Boom to the dance floor! Don't lie to me. You like crumping and locking with the rest of them. Don't tell me you don't like swaying on the dance floor of an underground hip hop club, grinding to the steady BOOM BOOM beat of a nice and thick hip-hop mix?
Even if you're not that into that kind of music, there is something to be said about the incredibly tight and thick rhythm section of a traditional hip hop mix. Even though, like with any other genre, each song is different there are some similar characteristics and guidelines to follow for a mix that can physically move you with its overabundance of low sound waves.
The Foundation of Hip Hop
The typical foundation of a hip hop mix is the steady boom of a 808 kick. This is usually doubled, or layered with one more different kick drums to get more punch out the bass drum foundation. The 808 layered kick, alongside the thick bass line, whose notes usually mimic the 808 beat, is what creates the thick foundation of a hip-hop mix. This is how hip-hop mixers make their mixes sound so full and thick in the bass department. By filling up the lower side of the EQ spectrum with wide 808 booms and bass we have a raving hip hop club dance floor.
Although snares are very important in supplying the back beat of every mix, snares are usually not so loud in a hip-hop mix. Sometimes the softer back beat of the snare is accented with very loud hand clap samples instead of using snare sounds, but this is more inherent to rap and R'n'B mixes than hip-hop.
Other Rhythm Elements of Hip Hop
Hip hop mixes can be quite busy, with lots of little elements in place filling up the sonic spectrum. We can have various percussion instruments and sounds going off at one time or another and the hi-hat is crucial to supplying a steady 8th or 16th note pattern.
Hi-hats - Like with a traditional drum kit, the hi-hat is panned to one side. However, sometimes double tracking or delay tricks are used to make the hi-hat sound fill out the mix.
You can use very simple (and short!) automatic double tracking delays and pan them to one side to get a fuller and steadier hi-hat. The delays are also laid off a little in the mix, allowing the source to be more prominent than the delayed sound.
Think of it like a simplified reverb that's panned to one side. Instead of using reverb and making the hi-hat fill out the entire picture, we use a short delay instead and place it at an exact place in the mix.
Percussion - Depending on how much percussion a specific mix has, we have to fit them in both the stereo and frequency spectrum. Obviously, some percussion instruments have a lower sound and others are more dominant in higher frequencies. A conga drum for example, has a deep sound, especially in the lower mids whereas a shaker has a more predominant high frequency information.
We must separate out these elements and place them where they belong. A recorded shaker might have low frequency information that isn't inherent in its sound but it might add extra information to the mix.
Therefore we can safely filter out most of the low frequencies from the shaker. In contrast, our conga might only be playing deep tones. And even though a conga has some attack in the high frequencies we can EQ some of them out if there are other higher pitched percussion instrument that are already supplying the same information.
Even though there are many more elements to a traditional hip hop mix, making sure you get the powerful and steady beat both full and bassy is crucial to a mix's success.
Just imagine a hip hop club that only had mixes that had weak low ends and a thin foundation with not enough low frequency. It just wouldn't sound the same. People wouldn't be able to dance to that. They are used to feeling the low end of the mix not only with their ears, but with their body as well.