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My production challenge this month was an exercise in adaptivity. Instead of going out and finding outdoor sounds to capture and sample, like we did for April’s monthly challenge, we were tasked with the wonderful opportunity to use sounds from a brand new hip-hop adjacent sample pack that launched recently on Splice. [*Skip ahead to hear my final track.]
It sounded straightforward at first — to complete this challenge you had to open up that sample pack and let the sounds guide your music — easy. But these sounds just happened to be so funky and exciting right out of the box that I began to realize the real challenge here was to make something unique and personal and interesting enough to stand up to that original material!
“The Luv Pack, Vol. 1,” is comprised of samples created by producer, drummer, bandleader, and author of Soundfly’s The Art of Hip-Hop Production course, Charles Burchell. As a bass player, I have been lucky enough to play a little with Charles over the years, and it has always been an instant hook up for me. His pocket is on another level and given that his raw playing features heavily in the source material for these samples, I knew I could get inspired by digging into the drum loops first.
Check out Charles’ newly launched sample pack, “The Luv Pack, Vol. 1,” here. Soundfly’s The Art of Hip-Hop Production also comes with two months of free access to Splice, so don’t miss out on combining the course learning materials, 1-on-1 mentorship with a pro, and access to a ton of crazy cool samples. Preview the course here.
I settled on two drum loops that had an identical tempo but were vastly different in terms of energy. Most of my track features this intense groove. But I’ve switched the drums out for this chilled out groove in the outro. The thing is though, since those two samples worked so well together, I actually snuck the latter groove into the busier drum sample on occasion — almost like a drum fill.
You can barely tell it’s not the same sample!
When I started building the harmony, the changes ended up coming together pretty quickly. I jumped on my Rhodes to lay down some pretty standard F minor related changes, using the last bar of the phrase to take it a bit outside. For the harmonically curious, those turnaround changes are G♭ Maj7, D♭ Maj7, C Min7, and E Maj7(♭5).
After mapping out the framework between the chords, bass, and drum loops, I found a perfect vocal loop to sneak into this track. That’s Kim Mayo’s (of The Love Experiment and Moonheart) incredible and undeniably unique voice first sampled at 0:22.
I had already made an instrumental track last month, so I wanted to do something a little different this time around. With Kim’s vocals used as a garnish, I was starting to hear this as a vocally-driven track. I carved out sixteen bars that a rapper could flow over and sent it out to a few friends to see if they might be interested. But after a week of back and forth, the schedules weren’t lining up to get this track done in time. So, as is so often the case in making music, I had to adapt.
I started to experiment with some of the horn samples in the pack and, though I didn’t end up using any, they gave me the idea to feature a trumpet player. I immediately thought of my friend and frequent collaborator, Jake Baldwin. I met Jake in Boston in 2010 while I was at Berklee and he was down the street studying at NEC. We started making music together right away in our New York-based hip-hop collective, Tiger Speak, but in recent years, we’ve both relocated to other cities.
It’s always good to try to find ways to reengage with your collaborators even if they live elsewhere — developing and maintaining a network of home recording cowriters and musicians you can hit up is a very valuable musical practice. So last Friday, I shot him a text asking if he could track something for me by Sunday. I had a flawless solo take and some background parts less than two hours later.
Jake’s tone, phrasing, and ability to build tension and land it so elegantly took this track much farther than I thought it would go. His opening phrase at 0:43, laid way back on the end of the beat and contrasting beautifully against the frantically paced drums, is such an incredible statement. And Jake’s solo gave me so many additional ideas, like using some additional harmony to frame what he was playing and chopping up some of his phrases to set up the new section — directions I wouldn’t have pursued had I not reached out to him to collaborate.
I just want you to dwell on that idea for a second.
As producers, we need to be open to letting collaborators steer the ship for us every now and then. Without giving our music that freedom, we run the very real risk of sounding stale. Any track I’ve made that I am truly proud of has featured someone doing something I can’t do myself and in a way that makes rethink the composition process entirely. We should strive to surround ourselves with those whose skills and visions are different from our own. And it’s up to us to adapt their contributions in order to suit our overall vision and take our music to new heights.
So with that, I submit to you my May monthly challenge track, “Jakebjazz,” named after and featuring Jake Baldwin on trumpet.
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