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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Apu Rambles: You’re All Boring, Stop Putting Out Music Please

by Apu

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First of all, I have to give a big, big shout out to Prof for retweeting what I wrote about him and making my dick feel less small than it really is. More people read that article in 3 days than I originally thought would visit our site in a month.

Dear Diary,

I’m just sitting here eating my Little Bites brownies before I head off to the gym and I thought I’d try writing what I hope is a pretty quick little entry in Apu Rambles. I’m really fucking sick of people in hip hop (not necessarily just rappers but singers who are essentially a part of the culture and/or genre, but I guess I’ll say rappers from here on out because my fat fuck self is too lazy to write 5 syllables when I could just write 2) not having a personality in their music. That goes for people in both the mainstream and underground, however, I find that this problem does run more rampant in the underground. Of course, a lot of rappers in the mainstream have to rely on only personality because they can’t fucking rap (*cough* Future *cough* Young Thug *cough*), but strangely enough I come across more underground rappers than I do mainstream. Maybe it’s because my dad’s car’s speakers are dicked and my cheap-ass dad won’t do shit to fix it, leaving me to have to blast music through my phone’s speaker while putting myself at the same risk of death as people who text and drive.

So I don’t listen to the radio and I spend a little too much time on the internet, being the chick magnet that I am. Anyway, the point is that the whole personality thing bugs me.

I’m not gonna call any names out or anything in a negative way, because I don’t want to alienate any readers who may be fans of rappers I’m talking about (and basically make it so Dustin wasted $30 or so on the domain name). I just want to say, to me, technical skill isn’t everything. Some fans like to run around claiming that their next favorite underground rapper has the best flow, most complex rhymes, most mind-boggling metaphors…sure, I do enjoy them a lot. I mean, how couldn’t I? Eminem is my #1 favorite rapper and right now he’s probably one of the most technical rappers who has ever lived. But he still has a vibrant personality in his music. Just listen to the Bad Meets Evil song “All I Think About” if you think differently.

Honestly, if you don’t do something differently from the 30 other rappers I could find in the suggest videos column, then I’m not going to really care about how technical you are. Show me personality. Personality is fucking everything in life, even when it comes to shit like this. That’s why no matter how fucking terrible my submissions to this website are, I at least have a personality that isn’t like the typical millennial piece of shit who writes articles on the internet like “10 Reasons Why You Should Put Yourself Above Your Boyfriend” or “12 Ways I’m The Guy Every Girl Says She Wants But Doesn’t Date Because I’m So Clearly A Beta Male With No Confidence” or whatever the fuck else my generation spews out while expecting the older generations to actually respect us, so my shit is at least a little bit more enjoyable (at least, I would like to think. If not, well, at least I’m not getting paid for spreading my filth across the Internet). It’s especially important in an art form like hip hop, where it seems like everyone (including my shitty self) feels like they can do it.

So many underground rappers claim that they’re bringing the 90s back or whatever. REAL HIP HOP. The thing is though, I really don’t think they are. When I think the 90s, what I hear is guys like Wu-Tang, DMX, Onyx, or Heltah Skeltah with a rugged sound who rap with conviction. Busta Rhymes being catchy as shit with bouncy beats and a loud, fun as fuck voice that makes you want to yell along with him (“NEW YORK! JERSEY! PHILLY! B-MORE! D.C.! VIRGINIA! ATLANTA! EVERYBODY RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE!” is very fun. Yell it at the top of your lungs at some neighborhood kids, then again while you’re in a high-speed chase away from cops for causing a disturbance. You won’t regret it). Nas with a rich, soulful sound. Redman with the funky beats, slick delivery, and witty jokes that makes you grin when you listen. In other words, they put themselves into the music.

Since everybody is a unique snowflake who has value in their own special ways jfkdlajklfdjalkfjkl;dajl (sorry about that, I pressed my hand down on the keyboard as I ran up to vomit after typing that), they bring something in their music that nobody else has. You don’t get that with most underground rappers nowadays. You generally get rappers who have absolutely no originality at all… Look at all the Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Drake biters there are. Even The Weeknd is starting to have his style bitten by R&B singers. They’ve got no power or personality behind what they’re saying, they’re just adopting what someone else has done or they sound totally empty. It’s either that, or they rap over beats that they think are “old school boom bap” but are actually just painfully obviously programmed drums over opera samples that sound decentralized in the way that the sound comes out of the headphones. And the way they rap is just as bad. No vocal variety, no musicality, just flat rapping. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t see a reason why anyone would want to listen to anything like these kinds of rappers. I can’t find anything that these guys add to my playlist that’s anything that I’ve either not already got or would even want.

