Top 10 Hip Hop Production Techniques

Looking for some useful tips and tricks to make your Hip Hop hits hit harder than The Hulk?

Untie your tongue and test out these 10 techniques...

1. Don't afraid to be off the beat

Add some swing and you're sure to turn a conventional robotic drum machine beat into something a bit more bouncy. Remember - Hip Hop has a huge focus on the groove, so don't be afraid to try a few different values. Try dragging all your up beat percussion and hats slightly to the right, or try doing this to all the percussion leaving just the kick and the snare in place.   Be careful to keep it consistent though. Unless you're going for  wonky.

2. ...And again...

Multitracked Vocals beef up choruses and emphasise the best lyrics nicely, be sure to add in the one or two extra layers on top to give that big conventional rap vocal. Try panning those slightly left and right to widen up the vocal as well. However, if you're going for authenticity then you might want to either stick with the one track, or get a few different people to do gang vocals on those sections - Wu Tang have taught us that authentic hip hop can still sound sweet!

3. Sort out your samples

If you're wondering why your beat isn't powerful, it's probably because your beat isn't powerful! If you don't have some punchy samples in the first place then you'll never get the oomph you're looking for.

4. Creative Sampling

The most memorable Hip Hop tracks sample something memorable - the vocal clicks on Snoop's "Drop it like it's Hot", the cheesy little flute thing on Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'", the guitar in Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" (Hey wow, I managed to reference Vanilla Ice in a positive way somehow!) - It is all about making it catchy and interesting. Try picking out some unconventional instruments to add your own personality to the track... for example; are you into your metal? Chuck in some distorted guitar. Love oriental music? Get some koto on the go!

5. Perfection from imperfection

Most old school hip hop isn't perfect - there is a definite element of live authenticity to the tracks, from imperfectly timed one shots to dissonant melodies, sometimes what is conventionally wrong can add character to a beat!

6. Layer the Cake

One nice technique is to get your drum loop sample, then beef it up with single drum hits - an 808 here, a punchy clap-snare there... Your beat is much more powerful and hard hitting! Be careful to make sure that your beats match up to those on the loop though, if you've sampled a live track you might have to manually cut and move your drum hits to match the sampled loop! Some pieces of software such as Sonar and Pro Tools have "Snap to Transient" options available to speed this up nicely.

7. Drop it like it's hot

If you drop out elements of the mix to emphasize the vocal lines that will make people say "Ohhhhh!" or "Dayyyyum!" or "What you say 'bout my momma?!" then that will make them more of a focal point - a good hip hop track has the vocals playing off the beat and vice versa, rather than the vocal line and the music being two separate entities.

8. Compress it! A small amount of compression on the beat and vocals can just bring the level up nicely, something like 2:1 compression at a threshold of -18dB does the job nicely, but for even heavier beats try 4:1 or even 8:1!

9. Wrap Up Warm...

Some warm mastering can really make the track sound professional, so give your beat the equivalent of a nice cuppa by boosting around 60hz and 2.5khz by about 4dB to bring out the kick and snare! Mmm... Toasty!

10. Chop it up!

Resampling your beat can add that element of authenticity - If you have access to an MPC, run your beat into one and play around with it, chop it up, re-arrange it and even stutter it. Keeping the same beat all the way through is a brilliant way to waste an opportunity for keeping your listeners interested - this is a great way to add some variety without too much effort!

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