The code of the beat.

BeatTips Top 30 Beatmakers of All Time: Prince Paul

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#17 – Prince Paul

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

Prince Paul. More than the originator of the skit, an important beatmaking pioneer.

Right from the start Prince Paul was a pioneer. While his work with the group Stetsaonic as cited by many late 1980s hip hop/rap enthusiasts as a demonstration of his skills, it’s his work with De La Soul that was truly groundbreaking. 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul’s debut album, is a critical piece of art in the hip hop/rap cannon for many different reasons, but in terms of beatmaking, it’s one of the most critical albums ever recorded. Again, set the clock right: It’s 1989. Just before Gang Starr’s (the Guru/DJ Premier line up) debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy, and a year before a Tribe Called Quest’s debut, People’s Instinctive Travel and the Paths of Rhythm, and long before several key other beatmakers on the BeatTips Top 30 list, was Prince Paul’s work on 3 Feet High and Rising, an album that exhibited many things that would eventually become commonplace in beatmaking (Prince Paul is credited as being the inventor of the skit).

While Marley Marl deserves the credit for being the first to sample and use individual drum sounds, Prince Paul deserves a lot credit for arrangement developments in this space. At the time of 3 Feet’s… release, Paul was also a master of the Break-beat sampling method (break-beat sampling is the form of sampling in which breaks and/or patches of recorded works are woven together in a fashion more akin to a DJ blending and matching multiple segments of records. You can read more about this form of sampling, as well as the other two main forms, in The BeatTips Manual). A great demonstration of what I mean is the beat he did for Big Daddy Kane’s “It’s a Big Daddy Thing” (1989).

Quick-chops of music snippets arranged in tightly wound rhythms. Straightforward loops with cuts, scratches, minor drum fills, and percussion over the top. These are all elements of Prince Paul’s style and sound. Some beatmakers sample a break, loop, and think that’s all there is to it. Truth is, each beatmaker on the BeatTips Top 30 list has their own way that they like to loop and swing their breaks. Prince Paul’s loop style swung hard, never off beat or to tight. Check out “Buddy” from 3 Feet… for an excellent demonstration of this. Also worth noting: Q-Tip is featured on “Buddy.” No doubt he learned a lot from Prince Paul. Indeed, a year later, A Tribe Called Quest released their debut album. With beats predominantly produced by Q-Tip, you can hear direct influences of Prince Paul.

Certainly, Prince Paul’s work is not 3 Feet High and Rising. Using the alias The Undertaker, Paul produced nearly every track on 6 Feet Deep (1994), the debut album for his group The Gravediggaz (which included RZA as a member, though mostly the role he served was as rapper. “Horror rap” notwithstanding, 6 Feet Deep had a couple of dope beats, notably “Defective Trip (Trippin’) and “Deathtrap.” But beyond those two tracks, you’re not missing anything in terms of beatmaking. In just before 6 Feet Deep, Paul had teamed up with De La Soul for their sophomore effort De La Soul is Dead. Here, my favorite joints are “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” and the stellar “Ring, Ring, Ring (Ha Ha Hey),” still one of the best sample flips and example of bass filtering.

Throughout the rest of the 1990s, Prince Paul would continue to contribute to the beatmaking tradition and the canon of hip ho/rap music. In 1999, in particular, Prince Paul really went in a new, even more innovative direction with the release of two unique projects. First, his solo effort Prince Among Thieves, then How’s Your Girl the debut album of Handsome Boy Modeling School (Prince Paul’s collaborative two-man group/project with Dan the Automator). The Beats on Prince Among Thieves, one of the best concept albums in hip hop/rap history, were pretty much straight ahead hip hop/rap, featuring many of the common beatmaking characteristics that Prince Paul helped to pioneer. On the other hand, How’s Your Girl, which co-credit has to be given to Dan the Automator, contained beats that were more experimental but still distinctly hip hop/rap.

The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.

Prince Paul Beats (Songs) Recommended for Study:

SPECIAL STUDY NOTE: Listen to the entire 3 Feet High and Rising album by De La Soul straight through, no interruptions. The album isn’t just a hip hop/rap classic, it’s one of the best of examples of late twentieth-century culture. And as far as beats are concerned, Prince Paul’s work on the album helps to pioneer and establish a lot of what would become essential beatmaking standards.

“Ring, Ring, Ring (Ha Ha Hey)” – De La Soul beat by Prince Paul

“Holy Calamity” – Handsome Boy Modeling School beat by Prince Paul and Dan the Automator

“Potholes in My Lawn” — De La Soul beat by Prince Paul

“Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge)” – De La Soul beat by Prince Paul

“Defective Trip (Trippin’)” – Gravediggaz beat by The Undertaker (AKA Prince Paul)

“Ghetto Thang” – De La Soul beat by Prince Paul

“Handle Your Time” – Prince Paul feat. Sadat X and Xzibit beat by Prince Paul

“Buddy” – De La Soul feat. Q-Tip and Jungle Brothers beat by Prince Paul

“Eye Know” – De La Soul beat by Prince Paul

“Talkin’ All That Jazz” – Stetsasonic beat by Prince Paul

“The Magic Number” – De La Soul beat by Prince Paul

“It’s a Big Daddy Kane Thing” – Big Daddy Kane beat by Prince Paul

“The Projects (P Jays)” – Handsome Boy Modeling School feat. Dave Jolicoeur & Del Tha Funkee Homosapien & Verna Brown” beat by Prince Paul and Dan the Automator

“It’s Hard Being the Kane” – Big Daddy Kane beat by Prince Paul

“Behind Bars” – Slick Rick beat by Prince Paul

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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

  • Benny ELs

    “Using the alias The Undertaker, Paul produced nearly every track on 6 Feet Deep (1994), the debut album for his group The Gravediggaz (which included RZA as a member, though mostly the role he served was as rapper. “Horror rap” notwithstanding, 6 Feet Deep had a couple of dope beats, notably “Defective Trip (Trippin’) and “Deathtrap.” But beyond those two tracks, you’re not missing anything in terms of beatmaking.”
    I am concerned that you call yourself ‘The Most Trusted Name in Beatmaking,’ yet make a statement as erroneous as this. “1-800 Suicide” is regarded as an all time classic among hip hop heads, and its beat is part of the reason. Similarly, tracks like “Constant Elevation,” “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide,” “Two Cups of Blood,” “Mommy, What’s a Gravedigga?,” and “Here Comes the Gravediggaz” are classic examples of mid-90’s NYC rawness, featuring fantastic production. True, the beats here are a little dark and outside mainstream tastes, but the way they are made is what sets them apart. I’m not saying it’s the perfect album, but the good stuff on 6 Feet Deep guarantees its place within the canon of classic 90s hip hop.