Beats. Rhymes. Life.
The kick and snare are the dual hearts of hip-hop music. A good beat can bring life to dead wordplay. Instrumental hip-hop is a beautiful form of grime in it’s own light. Many purists, like myself, enjoy just spinning a good 16-bar phrase. Sometimes that’s all you really need to catch an ear and spark the synapses. 9/10 your favorite beat from the 90s was produced on an Akai MPC.
I grew up as a producer with a strong appreciation for bare bones approaches to creating hip-hop. The recipe is simple, but the result is complex; a form that is sprinkled with static and stitched across a canvas of chopped samples.
BIZ MARKIE – “ALONE AGAIN”
In 90s, sampling made its way into the light after several landmark court cases. One case in particular, Grand Upright Music Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., changed the hip-hop industry. In 1991, Gilbert O’Sulivan sued Biz Markie for sampling “Alone Again Naturally”. The court ruled that sampling without consent qualifies as copyright infringement.
After that case, hip-hop had to adapt. Rappers couldn’t spit over intricate sample collages quite as easily. Sample clearance became a crucial step in the process. Nowadays, producers and musicians have to be wary of sample clearance fees, which can be a financial pain depending on the nature of the sample source. This watered down and limited many producers and artists who depended on sampling.
Today, classic boom-bap is a nostalgic treasure. The genre has faded, and less and less of the pure form is heard in the 2010s; furthermore, many aspects of pop culture that were heavily influenced by traditional hip-hop have evaporated from the surface of mainstream media.
The production style of 90s hip-hop was the backdrop of some of the most artistically sophisticated rappers and vocalists of the decade. Their sampling tool of choice was the legendary MPC.
THE AKAI MPC
MPCs were the workhorses of producers and rappers of the day; Pete Rock, Q-Tip, MF DOOM, and J Dilla to name a few. Personally, I never had the luxury of owning any of the legacy MPC models (60, 3000, 2000, 2000XL, 1000, 500, 4000, 0r the 5000). MPC workflow is incredible. Sample-chopping was born on this machine, and it helped create some of the best Hip-Hop records in the industry.
Watch Pete Rock talk about his MPC 2000XL.
The lesson here: embrace your limitations.
There isn’t one piece of gear or software that is going to make your art superior. The producers of the 80s and 90s made it with the bare minimum. “How do I make the beat flow into the next sequence? I’m almost out of memory on this card.” That used to be problematic, not to mention the lack of enormous sample libraries. Instead of continuously upgrading equipment to no end, they mastered what they had available and still made it happen.
The MPC gave birth to a lineup of the most hardworking industry professionals in hip-hop. Today, remnants of boom-bap are found in the crevices of several different genres and a consumer-driven market fueled by an array of musicians, engineers, producers and DJs. Within the realm of recording and production, there have been new possibilities painted across infinite backdrops; bedrooms, garages, office spaces, etc. The baby-boom of an entire generation of producers hatched from the continuing legacies of the biggest gear/equipment companies in the world; Akai, Moog, Roland, Shure to name a few.
MPC is just one of the many legacy products that still has a heavy influence. The revenue sparked from music production equipment has grown over the past decade. Over time, companies have designed gear that goes far beyond the technological limitations from the past. File storage used to be somewhat of a pain before the availability of portable external hard drives. MPC users relied on floppy disks before the the MPC 1000. There are mods available for the legacy MPC models that allow for a flash card slot. Even then, one 1GB compact flash card is the equivalent to 711 floppy disks.
The big gear companies that we all know and love helped nourish the roots of musicians and producers of the era. Those are the artists who became the innovators of the late 20th century. After all of the grueling years behind the deck, the echoes of 808s sound like gold nuggets nestled in-between the grooves of mainstream music. Each one is a looking glass that stares into a past riddled with static; a reoccurring throwback that faded like a dead language lost in Alexandria. Nevertheless, there is so much that we owe to the dusty-fingered warlocks that summoned boom-bap. As a whole, their legacy is like a cross between Michael Jackson, Alexander Graham Bell, and Ghandi. The followers of Boom-Bap (artists, engineers, and producers) are inspired by a tool that continues to speak through the decades. They have formed the most fruitful careers in the industry.
The proof is around us. The history lessons are chiseled into the tiniest details of the snowflake we call “music”. Because, let’s be real – there’s nothing like it.