How To Produce Old School Hip-Hop Beats (step by step with examples)
This is a step by step tutorial on how to produce old school hip-hop beats including sampling, creating melodies, programming drums, and arrangement.
Nowadays, rappers are creating songs and projects with mostly modern trap beats as their instrumental of choice. With these being the most popular beats today, many producers are forgetting the art of old school hip-hop. The sampling, drum patterns, and laid back atmosphere of hip-hop beats can bring inspiration to any musician or producer. Today, we're going to break down how to produce an old school hip-hop beat.
Hip-hop was built on sampling. The idea of taking a piece of art and shifting it into something completely new drove production of hip-hop beats. Before you could open FL Studio and have hundreds of presets and VSTs to make orchestra quality melodies, all they could do was use prerecorded samples.
One of the best places to find underground samples for your beats is YouTube.com. Public playlists on YouTube are a fantastic resource that should be used. The public can access countless playlists made by YouTube users by performing a quick search.
Disclaimer: Make sure you understand that you do not own the music you are sampling. Research your samples before you sell/release music with them and get the proper licensing. WavGrind is not responsible for your samples.
All WavGrind sample packs are 100% royalty free! The samples we provide right here can be flipped and you can sell beats, release songs, and even get major label placements without paying a single penny in royalties! Our packs include vintage piano samples, soul samples, and live guitar that can all be flipped into old school hip-hop beats.
The type of sample we want for an old school beat would be an older soul type sample with some vocals or only an instrumental track. Once you find your sample, we can start to flip it for our beat.
When manipulating your sample, you have many choices. You can use effects like pitch shifting or EQs, or you can chop it up and create a completely different melody. The best samplers find a good mix of both. Becoming a good sampler takes time and experience. I cannot tell you exactly how to sample your song in the best way, every time, but, I can give you some options to work with and determine which are your favorite for each individual sample.
Pitch shifting is often paired with tempo shifting. Usually, when you speed up a sample, you want to shift the pitch up. Slowing down a tempo usually shifts the pitch down. Pitching up a gospel sample can give you that chipmunk effect often used in hip-hop beats.
Chopping up a sample can create a completely new sound that may be perfect for your track. A simple way to chop up a sample in FL Studio is by opening the sampler, right clicking on the sample's wave form, and selecting "Open in new Fruity slicer channel." From here, you can experiment with the plug-in's settings to get the best chop for your beat.
Reversing a sample can be the defining factor of your track and give you a unique and interesting sound that can bring your beat to the next level. To reverse a sample in FL Studio, double-click it in the playlist to open up the sampler, then click the reverse button. You can add reverb or other effects to your reversed sample to make it sound better and more unique.
To learn more about reversing samples, click here: How to reverse samples in FL Studio (images and demos included)
To learn more about sampling like your favorite producers, click here: The Ultimate Guide To Sampling Like A Top Producer!
MAKING YOUR OWN MELODIES
Sampling may not be for you and that's okay. You can always choose to make your own melodies for old school hip-hop. The most important elements when making your own melodies are chord progressions, basslines, top melodies, and processing.
Old school hip-hop can either have a dark chord progression or a more laid back chord progression. For dark chord progressions, use minor chords with decending a bassline. This combination can give you a grimey, eerie chord progression for a hard rapper to rap over. More laid back chord progressions should be compiled of 7th chords and soft velocities.
To create a 7th chord, start with a simple triad. You can create a minor or major triad for a 7th chord. Simply add the 7th note of the scale on top of your triad for that jazzy effect. If you don't know the notes in your scale, use this cheat code:
For minor 7th chords, the top note should be 3 half steps above the 5th of the chord.
For major 7th chords, the top note should be 4 half steps above the 5th of the chord.
Diagram: C minor 7th chord, C major 7th chord
Old school hip-hop melodies generally utilize a bass guitar as the low end of choice, instead of a synth bass or trap 808. Since the bassline is a melodic element, you can get creative with it. The biggest piece of advice I can give for a bassline is to make sure you hit the root for each chord change. This will sound much better than using any other note in the scale. Filling the lower frequencies with the root note of a chord adds a lot of power to the mix.
Other than following the root note, use passing notes and rhythmic features to give your bassline the extra touch it needs. Experiment with octave jumps and use other notes in the chords for your passing notes. Just make sure everything stays in the key of your sample.
Adding a top melody can be what brings your sample to the next level. Old school beats usually have piano melodies, horns, bells, or guitars. Use these instruments to add extra ear-candy to keep your listener engaged with your beat. A lot of old school beats use repeditive and catchy melodies. This could be because producers chop up the catchiest part of a sample and use it for their beat. You can replicate this by creating your own catchy sample.
Adding the processing to your sample is what will really bring out the vintage old school vibe. There are a lot of things you can do with your sample to get that old school feel. Firstly, you can treat your melody like a sample from the internet and chop it up how you would any other sample. You would need to export it together and use the fruity slicer technique, or you can chop it up manually.
Other processing that I would suggest is messing with the pitch of the sample. You should listen to how it sounds when it's pitched up and down to decide which way to take the beat. Adding filters can be a great way to change the vibe of your sample. A low pass filter can create that underwater environment type of feel. A high pass filter can give you that vintage sound.
