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Jewel Droppin’: Mixing with Cus

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For Mix Engineers, Hip Hop/Rap Presents a Set of Challenges

As Told to AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

BeatTips: What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to mixing hip hop/rap music?
Cus: [Laughs] The biggest challenge to me, and it’s not really a big challenge for me anymore, but it’s one of the things that I would tell people is that Hip Hop is really drum driven, so understand: once you turn up one thing, you gotta turn up other stuff. So once you try to make the drums as big as you can, you gotta make everything else bigger, especially the bass line. So the whole thing is to try to give it as much maximum power as you can, without over killing it.

BeatTips: What sets mixing hip hop/rap apart from other genres of music? Is it more challenging mixing a typical rock song or a typical Hip Hop-Rap song?
Cus: I do both, so I don’t have a problem with any of them. But an engineer more so used to mixing Hip Hop would have a problem mixing rock. You have to understand that the bass lines in Rock music are not really over everything, they’re just an undertone just to keep along with the drums. Whereas a bass line in hip hop a lot of times is the actual melody, (in a sense), ‘cuz it may not be that much instrumentation. Plus, the bass line is supposed to drive everything. So the bass line is supposed to be on top, where as opposed to Rock music the bass line is supposed to be just a simple undertone to carry the drums, where the guitars are on top!

BeatTips: How did you become a mix engineer?
Cus: I went to Queensborough Community College for Audio Engineering. I started in ’91. In ’93 I started interning at the infamous Powerplay Studios in Long Island City. I graduated [from college]in ’94… Powerplay was a studio that used to house such clients as Diggin’ In The Crates, EPMD, Boogie Down Productions… everybody came through Powerplay. One of the first mixes that I assisted was the “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” Remix with Nas, produced by Large Professor. Interning was interesting, ‘cuz I was able to get into the rooms more. And as I was assisting, I started to get small gigs engineering… After I really started engineering, this was like the tail end of ’95, the beginning of ’96, I started to do some assisting at Unique [Unique Recording Studios-NYC], so I was back and forth engineering at Powerplay and assisting at Unique… Then in ’97 I was full fledge mixing at Unique!

BeatTips: What was the thing that took you to that next level, from assistant to full time engineer?
Cus: I don’t really remember what session it was but… people just like throw you in the fire. Other established engineers would be like, I don’t feel like coming in, all they’re doing is vocals. Yo, you go ahead and do it. (So that’s how I caught a lot of gigs, in the beginning).

BeatTips: What areas should you be concerned with, when mixing Hip Hop-Rap music?
Cus: DRUMS! After you get your drums right, everything else falls into place. Once you get your drums right… I’ve been in situations where I’ve mixed songs and something was wrong with the drums and it made the whole mix go haywire. And as soon as I got the drums perfect, to my liking, I didn’t even have to do anything to the other stuff. If you get your drums in place, then every thing else follows suit.


The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
“The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education.”

Articles, Beatmaking, Beatmaking Education, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts, BeatTips, Book on How to Make Beats, Chopping Samples, Cus, Customizing Drum Sounds, Drum Sounds and Drum Programming, Arranging, and Composing, Features, Hip Hop Production Techniques, Hip Hop/Rap Music Education, How to Make Beats, Making Beats, Music Themes, Music Theory, and Music Concepts, Pro Tools and Beats, Recording, Mixing, and Mastering, Sa'id, The BeatTips Manual

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