Rewind back to our tutorial on making a boom bap beat on BandLab, we learned that the classic sound of 80s hip-hop was dominated by drum machines – in particular the Oberheim DMX and Roland TR-808. Before this relatively affordable beat-making hardware became available, hip-hop records were often made with live musicians replaying disco classics on records such as The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (a reworking of Chic’s “Good Times”), or funk grooves recorded onto tape from vinyl on tracks like West Street Mob’s “Break Dance – Electric Boogie” (which employed the breakbeat and instrumental hook from Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache”).
The arrival of beefy-sounding drum machines made it possible for non-musicians and producers to make their own beats with little else in the way of kit, resulting in stripped-down, beat-heavy tracks like Run DMC’s “Sucka MCs” and Pumpkin And The Profile All-Stars “Here Comes That Beat!”
Read more: How to make a boom bap beat on BandLab
Drum machine virtuosos such as Egyptian Lover and Davy D AKA Davy DMX released beat-driven records that made them stars in their own right, before the arrival of samplers ushered in the era of breakbeats and tracks such as Eric B. & Rakim’s “Funky Drummer” sampling “Lyric of Fury”.
In this tutorial, we’ll show you how you can create a classic rap beat in BandLab. BandLab’s web Mix Editor is 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 six easy steps to make a classic rap beat that you can use as a foundation for your own track. You can open this project yourself here, and use it for the basis of your own productions.
1. Setting the tempo and selecting a kit
We’ll begin by setting the project tempo to 102BPM, which we can do by clicking it and entering a new value. Then add a new instrument track and select Drums > Drum Pads > Prince Kit, which gives us some classic 80s drum machine sounds.
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. Creating a kick and snare groove
You can double-click in the MIDI Editor to add notes, or select the Add Note (pen) tool and draw them in. First add snares on the second and fourth beats, plus an extra snare on the last 16th note before the third beat. Then, put kicks on the first two 16ths, and add another halfway between the third and fourth beat.
3. Splitting the kick and snare onto separate tracks
We now have a basic hip-hop beat, but it’s missing an important 80s touch: reverb on the snare. Without it, this stripped-back beat doesn’t have the big feel we’re going for. To add reverb on the snare without adding it to the kick, we have to put the snare on its own track. Right-click the Prince Kit track, and select Duplicate Track from the menu that appears.
To keep things clear, let’s label our two tracks. You can simply click a track name to edit it. Name the first track ‘Kick’ and the second track ‘Snare’.
4. Applying snare reverb
On the Kick track delete the snare notes, and on the Snare track delete the kick notes.
With the Snare track selected, bring up the Effects panel, and add a Reverb > Space Maker effect. This gives the snare a big ambience that fills up the mix. Turn the Kick track down to -2 dB to balance it with the reverbed snare.
5. Adding a clap
To make our beat more exciting, let’s add a clap. Create a new instrument track and this time select Drums > Drum Pads > Vintage Hip-Hop kit.
Make a new one-bar MIDI clip, and add claps on the third, sixth, ninth and twelfth 16th notes. This gives us a much more interesting rhythm, but again, we’re missing that classic 80s reverb sound.
6. Making a gated reverb effect
Bring up the Effects page again, and this time add the Reverb > Spring Reverb effect. Set the Intensity to 3.0. This gives us a big reverb sound, but its tail lasts on for a while, masking the other beats and making them sound less impactful. We can remedy this by using a gate effect to silence the clap track when it drops below a certain volume level. Add a Dynamics > Noise Gate effect, and set its Threshold to -39.0. This preserves just the start of each reverb tail, giving us a spacious yet tight sound.
You now have a classic rap beat that can serve as the foundation for your own track. Remember, you can open this project here and experiment with it yourself. Have fun!
Read more: The origins and evolution of freestyle rap