By Emmanuel Agyemang
“Music is a drug.”
This isn’t just a popular statement of the fake-deep.
Listening to the music you enjoy has a variety of beneficial effects. For example, listening to music can speed up the perception of time, making tedious tasks go by faster (Cracked.com). Listening to moving music causes the mood-altering chemical, dopamine to be released in your brain (The New York Times), a chemical involved in both motivation and addiction. This is the same chemical released during eating, sex, gambling, and drug usage (Discovery.com).
Music has two main components: the lyrics and the beat (or instruments if there is no beat). In the discipline of rap music, the beat becomes ever more important because in most cases, the lyrics don’t add any melody to the song.
A good beat can carry a song on its back. Conversely, even exceptional lyrics can rarely save a song if the beat doesn’t knock. But what separates the average beats from the exceptional ones; what makes a beat stay in your head, makes your whole body want to move, and makes you want to pound it on your desk?
After years of making beats and studying the art of the hip-hop instrumental, I think I have found the answer.
Of course, if I told you the answer in the beginning of the third paragraph, you’d all just stop reading and hit the back button now. So let’s explore the question. What makes a good beat?
Is it a lot of bass? Is it an exposition of the producer’s musical knowledge and skill? Is it complicated runs and riffs? Is it variation in the hi-hats? Is it unpredictability? Is it simplicity? Of course, the answer to some of these questions depends on what purpose the beat serves.
A freestyle beat is obviously going to cater to different sensibilities than an interlude on an album. It would be foolish to hold either of those to the same standards as a club banger. However, each one of these beats can be good in their own right.
Think about your favorite songs, your favorite beats. Now think about a beat that you hate.
What’s the difference? The beats you enjoy all make you feel something: joy, hype, sadness, maybe even anger-but they all move you. I’m willing to bet my checking account (so, about 10 dollars) that the beats you hate don’t pull any emotion out of you whatsoever, or at least not any emotion you enjoy or value. That is the fundamental undercurrent of all exceptional beats.
A good beat moves you. Whether the beat makes you want to cry, dance or flip a table, it triggers that dopamine release that music does when it stirs your soul. A good beat always makes you feel something.
This article serves to separate the men from the boys when it comes to beats, but there is an ulterior motive as well.
It is to get you to think about what is often the part of music that goes forgotten. Some of us concentrate so much on the lyrical content of a song that we forget that there is another musician at work behind the scenes.
A lot of times we don’t even see the producer’s name in the song information, when they are the ones who make the magic happen. The next time you think about what makes your favorite song great, don’t forget about that beat.