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The Beat Maker

Steve Jones (COM’12) makes old music new again


On a recent afternoon, Steve Jones thumbs through stacks of dusty records in the cramped aisles of In Your Ear, a music store on Comm Ave. He stumbles on an obscure album featuring Grammy Award–winning singer Roberto Carlos. After studying the album jacket of “Un Gato En La Oscuridad,” he snatches it up for 50 cents.

“Usually I try to buy something that catches my eye, and then I start from there,” says Jones (COM’12). “Using a turntable and a sampler, you can take a bass line from one song, a horn from another song, and put them all together and make something else. Blending music that’s been done before, that’s alchemy.”

Jones is a beat maker. Once he finds a piece of music he likes, he takes it home, imports it into his Roland MV-8000 mixer (a high school graduation present from his parents), and begins to work.

Just as Kanye West uses snippets of Ray Charles’ music in “Gold Digger,” and Flo Rida incorporates Etta James into his current hit “Good Feeling,” beat makers are constantly on the lookout for music they can adapt and make their own. Sampling, as it’s called, is when beat makers take a portion from a previously recorded song, add it to snippets from other songs, and ultimately create a completely new song.

Jones will listen to “Un Gato En La Oscuridad,” for example, for the Latin beat, the simple drums, and the smooth quality of Carlos’ voice. He will record a portion of the song and add to it his own drums and maybe more bass. He will then mix the samples with drums and sound effects—perhaps a guitar from an Iron Butterfly or a David Axelrod record or a kick drum and snare from a Jimmy Smith record.

When he is finished, he hopes to have produced a song that a rap artist can add lyrics to.

“I started beat making because I wanted to understand how hip-hop music was made,” says Jones, who began at the age of 14 back home in Atlanta, Ga. “Once I gained an understanding of the musical form, I became obsessed with it, and I soon had the biggest record collection in school.”

Steve Jones, Boston hip hop music production, sampling, making beats

Jones (above), tall and lanky with close-cropped hair and a wide smile, recalls that he was drawn to West’s sampling of soul music when he first embarked on his career. From there, the teenager discovered Pete Rock, a producer for West, who often uses jazz influences for the music he creates for numerous rappers. He then turned his sights to Madlib, who uses beats from Indian artists in his work. Not surprisingly, these artists are serious record collectors, too.

“I learned from the forefathers,” Jones says.

“What makes Steve a great producer is his overall comprehension of the craft,” says Jones’ friend Sean Croegaert-Key (COM’12), editor of the music blog Ruby Hornet. “From when I first met him it was clear he was going to thrive making beats. Gaining inspiration from the natural elements of life, it really allows for an organic sound in his music you really cannot get any other way.”

While many beat makers download music from the internet, Jones prefers physically shopping at places like In Your Ear, which he refers to as a library, because it allows him to dig around in bins. Sometimes he knows exactly what he is looking for; other times he’s hoping for inspiration and finds it from an album whose cover art catches his eye. He says his curiosity draws him to all kinds of music, which is evident by his current collection of approximately 2,000 LPs and 1,000 45s.

Jones is half of the producing team Introspective Minds. His business partner is longtime friend Winston Lord, who lives back home in Georgia. Asked to name some favorite tracks he has produced, Jones points to “The Plight” and “Glory” for Charmingly Ghetto, “Pimp Tight Playa” for J Coop, and “Wonderful” for Anna Wise.

After graduation, he says, he plans to move to Brooklyn (noted for its vibrant beat maker scene), where he wants to produce full-time. He hopes to release a new album of 10 to 12 tracks in the next few months. He also hopes to dabble in filmmaking, which he studied at BU.

“A lot of people don’t know there is a beat maker behind a rapper,” Jones says. “At this point, it’s something that I do for therapeutic purposes. It gives me pleasure when I create something that sounds good, when I successfully blend elements to make one sound. It’s an outlet for me to express myself.”

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

17 Comments on The Beat Maker

  • Ifran Govani on 05.03.2012 at 8:01 am

    Introspective: The DJ Association sends you its LOVE! Glad to see you doing BIG things.

