Hip Hop Beats – From Then to Now

How do hip hop producers make beats using old samples and new software? Through the history of hip hop, legendary producers like Dr. Dre, Grandmaster Flash, and Kanye West have defined their eras through innovative combinations of sampling and technology. How have these producers changed the face of music though their innovative beats?

When it all began in New York in the 1970s, producers made beats the old fashioned way: by using vinyl records. Instrumental “breaks” from funk, soul and pop records were looped over and over again to create long instrumental beats that were the key attraction of exclusive beats for sale¬†parties and local clubs. DJs who were skilled at isolating these breakbeats and making new hip hop beats became famous throughout the streets of New York.

When hip hop began to be released commercially in the late 1970s and early 1980s, new developments continued to occur. Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons founded Def Jam records and dominated the rap scene of the 80s, producing hip hop beats for acts like the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. Other New York acts like Run DMC also introduced some of the hottest beats to the public. Rock beats were a staple of the 1980s scene, as in classic beats like “Walk this Way” and “Fight for your Right to Party.”

As the 1980s came to a close, however, the West Coast began rising as a rival to New York. The Gangsta rap phenomenon had been building for some time, but it was Dr. Dre who established LA as the cutting edge center of hip hop with his “G-Funk” sound, which retooled beats from the 1970s “P-Funk” groups like Parliament/Funkadelic. G-Funk stars like Snoop Dogg and Warren G released beats that updated 70s funk with a 90s sound.

While G-Funk was defining the mainstream for a generation, the alternative scene continued to play with obscure music from old and eclectic sources. The “crate digger” subculture saw artists like Madlib and DJ Shadow using samples from sources including instructional records and personal voice recordings; anything that they could dig out of the dusty crates at secondhand record stores around the world.

While beats had always been formed around the core of a vintage sample, as technology improved home sequencing software allowed more people to create their own beats and drumloops from synthesized sounds. In the modern era, hip hop has becoming increasingly influenced by electronica, and many of today’s hottest artists like BoB, the Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West have heavily synthesized and produced beats. Electro beats drive recent hits like “Stronger” and “Imma Be”.


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