Beat Breakdown: ’90s Style Boom Bap Hip-Hop

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A challenge that many producers face in the early stages of learning is getting the knack of programming drums. In this tutorial series, we’re dissecting some classic drum grooves, and show how to program them in a DAW. In this example, we’ll be using Ableton Live to create a ’90s style boom bap hip-hop beat.

This Drum pattern was the defining groove of hip-hop during the ’90s and it’s still widely used today. Influential producers like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Madlib, Havoc and J Dilla used MPC’s and SP-1200’s to sample individual drum hits from vinyl, giving hip-hop it’s signature fat and dusty sound. The samples we are using are from NI’s Basement Era Expansion pack, which you can cop here however you can use any of your own samples. Here’s what we’ll be making:

Step 1.


Hi Hats


With all styles of drum programming, Hi Hats are a great place to start because they provide a rhythmical template for your beat. Make sure the grid in your clip is set to 1/16 step, as this is the division classic hip hop is programmed in.

Create a Midi channel and load a Drum Rack. Set your Bpm to 90. We are going to load in two different closed hi-hats samples and an open-hat. The first hi-hat sounds a little muted, the second and the open hat has a lot more crunch to it – all signature traits to the genre.

Start with a 1 bar clip, and enter in straight 1/16 step pattern on the first Hi Hat and then drop the velocity value on every 2nd hi hat to about 20. Next enter in a straight 1/8 step pattern on the second hi hat, and again lower the velocity value on every second hi hat. Now duplicate this pattern length twice, making it a 4 bar loop. Lastly enter in some open Hi hat hits at 1.1.3 and 2.3.3.

It should look something like this.

Step 2

Snare

Next up let’s move on to snare. One of the best ways to achieve a thick sounding snare is to layer multiple snares and rim shots on top of each other. This will make your snare sound unique, plus it will help to cut through the mix.

Load another MIDI channel with a Drum rack loaded and load your first snare sound. Ensure that this snare sound is nice and fat, as this sound will be the foundation for your snare hit. Place an EQ on it give it a boost by about 4db at around 200hz, just to fatten it up a little. Next, add a couple of rim shots to the drum rack. The samples that we have chosen have some natural sounding reverb in the sample, but if your samples don’t have any, try adding some subtle verb to them. The key word being subtle here.

Next, add a couple of rim shots to the drum rack. The samples that we have chosen have some natural sounding reverb embedded in the sample, but if your samples don’t have any, it’s always a nice idea to add some subtle verb to them. Key word being subtble – remember guys, less is more.

Start out with a 4 bar clip, in 1/16 grid division, and place a snare note on the first step of every second bar like so. Then add a few rim shots notes with varying velocity to create some more groove around the snares.

Step 3.

 Kick

The kick drum is very important as this really ties the whole groove of the beat together.  Create another MIDI track with a fresh drum rack, and load two kick drum samples. The samples we’ve chosen have different characteristics, the first one’s a hard-hitting attack, and contains a lot of sub frequencies around 55hz plus some nice upper harmonic frequencies around 5k resulting in a very beefy kick drum.  The second one is a more muted sounding kick, with punchy attack, however much shorter sustain length – perfect for a sub kick.

Create a 4 bar clip, and place notes on the 1st and 3rd steps of each bar, then place the second sub kick like so. Make sure to drop the velocity level of the sub-kick to between 50-60. The combination of these two kicks together creates a natural groove that drive the beat.


Next we’ll add a Transient Master plugin from NI to thicken up the attack and sustain of the kick, to really make it hit hard.

Step 4.

Processing

 Tie all elements together by grouping all three tracks together, then place Ableton’s Drum Buss, bring the dry/wet down to around 50% add some crunch, and play with the transients setting to your liking. This really add’s some mix glue to all the sounds. Then to achieve that dusty vinyl sound, add some subtle vinyl distortion in the chain.

Now for the final touch, select all three clips, and then apply some MPC style swing. The groove drop down menu will allow you to open the groove pool presets – select MPC to apply it to all three clips. This is critical to really achieve that groove and swing that is signature to this style.

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