Non-Sampled Beat with Well-Thought Out Arrangement; Rhythm Track Flanked by Unique Percussion Scheme Serves up Warmth in Typically Cold Style
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
When The Neptunes (Pharrell and Chad) first burst on the scene with Noreaga’s “Superthug” (1998), it was clear that they would soon be a production force to be reckoned with. Using the non-samples featured style as their base creative beatmaking approach, The Neptunes carved out a new sound; and in the process they created an alternative lane for other budding beatmakers to follow.
Unfortunately, far too many beatmakers moved into this lane with Neptune knock-off tracks rather than original interpretations of the sound that The Neptunes created. Indeed, within four years of Nore’s “Superthug,” the level of Neptune “biters” was so widespread that some began openly questioning the genius and contribution of The Neptunes themselves. Enter January, 2003. Snoop Dogg and Pharrell drop “Beautiful, one of the most well-arranged beats I’ve heard.
To understand how Pharrell might have come up with the guitar arrangement for “Beautiful,” all you need do is listen to The RZA’s work on Liquid Swords,‘ or perhaps even the beatwork of True Master—Pharrell no doubt studied them both during his prime developmental years. Although Pharrell doesn’t use sampled sound-stabs to construct the core guitar-based groove of “Beautiful,” his use of a shuffling, semi-closed hi-hat and tambourine—which spread throughout the composition like a multi-layered shaker—shades the otherwise brightness of the first generational (non-sampled, module/keyboard/live) guitar sound. And with the shine of the brightness dimmed by his creative use of percussion, Pharrell is able to work in organ bridge phrases that bookend every fourth bar. It should also be pointed out that these organ riffs, which are subtle and relaxed, are used more to sure up the rhythm and groove of the beat than they are to firm up the main melody—itself a secondary product to the rhythm in the “Beautiful” beat..
For the drumwork, Pharrell is intent on letting us know that this beat comes from the stratosphere of The Neptunes. Therefore, he uses their trademark stomp-kick as the most forceful percussive element in the track. Often in most beats, it’s the snare that gets the top billing while the kick co-stars. But with “Beautiful,” Pharrell reverses the roles, giving full priority to the appropriately placed stomp-kick while opting for a short-truncated snare that’s barely more than a snap.
Far as the rhyme goes, lyricism takes a vacation…literally. But then “Beautiful” isn’t the sort of song that you even want to hear a complex rhyme scheme on. The beatwork invites a straight-forward rhyme, and Snoop delivers something that’s steady and not too hard to follow. And because of the strength of the chorus—sung surprisingly well by Pharrell—any ambitious rhyme structure and/or theme would only have distracted, not enhanced, the well thought out arrangement of the instrumental.
“Beautiful,” perhaps more than any other song from either Pharrell or Chad, proved that although a beatmaster’s style could be bit and copied, more seasoned beatmasters are able to rework their sound into something even more unique.
The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell – “Beautiful”
Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell – “Beautiful” (Official music video)