Art of Record Production Conference
May 17-19, 2019
Berklee College of Music, 921 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215
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Friday, May 17 • 10:00 - 10:30
The urge to “clean up” the rap: Rhythm and plasticity in rap music

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Today, the lines between performer and producer are blurred, perhaps even more than they used to. The tools and traditions of modern record production, as well as the tendency towards many actors filling several different roles in a single creative endeavour, introduces techniques, tools and habits that shape the finished recorded product in many different ways.

It is now incredibly fast, easy and intuitive to nudge waveforms around to shape and change the microtiming in most DAWs, and “cleaning up” the rhythmical performance is common practice in many different genres. However, every mouse-dragged waveform is potentially a significant creative decision. How do we talk about these creative decisions with the artist?

Rap music is quite special in that the lead instrument eschews common melodic and harmonic parameters of music, operating almost completely as a rhythmic musical actor. Accordingly, throughout rap’s history microtiming has been important in shaping the sound of many significant performers. Recent trends seem to emphasise this even further.

This paper discusses the effects of applying the new editing techniques provided by the DAW to the rap in rap music. Presenting several analytical examples of recorded rap music, I will zoom in on aesthetic and stylistic aspects of manipulating the microrhythmic design of vocal rap, and discuss the impact of “deviations” from a quantised grid in rap performance, and the impact of either correcting or enhancing these deviations. How do new tools and production habits shape the rap of rap music?

avatar for Kjell Andreas Oddekalv

Kjell Andreas Oddekalv

University of Oslo