  • frank on 05.03.2012 at 10:49 am

    “Sampling,” as it’s called, is when beat makers take a portion from a previously recorded song, add it to snippets from other songs, and ultimately create a completely new song

    when a fun, catchy song is made based off of other artists pre-recorded material…great, congrats. when a career is based around using this format it just means your unoriginal. why can’t “artists” write their own music anymore?

    • joey joe joe the 2nd on 05.03.2012 at 11:29 am

      “it just means your [sic] unoriginal”

      What do you make of jazz musicians when they throw “ring around the Rosie” into a solo, or how artists seem to love the same chords over and over again, or others who just plain reuse melodies (intentionally or otherwise)?

      should we call Led Zeppelin unoriginal because they stole songs?

      or how about Journey, James Blunt, Jason Mraz, U2, The Beatles, et. al?

      It may be more blatant than these artists, but at least I appreciate how samplers and producers are more often than not open where the samples came from. It influenced Steve to look back into the past and gain an appreciation of Jazz, to understand those that came before him, and to be honest about where his influences are coming from (literally).

  • frank on 05.03.2012 at 3:00 pm

    i’m so silly for having said that.. my apologies

  • PK on 05.04.2012 at 10:22 am

    Great article and video. And In Your Ear is a fantastic, underheralded resource right here on campus!

  • AK on 05.05.2012 at 6:48 pm

    Steve Jones seems to be a great producer and knows his hip hop. The author of this article, not so much. Pete Rock, “producer for West.” Is that all that can be attributed to Pete Rock now? Please forget to mention that he was one half of one of the greatest hip hop duos of all time (Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth). Also don’t mention that he is the inventor of the remix. Oh and don’t ever bring up the fact that KANYE WAS INFLUENCED BY PETE ROCK AND IS OFTEN COMPARED TO THE BEATMAKING DEMIGOD. Honestly, it takes little more than a google search to find these facts. If you want to be a good journalist, please take the time to appropriately research your topic.

    • Shivani on 05.07.2012 at 10:19 am

      Um it’s an article about Steve Jones, not Pete Rock. And this is BU today, not a hip hop magazine. Just because you want to read more about Pete Rock doesn’t mean the writer did a bad job.

    • David Keefe on 05.07.2012 at 10:33 am

      Amen Shivani!

      Also AK, Pete Rock is the “inventor of the remix”? Please! Rock came about in the late 80’s really making his name in the early 90’s – a decade or more after remixing as we know it today really began.

      The remix is not an “invention” that can be contributed to one person, but if you want to go there, try Tom Moulton in the ’70s disco hey day, and if you want to really get into it, the roots of remixing go back to the 60’s with Dance Hall and Dub, Lee “Scratch” Perry and the like.

      Really AK… you come out dropping knowledge like you know your business and miss by miles when it really only takes a simple Google search to find those facts.

  • Lolly on 05.08.2012 at 12:53 pm

    Steve Jones do you have a SoundCloud?

  • L-Biz on 05.19.2012 at 1:08 am

    INTROSPECTIVE MINDS….. GREAT PRODUCERS… PRODUCED 90% of one of my joint… just google L-Biz &Introspective Minds.. Much Love all the way from Buffalo NY

  • Rubes on 07.12.2012 at 10:42 am

    I wonder if Steve pays royalties on the music that he has “borrowed” from the hard work and expense of others.

    • DagNasty on 07.19.2012 at 4:41 pm

      I wonder what would happen if the powers that be forced every popular rock and roll/ blues influenced band from the Beatles to the Black Keys to pay royalties to the generation of black innovators whose sound they popularized and made millions off of

  • Brandon wood on 07.12.2012 at 1:36 pm

    Master of his craft. Beautiful mind.

  • Dubstep Maker on 11.19.2012 at 9:32 pm

    As an artist I really look up to the fact that he is pursuing his dream. With everyone in the game trying to make it you have to keep hustling. They say its the same with success, if you never stop trying it will eventually lead to it. Good stuff Steve Jones

  • Beat Master on 06.05.2013 at 12:05 pm

    Inspirational video … at least for me.
    I am still trying to become a professional beat maker.

  • Antone Mondry on 03.13.2015 at 10:55 am

    HipHIp Aint Dead!!!

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