Sample Chopping 101 – Breaking Down How Legendary Producer Easy Mo Bee Chopped Biggie’s “Machine Gun Funk”
What Do I Sample?
When I first started learning to make beats, one of the things that I found most challenging was how to properly chop samples in order to create an arrangement. The one piece of advice that I give to up-and-coming beatmakers is to make a habit of chopping the part(s) of the sample that sounds the best to them upon their first listen. Chopping the part(s) of the sample that sound good to you will help you develop your own “ear” for chopping samples.
Why Chop Samples?
By chopping the parts that appeal to you in small chunks (eg. chopping in 1/4 or 1/8 notes) you are usually able to flip it anyway that you would like, without having to worry about tempo or timing issues. In addition, it also gives you complete control over the sample and are able to easily make changes on the fly, such as changing the order of the sampled pieces as the arrangement calls for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when looping a 1 or 2-bar riff works well, but in some instances, you might be limiting yourself by looping “ready made” piece of music as you will not be able to arrange the sounds in the loop as you would like. Often, there are scenarios where you like the sound(s) that you are hearing in the sample that you like but are unable to loop. This could be for several reasons, i.e. the sound you like has a vocal on top of it or the time signature in the sample will not allow you to properly loop the sample. In these situations, chopping the sample into small pieces can be an effective tool to help you solve these problems.
Learn From the Pros
In order to demonstrate how beatmakers can chop samples into small pieces to create a new phrase, I decided to break down the song “Machine Gun Funk”. Studying this song helped me better understand how to chop samples and helped me get away from looping complete 1 or 2 bar phrases. The song “Machine Gun Funk” by the late Notorious B.I.G. was produced by Easy Mo Bee, who along with DJ Premier, is my favorite sample chopper. This song off the classic Ready to Die album still stands the test of time.
Prior to writing this article, I did some research and found out that in 1994 Easy Mo Bee’s setup contained an Akai S950 sampler, along with an E-mu SP-1200. This is important, and you will understand why as you read through the article. Out of respect to Easy Mo Bee, Bad Boy, and the Estate of the Late Notorious B.I.G., the sample used will not be posted due to potential copyright issues – I’m not sure if the sample was cleared or not. However, if you wish to hear it, please conduct an internet search and you will find it.
Analyzing the Sample
If you turn up the volume of “Machine Gun Funk”, you can hear the chopped samples being triggered from 0:05-0:09, just before the drums start to play. The sample is chopped so meticulously that you wouldn’t know that it was a sample chopped into several parts and then arranged into a 2 bar sequence unless you heard it without the drums playing. In the intro you can hear a click sound, which is likely the result of the chopped samples cutting each other off. To create this new 2 bar sequence, Easy Mo Bee chopped the guitar phrase in the original record (at about 0:34) with his Akai s950, completely by ear. Some readers may not be familiar with this piece of equipment as it is vintage, however I am addressing this because this sampler only shows numbers, and not waveforms. What this means is that Easy Mo Bee was forced to sample the guitar phrase and chop it by ear to his liking. After doing this, he would have assigned the chopped samples on the pads on his SP-1200. I never owned or used an SP-1200 so I’m not familiar with the process of assigning sounds so I will explain what I did to replicate this on my MPC 2000xl. I sampled the same guitar phrase, and chopped it into 2 parts. For this first part, I left the sampled guitar phrase as is and then truncated it into two parts, I named the first piece “Piece 1” and the second piece “Piece 2”, assigning it to a new pad. I then copied the “Piece 2”, assigning it to a new pad, pitched it up a semitone, and named this “Piece 3”. Changing the pitch of the sample assigned to the new pad was necessary in order to make it fit with the tempo (94 BPM) of the track. The sample sequence would have went like this: Piece 1, followed by Piece 2, followed by Piece 3 (the pitched up copy of sample 2). You will notice that Easy Mo Bee could not loop the 3 second snippet on the original record due to nature of the 3 second snippet. In order to make a beat out of the sample, he had to chop it up to create his own arrangement.
Use your own ear to chop samples to your own liking. Don’t be afraid to chopping into small pieces. With some practice, will find yourself many new beats by chopping samples and re-arranging them in ways that you may have previously thought wasn’t possible.
Below is the full song, for demonstration purposes.