Sorry, I lied. No garage, yet. Today we talk, “Yesterday’s New Quintet”

Apart from being ridiculously badass, YNQ is a great example of rhythmix deviance working it’s way into new music and different genre’s.

That’s YNQ covering you-know-who (Stevie Wonder, if you don’t 😉 ) YNQ is all Madlib, a well-known Dj and producer, playing drum machines and all sorts of rad vintage gear to make sick slidey slanky jazz music. The project occasionally has guest musicians, but it seems to me like Madlib’s excuse to play his Rhodes, Clavinet, and synthesizers without other cats bothering him or (god forbid) trying to rap over them.

What gets me immediately is his Rhodes (the electric piano) playing style. I know he does but the style makes it seem like he doesn’t know how to play keyboards. Juvenile in the most sincere way, this cover is paying tribute only to the melody of the original song. He imbues it with his own wild chains and shakers, sliding all over his keyboard like a drunk. Great stuff.

This one’s an original, and it certainly sounds so. A prevailing feature of wacky beats and contemporary rhythmic exploration is the spirit of experimentation. This track sounds like he’s walking around his studio, wrecking a tad on each keyboard then moving on. It’s interesting how he’s taken the odd-but-consistent broken swing of Dilla’s music and applied it to his live instrumentation. He’s using mostly drum machines for percussion, but he’s playing everything else instead of sampling it. So instead of having slices of samples, putting them together, and coming out with weird choppy rhythms, he’s hearing weird choppy rhythms in his head and executing them on record. It’s unclear whether Dilla, Doom, or Madlib (YNQ, rememba) are/were capable of playing mathematically in time, but if they are/were, they certainly aren’t/weren’t worried about it.

So are they doing it conciously? Probably so, but when isolated groups of kids hear this stuff, especially when they don’t know anything about how it was made, the style becomes the new goal for imitation. Kids will be (and def already are) practicing how to make their drums sound fucked up, how to make the parts of their songs almost fall completely apart but still keep the funkiness and danceability. I wonder if the fans and proponents of slanky jams will be forever cursed with the inability to play with other straight-laced musicians. That’s a dramatic example, but my point is that today’s generation is becoming desensitized to “off” rhythms. Pretty sweet.

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Tonight at Eleven, DOOOOM

Don’t get too excited, Morbo, I’m talking about MF Doom. (What? No Futurama fans? pssh.)

MF Doom is the shit. I personally have been on a bit of a Doom break, (after a two-year doom extravaganza) but he was my main inspiration for buying a drum machine and turntables when I was 16, and subsequently dedicating the following 6 years to beats and electronic music.

What initially struck me was his looseness. I would laugh aloud at his almost ridiculous drum patterns, sounding like they were played by a young child but still so perfectly gangster. There was distortion and record scratch everywhere, weird drop outs, and vocal samples that, by all conventional musical standards, did not work at all. But his freedom was inspiring. He didn’t give a fuck!

MF Doom was not the first fellow to make nasty lo-fi beats. Sampling hardware had been around in various forms as early at 1969 (EMS Musys), but it wasn’t until the (relatively) affordable E-mu SP-1200 was released in 1987 that hip-hop musicians were able to take their own snippets of drums and other instruments for use in their backing tracks. They recorded low quality record sounds into low quality sampling machines, recording them to low quality tape or back to vinyl, and ended up with a beautifully nasty end product.

Barely youtube’s fault, the original sounds that raw. His use of samples, though not always very creative and usually very illegal, is endlessly inspiring. As far as the law is concerned, he’s stealing music and calling it his own, but Doom has brought countless badass 70s and 80s tracks to the ears of hipsters and rapheads everywhere.

Not trying to call anyone out 😉 just making a point. This track is sick, and I never would have heard it if Doom didn’t sample and rap on it.

So, while Doom didn’t directly contribute to rhythmic evolution the way that some others have, he opened up a whole generation to messed up, sample-based hip hop music. The sonic walls that he helped to tear down paved the way for kids who didn’t know any better(!) to start exploring the grittier side of music. Armed with their laptops, they did their best to sound like their heros, MF Doom included, and the wicked space child that is contemporary electronic hip hop began to take shape.

Discovery is born from the pursuit to imitate.

Perhaps, garage next week?

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That Swing You Do

We’re going to start with Dilla. J Dilla. Jay Dee, aka James Yancey. Dilla is credited as being one of the most influential hip hop producers ever, recieving most of his acclaim after his death in 2006 from the rare blood disease TTP. Once he died, people started to look deeply into his catalogues of official and unreleased material. His fame subsequently skyrocketed. I feel there are some subtle ideas that Dilla introduced that have played a huge role in the development of modern hip hop. (When I refer to electronic music in general, I’m including hip hop, since many of the same tools and techniques are used, especially ‘behind the scenes’) And, interestingly, some of these developments were heavily influenced by the producer’s chosen hardware.

