In hip-hop, nothing sounds as contemporary these days as old school. It’s remarkable how much excellent beatmaking has resulted, of late, from the combination of a slightly dusty vocal sample, tweaked just so, and an automated beat. It’s a style perhaps most closely associated with A-list producer Kanye West, but everyone from Just Blaze to the late J. Dilla has reveled in it. It’s also a fairly common modus operandi for beats that have popped up recently on the cratekings.com forums, where aspiring beatmakers post their beats and critique each other’s.
Check out Milkman‘s “Beat 45” for an example; it has just a taste of a spoken bit, which is matched by the spare and slowly progressing rhythm that envelops it (file at zshare.net, post at cratekings.com); under a minute, it’s more of a sketch than a fully fleshed out track, but its restraint makes Milkman someone to keep an eye on.
Likewise p.illa, whose name and approach bring to mind the willfully scratchy loops of J. Dilla. P.illa’s appropriately named “Back in the Days” has a snatch of male vocal that serves as a punctuation, enlivened by a smattering of piano chords and gingerly plinked notes (file at zshare.net, post at cratekings.com).
“Dream” and “Didn’t Know” by R.Jay are great vocals’n’beats pairings. The latter occasionally uses a full phase from the female voice, buttery and ripe, as she sings “I didn’t know what to do with myself” and there’s the additional sweetness of a girl-group’s backing support, but what makes “Didn’t Know” spectacular is how R.Jay has cut up little tics in the lead singer’s vocal track and used them as elements unto themselves, doubling, or playing against, the percussion. On “Dream,” it’s more a matter delaying the drama inherent in the singer’s throaty vocalization, repeating syllables, and sometimes clauses, in her phrasing for optimal effect (“Dream” file at zshare.net and “Didn’t Know” file at zshare.net; post at cratekings.com).
A vocal sample figures prominently in Fatdan‘s “Surprise” but he takes it further than do many of his bedroom-beat peers. The track sounds vocoded, and the beats jerks forward with the informed hesitance of something slowly, purposefully, coming up to speed. The way that vocal sample and beat work in lockstep, leaving these brief, vacuum-like pauses, is Fatdan’s trademark. And when the chorus on “Surprise” kicks in, it uses an ever more slender slice of that vocal sample, whipping it into a taut frenzy like a paddle ball with an especially short string. Also recommended are “Mee,” which is so slow you can hear the samples slowly tearing apart, and “Captain,” which uses a scraping texture to offset its watery rhythm (post at cratekings.com; “Captain” file at zshare.net, “Mee” file at zshare.net, “Surprise” file at zshare.net). Fatdan has one of the most fully formed and truly unique production styles on the cratekings.com forums, and these three tracks are worth a close listen.