long winded pontification anyone else could give. Rather than pinpointing a favorite style of music, he uses Saturday nights on KUVO as a better example. It would be easy to pass off Hum's ability to be inspired by simple terms, but really, the guy is so damn studied in what he likes, there is no reason to consider anything else.
For Kid Hum, his vision is the creation of the beat. Mapping out the sound board in a way that determines the way the rest of the song will go. He creates instrumentation that is ready to send to whichever artist can complete the task -- an interesting paradox, considering that the consensus amongst counterparts who feel the beat makers are the beginning of the song's vision. For Kid Hum, the beat's vision ends with him.
Westword: Break down the physical components that a beat can't survive without.
Kid Hum: Well, Audio Two rapped over just drums, and Jay Electronica rapped over movie soundtrack music with no drums at all. So, I think the answer would be, a beat can't survive without a starting point, an end point and a motive that usually involves a rapper or an anti-rapper.
Do you prefer the hands on approach of beat making or the overall director's approach in a full production session?
I would think the director would be hands on? I like not to tell other people what to do and just contribute where possible.
How do you keep from making the same song over again?
Sample different records. Rap about iPads.
Do you have tons of beats just laying around that you don't use?
Not me. There is always somebody knocking at my door. Always after my cereal.
What are the key pieces to the best production team?
Symbiosis, synergy and friendship bread.
What is it like working with an artist during a production session? How do you balance your vision (especially if you created the beat) with that of the artist and still maintain the integrity of the record?
I like working with artists who are equally as visionary as I am, and my vision ends with the beat. Like when I work with Whygee, he is really the producer, because he assembles everything from the hook to the DJ to the guest MCs. By the time it gets back to me, it's way better.
From Fela Kuti to Dilla to Premier, Dre, No ID, and others, the producer gammut -- especially in hip-hop -- is wide and strong. What do you think are the commonalities in producers who have worked on -- and will work on -- some of the most inspiring and iconic albums?
Fela, Dilla, Premo, Dre, and No ID were all huge fans of James Brown. James Brown comes from the South, as well as a rich R&B tradition in the US. The South and R&B. Check out R&B Jukebox, Saturday nights on KUVO, its dope. That's my favorite genre of music.
What are your top three most eloquently produced albums of any genre?
Charles Mingus's Mingus Ah Um, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and Quasimoto's The Unseen.
Producing is a lot about musical inspiration but still comes with a high level of education needed. Talk about the technical responsibility in making beats.
Technical responsibility is very important. It's like running scales and arpeggios as a pianist every day. Whenever you push the boundaries of your art, you are thinking at the margin, while subconsciously performing tasks that you have committed completely to muscle memory. With making beats, you want to be able to maneuver around your equipment effortlessly in order to test your creative impulses as quickly as possible.