Beat Building: How to Create a Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Beat
In our Beat Building series, we show you how to produce beats, grooves and drum patterns in a variety of styles and genres, touching on different production eras, to help you understand the key rhythmic elements behind many of the today’s greatest pieces.
You can divide hip-hop beat production into two broad trends: the MPC-powered beat-hash of ’90s beatmakers like DJ Premier, and the spacious 808 beats of the trap style that developed in the ’90s and 2000s. in southern US cities like Atlanta. However, these two styles are not entirely independent of each other, and many modern hip-hop artists incorporate elements of both.
Our rhythm falls somewhere in between – it’s powered by spacious 808 bass and includes a hint of trap’s signature triplet hi-hat, but our snare and clap are treated with a little lo-fi crunch mimicking the techniques of trap music. ’90s sampling. We’re also taking a bit of inspiration from the woozy lo-fi sound of cloud rap. The overall effect channels adventurous modern artists like Tyler, the designer who incorporates elements of multiple styles.
Sonically, aim for punch and power – hip-hop beats are meant to be rapped, so you need to provide a rhythmic thrust for your MC while leaving plenty of room for their vocals. Our groove here is relatively straight; we added about 5% swing and used a fixed speed for a mechanized feel. We manually pushed our applause out of the grid so the beat was a little wonky in places. A typical bpm for hip-hop is between 85 and 100.
Building the rhythm…
We start with the KICK. This is a long and powerful 808 kick, tuned to the root of the track as it also provides the lead bass. By bouncing it around and loading it into a sampler, we get more control over the pitch and decay envelope. The kicks are placed sparsely, on the first beat of bars 1 and 3, but avoiding the first beat of bars 2 and 4.
Then the TRAP is on the third beat of each bar, with a few extra hits to create a slight fill in bars 3 and 4. We used a drum machine snare, processed using a sampler emulator Classic Akai S900 to add crunch. We also lowered the snare slightly and increased the attack for a punchy hip-hop feel.
Our HELLO HAT is a short, metallic 808-style closed cap. We start by placing strokes on each beat, creating a simple, straight rhythm. Next, we change our grid to triplet mode and add short, quick flourishes, mostly in bars 2 and 4, creating the “walking” feel of trap beats.
Our hi-hat is joined by a simple, short BLENDER sound in bars 1 and 3. Finally, we add some CLAPS, again processed with an Akai S900 emulator for low bitrate crunch. We use two claps; the second is shorter but sent to a reverb to add space.
Our lo-fi feel comes from the processing. We’re adding saturation throughout the beat to gel everything up and add presence to the kick. For our woozy cloud rap feel, we treat our hi-hat with a few modded effects: a resonant filter driven by a slow LFO, BBD-style chorus, and a bit of auto-panning. Finally, we use a transient shaper all the time.
Trap tracks can be very spacious and often have few musical elements beyond a basic beat. More old-school or melodic hip-hop usually includes a sampled hook. Try a short loop of muted piano, lo-fi synths, or a soulful/gospel vocal.