the Books

A blog by Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong of the band 'the Books'

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Aug 1

The Story of Hip Hop

Hey, good morning, just three tracks left!

Hip Hop the genre is largely credited to the Bronx block parties of the late seventies where, by popular demand, percussion loops were isolated and looped as a rhythmic bed for prototypical emcees.  The origins of the term are fuzzy.   I always assumed, apparently wrongly, that it had something to do with a variant on the genre bebop which inspired the improvised stylings of beat poetry, focusing on the rhythm and flow of language, but this is largely a false conflation caused by the hip in hipsters, i think.  BTW, how many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?…phsht, you don’t know?!

The source material for this track predates “A Rapper’s Delight" by at least two decades and represents such a cosmic fluke, such a bizarrely anachronistic coincidence that we had to make a track out of it, even if it meant we had to suspend our "no breakbeat" policy briefly.

In the late fifties a group associated with an Esoteric Christian sect released a record for children that had four stories on it, two on side A and two on side B, all read by our very unlikely emcee.  The stories were about a humming bird, a duck family, a kitty, and most importantly a “little green grasshopper named Hip Hop”.  What are the chances of this?  It’s downright mystical.

Paul gave me a copy of the record, which he found God-knows-where, and I busily set to work cutting out all of the useful nouns, adjectives and verbs from the four stories to recreate a story of Hip Hop, sans grasshopper.  While rearranging the pieces I was particularly struck by Hip Hop’s tendency towards getting into trouble and the strange relationship he had to “flowers”. 

Once the narrative had formed I started on the music, which had to be kind of a “Peter and The Wolf” mini-epic with outlandish breaks.  Usually I avoid straight 4/4, but the ‘almost but not quite Hip Hop’ reference required a pseudo breakbeat skeleton.  In fact, I borrowed Prefuse 73 as a temporary scratch track to help find the natural tempo of the narrator.  I used Paul’s vast collection of percussion fragments and horn hits to create the basic rhythm with fills where needed.  At some point Paul came up with the idea of sorting all of his short percussion and voice samples simply by duration and laying them back to back from shortest to longest.   It resulted in a dizzying string of irrational yet compelling rhythms where it felt like anything could happen.  I re-edited this “shorts-string” into some of the preposterous breaks that occur throughout the track.  I had a particularly good time imagining what Skip Hop and Slide Hop sound like. 

In London, Drew encouraged me to make some recordings of Nigel’s ‘magical’ acoustic guitar using an EBow.  It was the fist time I ever used an ebow and I immediately fell in love.  Infinite sustain…a dream fulfilled.  Those recordings became the basis for the chords and melodies between the narrative sections.  Sony’s (formerly Sonic Foundry’s) sequencing program Acid is particularly good for repitching notes quickly in the timeline.  In fact, I use Acid (the program) for almost all of my sequencing. 

Finally I had Mike Bell from Lymbyc Systymcome up and play some real drums in the studio.  We recorded them with stereo overhead 414’s, and I later massaged them into place to give everything a more natural flow.  Thanks Mike!  If you’ve never seen Lymbyc Systym play, go!  Amazing.

Tomorrow - Free Translator.

yours,

Nick


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