Back in the day, making hip hop beats typically required you to purchase a small hardware sampler or drum computer like an Akai MPC and a record player for sampling your collection of vinyl LPs and performing DJ scratches on your track. Adding a few synthesizers and proper mixing equipment really took your production up a notch. While some producers still sport such a set-up in their studios, there are a lot of all-in-one software solutions available that let you make a full hip hop beat with the fraction of the cost and space it took to make them back in the day. The introduction of software trackers such as the popular FL Studio now allows producers to have a full production workspace on their computers and most recently even on iPad and iPhones. For people not yet familiar with these software packages I will explain the basics of setting up a hip hop beat within FL Studio. The first steps are always the hardest, but once you get the hang of it, making hip hop beats can really be fun and addicting.
Hip Hop Beat Fundamentals
Before you start making a beat there are a few elements to keep in mind that are specific to the genre of hip hop.
- The tempo of a hip hop beat generally lies between 80 and 110 bpm (beats per minute), where southern hip hop is mostly in the lower regions and East and West coast hip hop goes from 90 bpm onwards. Beats with a slower tempo allow rappers to rap on them double-tempo, beats with a fast tempo allow rappers to rap half-tempo on them.
- Hip hop beats generally contain an intro and outro, an 8-bar chorus and several 16-bar verses with here and there a breakdown or switch-up in the beat.
- Many hip hop beats are based on a single loop or sample which is mostly repeated throughout the beat. What’s important that in order for it to be suitable for a rapper or singer, room should be left for the vocal to be recorded on. Therefore make sure you don’t make the beat too noisy or distracting from the vocal.
Keep in mind that these are just rough guidelines to go by in order to have your beat considered a hip hop beat. By being original and experimenting with these elements you can push the boundaries of the genre and maybe even create your own niche in hip hop music.
Setting Up a Hip Hop Beat in FL Studio
When you’ve opened a new project in FL Studio start by lowering the standard tempo (which is set to 130 bpm in FL Studio 10) to a tempo in the lower nineties which is the average tempo of a hip hop beat. Next, open up the step sequencer by clicking the icon on top (or by pressing F6 on your keyboard). Now, we’re going to program a basic hip hop drumbeat. When you’re just getting your feet wet with beatmaking starting your song with a drumloop is a good way of getting familiar with the timing of your track. This makes it easier when you’re ready to play an instrument over the drumloop instead of going by the standard metronome sound.
In the example above I’m using the standard kick, snare and hi-hat sounds, but you can drag your own drum samples from the file browser on the left to the step sequencer and use some other samples for your drumloop. I’ve changed the pattern length to 8 beats, which you can see on top left of the step sequencer. This makes the drum pattern a 2-bar loop. For a hip hop beat the snare usually goes on block 5, 13, 21, 29 and so forth (increments of 8). The step sequencer blocks provide visual assistance for your snare placement as you can place it on each first red block in the arrangement. A standard hi-hat pattern goes on each 2 steps. Now when you press play on top, you can hear your sequence playing and you can then decide where to place your kick drums.
Adding a Melody or Bassline
Now when you’ve got a good drumloop going it’s time to add an instrument or melodic sample to your track to add to the drums. Either use a sample from the file browser on the left or add an instrument which comes equipped with FL Studio by going to the Channels menu and choosing ‘Add one’ on top. When you’ve added the sample or instrument you can draw a pattern of notes by right-clicking on the instrument and choosing ‘send to piano roll’. This will provide you with a piano-key overview in which you can draw your notes.
Draw a catchy melody or bassline in this piano roll, you can preview each note by clicking on the piano keys. When you have a midi keyboard you can also record these notes by clicking the record button on top. This will start a lead-in metronome sound after which you can play the notes on your keyboard. You can create multiple two-bar patterns this way by using the pattern selector on top. This way you can create a pattern for your intro and outro, your verses and your chorus.
Arranging Your Patterns to a Song
Now that you’re happy with the patterns you’ve created you can start arranging them by going to the Playlist window with the button on top (or by pressing F5 on your keyboard). First, check the ‘song’ tickbox right next to your play button. Then, have the pattern selected you first want to draw in the arrangement and use the paintbrush tool to draw in the patterns. Remember the standard hip hop arrangement of an intro, 16-bar verses and an 8-bar chorus. In the example above we’ve made a 2-bar pattern, so we need to repeat this 8 times in the arrangement to have a standard verse in our song. You can switch the patterns you’re drawing by using the pattern selector. Delete a pattern in the song view by using your right mouse button.
These are the basics of making your first hip hop beat in FL Studio. The way you compose your patterns and arrange them to a song is really up to you. When you’re getting more experienced with the software you can start equipping the software mixer by assigning individual elements to the mixer inputs and really fine-tune your mix this way.
Author’s own experience.
FL Studio online reference manual: https://flstudio.image-line.com/help/
Screenshots by author.