Apu Rambles: FreeBeat42 (Give the Producer Some)

by Apu

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I don’t know if it’s just me being an illiterate idiot or not, but I get the sense that a lot of producers don’t get the credit that they’re due. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been involved in an exchange like the following:

Person: “Yo man check [generic rapper] out, he’s awesome”
Me: “Oh cool, play something for me”
Person plays a song with a mediocre rapper over a beat hot as Satan’s STD-infected dick while taking a piss
Person: “Pretty sick, right?”
Me: “I guess. I thought the guy was pretty whatever”
Person: “Shit, really? The beat is fucking crazy!”

Wow, I should become a playwright, I obviously have a knack for dialogue… Anyways, yeah. People listen to a song and love it because of the work that the producer put in, and the rapper whose name is on the song will get all the credit for the song. This has been happening for basically the entirety of the last decade that I’ve been listening to hip hop music, and might have been happening since even before that. I wouldn’t know though. There aren’t too many people in the general public who’ll say “Wow, I gotta find out who produced this track!” This trend doesn’t apply exclusively to hip hop either, pop music fans are probably the biggest offenders. “Hip hop heads” are different, they love to know who produce tracks because they understand that the producer is an instrumental element of the music that they listen to, pun intended. However, actual “hip hop heads” make up a small percentage of music listeners, and are probably even a small percentage of people who listen to hip hop regularly.

It’s something that I think most people don’t really think about unless they themselves make music (and even then, you’ll get the divas who don’t give a shit and attribute all of their success to their “talent”, which tends to be wailing into a mic over great beats and relying on the engineer to fix the audio).

When it comes to bands, I find that people will praise the band as a unit. Listeners will talk about how ill a guitar solo or drum solo is when it comes on, so even though the lead singer will still probably get the most notoriety, the other members do get their praise at points. Re-read that sentence and ridicule me about how obvious it is that I don’t know shit about bands. When a song is produced by someone other than the artist who “makes” the song and there’s an instrumental interlude, people don’t say “oh shit, listen to what the producer just did”. And I know some people will say “well, playing an instrument isn’t the same thing as producing something with a program so it’s not like it’s as impressive as a band member getting a solo”. Sure, it’s not the same as playing an instrument. That doesn’t change the fact that producing is really hard to do if you want to make actually good, professional-sounding beats to compete with the best of them. You need to be able to come up with catchy melodies in your own head, decide on which instrument sounds will fit the melodies the best, create a drum-line, make sure to fill the beat with sounds so that it doesn’t sound empty and amateur, add more to break up hooks and verses, chop samples in clever ways so they don’t become loops of the original…and that’s just what I know about.

I’m not a producer, so there’s sure to be more that I’m not aware of.

It doesn’t help when people like Lupe Fiasco talk about how producers get paid too much. Remember when he called out “overcharging producers” on Twitter? Sure, some producers charge a lot of money, but is that really any different from a rapper charging a lot for a guest verse? A guest rapper offers what he can to the song, which is vocals, and a producer offers what he can to the song, which is a beat. A rapper who starts getting famous and raps with other higher profile rappers charges more, and a producer who works with higher profile rappers charges more. It’s the same principle. Actually, on second thought, it’s not, because you can make a good album without any guest rappers on it, but if you can’t produce, I don’t really think you can make an album worth shit without the help of producers.

Without producers, rappers would be rapping acapella, maybe with a beat made from hitting a table or something at the most, but overall it would just be mainly vocals. I imagine that would become very monotonous, and people wouldn’t bother listening. There would be a lack of variety that can only come from different beats, and there would be a huge element missing in the emotional attachment of the music to the listeners. There’s a reason why people love listening to beat tapes but nobody really gives a fuck about acapella versions of albums… Unless they want to throw the vocals onto another beat.

You know, one that a producer made.

