Recreating J Dilla's 'Fall In Love' With Sensory Percussion
Welcome to Mixed Bag, a series of musings that are not necessarily related to Sensory Percussion, but we think are worth sharing nonetheless. For our second entry in the series, we’re taking a look at the beat of Slum Village's classic track "Fall In Love" produced by the legendary J Dilla. We'll break down the original samples he used and then throw them into Sensory Percussion to make our own remix.
The Dilla Groove
It's hard to overstate J Dilla's impact on hip-hop production. Although he passed away over 15 years ago, tons of contemporary producers and drummers are still quick to name him as one of their main influences. And with the recent release of Don Charnas' book Dilla Time, his music is still as relevant as ever. So much has already been said about his rhythmic innovations, and this post isn't a technical breakdown of those innovations, but there is a nice visual summary that we like in Ethan Hein's blog post which dissects J Dilla's "drunken" feel.
Basically, J Dilla defied the black-and-white binary between swung (triplet subdivisions) and straight (eighth note subdivisions) rhythms, creating his own grey area of grooves that are more accurately notated using quintuplet or even septuplet subdivisions. He achieved this effect using the "swing" knob on the AKAI MPC sampler. Turning the knob to 50% would result in a straight groove, while turning it to 66.6% would make it swung. Dilla's drums often had one element, like the kick or snare, set to one of these two percentages to line up with a traditional rhythmic grid, while other elements would be turned beyond swung, or somewhere in between the two. This created the effect of being slightly early or slightly late, which gave his beats a more organic human feel as the time would stretch and contract. This type of groove is often called "sloppy" or "drunk", but it was really an intentional technique that opened up a lot of doors for future beatmakers.
Dilla's "Fall In Love" Beat
As far as Dilla's "drunken" grooves go, this one is relatively sober. There's not a ton of pushing and pulling happening, but if you listen to the kick pattern, you can tell that it doesn't line up exactly with the implied triplet grid. Every time there are two kicks in quick succession, the second one lands on the downbeat, but the first is played just slightly later than it would be if it were a regular triplet.
The Melodic Sample
Diana In The Autumn Wind - Gap Mangione | 00:37-00:40 | 99 BPM
Although this track features the legendary Steve Gadd on drums, Dilla just sampled a short snippet of the chords/melody played by Mangione's electric piano with only some light ride cymbal in the background. It's sortof amazing to think that from this epic track that features a whole orchestra of horns, flutes, and classical percussion, Dilla took one 3 second sample of a piano melody that is only played once in the entire track, and flipped it into a timeless classic.
The Drum Sample
Soldier In Our Town - Iron Butterfly | 00:00-00:08 | 136 BPM
This song starts out with only drums, which always makes a track a great candidate for sampling. The beat is about as straight forward as it gets: kick on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4, hi-hat playing eighth notes. But Dilla's pattern is slightly different; he added an extra kick right before the downbeat to give it some variation. The other notable thing about this drum track is that it's panned hard right, which is pretty unusual for drum mixing. The effect is very obvious in Iron Butterfly's original, but if you listen to Dilla's flip--especially the hi-hat--you can tell that it's still panned slightly right.
Recreating The Groove In Sensory Percussion
Using only the two samples mentioned above, we created a 3-drum Sensory Percussion "Fall In Love" remix kit. The main melody from "Diana In The Autumn Wind" is mapped to the tom head with "loop" turned on. The hi-hat sample from "Soldier In The Rain" is mapped to the tom rim, while the kick and snare samples are mapped to the kick and snare (obviously). Playing the kick rim will immediately stop the melodic sample.
Since its release, "Fall In Love" has been covered, sampled, and reinterpreted endlessly. Here are just a few examples of how it's been interpreted over the years: