You’re in the lab making a new beat, you’re nodding your head, the beat is dope — almost. You just have to add one more thing. Hold up, wait a minute! Before you add that “next thing,” always consider whether or not the beat is good as is.
At some point or another, All beatmakers come to “the middle of the road” with certain beats, wherein they question whether or not they should add something else. When this occurs, many beatmakers have the (ill-advised) tendency to want to add more to a track than remove. This can be a bad habit to develop, as it will likely lead to the over-producing of beats.
No matter what type of beat that you are making, it’s important to remember that beats are, first and foremost, based on rhythm. As such, anything you do that enhances —further magnifies — the core rhythm is likely a step in the right direction; anything that you do that disrupts the core rhythm of the beat, well, you might be asking for overproduced trouble. (Note: Most skilled rappers (think lyricists), do not like to rhyme to beats with a constantly disrupted core rhythm.)
So how do you avoid this problem? Well, for starters, you can approach your beatmaking style from a need context rather than an add-first context. What I mean is, avoid taking the default “grand approach” to every beat that you make. Instead, recognize the fact that beats are woven together piece by piece, then linked together through composite sections. Each section has its own say (or voice) in the matter of the feel and mood of the beat. Therefore, once you’ve programmed the fundamental sections of your beat, each individual section must be respected for the role that it plays.
So here’s where the problems often begin: The moment beatmakers want to jam a change (add in something new) to a section of the beat that simply can’t bear it. When this happens, you’re in the overproducing zone; and whatever good your beat has thus established has now been compromised. One way to stay out of the zone of overproducing is to always began from what I call a minimal programming context. That is to say, keep conscious of the aim of any beat: A dope rhythm that moves well with a solid backing beat. When you start from a minimal programming context, if you’re unsure about whether to add something or not, just consider the movement of the rhythm and the backing beat. If the rhythm is tight (changes and all) and the backing beat—the drum work—is solid, there’s usually no need to add anything.
In the MC Lyte classic “Paper Thin,” producer King of Chill opts for a minimal programming context that is very effective and, at the same, deceptively simple. Using a heavily syncopated drum arrangement, capped off by the ill timbre of the wood block snare, he establishes one rhythm; this is the solid backing beat. He then loops up some sort of winding, bass kazoo sound (also syncopated at the beginning and end) that faces off directly with the drumwork, creating a calm but chaotic tension that is only resolved every fourth or eighth bar by a sustained horn stab. The result is an aggressive groove that allows MC Lyte to find the right tone as well as her own aggression in the subject matter of the rhyme.
The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
NOTE: As you listen to and study it, ask yourself this: “What could you possibly add that wouldn’t disrupt the core rhythm?”
M.C. Lyte – “Paper Thin”Articles, Beat Breakdown, Beatmaking, BeatTips, Editor's Choice