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In the mid-to-late 2000s, the "End of the Weak (EODub)" open mic in NYC was my favorite proving grounds for up and coming talent along with local legends in the rap game. You quickly learned how to rap with your chest out knowing cats like C-Rayz Walz, Immortal Technique, Pumpkinhead, Homeboy Sandman, and Mr. MFN eXquire were up later. Riddled with respect and raw talent, it was the perfect room to get comfortable with rapping in front of others. But no one really tells you how to rap at an open mic right? Odds are, you'll make some stupid mistakes going in blind like I did, so I put together a roadmap for optimizing your next open mic opportunity
I've been fortunate enough to DJ hundreds of rap shows, supporting MCs and playing in between sets. It comes with a lot of fun memories, and a lot of reality checks. I felt it was important to share some game with the next class of DJs looking to perform with rappers for the first time. If you're a rapper yourself, pass this on to your DJ if they aren't doing this stuff already.
Learn the Verses
If you've been around enough artists, especially rappers, you've probably heard this one before:
"I just record at the crib right now."
Ugh. I hate that statement. It usually comes with an embarrassed tone because people still have this fascination with signing a deal and recording in a multi-million dollar studio. The reality is, If you're smart enough to make intelligent purchases instead of going in debt for gear you don't need, extremely proud of yourself. You've made the conscious decision to work harder and invest in your craft, stick your chest out and talk your shit the next time you mention your home setup. If you struggle with that, consider a few reasons why tracking at home is such a better option for so many people
Inspiration is Random
You never know when the best musical idea of your life is going to pop in your head. We are entering an age of experimentation in hip-hop that wouldn't be financially feasible a few decades ago due to studio costs. Plugins are powerful and dirt cheap compared to hardware nowadays. In addition, very few artists have the luxury of a label or company paying for unlimited studio time that you can waste waiting for inspiration to hit. But an artist with the ability to record themselves can enjoy the same approach without breaking bank. My best work comes when I'm not chasing anything and time isn't an issue. I doubt I'm the only one in this boat.
Learning the Process
I recall introducing Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire to my home recording setup years ago. The excitement of no longer needing a studio ultimately lead him to acquiring his own setup. As he got comfier with Pro Tools, our conversations about writing and recording began to change. Suddenly he was referencing leveling, compression, EQ, delays and all of the wonderfully nerdy things you don't expect MCs to know. He began to write his verses with the knowledge of what could be done later in the DAW via effects/ processing. As such, it opened up a whole new chamber of his writing. It also made me all the more excited to mix for him, because we could speak more candidly about what a song needed. To this day there are things that eX can do in Pro Tools better than most engineers, and it pays off whenever he's working in a new studio. Too many mistakes and he can literally tell you to get out of the way so he can fix the issue from the engineer's chair himself. That kind of mastery will make you a better artist.
Recording technique is a skill that improves with practice. But there's some things you can do, even if it's your first song, that will help you get a better recording. Any engineer will tell you, a high quality performance up front means there's less that needs to be done in the mix. So to help you track vocals better, here's 5 quick things you can implement immediately.
Warm Up Your Voice
It blows my mind how many artists, especially rappers, don't warm up their voice before hitting the booth. Your larynx aka voicebox is a collection of muscle, ligaments, and mucous membrane. If a pro athlete warms up their most used muscles before a game, why shouldn't you? In addition to preventing injury, warmups can have a great psychological effect. You'll walk into your session more prepared and confident after a warmup. You'll also discover inflictions and voices that you'll be able to use in the future.
Perform Your Actual Verse While Checking Levels
When an engineer says they want to check your levels, give this process your utmost attention. This is the time where the engineer is trying to set the volume around what your song will require. One quick way to make this a more accurate process is to actually rap or sing your verse during mic checks. Usually artists will simply say "mic check 1, 2" or will perform their verse half-heartedly. It's pointless to whisper during the level check only to then scream a verse while recording. Your engineer will have to adjust volumes and you'll likely clip, potentially ruining a recording. Treat the level check like a real recording so you or your engineer can set volumes right from the jump.
The Tape On The Floor Trick
Most recordings aren't done in one take from start to end. You'll likely step away from the mic in between vocal takes. Because of this, you might record each verse from a different distance to the mic. This makes the volume different each time, and can change the overall timbre of your voice. To fix this, once you find a distance you like, put a piece of tape on the ground by both of your toes. This is now your recording spot. Every recording take you do should be from this spot. This will keep your distance and angle to the mic as consistent as possible.
