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Claps & Snaps: The Death of the Snare Drum (TrendWatch)

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 27 - 20092 COMMENTS

Not exactly breaking news, but humor me: scan the Billboard Hip Hop chart and you’ll see that it is hard to find a rap song with a snare drum on the back beat. Why?


tombstoneLet’s go back to the late 90s for a moment. From groups like OutKast, No Limit Soldiers (Master P, Mystikal), and Cash Money Millionaires (Juvenile, Birdman) sprung a new era of southern music which began to seep into America’s collective consciousness. Still, with artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and 50 Cent (and production teams like Neptunes and Timbaland), it would be another half a decade or so before the South virtually became Top 40 rap.


Growing up in Atlanta, I had a somewhat distorted view of the influence of southern rap. In fact, just the other day I was discussing this very topic with a well-known East Coast rap mixer and discovered that songs like “Back That Azz Up” didn’t have the nearly the impact on the national level that they did in Georgia. In fact, he said that Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” was the song that, for him, signaled the entrance of southern music into the mainstream.


Crunk JuiceThe south officially became mainstream with the Crunk movement, which is when all the clapping and snapping started. For me, the turning point was when “Get Low” came out and Lil Jon became The Face of Crunk on the national and international levels.


Which brings us back to the initial question: Why? While the actual reason probably has something to do with tools available, the whims of producers, and the butterfly effect…

A clap or snap provides two distinct advantages over a snare drum (1) It leaves room for other elements in the mix (does not compete with the vocal) and (2) provides a human element.


As Phil pointed out in a previous post, when it comes to a mix, in order for something to be big, something else has to be small. While it may seem that layers upon layers of sounds would lead to a bigger mix, it also leads to a smaller vocal, smaller drums, smaller bass. When you’ve only got a clap, an 808, and a vocal, each of those elements can be huge. Unlike the epic snare drums that typify the rock idiom, claps are humble, unassuming, and fun.


Many people simply do not enjoy instrumental music because there is nothing human to connect with. They need a lead vocal to connect with the song. To a lesser extent, claps and snaps serve as this same kind of human element. (If I really wanted to get academic about this, I could relate this to the call-and-response aesthetic seen in traditional African music… but I’ll abstain.)


Slowly but surely, Crunk has split off into two genres which are in effect today:


“Snap Music”


The first branch is known as snap music. In my mind, snap music is the only authentically southern rap around because it is still exclusively being made in the South (in other words Kanye isn’t stealing it). Here are its signature characteristics, in order of importance:

  • A single-note bassline (no chord progression)
  • Sparse arrangements
  • 808 kick sound
  • Monophonic, short, riff-based melodic elements
  • Snaps on beats 2 and 4
  • Fruity Loops-esque synth patches
  • Syncopated snare-fills

Snap music is a little less produced than everything else on the radio. I’m talking Yung Joc, I’m talking Soulja Boy, hell, I’m talking “Laffy Taffy”:



Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a lot more convenient to snap while dancing than to clap (not to mention cooler-looking).


Mainstream Rap


The other branch is what I would simply call mainstream rap: your Lil Waynes, your T-Pains, your TIs. This style is characterized by the following:

  • Auto-Tune/choruses with singing
  • Claps on beats 2 and 4
  • 808s, either supplementing or serving as the kick sound
  • A melodic bassline (in other words, there is an actual chord progression)
  • Futuristic, techno-like synth patches

This form of southern rap is so far-reaching that virtually every Top 40 artist uses claps, from New York to New Orleans.


Next time you’re composing a track, remember that the samples you use play an enormous role in defining that song’s style and determines the demographic to which your music appeals.


*Note: There are several notable exceptions to this rule right now:


One is Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It,” which utilizes a combination of both a clap and a snare on beats 2 and 4. The tune has reached #6 on iTunes and #1 on the Billboard Hip-Hop chart.


TI’s “Live Your Life” feat. Rihanna uses a snare on the backbeat, but it has a syncopated snare pattern too, which gives the song a kind of majestic, almost military band sound.


Perhaps the most complete exception is “Swagga Like Us,” with only a snare on beats 2 and 4. This choice was undoubtedly very conscious–because of the gravity of this collaboration, they were able to use an unusual instrumental and be perceived as innovative rather than out of touch. I think that it was inspired by the movie Drumline based on the feel established by the kick drum pattern.

5 Pop Songs With No Music (TrendWatch)

Posted by Keith Freund On March - 20 - 20097 COMMENTS

Pop minimalism is one of the most interesting and distinct music trends of this decade. Particularly over the last four years, much of rap and Top 40 dance music has had no chord progression at all, only a repeating riff (“ostinato”) and/or a single note bass line.


