I’ve been listening to a lot of beats lately. Just beats, no rhyming. Sometimes you just don’t wanna deal with lyrics. I also think J Dilla is a god and prefer to listen only to his instrumentals. “The Shining” is a great album, but I know I’m not in the minority in wanting to just listen to his beats.
I’ve been exploring and trying to listen to more producers who may not be getting any notable love. I plan on sharing my findings here, but today I want to talk about a specific preference that was guiding one of my listening sessions.
I was listening to a producer who I will not name, because I do think he is talented and don’t think my criticism comes from anything other than a temporary personal preference. As I was playing his beats which relied much more on melody and instrumentation, I noticed that the beats were a bit airy to me. It had a sort of otherworldly, ethereal feeling at times, so much so that I felt a sonic void. My ears didn’t feel like they were eating anything more than some light pita bread. But I wanted that steak man. Wasn’t trying to diet. Not today.
I’ve known about “Knxwledge” for a while now. He’s a producer and one half of “Nx Worries” a duo including Anderson .Paak and himself. He’s on Stones Throw records. He was also featured on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” producing the song “Momma”
"Momma" has a very distinct sloppy sound to it. It rattles with metallic cowbell like production and a heavy baseline with punchy kicks that feel like they are punching through ballistic gel.
The jazz samples also jingle on down very nicely, precipitating through the harsher elements like a drainpipe.
But anyways, I wasn’t listening to Momma… I mean I am now that I’m writing about it. But I went over to Apple Music and just searched “Knxwledge” And immediately started playing The first track off of his “Buttrskotch” project. I was instantly in the zone (If that sounded like an ad, it wasn’t.) It’s like that feeling you get when you’re eating mom’s home cooking, and she makes that pasta that you haven’t had in a while, but when you bite into it, you’re like “Holy sh*t! I forgot how good that was!” If you can’t relate, then I’m sorry that your mother is a horrible cook and you couldn’t use your imagination.
But the pumping kick and bass really coursed through and into my ears like a heartbeat, and I’m not trying to be lyrical when I write that as much as a heartbeat is the closest thing I can compare it too. A lot of his beats have this “pulse” to it that really drives it. I knew it had something to do with the way it was mixed but I didn’t know there was a name for it. It’s called “Sidechain Compression.”
Basically, in a very rudimentary explanation, what Knxwledge does is allow the output of a track determine the variable action of a compressor on a completely different track. To break it down even further… Let’s say you were mixing a vocal track, but you wanted the voice track to not feel overwhelmed by the music, with sidechaining you would have a compressor react to the audio waveform of the vocal track, so when the voice gets louder the compression is more pronounced, basically allowing the voice to sort of “push around” the sound that’s around it.
I will link to a couple videos below that explain it with much more expertise than I could.
But basically this compression is what gives Knowledge’s beats his “pulsing” and “pumping” feel. Now mind you, beat makers have been doing this forever and Knxwledge has not created nor innovated this technique. Basically what beat makers like him do is apply the sidechain effect to the kick drum and it perforates through the music around it affected by the compressor. For me, it’s an incredibly satisfying sound and really makes everything sound more full. This is all preference for me, but it’s a nice little trick that makes the music almost feel more tangible. The pulse of the beat with this effect now demands my attention and I am listening.
Check out these links videos for more info on sidechain compression.