Inside The Producer’s Studio: Making ‘Raw Life’

JLBarrow • July 24, 2009 • No Comments

Inspiration: The late J Dilla's Mixer

Another great installment from Nicoaly’s Music Blog []. In this discussion about the making of “Raw Life” from the Connected album he makes some salient points about drum programming and how he effectively bends the rules to give the track a human feel.


It should be no secret that the incredible beatwork of the late great J Dilla has been hugely inspirational to me, especially when I was first getting into production. I learned by studying his music, that there is room for musicality and for experimentation, as long as there is a strong and steady foundation going on underneath. Dilla’s signature tracks always had that “sweet spot”, that chord progression or melody that would tug at your heartstrings, while the drums and the bass would work on your neckmuscles at the same time. As a producer, his drums were eye-opening for me, not only because of his choice of sounds and of ways to process those sounds, but because of his often-imitated “drunken” style of drum programming. Before I got into Dilla’s music, I suppose I more or less thought of drum hits as being relatively “fixed”. For example, in one bar of four counts, you put a kick hit on the one and the three, a snare hit on the two and four, and hihat hits on every eighth note, with “swing” timing applied (or not, depending on what is called for). Dilla’s programming taught me that if you exaggerate this “swing” timing, the drums come alive and feel more “human” and “in the pocket”.

I did the beat that became ‘Raw Life’ in October of 2002. It’s arguably THE “banger” on the “Connected” album, and can certainly be looked at as a Dilla “nod”, because I, like so many others around that time, was consciously channeling some of those programming techniques to come up with my own interpretation of the “drunken” style.

Get the real nitty gritty on his use of Mod Plug the Roland Juno 60 HERE!

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