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Tips for playing Hip-Hop bass lines

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by DanielleMuscato, Nov 30, 2007.


  1. DanielleMuscato

    DanielleMuscato

    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    I'd like to put together a collection of tips for hip-hop bassists. Some of this goes for all bass playing (or most), but all in all, I hope it's helpful. This is *all* in my experience/in my humble opinion:

    1) Hold back. The bass player in this role is almost always a support and rhythm instrument. You're there to hold down the beat and let the vocals do their thing.

    2) Play with the kick or beat. Syncopation has its place and can work very well, but in my experience, a lot of great lines come when you just lock with the kick and don't go off of it too much (or at all). A lot of the time when I'm doing a hip-hop line, I intentionally play a staccato "doubling" of the kick-drum part, ONLY playing when the kick hits. For sessions, I use a Buttkicker Platform so I can better monitor the kick for the purpose.

    3) Repetition. In my experience, the best grooves come when you get to that Alpha-wave "flow" where you go beyond playing the same thing over & over and let the simplicity of the line take you to a new place WITHOUT going off into variations.

    4) Chromatic walks. A lot of hip-hop lines, in my experience, tend to have stepwise motion, but especially when you're going from the b7 to the 1, or the 4 to the 5, a chromatic ascension or descent can really make the line shine.

    5) I like to use a really thick, thumpy tone for hip-hop. My Line6 Bass POD xt Live has an effect called "sub-dub" which is really just an doubler, octave-down. Through my Schro 21012L, you can get some serious low-end. I find that, strangely, the best way to get this thick tone is with a bass with a ton of clarity - a modern bass with roundwounds. I like my MTDs for this sound, or my Variaxes on the Alembic, Modulus, MTD, or Steinberger settings.

    6) Sometimes it sounds *really* cool to throw in some gospel-sounding slurs and pops, but again, keep it simple... I only really do this at the climax of the song, and otherwise keep it pretty repetitive. There is a magic in repetition and groove/flow that should not be discounted. It's easy to kill a good hip-hop line by overplaying. Use space, use staccato notes on the kick drum hits, and just keep it simple.

    Please feel free to add to this! I'd love to hear your input as well.
     
  2. the_fonz

    the_fonz

    Nov 27, 2006
    Kane, PA
    listen to The Roots
    A LOT
     
  3. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Is there such a thing as a hip hop bass line?
     
  4. JAUQO III-X

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    CHICAGO,IL.
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    :)
     
  5. DanielleMuscato

    DanielleMuscato

    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    Phil, are you serious? I hope not! haha

    For a recent, pop example, check out Alicia Keys' "No One." Great, simple, solid bassline that does exactly what it's supposed to do: lets her voice shine, locks with the "drums," but does a few nice lines near the end, still behind-the-scenes though.

    Official, legal vid:


    My goal for a good hip-hop line is that you can't really tell if it's programmed or a bassist unless you listen really closely to the intricacies of the tone on the fills... if you can hear some very slight vibrato, or slurring over a fret or something like that, and then you're like, "Oh, it's a real bassist!" I love that. Listen around 3:15-3:35 ish and you can hear that it's a bass guitar, just keeping it down where it oughtta be.

    Jauqo, I *know* you have more to say than that!! Or are you making a point by saying only the minimum of what's needed? haha

    Edited to add: haha, I just "got" your :) post... very funny :D
     
  6. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    She's hip hop? I thought she was fine? I'm confused???
     
    Jhengsman likes this.
  7. DanielleMuscato

    DanielleMuscato

    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    Hip-hop, r&b, soul, neo-soul, groove... the same thread applies... all has the same roots from jazz, gospel, blues, African rhythms fused with American culture... if you talk in rhymes over it, it becomes rap; if you sing about The Word, it becomes gospel, if you sing in the same style but not about God, it's soul, lol.... same stuff. There are subgenres and I'm oversimplifying of course, but from the bassist's point of view, there aren't huge differences like there are between all of these and, say, bossa, for example.
     
  8. Plookie

    Plookie

    Jul 14, 2006
    Endorsing artist: SIRE Marcus Miller v7 Jazz bass, DR Strings HI-BEAM
    Dave, I pretty much agree with you on the things you have experienced in the Hip Hop music world.

    I had to play this bass line to an Eve and Gwen Stafani's tune "Let Me Blow Your Mind". I love thess lines (or what there is), you don't need to go anywhere as bass guitarist. The line is in the pocket.

    Now I do know a few players who wouldn't want to play this, because there seems to nothing to the bass line.

    It's all about what makes the song works. If it's just locking with the kick, fall into the groove, and understand whats going on, feeling it!

    GOOD STUFF Dave!

    Pavel Jazz Pro 5 Deluxe, Bossa 5, Eden WT-500 "Highwayman" amp, Eden 2x10 bass cab
     
  9. Plookie

    Plookie

    Jul 14, 2006
    Endorsing artist: SIRE Marcus Miller v7 Jazz bass, DR Strings HI-BEAM
    Just last Friday, I had a gig here in Tallinn Estonia with a trio. Makossa trio, (congas, African drums, and toys), (bass guitar), and )lead guitar, acoustic). We played music from Cape verde, Nigeria, Senegal, Brazil, Jamaica, Cuba.

    As a bass guitarist, and in a trio such as this...YOU DON*T NEED TO GO ANYWHERE, JUST STAY IN THE POCKET!
     
  10. JAUQO III-X

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    CHICAGO,IL.
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    When I'm playing outside of my trio(where the music can be a melodic war zone) I am more about minimalism than anything else and it's all about the pocket and not stepping on the vocalist feet. I'm a firm advocate that the music has to breath(no matter what genre I'm playing) and if it doesn't it just will not be conveyed properly to the listener if that's what one is shooting for.
     