The following club anthems are extreme examples of pop minimalism. They all are comprised almost entirely of rhythmic components, but all of them have at least some melodic content somewhere, including tuned 808s which usually will not be audible except in a night club or car stereo.


5) “Wait (Whisper Song)” by Ying Yang Twins (NSFW video)



When top producers make music today, they are imagining how a crowd will react to it in a night club environment, but even more specifically they’re thinking about strip clubs. Getting your single in rotation at strip clubs is a right of passage in the rap world and “Wait” is a perfect example of a song written explicitly for that purpose.


Aside from lyrical content, there is something raw (and therefore sexual) about sparse rap arrangements. The deep drum sounds in “Wait” are a mix between kicks, 808s, and toms. They are tuned, but each hit slides downward in pitch (sometimes erroneously referred to by drum techs as “the doppler effect”), so it would be futile to try to establish a key signature for this song. The only other element which is not entirely percussive is an “oooo” yell.


The deep drums likely inspired the tuned kicks in the next song, which uses an identical rhythm figure.


Billboard Hip-Hop Ranking: #3
Billboard Hot 100: #15


4) “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg (feat. Pharrell)


Snoop Dogg


Click here to watch the video.


While Snoop’s chorus vocals have pitch to them, they are not discernible notes per se. It is more reminiscent of a tonal language (such as Chinese) than a scale. Other non-melodic elements include tuned kicks, an “ooo” vocal line and a synth progression which plays intermittently.


Just a hunch, but I have a feeling the snare pattern which ends each verse phrase inspired the producer of my #3 pick.



Billboard Hip-Hop Ranking: #1
Billboard Hot 100 Ranking: #1


3) “A Milli” by Lil Wayne



One of the most astounding things about this song is that in spite of all the fuss we make over choruses in this industry, “A Milli” simply doesn’t have a chorus. In fact, I would argue that the real “hook” of this song is the dotted-8th note snare pattern. Highly unusual. You can hear this snare pattern in what seems like every hip-hop song released since Tha Carter III, perhaps most notably Beyonce’s “Diva.”


“A Milli” outlines the trend exactly as I described it: a single note 808 bassline and a (very, very repetitive) ostinato pattern. The effect is almost trance-like, casting a hypnotic spell which translates well on the dance floor.


Billboard Hip-Hop Ranking: #1
Billboard Hot 100 Ranking: #6


2) “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani


Gwen Stefani
Click here to watch the video.


This mega-hit is a a prime example of hip-hop influencing Top 40. It is also one of the few songs in recent memory to crossover into hip-hop rather than from it.


Co-written by Pharrell, “Hollaback Girl” became an instant sensation. The verse and refrain have no melodic content at all except for Stefani’s vocal melody. While the chorus (“that’s my shit”) does have some harmonic content, it’s certainly nothing to write home about aside from being a reprieve from the musiclessness of the rest of the tune.


Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” the most viewed Youtube video of all time, echoes this pop song’s music-free sentiment during its introduction.


Billboard Top 40: #1
Billboard Pop 100: #1
Billboard Hot 100: #1
Billboard Hip-Hop Ranking: #8


1) “Lip Gloss” by Lil Mama

Lil Mama


Click here to view the video.


Above all the other songs on this list, the sparseness of this song blows me away. As if she had this blog post in mind, in the video version of “Lip Gloss,” Lil Mama raps a verse where she chants “no music!”


It makes perfect sense when you’re in a club, but hearing “Lip Gloss” for the first time on Youtube was nothing short of surreal. It seemed like some kind of post-apocalyptic anthem, the kind of thing you’d imagine kids listening to in a George Orwell novel. The youthful energy with which Lil Mama raps is contrasted by the stark, cold isolation of the drums. For me, though, she officially goes over the top when she raps the slogan “L’Oreal, yep, cause I’m worth it”.


All this being said, I love the song. This debut single from the only mainstream female rapper out right now says a lot about the limitations (or lack thereof) of pop music. Not even the kicks are tuned. All we get is a (rather weak) melodic bridge thrown in near the end for good measure.


(Also, call me crazy, but I think the movie Drumline paved the way for this song more than any of the other songs on this list.)


Billboard Hot 100: #10
Billboard Hip-Hop Ranking: #16


Pop minimalism seems to be on its way out with the emergence of Auto-Tune vocal hooks and rap moving in a more pop direction in general, but its influence will likely remain for decades to come and eventually reemerge in another form.


Submit your own examples and thoughts in the comments section.

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