The code of the beat.

BeatTips Top 125 Beatmakers of All Time: #2 – Marley Marl

Marley Marl. Pioneering hip hop/rap DJ and father of modern beatmaking.

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding things about doing the BeatTips Top 30 has been reconciling history with the present and the future. Depending upon your musical taste, style and sound of beat preference, and, of course, what era you grew up in, the past or the present can be intoxicating. But it’s quite sobering when you come face to face with the reality of hip hop/rap’s storied beatmaking tradition. There have been a number of important developments in beatmaking over the past 40 years, and modern beatmaking, as we know it today, would not exist were it not for one man in particular: Marley Marl.

Since 1986, every beatmaker who’s ever made a beat stands on Marley Marl’s shoulders. He is, without a doubt, the father of modern beatmaking. Marley Marl single-handedly took the beatmaking tradition to another level. Before Marley Marl, there were few examples of actual sample-based compositions. Although DJs of the first beatmaking period were “sampling,” their use of breaks from records was more of a virtual form of sampling. Marley Marl was not only the first to realize the full potential of sampling technology, he was also the first to grasp the complete picture of beatmaking. That is to say, he was the first person to recognize beatmaking as a distinct art form and collective musical process that drew on the foundation and understanding of DJ’ing, sampling skills, and traditional instrumentation.

Marley Marl developed a number of fundamental “standards” in the beatmaking tradition. He originated the modern practice of using unique drum sounds in beats. Until Marley Marl, the drum sounds in beats were always of the generic, unmodified stock electronic drum machine variety. In pursuit of a more accurate sound, a more realistic sound, a more “customized” sound, Marley Marl sampled actual drum sounds from records and used the individual hits to make new drum frameworks. This had never been done before despite the existence of samplers (albeit crude) before Marley’s time. He followed this up by using his engineering knowledge to further color and customize these sounds, giving him a sound that was (at first) not easily duplicated.

It was also Marley Marl who first instituted the use of whole “drum breaks” as the primary drum track to a beat. And it was Marley Marl who established the modern method for all sample-based compositions. (To read in greater detail about Marley Marl’s contributions to the beatmaking tradition, read The BeatTips Manual, which also includes the most in-depth interview Marley Marl has ever granted.)

It must be noted that Marley excelled at everything he brought to the tradition. Most originators of a style, process, technique, etc. only hint at what could be possible. This was certainly not the case with Marley, who was the definitive leader of mid to late 1980s hip hop/rap production. Furthermore, Marley Marl was the originator of the producer based album. Further still, as a DJ, trained engineer, gear head, and master of styles and sounds, Marley Marl was also partly responsible for the creation of Miami bass or bass music.

Finally, save for the Wu-Tang Clan, Marley Marl founded the most infamous hip hop/rap crew in history: the Juice Crew All Stars! Which, by the way, RZA admittedly used as a template in coming up with his vision of an all-star crew of his own. Marley Marl’s beats and general guidance helped propel the careers of some of hip hop/rap’s earliest and most important icons, including Kool G Rap, LL Cool, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie.

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

Marley Marl Beats (Songs) Recommended for Study:

SPECIAL NOTE: Listen to Marley Marl’s In Control straight through.

“Road to the Riches” – Kool G Rap and DJ Polo beat by Marley Marl

“The Symphony” – Marley Marl feat. Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane beat by Marley Marl

“Ain’t No Half Steppin’” – Big Daddy Kane beat by Marley Marl

“Nobody Beats the Biz” – Biz Markie beat by Marley Marl

“Around the Way Girl” – LL Cool J beat by Marley

“This is Something for the Radio” – Biz Markie beat by Marley Marl

“Vapors” – Biz Markie beat by Marley Marl

“Droppin’ Science” – Marley Marl feat. Craig G beat by Marley Marl