Another thing, why the fuck have producers stopped using drums? Jesus Christ, these fucking idiots think that just because the Atlanta scene uses claps that everyone can, so they throw claps behind some classic rock samples and listen to it thinking the shit sounds good. It doesn’t. What made me really realize this is when I was listening to a new song by Ca$his (you forgot and/or never knew he existed, amright?), produced by Eminem, that was posted on a forum that I frequent. The melody and everything is pretty fucking nice, right? Shit sounds like it could really knock…but it doesn’t. There’s no drums, it’s just claps. For some reason Em skipped past basically all the drum options and (I can only assume) thought “ay bro this shit hard” in his drug-addled mind and gave it to Ca$his, probably because it sounded like most other shit that got plays. Comparing that to this newer song which sounds more like it was produced sometime around The Marshall Mathers LP 2, or later, made me understand how much the impact of the drums can transform a beat completely.

See the difference? It sounds tougher. It sounds meaner and compliments Ca$his’s (sort of outdated) gangsta attitude and style more than that weak-ass shit in the first song. It fucking hits harder, even though the melody of the older one sounds like the song should hit harder. Most importantly, the sound of the drum fits this beat more than that clap or whatever the fuck was used fit the first one. You know why? Because the shit wasn’t a dirty south beat. Claps don’t work on beats that aren’t dirty south. Look, hip hop producers from the East, West, and Midwest. We get that Atlanta ran shit for a long time in the mid 00s. That doesn’t mean you have to adopt their style. The producers from Atlanta know how to make the claps work, because they know how to make the surrounding music fit them. You fucking don’t. Get back to using actual drums because the shit sounds way stronger on the style of music that you’re producing. Or maybe it doesn’t and I’m just hearing things, in which case, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to slit my wrist to take myself down a notch. Not too badly, just to let a little bit of blood flow out before I bandage myself.

But I don’t know, I think I like guys like DJ Premier so much still to this day because his drums are powerfu. I didn’t like Royce much on PRhyme (circling back to the personality thing, I thought that he just sounded like he was reading off his paper rather than rapping with conviction, but that’s just me…see? It all connects!), but holy shit was Premo’s production on that some of my favorite production work in a long time. Those drums on “Dat Sound Good” and “Wishin’” are to die for. So yeah. If you’re gonna make an East or West beat, just put a fucking snare, trash can lid, or fucking cowbell on it or some shit. Usually those drums will resonate more naturally with me than claps do. I’ve always believed that you know a song is good when you can feel the shit in your testicles, not when you have to think about why it’s a good song. It should work similarly when making the music. Don’t be a bitch. Make your music with your testicles, not with your brain. If the drums are stronger and you know it, don’t think too hard about what will fit in more, especially because most people aren’t as neurotic as I am and don’t worry about the drums that are being used.

Now don’t get me wrong or anything, this isn’t me yearning for a better time in hip hop. I’m not some old head crying about how music sucks nowadays and the only good that has ever happened in hip hop happened 20 years ago. That’s a harmful thought process. It holds the genre and culture back. If everything stayed the same, then hip hop would have died out a long time ago. It’s natural selection; in the changing music climate, the genre needs traits that keep it alive. Keeping the genre alive with whatever gets plays and keeps people thinking about it gives people more room to make different styles behind what’s currently hot. Plus, there was really shitty music back in the day too. I guess there’s just more now because everyone is running to set up a home studio and just putting out whatever the fuck they want without thinking about whether it is any good or not. Technicality is great and all, but when it comes to standing out in my ears, I just like some more soul and personality. Something that hits hard and causes a reaction.

Okay, so it’s time to go to the gym and listen to music that isn’t boring as shit, with hard drums, so that I can lift weights that make me feel like a monster… Even though they externally make me look like a lazy bitch, because for some reason I feel like a person of my size should probably be curling more than 35s.

Love, Apu.