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.”
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.”16 Comments