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 • 17:30 - 18:00
Feedin' my controller: Re-imagining the 'phonographic' in boom-bap rap

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Over the past two decades, the growing literature on hip-hop musicology has paid ample tribute to Akai’s range of Music Production Controllers (MPCs), acknowledging their pivotal influence on the development of rap production practices. The technology’s combined sampling, tactile drum-programming and MIDI-sequencing functionality has been embraced by practitioners since the release of the standalone MPC60 (1988), through to its more recent computer-dependent incarnations manifested in a multitude of hardware controllers and DAWs. The timeline coincides with particular sonic priorities in hip-hop that can be grouped under the boom-bap aesthetic—an onomatopoeic celebration of the prominence of individual drum sounds syncopated against ‘chopped’ phonographic segments from the past. Three decades later, the legal landscape bears witness to a growing body of hip-hop producers creating copyright-free, interim content to facilitate a sample- based approach referential to this retro aesthetic. But what if MPC technology has impacted upon the stylization of hip-hop, conditioning both workflow and the aesthetic expectations of what can legitimately serve as raw sonic material?
Artists/producers such as Frank Dukes, De La Soul, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Statik Selektah painstakingly delve into multiple production phases to ensure the construction of original content-for-sampling, ‘feeding’ a modus operandi shaped by the mechanistic affordances of the past. The author examines his ongoing creative practice under an auto-ethnographic lens to uncover the variables and considerations that define this subset of contemporary hip-hop practice. The paper demonstrates how the interactivity between original composition and MPC workflow is consistent with a metamodern ‘structure of feeling’—oscillating between and beyond analogue nostalgia and digital futurism—mirrored in modern- day politics and also other artforms. The aim is to highlight how the pursuit of ‘phonographic’ context, re-imagined as an interim phase facilitating and infused into the meta-process, brings to the forefront a number of unexamined aesthetic issues that demand further analysis.


Michail Exarchos

Course Leader BA (Hons) Music Mixing and Mastering, London College of Music, University of West London
Hip-hop, record production, sampling and vintage sonics