Boom Bap With Toontrack – Attack Magazine

Loosen the neck muscles because we’re going to make a bum-bubble head nod reminiscent of the classic ’90s hip-hop sound. To do this, we will be using EZDrummer, EZMix2, and EZKeys Toontrack to go back in time.

Boom bap describes the greatest hip-hop beats of the 90s. Nas, Mobb Deep, and Jay Z are some of the names most closely associated with sound. However, dig a little deeper and be sure to listen to producers like The Alchemist, Pete Rock, or 9th Wonder. The list is long!

Audio combines sampled recordings with drum samples. So cage diving is an essential skill for a boomerang producer. But what about those of us who don’t have a bunch of deep vinyl and who like to get that vibe? Well, we can create our own music for sampling.

What we’ll do now is use Toontrack’s suite of virtual “EZ” instruments to create our own samples and get a boom bap sound, something like the Nas/DJ Premier sound of the early ’90s, without having to spend a lifetime scouring record stores for a rare vinyl. With just a few layers of select samples from Ableton’s “Chop and Swing” package, included in the Live Suite, we get the vibe of classic, authentic hip-hop music.

This is what we do today:

Note Click any image to enlarge it.

Step 1: Set up the session and kick / ambush

Set the tempo to 85. We’ll use the sixteenth note swing close to 60%.

If you’re an Ableton user, create a new instrument path using a 2-scale MIDI loop and grab the “Swing MPC3000 16th 61” groove from the browser and apply it to the loop.

Add a drum stand to the track, place “Kick Sweet” and “Snare Hard Body” from the Chop and Swing package on two pads, and draw your MIDI like this.

Then add an instance of the Ableton Drum Buss sound effect, set the “Damp” parameter to 2.5kHz to tame the high end, and you should have something like this:

Step Two: Bring organic barrels

Next, create a MIDI track and add an instance of Toontrack’s EZDrummer. We will be using the Custom Shop EZX expansion pack, specifically the “Basic Fibes” set.

Call the group and turn on the “press” knob at the bottom of the interface, mute the channel called “Reverb”, and adjust the levels until you get something like this:

Then of course it’s MIDI time. Create a two-rod ring, drop the “Swing MPC 3000 16th 61” groove you used earlier from the groove assembly into the clip. Then draw the MIDI to look a little like this

Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 3: “Sampling” the Organic Barrels – Part 1

In the end, we will use the organic barrels as a fine layer behind the highly battered samples we used in Step 1.

To that end, we’ll add a series of effects, starting with an auto filter to get rid of the lows, an example from Drum Buss for gluing things together, an example for EZMix2 to add a vinyl vibe, and finally, the utility device to fold the stereo image a bit and make things hit hard in the middle.

Copy the settings below onto Ableton devices, then we’ll take a closer look at the EZMix2 settings.

EZMix2 is exactly what it sounds like; An easy way to create your own mix, between stock presets and the many presets available in cheap EZMix2 packages, you have just about any audio you could want at your fingertips.

We’ll be using the Tube Vinyl preset from the Lo-Fi preset bundle on this bundle

There are only two knobs to adjust. Make them look like this, and your groove should look like this:

It looks more like something you’ve been sampling from a log at this point. But we haven’t gotten there yet.

The only thing that makes a sampler sound like a sampler is that it usually doesn’t play exactly at its original pace. It’s usually speeded up or slowed down a bit on the turntable you’re sampling, and as a result the pitch changes slightly.

To replicate this effect, we’ll lower the project’s tempo to 70 bpm for a moment, create a new audio track, set the input of that track to EZDrummer2’s output, arm the track, and record the loop as an audio file. The I/O of the new audio track should look like this:

Once you’ve taped your loop, cut it into two strips, make sure your twist mode is set to “Re-Pitch,” and turn the project’s tempo back up to 85. It should look a little something like this

Now pull this channel’s dimmer down significantly – about 18 dB – and layer it with the bare-bones kick/snap track from Step 1.

Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 4: Get more welcome hats

The rollers are almost there but let’s add another hi-hat layer to finish it off.

Doing something simple with a different tone and a slightly different pocket will complete the organic loop we just created and add a bit of complexity and looseness to the groove.

We’ll be using the “In The Pocket” EZX, specifically the “Low Lo-Fi” combination with the simple eighth-note groove shown below.

Let’s leave all EZDrummer settings as is besides muting the “Crunch” channel in the synthesizer tab. It’s a little crunchy for this type

A little dusting of EZMix’s Tube Vinyl setup as configured below gives us just the sound we want to finish off the drum groove.

Give these hats some punch now. About 5 decibels extra sounds about the right. You can add that in the Ableton blender.

Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 5: Add the piano keys

Cool rhythm comes with a cool keyboard theme. Piano, Rhodes, Claf… a wonderful thing.

In this case we will be using EZKeys, specifically the Studio Grand package. Drop an instance of EZKeys onto a new MIDI track, and use the default “standard” preset in the Studio Grand library. No need to change any parameters on the tool.

Just draw your MIDI like this (or play something with your controller), and make sure it’s not aligned to the grid. If you want to look real, spunky and mixed, you have to leave the pocket a little loose.

It’s important to note that we didn’t drop any kind of groove on this MIDI clip. Just drawing it, a little bit off the grid, gets us to where we want to be.

Then we will add effects. Start with another copy of EZMix and preset Lo-Fi Vinyl from the Lo-Fi Library. Move the handles like this:

Then add the EQ Eight and drag the lowest levels, followed by Drum Buss with the parameters in the positions you see (note that “Comp” is enabled).

Pull the dimmer of this path down by about 24 dB.

Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 6: I have a fever and the only prescription is more keys

We need something to carry the rhythm. A simple melody on the caliente should do the trick. Create another MIDI track and drop the Tempo Wah Clav preset from the Chop and Swing package. Draw your MIDI like this:

We’ll multiply it with a load of tone-shaping effects to make it sound just right. These are all standard Ableton effects – make it look like this, and note the EZMix instance in the series, we’ll check its parameters next.

Back in EZMix we will apply the Lo-Fi vinyl preset as shown below. Pull the channel dimmer dimmer about 18 dB. This leads us to where we want to go.

Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 7: Add Bass to Flavor

Add another MIDI track. This time, add the Upright Ambient Bass preset from the Ableton core library. We’re going to double the clav part, so copy the MIDI from the clav track, but then move things around a bit, off the grid. Make it feel a little organic.

Add the sound effects below and make sure the parameters match.

Can you guess which EZMix preset we’ll be using for this one? If you say “Lo-Fi Vinyl”, you win the jackpot!

Pull the dimmer of this channel down by about 9 dB. Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 8: Processing the group

I want to glue the keyboard and bass parts together a bit as if they were pulled from the same record.

To achieve this, I will group these paths by selecting them all and pressing Command + G, and in the new group path created I will drop the Compress Multiple Ranges preset, from the Ableton core library, and tweak it a bit to taste. Copy the parameters below.

Here is the progress we’ve made so far:

Step 9: Timing the Disc

It’s all very good but there is something about the clav preset and the bass preset that makes the notes lag a bit.

One way you can correct this in Ableton Live is by using Track Delay. In order to see the Track Delay controls, you first have to visit the toggle buttons on the lower right side of the mixer in the session view and click on the button marked “D.” to delay.” Makes sense, yes?

Then, you can set the track delay to a positive value on the track to delay it a bit, or a negative value to pull it forward. I’m going to set the value on my Tempo Wah track to -32, and on my bass track to -25.

After that, it’s just a matter of throwing a limiter onto my main bus to avoid any cuts, and we’re racing.

Here is the end result again:

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author Nate Edwards
January 24, 2022

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