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Hip hop production

Music Sound

Hip hop production


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Hip hop production is the creation of hip hop music. Modern hip hop production utilizes drum machines, turntables, synthesizers, hardware and software sequencers, and live instrumentation.



Hip-hop instrumental music is classified as sampled breaks dubbed over sampled music. The two parts are often interpolated post factum using a variety of playback devices such as a turntable or CD player. The playback is sometimes recorded as the final version of an instrumental that goes on to mixdown with vocals.

The pipeline of hip hop production involves one or more of the following:

  • A drum beat
  • A bassline
  • Sampled sounds
  • Scratching

All of these elements can be either analog or digital in nature and replication. A drum beat can be sampled, a riff can be replicated live, and scratching can be sampled and dubbed over a song.



The first instruments used in hip hop production were two turntables, a mixer, and a microphone. DJ Kool Herc used the mixer fade controls to switch between two turntables playing the identical records at different times. The result was that a section of a record could be effectively prolonged, the parallel to today's loop-based DAWs and hardware loop equipment. During the 1970s, Grandmaster Flash has pioneered many techniques of hip hop. He first used the cue output to his advantage. His cutting and scratching techniques, stemming from sessions with "Mean Gene" Livingston and his brother (Grand Wizard Theodore), whom he later battled with, have revolutionized the DJ culture and have been imitated ever since.

The 1980s

Kurtis Blow became the first artist to use a digital sampler, the Fairlight, in a song. The Roland TR-808 was introduced in 1980. The E-mu SP-12 came out in 1985, capable of 2.5 seconds of recording time. The SP-1200 promptly followed with expanded recording time. The Akai MPC-60 came out in 1987, capable of 12 seconds of sampling time. In 1983, Run-DMC recorded "It's Like That" and "Sucker MCs," two songs which relied completely on beats, ignoring samples entirely. In 1986, Afrika Bambaataa released Planet Rock, which gave rise to the fledgling techno genre, along with the genre's own pioneers Derrick May and Juan Atkins by sampling Kraftwerk's "Trans Europa Express."Dr.Dre with World Class Wrekin Cru recorded 'Juice' and 'Before You Turn The Lights Out'

The 1990s and on

The MPC3000 was released in 1994, followed by the MPC2000 in 1997, and the MPC2000XL in 2000. With the 1994 release of Notorious BIG's Ready to Die, Sean Combs and his assisting producers ushered in a new style where entire sections of records were sampled, instead of short snippets. Records like "Warning" (Isaac Hayes's "Walk On By"), and "One More Chance (Remix)" (El Debarge's "Stay With Me") epitomized this aesthetic. In the early 2000s, Roc-a-Fella in-house producer Kanye West made popular the "chipmunk" technique, which had been pioneered by producers like Mathematics, an in-house producer for the Wu-tang Clan, whereby a sample containing vocals is sped up to make the vocals sound extremely high-pitched.



Sampling is integral to hip hop production. It's used as a substitute for expensive musicians, equipment, and other costs associated with genuine live recording. Often the only non-sampled part of a hip hop recording is the vocals.

Sampling is controversial in modern hip hop. Seeing as sample clearance can take substantial parts of profit out of record sales for artists who sample, producers opt to create completely original recordings using computer-generated beats. Another solution is to overdub or re-record the sampled part with a live musician and then interpolate it enough to disassociate it from the sampled material entirely. The fees associated with the latter solution and the costs associated with the former can be significantly lower than sample clearance fees.

While the majority of producers sample a relatively default niche of 1960-1980 soul, R&B, disco, and funk records, any record of any genre from any era is often fair game for sampling. Jazz records from every era are also sampled. Producers such as Dr. Dre have been known to sample blues artists such as Bill Withers. Due to the aforementioned concerns with clearance fees, many producers opt to seek out very rare and obscure records to lend their records a unique style and to avoid being forced to pay a clearance fee. People Under The Stairs openly acknowledge not clearing their samples, hoping that the record companies whose artists they sample don't wise up to the fact.


The drum beat is another core element of hip hop production. Its speed and complexity dictates the pace and impact of the recording. While some beats are sampled, others are created by drum machines such as the Roland TR-808 and the Alesis SR-16. Others yet are a hybrid of the two techniques, sampled parts of drum beats that are arranged in original patterns altogether.

Since the percussive element of hip hop music is the very punctuation of its sound, the sounds a producer chooses to represent the percussion are important. Some producers have drum kits all their own, such as Timbaland and Neptunes. Some drum sounds, such as the TR-808 cowbell, remain as historical elements of hip hop lore used in modern hip hop to lend a more credible and mature sound to the recording.