Perfect Your Monitor Mix Early
Direct monitoring refers to being able to hear your voice in the headphones as you record. You should take the time to get a comfortable mix of your vocal and the beat early in your recording process. Make sure you can hear your voice front and center. Also make sure you can hear the music, especially the rhythm section, clearly. If you start recording and have to adjust the balance between beat/vocal later, there's a strong chance you'll sing at a different volume to compensate for the change. You end up with vocals that are vastly different levels of loudness, and now your engineer has to use more of that session time to fix the issue. Get a good monitor mix early and leave it alone.
Stabilize Your Line of Sight
Whether you write on paper or a phone, stabilizing the surface that your lyrics are on while you record will keep you from moving your head left and right too much. Some of us can hold a pad or phone with no problems. Congrats if that's you. But if you find yourself moving your line of sight a lot, ask if there is a music stand or surface you can place your lyrics on. In addition to keeping your head movements minimized, freeing your hands can often help with posture and breath control. Mobile phone writers, invest in a $15 gooseneck Phone holder that you can clamp to a mic stand. It's worth it.
None of these tips require a big studio, but they all can go a long way in making your music sound more professional. The next time you have some recording to do, pull these tips up and start to internalize the process. And if you need beats for your next session, visit my beat page.
Remember when we first started hearing the term "mumble rap"? Initially it referred to rappers that had lyrics we couldn't easily understand. But lately it's an umbrella term used to often inaccurately describe a majority of the new artists. This "one size fits all" narrative has unfortunately ushered in a divide between some of the older participants in hiphop, and the youth trying to forge their path in the game. I personally think lumping everyone into this tag is dismissive, and ironically it reminds me of when my generation and peers got lumped into being strictly "backpack" rap fans, and underground MCs.
Sean Price "The 3 Lyrical Ps" feat. Prodigy & Styles P (Prod. Harry Fraud)
Rest in Power to the God's. Peace to OG Styles P who continues to carry the torch for The LOX. Share this post for the culture.
With Moog's recent Black Friday sale, I've been receiving a lot of inquiries about my previously uploaded Model 15 x Ableton Rack. A few users reported installation issues, so I figured it'd be a good time to update the rack. Version 2.0 utilizes "Control Change 8" from Robert Henke, replacing "8ccs" from the previous version for anyone who had errors with that file. It should load directly from the Ableton project but is included just in case. (Thanks Robert!). I've also corrected defaults on certain parameters and added info text for each bank that explains what's being controlled.
Once you download and unzip the file above, in order to make everything work, you'll need to install the included CC Map into the App. The quickest way is to Airdrop or Message the file labeled "MODEL15 CCMAP.m15c" to your iOS device. Opening this on your iOS device will load Model 15 and apply the CC Mapping to the app. To verify the Mapping loaded correctly, go to Settings > MIDI> scroll down and select Save/Load CC Map. Click save and name your mapping whatever you choose.
Next, open the file labeled "SentZ Moog Model 15 Rack 2.0.alp" on your computer. This will prompt you to choose an install location, so Install anywhere you'll remember and open the session that's created once everything unpacks. The session will open up Ableton with the Rack loaded. You can then click the disk on the rack to save it automatically to your "MIDI Effects Racks" or you can drag and drop it to the location of your choice. Configure the settings on the included External Instrument track and your off
The Rack is divided and labeled into a few banks to better group functions together:
Bank1: 921 A/B Oscs: Controls the Driver Oscillator (921A) and the 921B Oscillators
Bank 2: 921 VCO OSC: Controls the 921 VCO Oscillator, Rectangular Width, Auxiliary Output Waveforms and Clamping Point Sections
Bank 3: FILTER/HP/LP: Controls the Main 904A VCO LP Filter. Aux HP and LP refer to the independent filters to the right of the 921B Oscillators. FixFilLP and FixFilLP control the Low Pass and High Pass knobs of the Fixed Filter Bank 907A
Bank4: FixFltr: Controls each frequency band of the Fixed Filter Bank 907A. (Again, the Low and High pass knobs are located in Bank 3
Bank 5: ADSR Envelopes: Controls the 2 ADSR Envelope Generators 911. Note, the layout has been "corrected" to the standard ADSR instead of the Model 15's native ADRS envelope layout.
Bank 6: MIX/ATTEN 995: Controls the Mixer levels and levels of the Attenuator 995, located to the right of the Fixed Filter Bank 907A
Bank 7: Del/R Att/ Amp: Controls the delay parameters, Amplifiers, and Reversible Attenuators. RevAttn1 refers to the module located to the right of the Mixer. 2 and 3 refer to the Reversible Attenuators next to the Delay (2 on top, 3 on the bottom)
For your convenience, an External Instrument device is also nested at the end of the rack.
Be sure to comment if you'd like to see additional mappings for other iOS synths. Odds are, I own it already :)
If you aren't already, check out my music production, engineering, and dj podcast, Lab Science.
Peace and happy Mooging!