How to Make a Hip Hop Beat
A Guide to Show You How to Make a Hip Hop Beat
Hip hop is the blood line of our musical culture. The pulse of its rhythm circulates our energy and keeps our ears and souls alive and on fire! Hip hop beats are raw and rugged and reflect the most human side of us. My goal is to show you how to make a hip hop beat of your own so that you can express yourself through the hottest and realest form of music on the planet. I hope to show you what you need so that you know how to make a hip hop beat from start to finish using a step-by-step system. Let’s jump right into learning how to make a hip hop beat.
When speaking of hip hop music, generally the “beat” refers to everything in the song with the exception of the vocals. That means a hip hop beat is made up of drum patterns or loops, a bass line, supporting orchestration, and often dubs inserted like punctuation marks are in text.
The various elements of a hip hop beat can change and develop throughout the song or can simply loop over and over under the vocals. While arrangements can vary greatly, hip hop songs usually follows this classic pop structure:
Intro 8 bars
Verse 8-16 bars
Chorus 8 bars
Verse 8-16 bars
Chorus 8 bars
Break 2-8 bars
Verse/Chorus 8-16 bars
Fade Out 2-8 bars
Elements of a Hip Hop Beat
Let’s revisit the four elements that make up a hip hop beat:
1. Drum Patterns or Loops
This provides the rhythm and could be considered the absolute most essential part of a hip hop beat. There are two ways to lay down the rhythm of your beat. First, and more complicated, is to sequence your own drum patterns using software samplers, hardware samplers, and a sequencer. Second, you could use drum loops that come included with your sequencer or that you purchase online and process and alter the loops as you wish. I get all my drum loops from Beats365 because it's the best deal I found out there - thousands of beats for under thirty bucks.
You can also do both of these, mixing a self-composed drum pattern with a pre-made drum loop to create a complex and layered groove. Remember, this is hip hop, and rhythms can be as simple or complex as you want to make them.
2. Bass Line
Again, you can use pre-made bass loops found in your sequencer, but with bass lines, it’s a much better idea to compose your own using a soft synth or hard analog or digital synth in your sequencer. Hip hop bass lines are usually relatively simple and support and drive the drum beat with their thick and low pulse. It is also common for hip hop beats to have a sub bass layer as well to fatten the low end even more.
3. Supporting Orchestration
This simply means choosing instrument sounds that complement the foundation you’ve already built for your song and composing music to support your beat. Choosing instruments simply involves trial and error. Try to imagine a band playing together creating your beat. Who are they and what instruments would they be playing? What style would they be playing in? Try to imagine their characters. Are they smooth, funky, sexy, silly, fun, adventurous, sad, intense, carefree, gentle, or rough?
Dubs emerge from deep down in the roots of hip hop. Pioneering hip hop artists sampled short drum beats, vocal artifacts, record scratches, riffs, chords, and single hits to add flair and character to their beats. Today, dubs are a signature of hip hop music. You can buy dubs online, use samples included with your sequencer, or you can sample them yourself and process them to fit your beat. Again, I use Beats365 which I had originally bought for the drum loops, but then I found it had thousands of dubs and sound samples that I could use.
Now, before we get into actually assembling and arranging our beat, let's discuss a few technicalities that are essential to understand before you start.
Hip hop beats tend to hover around 80-100 bpm, but of course this
varies greatly. Trust your gut and your mood when you sit down to
create your beat.
Rhythm is all about the groove. While some beats are left quantized with no swing, hip hop tends to have a groove based on 16th notes with a swing value in the range of 57-83%. Past around 57%, the groove starts to relax and into 70%, you’ll hear the classic hip hop groove. Try this method with your beat to see if it works: quantize the kicks with a 24th note groove and the rest on 4th, 8th, and 16th notes. Try removing any kicks on 2 or 4 as well. Experiment and see what sounds good to you. I learned all about grooves and rhythms when I first started through Rap Beats Manual which showed me exactly how it's done through videos. It's the holy grail when it comes to learning exactly how hip hop beats are constructed.
The Hip Hop Drum Kit
The beat you create can only be as good as the sounds you choose for your drum kit. Your drum sounds can make or break your beat. An important tip I want to give you in showing you how to make a hip hop beat is to let your character come out through the sounds you choose. Let yourself be serious, silly, or sexy through your beat.
One drum sound that tends
to be characteristic of a hip hop beat is a kick drum with heavy sub
bass. Hats can range from real hat sounds to electronic noises.
Usually they are grooved on the 16th notes. Snare sounds often reflect
the character of the song you are composing: clean, full, compressed,
sharp. They are often relatively understated and are rarely dominant.
Claps almost never sound realistic but that artificial clap is a
trademark of the hip hop beat and remains very prominent in the beat.
Assembling the Beat
While there is no rule for how to do this, here are the steps I take to create the basic beat:
1. Create an 8 bar pattern foundation in this order: kick drum, claps, hats, then snares.
2. Create a bass line.
3. Add supporting orchestration.
4. Copy this pattern to use as your second 8 bars. Then go back to the original 8 bars and drop out some of the elements so that they don't kick in until after the first 8 bars.
5. Copy the first 8 bar pattern to the third to start working on a chorus. Here, you need to get creative in your alterations. You could change the drums, the bass line, or you could change the rhythm. Experiment and have fun! Then, add new orchestration to the chorus.
Arranging the Beat
Again, there is no rule as to how a hip hop beat should be arranged into a song, but here are the basic steps I usually take:
1. Now that you have a 16 bar verse and an 8 bar chorus, copy all 24 bars so that you have Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus.
2. Develop a break for the next 8-16 bars. Basically, this is an alternate chorus in which you can add or drop out elements, remove all elements but the kick, or change the orchestration.
3. Add another verse or another chorus and fade it out.
4. Now is when you add your intro. It can be 2, 4, or 8 bars and the only rule I would give it is that it should have at least some flavor of the essence of the beat. I often choose the most interesting part of what I have created so far and use some of it as the intro by modifying it but highlighting the hook.
5. Your beat serves as a bed for the vocals. Now that your beat is in song form, prepare it for the vocals by smoothing it out. You might want to add some fills to the drums, add effects, add transitions between parts, or rearrange some of the orchestration.
If this sounds complicated, don't worry. It just takes practice. There are plenty of resources that include videos to help you learn how to make a hip hop beat step-by-step. I used Rap Beats Manual when I first started and it helped take my beats to another level. I was already making my first beat in a couple of hours of watching the videos and screen shots. I highly recommend it to get you started. It has hours and hours of videos and endless tips on how to improve your game.
I hope this guide helped show you the basics of how to make a hip hop beat. It's all about practice. Try emulating the beats of your favorite songs to start and then add your own flavor. The possibilities are endless. Good luck and have fun. Keep it bangin - that's what hip hop is all about.