Making hip hop music, and specifically creating rap beats for rappers and lyricists is a very sophisticated form of art, and has its difficulties like every other music production process.
The main difference of rap beats from other music genres, is that it relies mostly on electronic equipment such as samplers, drum pads, computers and midi keyboards rather than instruments.
How are rap beats made
Most of the times, it is a one-man situation. The person that creates the rap beats is called the beatmaker, and he is the person responsible for the main idea of the beat, the structure and arrangement and sometimes even the mixing and mastering process.
Let’s take a look at the steps you have to take in order to create a rap beat.
Listen to lots of music
To be able to create your own music, you need to have a certain level of knowledge about the music genre you are about to enter, in this case hip hop music.
It is advisable that you listen to as many records as you can to understand the basic structure of rap songs, how the music productions sound in general, the parts that sound similar between rap beats and the techniques producers use.
All these will help you acquire a better understanding about how to start structuring your beats, the ways you could use your samples and drum loops and the main idea behind rap music productions.
First of all, you need to have the appropriate equipment. Assuming that you are just starting, you might be on a tight budget. That means that you can buy only the absolutely necessary equipment, and to be fair that is all you need in the beginning.
Here is a list of the equipment you need:
- Personal computer / Laptop
- Studio monitors
- Audio interface
- Midi keyboard
- Drum pad controller
Midi keyboards and drum pads are not of major importance the first days you start making beats, but they are pretty cheap and they will be very useful in certain parts of the music production process, such as creating bass line with the midi keyboard, or a drum loop with the drum pad controller.
What you need to make sure is that you have a PC or a laptop, a decent pair of studio monitors and an audio interface in order to be ready to start creating music.
Next step is to acquire your music software. There are a lot of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) available for you to choose from. Here is a list with some of the best:
- FL Studio
- Ableton Live
- Pro Tools
Your best option is to test them all and decide which one offers the most convenient environment for you to start creating music and purchase it.
Next step is to acquire some very useful plugins. You can use the plugins through the DAWs and they will provide you with huge libraries of effects that you can apply to your music productions, such as compressors, multi-band compressors, equalizers, stereo wideners, noise gates, distortion effects, reverb and delay processors and limiters.
Some of the most important plugins that we suggest are:
- Waves Bundle
- Izotope Ozone
In combination to the plugins we suggested, all the DAWs mentioned above have their own plugins. Those plugins have different interfaces but a producer can use them in similar ways to achieve the results he wants.
Find quality sounds
The best way to make sure that your rap beats will have the best quality possible, is to make sure that you find some effective sound packages you can use.
No matter how much you try to make a good beat, the result is going to be disappointing if you start creating it by using low quality sounds in the first place. You need to make sure that you find sounds that have high quality standards, are mixed and mastered properly and they were created from credible sources.
To begin with, you can find oneshot sounds. Oneshot sounds are sound packages like drum kits, which contain kicks, hi-hats and snares. Other packages have percussion sounds, effects, stabs, bass kicks etc.
You can also search and find samples and loops. Loops differ from oneshot sound because they are complete riffs or melodies. Once again, you have to make sure that they are quality loops and it is suggested that before you buy them, you listen to a preview of the product.
You can find all kinds of loops like guitar, bass, saxophone, piano, percussion, effects, trumpet and drum loops. You can chop them and rearrange them so that you create your own versions and apply them to your music production.
Structure your beat
When it comes to structuring songs, music producers use different methods across all music genres. Structuring rap beats varies a lot from beatmaker to beatmaker but there are some non-standard rules that apply to many hip hop productions.
The basic structure of a beat consists of the drum loop, the sampled loop, the melodies, the bassline, the special effects and the percussions. Many times, hip hop producers use vinyl crackles and sounds to imitate the sound of the vinyl and make their beats sound dirtier.
The first thing you need to learn when you start making your first rap beats, is the structure of your music production. The basis of a rap beat is the drum loops layout, which consists of the kicks, hi-hats and snares.
Those three elements have to be placed in the patterns of your music software, in such a formation that they would create the right sound of a hip hop drum loop.
You can watch a very simple yet very effective video on how to create some basic hip hop drumloops using the FL Studio:
Those ways of building drum patterns are used by many music producers to create very basic drum loops to use as a basis for their productions and then structure the entire beat upon them.
Most times, in order to make the beat more interesting music producers tend to make several variations of the same drum loop in the beats they create, so that they keep they listeners engaged and make their productions sound more professional and intriguing.
A typical way of structuring hip hop songs is by adding an introduction, two or three 16 bar verses, two or three hooks (choruses) and an outro. This is the most basic structure of a hip hop song but it can vary big time between songs.
