The code of the beat.

BeatTips Interviews Mix Engineer Rich Keller


“Hip Hop Breaks All the Rules;” Famed Mix Engineer Discusses Challenges of Mixing Hip Hop/Rap Music

By Amir Said (Sa’id)

Sa’id: What’s the biggest challenge that mixing hip hop/rap Music presents to you?
Rich Keller: It was really about learning how to mix, out of the traditional style. Basically, it’s breaking rules. Hip hop broke the rules. And the reason I was able to become a Hip Hop engineer was because I understood and I was taught by these early guys I mixed with, by the producers, how to mix hip hop… and how it was different from regular music..

BeatTips: Listen, when you say “Break the Rules”, what was the #1 thing that you had to forget when you started to approach mixing hip hop/rap Music?
Rich Keller: LOW END! I look at mixing hip hop like mixing what a cartoon, or what a comic book looks like, like a Superman, like where the f*cking arm is huge and big and red. As opposed to like a piece of art, where it’s like subtle and detailed. It’s big, it’s bold and clear, and right in your fucking face. And that’s hip hop. It’s different…You’re painting big, broad strokes. Like the 808 is like, BOOM, whereas on some rock records, kick drums can be buried and blurry in the mix, and that’s cool. For those records that’s all you need. But in hip hop, basically the drums are driving the beat, by being really up front… It’s about the drums and vocals.

BeatTips: What sets hip hop apart from Heavy Metal? What’s in common?
Rich Keller: Well, it’s started to blend now. Hip hop has really influenced rock. Vocals are getting dryer and more in your face. They are coming way up, and there’s hardly any effects on vocals, or anything for that matter. Things are not as wet as they used to be. Things are definitely getting dryer. And drums are getting more in your face. And since people are playing their beats on instruments more, you know, like on a Triton and sh*t like that. That really changed the sound a lot. Comparatively to when they used to sample and have to deal with a loop sound, you know, you got the sound already. Like RZA’s shit is a perfect example. You know, I did “Bring the Pain” for him and a few other joints. He picked the sound because it was the sound. You know what I’m sayin’. He pulled it off the record, and it was about manipulating and changing it into something else. Whereas like an 808 out of a Triton, you know, we gotta doctor the sh*t out of it to make it rumble.

BeatTips: What do you do with a sample. You Know what I’m sayin’… Hip hop/rap is basically a loop driven thing, so what are you trying to achieve with the main loop?
Rich Keller: I mix for groove. I wanna hear what the producer did. I wanna hear how the beat was made. Where the levels were that the producer put together. I wanna hear his kick and snare against the music, how does he see it? What made this artist buy this beat? Cuz if there’s a bunch of tracks, it’s not obvious what’s leading and what’s background. I need to hear what it was before I give it my own picture.

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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual