Making the Beat #2

This is Africa

Welcome to the breakdown of ‘This Is Africa’. I will be sharing some simple techniques that you can apply to your productions right away.

Here’s a short overview of the topics laid out for you:

1. Sampling

  • 1.1 The Right Tempo and Feeling
  • 1.2 Creating an Entity

2. The Inspiration

1. Sampling

Sampling is probably one of the oldest producing techniques in the (Hip-Hop) game. But doing it well is not easy. Personally, I have been struggling for ever with these two issues:

  • Trying to get the tempo and feeling right.
  • Trying to create a strong entity instead of a looped sample and a drum pattern that consists of loose scraps.

Although I don’t have a solution that can always instantly solve these issues, I do have some techniques that makes creating a banging sample beat much easier (and that I used for creating This is Africa):

1.1 The Right Tempo & Feeling

Technique #1: Tapping Software

Before you chop your samples, determine the right tempo.

If you’re having a hard time finding the right tempo for your (pitched) sample, just Google: ‘Tap BPM’, click on any of the search results, play your sample, and start tapping a key on your keyboard to the beat of your sample. The website will then give you the BPM (Beats Per Minute) of your taps and thus your sample!

Note: To get the best estimate, I would recommend to keep tapping for at least 30 seconds, as this will reduce the effect of any possible off-beat taps.

Technique #2: Chopping into little pieces

Have you tried to get the exact right tempo to the best of your abilities but it is still slightly off when you let the sample play for more than 15 seconds? Just cut your samples up in quarters of a bar. Then simply record all parts of the sample in the right order and quantize them.

Most probably, you have now fixed the problem! If not, play your new recording and check if there are any gaps (silences) between the small pieces of your samples. If there are, slightly increase the BPM of the beat to solve the problem. And contrary, if the pieces of your sample overlap each other, slightly decrease the BPM of your beat. This way, you should almost always be able to find the right tempo!

Technique #3: Mute Groups / Prevent sample overlap

When you cut your sample into pieces and play these pieces in a different order than the original, make sure that there is no overlap by setting up your samples in such a way that they cut each other off.

In other words, ensure that as soon as a second sample is played before the first sample is finished, it cuts of the first one at the same time you play the second one. This way, you will not have any overlap and your sample pattern will sound completely smooth!

If you are using a MPC or a similar product from AKAI, you can apply this technique by setting up so-called mute groups. It’s a very easy to use function: simply put all the sounds / samples that need to cut off each other in the same mute group and it will do the job!
(Note: only apply these techniques after you have found the right BPM.)

1.2 Make your drums and sample sound like they belong together

Technique #4: Use the sample elements

Play the first 12 seconds of This Is Africa again. Do you hear the claps? The basic ones that are on the beat are just part of the main sample, but the rhythmic ones aren’t.

To get these in, I took the following steps:
First, I made a new, very short sample by making a cut just after the first clap and the simultaneous “Ooh” vocal. Then I recorded it in a rhythmic way on top of the main sample. I panned some of them to the right and some of them to the left, and put them in the background by lowering their velocity. As a result, the claps and the “Oohs” become embedded in the sample, which leaves more space for the other aspects of the beat, while they make the beat more alive.

I did basically the same for the bongos: I immersed them in the vocals, simply by panning them and lowering their velocity to create a strong entity. These claps and bongos are vital aspects of the beat. They make the song sound much more bad-ass by creating a better bounce and a more ‘surround sound’. When you play it loud on solid speakers, it almost feels as if you are in the middle of a performance by an African tribe!

By the way, I have also put these particular bongo sounds for you in the download link below, so you can check out and use these sounds yourself!

Technique #5: Vary Velocity

Now compare the first 12 seconds of This Is Africa with the second 12 seconds. Do you recognize the difference in the velocity of the vocals? In the first 12 seconds it’s basically the main aspect of the beat, while in the second 12 seconds, you can barely hear it. The interesting thing is that you probably didn’t notice this when you listened to it the first time, right?
That is because your brain gets used to the sound and ‘assumes’ that it is still there in the same way, even when the volume is heavily reduced. This is a great thing, because it creates room for the other components of your beat and it reduces the discrepancy between the sample and the heavy part of the beat, which helps you to create a strong entity!

2. The Inspiration

When you are searching for songs to sample, are you always looking in the same places? Soul music from the 70s for example. If the answer to this question is yes, you might want to start searching at more unfamiliar places.

For example, you might find great stuff when checking out Salsa, Arabic or Folk music! In my case, I sampled a song by a Maasai Tribe from South-East Africa, but okay, I will be honest with you, my inspiration was also fueled by this song produced by Brian Kidd and used by rapper Rich Boy:

- You can find all the drum sounds used in this beat in my Premium Drum Packs. -