Finally, I would recommend adding some vinyl crack textures to add that sample element. Using a combination of these processing techniques will be the defining factor that makes your homemade melody sound like a classic sampled record.
After you finish your sample or melody, it's time to add some drums to your beat. The drums are very important in an old school type beat. To make old school drum patterns, use acoustic drums. Most classic old school beats use sampled drums that were played live. To make your drums sound like a live sample, you will need to use good drum samples and humanization techniques.
Firstly, you will need a good sound selection for your drums. Luckily, we provide hundreds of drum sounds you can use in your beats right here at WavGrind for free or as cheap as $7. Just go to the top of this screen and select "Drum Kits" to find our library!
Once you have your drum kit, we can start looking through the sounds and laying down some patterns.
First, find a good snare. Old school drums can use a nice full sounding snare drum or a shorter rim hit. Pick whichever you think works best with your beat. You can even use both if you want. Since old school beats are usually in the 70-100 BPM area, we are going to program our drums in double time. Place your snare on the second and fourth beat of each bar like this:
Next, you can add your kick drum. Your kick can follow your bassline, or have its own pattern. You should create a bouncy rhythm with your kick that compliments your snare pattern. I like to add two kicks right next to to eachother in the channel rack to create a nice bounce for my pattern.
For your closed hi-hat, find a live hi-hat sample and create a simple two step pattern that will carry a rhythm for your beat. Remember that you are trying to replicate a live drum sample, so don't add any crazy trap rolls. However, you can add some simple 16th notes in between your two step pattern to add a little variation to your hi-hats.
Open hi-hats are a little more complicated when creating old school drums. You need to remember that you are replicating a real hi-hat, so you shouldn't have a closed hat sample while an open hat sample is playing. Add your closed hat sample right when the open hat ends to replicate the sound of a hi-hat closing. The open hat getting cut off into a closed hat will make your drum samples sound like they were recorded live.
While you can use live drum samples and use open hat techniques to make your drums sound recorded, they will always still be played by a robot. Luckily, there are some methods you can use when programming drums to make your patterns sound like a human is playing them live.
Firstly, you have to change some of your velocities on your drums. No human can play every single note of a drum pattern at the exact same volume every single time. The first velocity I would recommend changing is your hi-hat pattern. Lower the velocity of every other note in your pattern to create more of a swing in your rhythm and make it sound like a real person is hitthing that hi-hat. Your pattern should look like this:
You can take this to the next level by selecting every hi-hat note and using the randomize feature in FL Studio. To do this, highlight all of your notes and press alt + r on the keyboard. Make sure the pattern button is unhighlighted, then bring your VEL knob at the bottom of the menu down a little bit. If you want even more randomization in your velocities, you can select the bipolar knob to make some velocities go up and others go down. Adjust the VEL knob to your liking and make sure you don't go overboard with your randomization.
The next method to add a more humanized effect to your drum pattern is using the swing knob. This is a knob in your channel rack that can offset your notes at a level depending on how much you turn it up. The best way to utilize this knob is to find a balance somewhere in the middle. Adding too much to your swing knob will create an almost comically offset pattern. Turing the knob all the way up will almost always ruin your pattern, so you need to find your balance. Here is the swing knob:
Going back to the idea of velocities, you can change the velocity of your kick drums to sound more realistic and give your drum patterns a better bounce. Whenever I have two kick drums right next to eachother, I like to lower the velocity of the first one to make it sound like someone is hitting a real kick drum. You could also lower the second one if you think it sounds better in your beat. Experiment with your kick drum velocities to make your beats sound more realistic. Remember that you can also use the randomizer on your kick velocities to make them more humanized.
After you finish your sample and drums, it is time to arrange your beat into a full track. There are not a lot of changes you need to make in your arrangement specific to an old school beat that would be different from any other beat. Start with just your sample. You can add some different sample manipulation effects for your intro to make your sample more unique and add variation. If you want to add a filter or chop it differently for your intro, you can definitely do that.
After about four to eight bars of your intro, you can bring in your first hook. Usually, you want to add all of your drums, melodies, and bassline for this part. This would be considered the most high-energy part of your song where the artist performs the chorus, or the catchiest part of the song.
To transition into your hook, add some sort of riser or drum fill. You can even just use the last two bars of your drum patterns to lead into the drop. I recommend using a different type of transition for each part of your beat. This will keep your beat interesting for the artist and listener, which will increase your chance for a placement.
To learn more about beat transitions, click here: How To Make Your Beats Engaging - 6 Transition Techniques
Old school beats can be some of the simplest yet effective beats in the producer space. The old school, vintage energy of a vinyl record sample mixed with the hard acoustic drums can create the atmosphere perfect for any rapper looking to emphasize their word-play and lyricism. These types of beats can be intimidating at first, but when you break it down step by step, you can see that it is actually quite simple.
As always, the most important thing when creating old-school type beats is experimentation. Find your style when it comes to these type of beats and work hard to create your own sound and decide what works best for you.
In summary, here's how to make old school hip hop beats:
1) Find an old, catchy sample
2) Add your effects and processing
3) Chop up your sample to get the melody that you want
4) Add your live drums and humanize your patterns
5) Arrange your full track
Written by Jake Tompkins