What Made 90’s/Early 2000 Hip Hop/R&B Production so great?

What Made 90’s/Early 2000 Hip Hop/R&B Production so great?

“I’m from a new era and I bring terror” – Missy Elliott

A quote from a underlooked gem in Missy Elliott’s discography ‘My Man’ featuring Fantasia from her 2005 album ‘The Cookbook’.

But she is a woman of her word is she managed to terrorise the airwaves, radio, TV screens with her inventive take on contemporary hip hop blending R&B in her versatile stylings with unorthodox production collaborating on her influencial classic with Timbaland, ‘Supa Dupa Fly’. But I’ll save the Missy Elliott talk for another time.

The question is ‘What did make 90’s and early 2000’s hip hop/r&b production so great’, I’ve played songs from these era to people and they’re usually like “Damn, they don’t make ’em no more like this” and I’m thinking as that to do with nostalgia or has the actual production changed? (And no, saying everything went trap doesn’t really help; because that style’s been around since the late 90’s, having medium popularity in the 2000’s with producers on the first wave like Zaytoven and taking off at the start of this decade thanks to Lex Luger.)

Pockets of Space/Minimalism
Personally I think it’s the pockets of space that are within the production that help with what made it so great. By pockets of space, I mean the gaps between percussion in the drum rhythm and the spaces within the beat where nothing’s really there. This allows the vocalist to create the vibe that lets us (the listener) really connect and get down with the song. Three of the biggest producers from this decade, Dr. Dre, Timbaland and The Neptunes utilised this extremely well.

Examples:
Take ‘The Watcher’ by Dr Dre (produced by Dre). The majority of the song is just a bass line with orchestral hits, a really faint beep sound that repeats throughout that’s excellently mixed with some picczato strings occasionally and some G-Funk synths in the chorus and you can’t even really tell how skeletal/minimal the beat is because of how Dre uses his vocals just to ride the beat and connect everything together.

Generic example of it’s still one of my favourite songs – Aaliyah – Are You That Somebody? (produced by Timbaland)


This song is exactly why Timbaland influenced me so much and one of my favourite producers. It’s genius the small spaces he leaves in the beat allowing for funky rhythms to be created as well as the panning of the snares flicking like a lightswitch creating a barrage of sounds. It’s almost like the frantic-ness of drum and bass but less abrasive and contained, and to this day I still can’t predict sometimes where the snare is or whether it’s just silence.¬† In combination with an incredible singer, and a sample of baby noises throughout the track, it’s remarkable and remains timeless.

As well as the drum patterns, the melody’s in the production would be memorable due to the simplicity and how reduced they are, this coupled with an artist’s vocals prevents the factor of the melody being repetitive as the artist is adding another melody’s, flows to provide counter rhythms to provide freshness over the instrumentation.

Bridges

Bridges are another aspect of 90’s and 00’s production I love (they’re not always there but when they are) it helps elevate the song to another level of greatness. Just chords contrasting the chorus and verses with higher sung phrases work well. The Neptunes bridges throughout various songs in the 2000’s are still timeless and incredible and something I’d love to hear. (I sometimes try to incorporate them myself too, haha!)

(Here’s a documentary on here talking about the impact and influence of 90’s production also):

Segments in a song where the elements are reduced

There’s too many examples for this, but the main point is the parts of the song where there’s less elements when that’s regularly used (or being used in the earlier duration of the song) e.g just a bassline and claps being left in contrast to a drum, bassline and melody in the verses. It helps the vocals standout and keeps the song refreshing for listeners.

This is only a part of many different things that gives the production a certain magic to it, in conjunction with the nostalgia too.

This is MisterrCha of @TeamProU saying till next time.

 

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Written by MisterrCha


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1 Comment
  • Adrian says:

    Production concentrated a lot more on music theory those days. The music production was deep, and so were the samples used those days. Same goes for R&B

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