Boom bap is not dead! In this Beat Dissected we show you how to program a boom bap beat and adjust the swing settings to get just the right amount of the desired head nod!

The term ‘boom bap’ is an onomatopoeia that represents the sounds used for the kick drum and snare drum, respectively. The style is usually recognized by a main drum loop that uses a hard-hitting, acoustic bass drum sample on the downbeats, a snappy acoustic snare drum sample on the upbeats, and an ‘in your face’ audio mix emphasizing the drum loop, and the kick-snare combination in particular. Also, all boom bap producers are recognised for their tasteful and skillful sampling.

Some of the main proponents of this style are DJ Premier, Alchemist, Pete Rock, J Dilla and 9th Wonder. Whilst the sound is one of the trademarks of the ’90s hip hop movement it’s still relevant today with recent artists such as J Cole heavily utilizing the swing and feel of boom bap. So, no, boom bap is not dead!

In our recent survey, there was a serious demand to cover more hip hop and we intend to do so. This is just the beginning and we hope you enjoy it. Remember to CLICK TO ENLARGE any image.

Here’s what we’re going to end up with.

Step 1: The Kick

Load up Dobbs Kit from within Ableton Live. Progam the below rhythm on the first pad ‘Kick Dobbs’ and pay special attention to the Velocity settings. You can use your own settings (or indeed your own sounds), but adding Velocity can go a long way in determining the ‘feel’ in your track. Don’t skip this part!

It should sound like this. Bear with it… we will get there in the end. Metronome included in audio file for reference.

Step 2: The Snare And Clap

Duplicate your previous track. You should now have Dobbs Kit on two separate tracks.

Program the rhythm below but notice the Clap Wild Canvas has been nudged to the right on the timeline. We want it to feel ‘late’ to help with the swing. We nudged it a few milliseconds but play around with it. You can get seriously wonky here if you want. Many producers, especially J Dilla and Madlib, use off grid rhythms to get that wonky feel.

It should sound something like this. Metronome included in audio file for reference.

Step 3: The Hi-Hats

Duplicate the snare track. We want the hi-hats on their own channel so we can apply their own swing settings.

Nothing incredibly exciting going on here! It’s 16th hi-hats with a cowbell on beat one of bar two and an open hi-hat on beat four of bar two. Straight out the hip-hop playbook but hey, it sounds good.

It should sound something like this. Metronome included in audio file for reference.

Step 4: The Sample

This sample is Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose’s ‘Since I Found My Baby‘. We cut the intro, reduced the volume, and transposed it down -5 st. You can try to replicate that or find a sample of your own.

A cautionary tale on sampling. We are only showing you this for educational purposes. It’s worth reading our full breakdown on the rights and wrongs of sampling before you put any music out containing samples.

At this point, you might think, voila! Well, not really. This beat needs some serious love to get it to pop and nod. Let’s continue to some basic swing and mix settings.

It should sound something like this. No metronome!

Step 5 : Mixing The Kick

Let’s get this beat bouncing. One small change at a time. Firstly, add some swing to your kick. We have gone for Swing MPC 3000 8ths 57. In the Groove Pool, we’ve chosen modest global settings.

Next, open up the Device Chain. The kick is comprised of two different kick samples. Change the settings to reflect what’s in the image below. On both, we played with the balance between the two kicks, the Transp and the Vol > Vel to help with the bounce. The aim with the kick was to get more ‘oomph’.

Next, we applied some basic EQ to the whole channel. A small increase around 60Hz and a significant dip around 150Hz.

It should sound a little something like this. Notice how the Swing and the Vol > Vel really give it some human flavour.

Adding swing to the kick.
Kick 1 in the chain.
Kick 2 in the chain.

Step 6: Mixing The Snare And Clap

Open up the Snare Dobbs chain. Just as in the previous step, we will adjust the balance between the various snares. Reduce the middle snare (‘Snare Dobbs’) to -21.5dB. The rest can remain the same.

For the swing, apply the same swing settings as the kick. Just open the MIDI clip and assign the same groove.

We’ve also added a Reverb into the chain and sent a small amount of the Clap Wild Canvas to the Reverb. We’ve chosen the Vocal Pop Hall preset for the Reverb settings and left it untouched.

It should sound a little something like this.

Step 7: Mixing Hi-Hats

Not much to do with the hi-hats. We use a different swing setting going for Swing MPC 3000 16th 74 to give it some variation. We also applied Auto Pan to the channel to add some motion and interest to the mix.

Auto Pan. Don’t overdo it but it tends to sound good on hi-hats.

Step 8: Mixing The Sample

For the sample we rolled off the low-end and a very small amount of high frequencies as well.

We also added a Compressor with Sidechain to the kick. This is the fun bit – you can really push the settings here.

Step 9: Adding A Sneaky Bassline

This is just one example of the type of bassline that can work with boom bap. One other way to add a bassline is to double up the sample. We can show that in another tutorial. However, a Sine Bass can also sound good especially as we have rolled off the low end of the sample in this tutorial.

There’s nothing too technical going on. Just a very simple pattern with the default setting on the Sinelike Basic Bass from Ableton’s Operator.

Step 10: The Final Steps

We’ve grouped the drums together and added a Drum Buss to the channel.

We’ve also added a Limiter on the master.

“And it goes a little something like…”

Drum Bus on the drum group.
Master track.

If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.

8th May, 2021

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