Making a Rap Beat That Sounds “Old School”

I have to admit, I’m just a very big fan of the new beat styles that have been in the mainstream for the last ten or so years. I like my beats dirty and gritty, sounding like they were assembled by somebody that only had a sampler and some vinyl and drum samples to work with.

It used to be easy to get that sound, simply by using an old sampler, vinyl records and vintage drum sound samples.

However, it’s getting tougher to do that type of stuff “out of the box” with a lot of the new software out there.

What do I do to make gritty sounding “old school” beats?

Well, I use Reason for the sequencing, but there’s a few tricks that I use to make stuff sound like it was produced in the early 90’s.

First of all, I still like to grab samples from vinyl. I usually look for obscure horn samples, which can be found on many old jazz or easy listening albums. Most of the time I’m able to keep the sample unrecognizable. I sample several minutes of sounds from an old record using Audacity.

I like to get that vinyl “crackle” in the samples, so the crappier the record quality, the better.

Once I’ve got the sound samples, I chop them up into small bits, and prepare to sprinkle these samples over a drum beat as part of the sequence.

Remember the type of stuff the DJ Muggs used to crank out in the early 90’s for Cypress Hill, Funkdoobiest or House of Pain? That’s the type of sampling sound that I try to achieve. I also think of a lot of the early stuff that DJ Premier used to do for Gang Starr. Awesome old school beats with gritty samples, nothing more, nothing less.

Ok, so I’ve mentioned the need for vinyl sound samples. Now let’s get to the drums.

I like to use drum sounds that sound overly processed, chopped, or reverberated. They give the best effect, I don’t want a clean sound.

I will sequence these samples out in Reason, using the Redrum drum machine. Once I sequence out a beat, I go into the sequence view where I can see the notes mapped out. I turn off quantization. We don’t want all our sound falling on exactly the 8th or 16th notes. We want to humanize this a little bit, and we can also achieve a much more interesting groove or feel by not falling into the 16th note slots all the time.

I like to try to simulate the “swing” type of quantization manually by pushing some notes around on the sequencer. I can get a lot tighter of a swing, similar to what you would hear in early 90’s or late 80’s rap beats by doing it this way.

Once I have the beat quantized, I need to add some effects to get it to sound like it was pulled off of vinyl.

Do do this, I add a RV7000 reverb unit immediately after the drum machine. I try to get a spacey, warehouse type of reverb, but not overly saturated.

I then put a Scream unit immediately after the reverb. I switch it to the “tape” effect and tweak the settings to give the drums a thicker, compressed sound.

Having the reverb in the chain between the drum machine and the Scream unit is what gets me the best “old school” sound effect, since the reverb is also factored into the compression and sound effect created by the Scream unit, making it sound very gritty and “vinyl-like”.

If you are using Reason to make beats, hopefully these tips will help you achieve a grittier sound. It’s pretty easy to make very clean sounding beats with the new software on the market, so getting beats to sound like they were made 20 years ago can be a little tricky, but it can be done.

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