How to create a minimal noughties-style hip-hop beat

Build a synthetic drum groove in the style of The Neptunes and Timbaland with our step-by-step guide

Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams - AKA The Neptunes.
(Image: © Picture Perfect/REX/Shutterstock)

Contrasting with the sampled, sliced breaks of the 90s, hip-hop beats at the turn of the 21st century were defined by their comparatively sparse rhythms and synthetic instrumentation.

In this walkthrough, we'll show you how to put together a spiky noughties hip-hop groove in Ableton Live. To learn much more about hip-hop production, grab the November edition of Computer Music (cm236).

Click to download the audio files that are referenced in the walkthrough.

Step 1: Unlike the 'boom-bap' beats of the 90s, which were typically made from sampled breaks or live drum hits, the more minimal beats favoured by Timbaland and The Neptunes were constructed from synthetic sounds with greater emphasis on the space between the hits. Let's make one of these beats from scratch - start by setting your project tempo to 100bpm.

Step 2: Add a Drum Rack to a fresh MIDI channel, then import 808Kick.wav and Clap.wav into two blank pads. Turn on the metronome and record a kick and clap groove into a blank MIDI clip - once we've recorded the groove, we quantise all the beats in every bar, then adjust the offbeats manually until it rolls nicely.

Step 3: A guitar stab would layer well over some of the 808 kick drums, adding a musical tone. Import Guitar.wav into a blank Drum Rack pad, then copy the first, third and fifth kick notes from each bar to trigger it. After this, we can add a booming new kick layer - WetKick.wav - on another blank pad before triggering it using a copy of the first and fourth kicks in each bar.

Step 4: The new kick layer is a little loud; adjusting the Velocity to around 60 blends it in more. After this, we add a tom fill to bar 4 as a flourish. Import TomSplash.wav into a blank Drum Rack pad, then move the fourth and fifth kick notes from bar 4 and the snare note after to trigger the tom. Finally, turn the Velocity of these notes to around 70.

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