There is a rich history of drum machines and samplers being used in hip-hop and rap music. As you may well know, rap is believed to have originated from the block parties of the 1970s in New York and went on to become a global phenomenon with household names such as Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, and Eminem laying down hit after hit over the years.
Over the years the music evolved and different techniques were invented and utilized such as the needle drop and scratching. Then in the 1980s something else happened, the drum machine arrived and music of all genres was changed forever.
Here below you can read about how influential the drum machine was and is to rap music and how you can employ one of these machines in your music too.
History of the drum machine
There is evidence of a rudimentary drum machine that was invented as far back as 1206 but for the type of equipment that you know today the timeline needs to be brought forward somewhat.
Leon Theremin was a Russian inventor who created a number of musical instruments including his most famous, the Theremin. He also invented the first electronic drum machine which he named the Rhythmicon. Unfortunately for Theremin, the machine wasn’t a success and the world would have to wait somewhat longer before it saw another version.
At the start of the 1970s came the ComputeRhythm which was possibly the first truly programmable drum machine. This machine set the guidelines for all future devices that would enter the market. One of those later drum machines would come from the Japanese company, Roland and the machine that entered the market in 1980 was The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer.
What was the Roland TR-808?
The 808 was an analog drum machine that arrived in 1980 and was instantly pitted against a group of ever-evolving digital drum machines and samplers. The sound of the 808 was not considered to be particularly great and a lot of the sounds were completely unlike a real drum kit.
The 808 went out of production after just four years and was not a commercial success at all. This machine was followed by the 909 which only lasted two years before being discontinued.
Anyone who had one of these machines would have been keen to shift them on and so they sold for very little on the secondhand market. A decision many would come to regret very soon.
As new sounds were created by amateur, young producers the 808 came into its own and the value of these devices soared.
How influential was and is the 808?
Once producers such as Rick Rubin discovered that they could create basslines with the 808 it became popular in hip-hop and many other genres of music. The British band 808-State named themselves after the machine and it has been used by numerous producers and artists from all types of music.
You only have to look at the people who have used the 808 to see how influential it was on music; Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Brian Eno, New Order, Run-DMC, Lil Louis, Afrika Bambaata, and so many more. If you like the sound of 808 then you might want to try Breakdance by Smoov-e, and although the record is a few years old you can see how this drum machine is still being used today.
Why use a drum machine?
From those early days when Grand Wizzard Theodore invented scratching there have been endless ways to create different sounds and these days, music equipment is more accessible than ever.
Countless people over the world are making their own music at home, in the bedroom, in the garage, wherever. Apple’s Garageband has made home production simpler and drum machines are affordable and a great way to lay down beats.
These days you can choose between many brands such as Korg, Alesis, BOSS, and Yamaha but Roland is maybe still the best drum machine you can get and you can read more on SoundHalo if you want to see some comparisons and reviews.
A drum machine lets anyone become a producer and you can use this with your rapping by creating loops and laying down some filthy beats.
How to use a drum machine to help you practice your music
You may want to produce your own music at home and a drum machine is a great way to do this. You will need to understand how to choose the right samples, use kick, bass, and hi-hat, and keep the flow constant. Below you can see the way you can use your drum machine to create hip-hop beats.
Choosing the right samples
This is more important for someone wanting to be a producer rather than a rapper but of course, you could do both. It is a true skill being able to select the right sample for the beat you want.
E-mu SP-1200, the vintage drum machine and sampler was the choice back in the eighties and nineties and has been kept alive by producers and rappers like Pete Rock. Listening to this you can see how the samples work to create the right beat on each of the tracks.
Recreate your favorite beats
You want to make your own music, sure, but one way to practice and to learn how to create beats for rapping too is to recreate other people’s.
This will help you to understand the way other producers put together arrangements and the techniques they use.
Leave yourself some space to rap
If you want to practice your rapping then make sure you keep it simple so there is room for you to rap. Keep the elements of the mix to a minimum so it doesn’t get too busy and keep the beat simple but strong. Simple drums, a strong bassline, and like most hip-hop tracks just a couple of musical elements to finish the track off.
Saturate the bass
You will be able to find some tutorials online for creating 808s but the key to creating a strong 808 bass is to use saturation. This lets even the smallest speakers produce enough power for your track to work.
Use hi-hats, kicks, and bass
These three drums are essential for creating tracks that you can rap too. The problem with making beats for hip-hop is that you want there to be a human element to the drums but you also need the flow to be right for you to rap to.
Quantization is a method that is used to make the imperfect, perfect. That means it removes flaws and imprecisions from a performance. The problem is it can make your drum samples sound robotic but in hip-hop, you want to flow, tempo, and rhythm so it is important to get the quantization right. To do this keep your kick and hi-hats quantized but move other percussive instruments around a little and soften some of the kicks if they are close together.
To use a drum machine to practice your rapping you can create loops easily, Adding samples and other simple drums you will be able to create a simple, minimal beat that flows and gives you the right tempo to rap with. As you get used to your drum machine you can create far more complex beats and you will find that you aren’t just rapping but producing music too.