Listen to the drums in this track. The kick drum is very loose and the the hi hats are light and bouncy. The type of swing employed is on a 16th note subdivision, that is, every other 16th of the bar is pushed forward; It happens a tad later than a mathematical 16th of the bar. Very common in hip hop and dance music. Old drum machines offered this type of swing (albeit not as funky as dilla, he uses volume and extreme swing to his funky advantage,) as well as 8th note swing and others, which seemed to hardly ever be used unless making slower genres not typically produced with drum machines (samba, traditional jazz, etc.) Now listen here..

Particularly to the hi hats, (though the other drums follow as well.) This is the 8th note swing. Each bar is divided into eight equal sections, and sections 2, 4, 6, and 8 are pushed forward in time slightly, as opposed to the 16th note swing I mentioned earlier. Check the diagram

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These are our evenly spaced 8th notes. Fine and dandy.

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And here are our same 8th notes with every other note pushed forward. Subtle, but oh so powerful.

Drum machines give you the ability to apply a chosen swing to the patterns you record, and it does this using “quantization”. The computer will snap your recorded events to the closest subdivision that you choose. My theory here is that one day Dilla decided (or perhaps accidentally chose) the 8th note swing instead of the 16th, giving the beats a special push and pull feeling, like that of your breath or ocean waves, and said to himself “Dope.” This is only one of my theories on Dilla’s 8th note swing, and we’ll discuss others in another post.

Who cares? Everyone it would seem. Without analysis, Dilla’s beats are just “funkier”, or to some people (like my dad!) “wrong.” But an entire generation was simultaneously made aware of this strange development when Jay Dee passed away. Many surely already knew, but I wasn’t that cool yet 😉 And as hipster kids will do, we copied it. Everyone who watched “Family Guy” or “Futurama” on Cartoon Network heard his tracks between commercials, so suddenly we all have a brand new “cool” to look up to. Violent hip hop took a backseat, and the hip kids were now allowed to loosen up and groove a little. It also started to open doors for other producers. When you hear something wacky, especially if you don’t fully understand how it was done, letting it influence you (copying it) often results in more new development.

Now, we can call it genius. But was Dilla deliberately changing the face of contemporary hip hop?

Next time we talk about Doom.

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Straight, no chaser

In the 1980s, electronic music was, for the most part, a very rigid and deliberate art form. Musicians would use sequencers, a tool that would let you record information and later play it back, to synchronize and automate their various electronic instruments in order to orchestrate modern feats of funk. And I am, of course, over-simplifying the process. These sequencers recorded events in even spaced intervals and would often quantize events to the nearest subdivision when recording. This feature, while allowing extreme rhythmic precision not usually available without highly trained (and paid!) musicians, in effect erases the subtleties and nuances of a human performance; the continuously changing volume levels and slight rhythmic variance that gave many genres their signature feel.

The style of electronic dance music was heavily influenced by these capabilities/limitations. Commonly providing the pulse of the groove were drum machines, which played patterns with consistent and regular timing. (this is the 808, a particularly famous and mega-badass example of a vintage drum machine. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBg4h_GEhfk )

Most by the mid 80s offered some tipe of swing or shuffle, which would delay every other beat of a chosen subdivision in order to imply a more relaxed, natural feel. It was a welcome and rad addition,but still sounded decidedly robotic.

“Jam On It” by Newcleus, a classic example of killer boogie funk using vintage drum machines

tr-808 and 909 drum sounds all but flooded the clubs and dance parties. I dare generalize once more and say that some artists in other genres criticized the rock solid rhythms played by machines and the often homogenized 80s and 90s dance sound. In resistance not only to critics but to a looming possibility of stagnation, electronic musicians began experimenting with ways to bring life to their compositions and coax believable, human, or even outrageous rhythms out of their machines.

The track is “Cheesecake Backslap” by Samiyam. Loose almost to the point of hilarity. This blog will, each week, take a look at the stages that fall in between these two examples; the evolution and inter-musical influences that gave rise to this slanky fresh funk, the likes of which had rarely been accepted until this last decade. And artists continue to push the limits of acceptable deviation! What is it that ties a groove together? How far can you take rhythm from the warm and cozy animal rug that is western popular music culture, without leaving all potential listeners wondering if you actually know how to use your tools? Stay tuned to find out…

I leave you with Jay Dilla’s remix of  ” Those Dreamin’ Eyes” by D’Angelo (props to Dave Grusin, namsayn)

tell you what i love me some dilla

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