Hip hop music is one of the most popular genres on the planet, yet there are only a few sources where people can learn about it. This is probably because highly qualified musicians usually consider this music too simple. I’m not gonna lie, hip hop is not my favorite genre either, however, whenever a young artist contacts me to ask questions, I’m always happy to help, regardless of the genre.
In this article, we will talk about how you can create your own hip hop drum beats without using pre-made loops or samples. I think this is important because using samples will make your song mediocre because it will sound like thousands of other songs from people who are using the same samples.
The heart and soul of every drumbeat – no matter the genre – are the kick drum (or bass drum in other words) and the snare drum. You can create a drumbeat by combining only these two instruments.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be an acoustic bass drum and it doesn’t have to be an acoustic snare drum. Many times they substitute the snare with hand claps or finger claps, or with other samples. But the foundation of the beat is always coming from these two instruments.
The most basic beat is the “2-4” (two-four) drumbeat. The bass drum is playing on 1 and 3, and the snare is playing on 2 and 4.
If you want to program this beat into a DAW, this is how you would do it:
This beat is the base of 99% of the songs. The snare is almost always 2 and 4, but there are many variations with the kick/bass drum rhythm. For example, you can make rhythmic anticipation with the second note in the kick, which will make your rhythm more exciting, like this:
What is rhythmic anticipation? The second note in the bass drum FEELS LIKE it’s on the downbeat, but it’s anticipated, and this small change makes it sound more interesting.
This is just a small difference, but these tiny details will make your music more unique and interesting.
Another common variation of this beat is when they “double” the first kick note, like this:
Notice that the rhythm of the snare is always the same in these examples, we only change the rhythm of the bass drum.
You can try to experiment and create variations like this by changing the placement of the bass drum. There are no rules! You can use whatever you feel sounds good.
The Amen Break
In 1969 the funk band The Winstons released a single called “Color Him Father”. The B-side of the record was a song called “Amen, Brother”. There is a short drum solo in this song, and this solo became the most sampled drumbeat of all time. They call this drumbeat the “Amen Break”.
(This notation is double speed, compared to the previous examples!)
Notice that the 2-4 is still there in the snare!
This might be confusing a little bit because you can count the beats in different ways. For example, I count the snare on 2 and 4, but if you count in half tempo, those same beats are on the 3. But it doesn’t matter how you count the beats, the foundation of this drumbeat is the FEEL of 2 and 4.
The Amen Break is used by many many artists, not only hip hop artists. Listen to this song from Ariana Grande:
This is almost exactly the same drum groove, there is only one note difference, and they use electric drums for the bass drum, and a “snare rim shot” sound for the snare. And of course, the tempo of this drumbeat is much slower, that’s why it’s not so obvious that this drumbeat is the Amen Break.
You can change this beat in many different ways. For example, in the song “Please Me” by Cardi B & Bruno Mars, there are some sections in the song, where they omit the bass drum, and you can only hear the snare.
They also made a slight variation in the rhythm of the bass drum, so it’s a little bit different from the original Amen Break:
Not let’s see a few examples from actual hip hop songs to see what kind of drumbeats they used, so you can get some inspiration from them.
Machine Gun Kelly, X Ambassadors & Bebe Rexha – Home
You can hear the 2-4 in this drumbeat too. They use a clap sound in the verses and a snare drum sound in the pre-chorus and in the chorus.
This might seem complicated, but try to identify key points in the drumbeat, so you will understand how it works.
First of all, this is a four-bar loop (or 2 bars if you count double time). You already know that the snare is only playing 2 and 4, so that’s simple. Everything else is just “gaming” with the rhythm of the bass drum.
It’s important to know that it’s OK to experiment with the bass drum rhythm like this, BUT you should always play the “one” with the bass drum once in a while (for example, in every two bars) because otherwise your listener will lose the feel of the beat, and that’s risky! If we count this as a four-bar pattern, the bass drum is playing on the FIRST beat in the first and third bar.
The next drumbeat is from the song “Contact” by Wiz Khalifa. Here is the original song:
And here is the drumbeat:
This is a very common drumbeat, a little bit more simple than the previous example. It’s a four-bar pattern again, but there is only one note difference between the first and second half, the very last note in the bass drum.
We have the 2-4 in the snare, and the bass drum plays the “one” (the first beat) on the first and in the third bar again.
This rhythm is a very good representation of the Rhythm Code.
The secret pattern behind successful songs
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.