  11. DanielleMuscato

    DanielleMuscato

    Jun 19, 2004
    Columbia, Missouri, USA
    Endorsing Artist, Schroeder Cabinets
    Mm, I'm not sure I agree that minimalism is the best course, at least in my experience. I mean, there is a difference between minimalism and keeping it simple/in the pocket. Sometimes, if the bass doubles the melody (just a few octaves down), for even two beats, then goes back in, it can really bring emphasis to that line... Or, playing 1/8th notes for one measure, then going back into the staccato-matching-the-kick thing. I understand what you're saying, but it's not either/or.... it's about the song, and cohesion, and presenting the song to the audience/listener as a tight and powerful groove... Sometimes that means minimalism, but not necessarily so.

    There is definitely a middle ground between minimalism and not stepping on the vocalists' feet, and that's really what I strive for. Keep it interesting, put your voice in there... you (bassist) and the drummer are the ones that hold up the structure of the song, the "chassis" of it if that makes any sense. You don't want to underplay, either. What makes hip-hop (soul, neo-soul, rap, R&B, etc) bass lines so challenging and so rewarding for me is finding that middle ground between boring and obtrusive, allowing the singer(s) to sing but singing yourself, too.
     
  12. JAUQO III-X

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    CHICAGO,IL.
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    For me minimalism is about listening and giving the music only what I feel it needs, and balancing it in the very delicate area of team work that is so often overlooked in a lot of music today.
     
  13. pbass2

    pbass2

    Jan 25, 2007
    Los Angeles
    I've played and produced much hiphop, from slick RnB styles to really raw minimal cut-up stuff. Most of the time I get hired to play with a classic vintage sound--90% of the time it's a P with flats just DI'd right into a nice Neve or what have you--no effects--just clarity of tone. Othertimes I might use my Sadowsky Vintage J for something more modern(modern for me at least:). Haven't used my fiver in about 3-4 years on a hiphop session--everybody wants a classic vibe these days I find. When a synthy sub-bass type thing is called for, I usually play synth bass(usually my Minimoog or SH-101), sometimes doubling my bass with a synth(or only double certain notes for effect). Typically we just go for tracking the clearest most pure tone as you would on anything else. Any effects are added in the mix stage, and if an amp is called for, we re-amp it. One of the best tricks ever for hip hop is to go into your bass track and cut it up and start scooting notes around, deleting things, etc. and see what you land on--I guarantee you'll come up with things you never would have with your bass in your hands (but I'm a producer too, so I just think that way:)

    Anyhow, minimalism and repetition are the key. And leaving big holes. Many sounds can work, from modern to vintage, but the key is consistency no matter what the part(I've tracked bass on hip hop tracks where I played a repeating figure way up past the 12th fret over and over, and never went any lower. Sometimes you have to think "like a sample").
    The ability to play tight with the kick and groove is of course essential, but man, if you can master playing loose and behind/ahead/whatever in that funky push-pull way, like a bass sample that's repeating against a break but not perfectly, and THEN repeat that so consistently you sound like a loop, you are happening! It's a very useful mindset to practice.
    Knowing how to stop and start so it feels like a DJ's turntable move is also a very cool tool. . .
     
    Matthew_84 and Domespeed like this.
  14. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    A new group I just started playing with called me about an hour ago and told me they want me to lay down some bass for a hip hop kinda thingie. This thread just popped up. Coincidence???? GOD IS SPEAKING TO ME AGAIN!!!! Uh.. yeah...

    Subscribed.
     
  15. Hey all,

    Thanks for this thread. I listen to the roots A LOT, and really appreciate what Leonard "Hub" Hubbard does.
    I've played behind an MC a couple of times - it is SO easy to overplay, adn I had to watch myself to maintain simplicity.

    imp
     
  16. The best tip I can give is to listen to what the pros do, that's where the best lines are...

    Mike Elizondo (Dre)
    LaMarquis Jefferson (Outkast)
    Hub (Roots)
    Meshell Ndegeocello
     
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  17. MakiSupaStar

    MakiSupaStar The Lowdown Diggler

    Apr 12, 2006
    Huntington Beach, CA
    I've just started a dub r-section with a drummer and a dj. Much of what's being discussed here applies to what we're doing. Really "gappy" breathing type of bass lines. The emphasis is in the heavy hit and groove. Essentially we consider ourselves a rhythm section even though we have a dj throw in loops and samples and random speeches of bruce lee speaking backwards. We keep it gappy so when we throw out our demo to musicians that we'll hire for gigs, we'll let them fill in the space on top of the groove. Of course most of what we do is dub and roots reggae, but we've got a few songs that would essentially be classified as hip hop. For these songs I look to acts like Cypress Hill, Tupac, and Snoop. Cypress Hill's "Light Another" has a bass line, but I'm still to this day not sure whether it's a loop or a real bass. I play it as it is, like a loop with it's weird cut. Steady. Redundant, and like robot.
     
  18. pbass2

    pbass2

    Jan 25, 2007
    Los Angeles
    This sounds bad-ass to me!
     
  19. Audiophage

    Audiophage

    Jan 9, 2005
    Thinking is 16th notes is helpful for hip hop lines. You can really make some of those lines move by displacing notes that could fall onto beats to the 'a' before it.
     
  20. phishind

    phishind

    Feb 17, 2008
    Wisconsin
    I like to subdivide the beat, in contrasting ways, either by pulse or dynamics. This way there are several small motifs within each figure. Then by reversing or contrasting the second figure in an opposition to the first figure, creates two tag team riddims that make one great motif spread over the same groove. Keep in mind that these figures are not overkill, but simple ways to divide up the beat and continuously tantilize the ear.
     

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