As you probably already know, there are many clear differences between different types of hip-hop and rap. There is the dirty, bottle-poppin’ southern hip-hop, which is usually made up of synthetic elements. There is trap music, which features fast high-hats and a lot of sub-bass. In this article, I will be focusing on west coast style productions. These typically feature more realistic sounding elements and less speedy percussion. Below I will walk you through my process for creating a west coast style hip hop groove using 4 instruments.
First, drop the tempo down to about 97 BPM. West coast beats are usually a good deal slower than other types of hip-hop. The slower speed evokes more anticipation of the snare and kick.
This is what my groove sounds like…
INSTRUMENT 1 – THE KIT
Customize a kit in Battery 4 or another sampler of your choice. You will need at least one kick, the main snare, a supporting snare, a couple of closed hi-hats, an open hi-hat, and a ride cymbal. You may also use toms and FX if you wish. Make sure the kick has a little bit of fuzz in it – nothing too clean.
Compose the basic groove using your custom kit. Start by placing kicks on 1 and 3 and the main snare on 2 and 4 for 16 measures. Then, fill in the gaps with a couple anticipation kicks, hi-hats, and the ride cymbal. Be sure to use various velocity levels or some kind of humanizing feature to make it sound more organic. Traditionally, these drum grooves are played by people, recorded, and chopped up for re-triggering. If you have the tools to do this then – by all means – do it. For the sake of this demonstration, I am using sample libraries.
Drop an EQ on this kit track. I chose to use the Renaissance EQ from Waves. Use a high pass filter to cut sub frequencies and some resonance to emphasize the cutoff. Try to match this cutoff to the tone of the kick drum. Sweep a couple resonant filters across the spectrum and listen for undesirable ranges to cut and sweet spots to boost. Then, raise the high shelf a little just to emphasize the characteristic old-school distortion we will add later. Do not boost anything more than a couple dB.
Create a return track and bring the assigned send fader on the kit track all the way up. Drop a compressor onto the return and do some drastic processing (low threshold, high ratio, quick attack and long release). Make sure the return track is set to pre-mixer so that you can adjust the mix of dry and wet channels independently. This is what my processed drum groove sounds like by itself….
INSTRUMENT 2 – Electric Bass
As I mentioned earlier, this type of hip-hop features more realistic sounding instruments than other styles. As for bass, it should sound relatively human. With that being said, you can synthesize a pretty realistic electric bass in just about any subtractive synthesizer. I chose to use Monark by Native Instruments. I modified a preset called electric so that its cutoff was a bit lower with no resonance and the decay was a bit longer. This sound has the right waveforms for the style – saw and soft saw, separated by an octave.
Compose an 8 bar phrase made up of 2 related 4 bar phrases and duplicate it so that it lasts 16 bars. Make some subtle edits to the duplicate such as inverting an interval or taking out a note. Add some pitch bend to some of the important notes (root notes) so it sounds like a person is actually sliding their fingers across the fret-board when there are leaps. With this being said, use a good balance between leaps and steps and do not be afraid to repeat notes.
You’ll probably need to do a bit of automation on this bass to simulate an organic sound. Good parameters to automate include filter cutoff and decay.
Drop an EQ on this bass track. Make a soft boost in the low mids and softly cut the high shelf (low resonance). Then, cut some from the range that your kick drum is prominent in (mine is prominent at about 45 Hz). Drop a limiter after the EQ to prevent peak clipping.
This is what my bass sounds like mixed with my kit.
INSTRUMENT 3 – ELECTRIC PIANO
Create a new track and drop an instance of any sampler with an electric piano sound on it. I chose to use Mark 2 Phaser Ballad within Kontakt’s library. You will not need to do much design or modification to this sound. It is characteristic of the genre in its raw form. Note placement, voicing, and effects are much more important. Compose a 16 bar block in the same fashion as the bass part. Experiment with playing tensions like 6ths and 2nds over the bass. Try not to make any unisons, octaves, or fifths (See Blog: Scales, Intervals).
Go heavy on the effects for this one. I used a chorus/flanger, delay, and a filter on the insert rack. Use the coarse-to-fine approach to determine the best position of parameters. In general, shallow modulation depths and simple high pass filtering will do the trick. I chose to use a quarter note delay time. Create another return track and bring the assigned fader for it on the electric piano track all the way up.
Again, make sure it is set to pre-mixer mode. Set the reverb to fully wet and to about a 2 second decay time. Adjust the mix of dry and wet channels to your liking.
This is what my electric piano sounds like mixed with the drums and bass.
INSTRUMENT 4 – VOCAL FX
Create a new instance of Battery 4 or any other sampler. Find 2 or 3 female vocal samples and load them into slots for triggering. I chose to use 2 samples from the Battery factory library. I duplicated one and made a pitch edit to the copy – resulting in 3 unique samples. Experiment with pitch and amplitude envelopes until you get something that works over the track. One effective technique I used the pan modulation in the modulation tab of Battery 4.
I also used an 8th note delay with a good deal of feedback for all of these samples. In addition, I brought up the send fader on the to the reverb return.
Bring up the send fader to the reverb return on the bass track A TINY BIT – just enough to put it in the room. Do the same for the send fader on the drum compression return. Drop a stereo imager after the parallel reverb and widen its output pretty drastically. I chose to use the S1 Imager from Waves. Lastly, drop a limiter on the master, just to prevent peak clipping and smooth things out.
Finally, here is my processed West Coast Groove…