A turntable is used to interpolate samples or beats. Due to the versatile time and pitch control of a modern DJ turntable, the turntable becomes an instrument all its own, capable of producing unique and original sounds. It is often used to provide a human touch to an otherwise "clean" recording. Of the most popular turntables, some are the analog Technics SL-1200 and the digital Pioneer CDJ1000.

Studio parts

A producer's studio is the environment where they produce music. It can be as varied as a four-track sequencer and a collection of tapes or a multi-million dollar studio loaded with advanced sound processing hardware.


In hip hop, a multi-track recorder is standard for recording. Digital ADAT tape recorders have become standard over the years. A PC is used, often, in low-budget studios (with or without external hardware counterparts), as a multi-track recorder.

Vocal recording

Generally, professional producers opt for a condenser microphone for studio recording, mostly due to their wide-range response and high quality. A primary alternative to the expensive condenser microphone is the dynamic microphone, used more often in live performances due to its durability. The major disadvantage of condenser microphones is that the electret within them loses its charge after a few years of use, rendering the microphone useless. Also, condenser microphones require phantom power, unlike dynamic microphones. Conversely, the disadvantage of dynamic microphones is that they don't possess the wide range of condenser microphones and their frequency response is not as uniform. Compressors, both software and hardware, are also prevalently used during recording and post-production.

Sequencers and Samplers

See also: Music sequencer and sampler (musical instrument)

The AKAI MPC2000 sampler The AKAI MPC2000 sampler

A sequencer or a sequencing device or module is used invariably with instruments. One of the most popular sequencers in old-school hip hop was the MPC-60, whose successors MPC2000, MPC3000, and MPC4000 have been quintessential in modern hip hop production. Since a sequencer triggers instruments instead of simply playing back music, it is used in more sophisticated production environments than the basic "two turntables and a mic" configuration that most live hip hop is produced with. A sampler is used to play back samples that will not be interpolated as a media. Most sequencers, like the aforementioned Akai MPC products, are also samplers. Among standalone samplers there are the Akai S-series samplers, the Roland S-series samplers, and others.


DAWs and software sequencers are used in modern hip hop production as software production products are cheaper, easier to expand, and require less room to run than their hardware counterparts. Some producers oppose complete reliance on DAWs and software, citing lower overall quality, lack of effort, and lack of identity in computer-generated beats. Sequencing software often comes under criticism from purist listeners and traditional producers as producing sounds that are flat, overly clean, and overly compressed.

Popular DAWs include:

Digidesign Pro Tools
Cakewalk SONAR
Steinberg Cubase
Propellerhead Software Reason
Sony ACID Pro
Ableton Live
Apple GarageBand


Main article: Synthesizer

Synthesizers are used quite often in hip hop production. They are used for melody, basslines, as percussive stabs, and for sound synthesis. The use of synthesizers has been popularized largely by Dr. Dre during the G-Funk era. Modern use of synthesizers is rampant by producers such as Cool and Dre, Scott Storch, and Neptunes. Often in low-budget studio environments or environments constrained by space limitations, producers employ VST instruments in place of hardware synthesizers.

Live instrumentation

Live instrumentation is rare in hip hop, but is used by a number of acts and is prominent in hip hop-based fusion genres such as rapcore. Before samplers and synthesizers became prominent parts of hip hop production, early hip hop hits such as "Rapper's Delight" (The Sugarhill Gang) and "The Breaks" (Kurtis Blow) were recorded with live studio bands. During the 1980s, Stetsasonic was a pioneering example of a live hip hop band. Hip hop with live instrumentation regained prominence during the late-1990s and early 2000s with the work of The Roots, Common, and OutKast, among others

See also

Hip hop/Rap
Beatboxing - DJing (Turntablism) - Fashion -History (Roots - Old school - Golden age - Modern) - Production - Rapping
African - American (East - West - South)
Abstract - Alternative - Chopped & Screwed - Christian - Country-rap - Crunk - Electro - Freestyle music - Gangsta - G-funk - Ghettotech - Golden age - Hardcore - Hip hop soul - Hip house - Horrorcore - Hyphy - Instrumental - Jazz rap - Latin rap - Mafioso - Miami bass - Mobb - Neo soul - Nerdcore - New jack swing - Old school - Political hip hop - Pop rap - Rapcore - Ragga - Reggaeton - Snap music - Urban Pasifika

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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