Not to mention, there are countless rappers who have said something along the lines of “I listen to the beat and do what it tells me”. A beat sets the tone, and can elicit a reaction in an artist that helps him or her think of what to write. I don’t know. If I, as stupid as I am, can understand that, I don’t get why Lupe can’t. Maybe he was just in his one of his “I’m gonna rap the ‘Obama is the real terrorist’ line over and over for 20 minutes, the crowd will love that!” moods. All I know is that “Overcharging producers. You’re not the rappers who have rapped on your beats. #Needed2BeSaid” can easily be flipped to “Overpaid rappers. You’re not the producers who have given you the backdrop on which you write, flow, perform, and essentially use to become famous, as opposed to just talking flatly in a vague rhythm with nothing behind your voice. #Needed2BeSaid”. Wait, I think that’s over 140 characters. God damn it.

I imagine it must be frustrating to the producers a lot of the time. Obviously they’re getting paid, and they’re earning plaques and awards for their work on albums. Sure, that’s nice, but I’m sure that if somebody is actually serious about their work, they most likely want to be at least recognized for it. I’ve read some complaints about producers putting tags on their beats. I don’t get that particular complaint. I sure as shit get irritated when DJs get a bit overzealous when tagging mixtapes, but I’m personally all for producer tags. If it’s something like the ones that Bangladesh, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, or Alchemist use, then I don’t think that it should be a problem. Nothing too loud or intrusive (unless you’re Just Blaze, in which case, you fucking deserve to have a loud tag, especially because what you hear after the tag plays is going to be absolutely sick 9 times out of 10). Something that can even add to the atmosphere of the beat (see J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s tag on Nas’s “No Introduction”). Or even something that plays almost like a small interlude before the song even comes on, like Mr. Porter’s “You get more for your money when you fuck with Mr. Porter” thing. That sort of thing doesn’t even get in the way of the song that’s about to play, it’s just an introduction. Anything that’s put in the beginning or end of the beat. I personally think that a producer should have a tag on at least one beat that they contribute to a rapper’s album. If there are other beats by the same producer, they don’t really need a tag in my mind (but it wouldn’t hurt). At least one though, so that it’s clearly put out there for everyone to know that that producer worked on the album. Even if it’s a collaboration album between a producer and a rapper, people really are just going to pay attention to the rapper. It doesn’t matter if the name of the producer is next to the rapper’s name, because the one that they hear talking to them is the rapper. If the producer has their name verbally stated on the track, or even just some sound effect that remains consistent throughout the music you work on with various artists, people will hopefully recognize it and make the association between his beats on different albums, and could possibly even start appreciating him.

Hearing the name on the song is a lot more effective than just crediting the producer in the liner notes, especially in an age where people don’t generally buy physical copies of albums.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m giving producers more credit than rappers for making good music. You’re never going to hear me say that. When I listen to hip hop, I generally check more for what the rapper is saying than I do the beat. I only really pay attention more to the beat when it’s something absolutely mind-blowing, or when the rapping sucks. But the producer needs to provide the canvas for the rapper to be able to write what they write. At the same time, it’s the rappers who ultimately decide what direction they want an album to go in. They add the charisma needed for people to really become invested in the music. They write and recite the words that we all react to. Being a profitable off rapping is probably more difficult to do than doing so by being a good producer basically because of how the market works; rappers are always looking for beats, but if someone hears a rapper who sounds like other people they don’t get taken as seriously as they could. Producers are given a lot more wiggle room generally as far as the sounds they can use. Nobody really gets upset at a producer for making a beat for a pop artist, but everyone gets mad at a rapper for collaborating with the same artist. Ultimately, what I’m trying to say here before going on about 7 different tangents in one paragraph is that good hip hop music is the result of both rapper and producer. They go hand in hand. If one existed without the other, hip hop wouldn’t have become what it did, and there’s nothing that anyone could say against that.

But the rapper gets his due. I think it’s about time the producer does too.

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Author: Extraordinary Nobodies

A hip-hop blog ran by hip-hop fans.

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