The Bass Geek - Words about Music, Circuitry, and New Orleans
The Bass Geek
11Sep/073

Hip-Hop Bass

Yesterday's blog got me thinking about playing bass for hip-hop acts, and what a different animal it can be. It would seem on the surface to be simple, almost trivial. Most times, the bass frequencies from the drum loop or sample is so dominant that the entire low end is covered, so there's no "bass line" to speak of. So sad, so sad. When there is a bass instrument present, it usually follows the drums (live or looped), so there's not as much independence in the line.

But that's not to say there isn't as much skill. There's a need for precision and timing there that you can sometimes smooth over in other genres. A drum machine or loop is unforgiving - it's not giving an inch. You can either try to follow along in lock-step, or you can play off of that quality and go off on another line. Either way, though, you have to know exactly what's going on at all times. It's not just your typical blues changes.

I'd also suggest that you have to have a broad exposure to different musical genres to get along in this role. Hip-hop draws on so many different styles and performers (either stylistically or literally) that you have to be ready to switch from jazz to funk to rock to latin at a moment's notice. Inventive producers mean the player has to be ready to try something different at any time. That's why bass lines from Bernie Worrell (on keys, but still a genius at the low end), Ron Carter, and Fugazi all work.

Finally, there's a lot of discipline that goes into produce a quality hip-hop bass line. You have to watch the fills or adjustments in the beat for fear of knocking the groove off. Yes, that's something you'd have to watch in any song you're playing, but again (in my experience, especially in live situations) you can usually smooth over these happening easily, and you're off to the next part of the song without issue. Because hip-hop evolved from loops and breaks, there's an emphasis on consistent repetition that can be hard to produce, especially for musicians used to a little improvisation here and there.

In addition to the folks I mentioned in the last post, I also love the work of Raphael Saadiq and Pino Palladino in this area (alright, so Palladino is also famous for working with the Who, Don Henley, and Paul Young - his work on the hip-hop-influenced tracks on D'Angelo's "Voodoo" was GENIUS). They've got the deep, low tone and the timing down.