The code of the beat.

“If I Can’t” Gets Cue From Sampling

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Hard Hitting No-Samples-Featured Beat by Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo Follows Sampling’s Lead

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

“If I Can’t” was one of the best songs off of 50 Cent’s smash hit debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003). The song had a catchy hook, a danceable groove, and a decent—uniquely-styled—rhyme. But as much as I liked the song for its overall achievement, I like it even more today because of the lesson in beatmaking it offers.

“If I Can’t,” produced by Dr. Dre, co-produced by Mike Elizondo, is one of those rare hip hop/rap songs that gives a great window into the way in which certain beatmaking recipes work. More specifically, “If I Can’t” demonstrates how the art of sampling has influenced the structural approaches to traditional live instrumentation.

For its core phrases, “If I Can’t” uses a straight-forward two-bar alternating AB BA BA AB pattern played with bass piano keys (either from a real piano or a keyboard piano patch). It is this core phrase (structure) that drives the song; therefore, every other element in the beat works to enhance and showcase its impact and feel throughout the song. The next thing that should be pointed out is that the first of four phrases the make up the core phrases starts on the kick (“the one”); it does not come in on the snare (“the two”), and that’s important to note.

Thing is, sample-based beatmakers typically chop down music phrases into smaller components that can be triggered by the pushing/playing of a single drum pad, key, and/or mouse click. Because of this, most sample-based beatmakers are often, in effect, “riff makers.” That is to say, they (myself included) take various small, medium, and large-themed sound components and literally break (chop) them down into sliced variations that can then, and often are, be played as riffs. In some cases, these chops are broken down together and grouped into one main riff, and in other cases, they are merged together into a series of riffs. Thus, the core phrases in “If I Can’t” is essentially a series of riffs (chops) that are played in a pattern (AB BA BA AB), structure, and nuance that owes more to the influence and programming of the art of sampling—and the new structures and forms that sampling has generated—than it does to traditional live instrumentation.

For example…

“If I Can’t” – 50 Cent (produced by Dr. Dre, co-produced by Mike Elizondo)


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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