Regarded by many as the pinnacle of hip-hop, ‘boom bap’ is an onomatopoeic reference to the prominent kick and snare sounds of ‘golden age’ New York City hip-hop.
The boom bap sound can be traced back to 80s tracks such as “It’s Yours” by T La Rock and “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” by LL Cool J (both produced by Def Jam’s Rick Rubin and Jazzy Jay), and during this era, the Oberheim DMX drum machine was often used to create the upfront, mix-dominating beats.
In the 90s hip-hop evolved to a more sample-based sound, with the E-mu SP-1200 and Akai MPC60 becoming the favoured tools of producers such as DJ Premier from Gangstarr, Havoc from Mobb Deep, Pete Rock, and Marley Marl.
Boom bap beats typically feature a relatively laid-back tempo in the 90BPMs, solid kicks, crusty hi-hats, and characterful, organic-sounding snares.
In this tutorial, we’ll show you how you can create a boom bap beat in BandLab, a free online digital audio workstation that allows you to share your beats with friends anywhere in the world. BandLab can be accessed on both smartphones and web browsers, making it easy for collaborators to add vocals to your tracks.
Here are eight easy steps that show you how to make a boom bap beat that you can use as a foundation for your own track. You can open this project yourself by forking any of the tracks below and use it for the basis of your own productions.
1. Setting the tempo and selecting a kit
Let’s begin by setting the project tempo to 95BPM, and creating a new instrument track. In the Instrument selection menu select Drums > Drum Pads > Boom Bap Classic.
Right-click on the instrument track and select Creation Region to make a MIDI clip, then use the handle at the bottom right-hand corner to drag it to one bar in length. Double-click the clip to bring up the MIDI Editor.
2. Making a slammin’ snare sound
You can double-click in the MIDI Editor to add notes, or select the Add Note (pen) tool and draw them in. First, add a snare on the second beat, and turn its Velocity up to the maximum 127 to make it as loud as possible.
Then layer this with the small tom sound, which in this kit actually plays a metallic hi-hat sound. This adds character to our snare, but we don’t want it super loud, so turn its Velocity down to 85.
3. Developing the snare
Next, we want to add a clap to the snare that’s not perfectly quantised onto the beat, so turn off Snap to Grid by clicking the magnet icon at the top right-hand corner of the display, and draw in a clap just after the snare, roughly one-quarter of a 16th note after the second beat. We want this to be pretty quiet, so turn its velocity down to 46.
Turn Snap to Grid back on, and duplicate the snare elements over to the fourth beat by highlighting them, holding [option] on Mac or [alt] on Windows, and dragging them over.
4. Processing the snare
Click the FX button to bring up the track’s Effects section. Here we’re going to add some processing to pump up the snare sound. First add a Dynamics BL 1176 to compress the signal, which helps ‘glue’ it together.
Next add a Tone > EQ3-M, which we’re going to use to balance the frequency content of the snare. Set the Low to +2.7dB, the High to +3.4dB, and the Mid to +4dB with a Mid Sweep of 1754Hz.
5. Further snare processing
We’re going to use some distortion to dirty up the snare, albeit subtly. Add a Distortion > BL Driver, setting the Drive to 0.1, the tone to 16000Hz, and the Volume to 4.7.
Finally, add a Reverb > Studio Reverb, setting the Mix to 4.3 and the Size to 0.4.
6. Making a boomin’ kick
Because we’re using snare-specific processing on this track, we’re going to put our kick and hat on their own tracks. Add another virtual instrument track, and again select the Boom Bap Classic kit. This time add kicks on the first and third beats, and again turning Snap to Grid off, just before the eighth 16th note.
7. Completing the kick
Turn Snap to Grid back on, and duplicate the kick onto the next note up, which is a roomier kick sound. Turn the velocity of these down to 72.
Open up the FX tab and add an EQ3-M, turning the Low up to +4.3dB to boost the bass a little. Then add a BL 1176 to help glue the kicks together.
8. Adding a hi-hat
Add another virtual instrument track, again select the Boom Bap Classic kit, and this time use the mid tom sound (actually a hi-hat in this kit) to put hats on 8th notes. Turn Snap to Grid off again, then hold [shift] and select every other hat. Now slide them to the right very slightly, creating a groovy shuffle effect.
For the final touch, in the FX section add a Studio Reverb with a Mix of 2.1 and a Size of 0.4 to add a subtle ambience.
You now have a funky hip-hop beat that can serve as the foundation for your own boom bap track. Remember, you can open this project by forking any of the tracks above and experiment with it yourself. Have fun!
Read more: How to make a dubstep beat on BandLab