It all depends to the music producer, the artist and the sound engineer. They arrange the elements of a music production according to the needs of each song, and they make the appropriate changes where needed.
When it comes to making rap beats, one of the key ingredients is to use sampled loops. This is a very common technique of structuring a beat for many beatmakers. However, every producer uses different kinds of sample sources according to his own preferences.
In order to sample the right sounds for your style of music, you should be able to identify what kind of songs have the biggest impact on your personality and use them to create loops for your own beats.
Experimentation is the key in this situation. You have to chop, rearrange and test different rhythms with your sampled loops, combine them with the drum loops you created and see which ones are the most successful. This procedure takes time and a lot of practice, but rest assured that you will become better over time.
Keep in my mind that most rappers prefer simple but interesting loops over complex ones, so that they can keep the emphasis focused on their verses. Try to make your loops sound smooth and not too noisy especially when combined with the artist’s lyrics, so that it is easier for your audience to focus on the lyrics.
Test and adjust your arrangement, and try to keep the beat structure interesting. Create different variations of the loop so that you can emphasize the chorus, or help the creativity of the artist by providing him different rhythms to work with and experiment.
Make sure that you use pauses and bridges between the hooks or the verses and create compelling introductions and outros. Experiment with various ways of starting or ending your beats and try not to repeat yourself too many times.
Create melodies and riffs
When you create melodies for your beats, you can either create them according to the sampled loop you may use as a basis for your beat or as standalone riffs.
In the case you create a melody to support your main sampled loop, you have create more subtle melodies that accompany your main loop, but structure them in a way that the listener remains focused on the sampled loop.
You have to keep the volumes of the melody low and try to cut down any frequencies that block the sound of your main loop. This way, you manage to make your beat sound cleaner and help your sampled loops stand out.
On the other hand, when you create riffs that you are going to use as main melodies for your beats, you have to emphasize them. You can make the sound stronger and heavier and keep their volume high but balanced inside the mix.
Make sure that all your melodies and your sampled loops give enough space to your drum loops because they are a very important part of a rap beat, and the element that keeps the rhythm of the beat clear for the listener and the artist.
The bassline is the musical element that makes every beat sound warmer. It gives a certain level of weight to the production depending to the way it is used.
When a beat has an already heavy drum loop, it is suggested that either the volume levels or the lower frequencies of the bassline remain at a low level. This prevents the sound from becoming saturated and cause noise, although compressors do a great job when it comes to balancing the sound.
There are mainly two types of basslines. The first ones is created to accompany the sampled loop or the melody and the second one to accompany the drum loop, and more specifically the kicks.
Basslines can be created within the music software using piano rolls and patterns using the keyboard or mouse pad, although when created with the midi keyboard the process enhances the creativity of the beatmakers and can experiment with more variations.
After the creation of the main loops and melodies of a rap beat, you can add effects. Effects can be in the form of noises, sounds, stabs, experimental percussion etc. You can apply those effects because they make the beat sound full and can make the arrangement more interesting.
It is very common for beatmakers to use vinyl sounds and crackles in their rap beats. Vinyl crackles help the producer recreate the sound of vinyl record, even when the music production was created without used any sampled content from vinyl.
This makes the music production sound warmer and give to the listener a more classic hip hop feeling, due to the fact that all hip hop productions during the 80s and 90s where created mainly by sampling old vinyl records.
Mixing and mastering
When the creation of a beat is over, it is time to mix and master it properly. This is the job of an audio engineer, but most producers know how to mix and master their own productions.
It is a common concept, that it is very beneficial when the producer has the knowledge and experience to mix and master his own beats, because he can achieve the exact sound he intended to.
When mixing your beats, make sure that you maintain a nice balance between all sound and that you emphasize the drum loop and the bassline. Rap beats tend to be heavier than music productions in other genres and this happens because music producers focus on the drums and the bass.
You should avoid making the sampled loops and the melodies that accompany them too loud and noisy, so that the beat is kept clean and the lyricist or rapper can easily write lyrics on the beat. It is also essential that the sound of your beat remains clean, so that it is convenient for the listener to focus on both the production and the lyrics.
The procedure of the mastering is usually best to be done by a sound engineer, but if you know how to master your beats, you should have in mind to make your music as loud, warm and stereo wide as you can keeping the right balance.
Remember to correct the dynamics of your beat, especially to the lower frequencies to avoid blurriness and cause your beat to sound flat, and keep the mid-high and high frequencies clean to help rappers give emphasis to their lyrics and vocals.
That is all.
Now it is time for you to create your own rap beats!