Producer Keith Science 'Beats' Hiphop 90s Style | by James Choy | January 19, 2014
Keith Science's contribution to music will be appreciated by fans/purists of hiphop during its golden age (1986-1998).
Originally known as Keith Dittmar, the 38-year-old New Jersey native has been making beats and instrumentals since 1992, inspired from the jazz melodies of the late 60s, and the funk-laden tunes of the 70s.
During our discussion, I was listening to two of his albums, “Vessels of Thought Volume II” and “Hypothalamus” skimming through each track.
Immediately, I was taken in to each song with its jazzy melody and 95 BPM tempo. To me, those two elements are basic but significant makeups of a true 90s hiphop sound and were noticed in each of the tracks.
I began vibin’ on his first album, ‘Vessels…’ and was not expecting too much from his debut project. To my appreciation, I discovered that most of the LP was in the range of 95 BPM. This allowed me to focus more on his use of instruments/sounds for layering, how it was inputted and arranged and what added elements were done on post-production.
LISTEN TO ‘VESSELS PART II’ HERE:
The second album ‘Hypothalamus’ brought a more mature sound and was provided with the underground boom-bap noise, a more purified hiphop flavor. The tracks were provided with numerous sampling excerpts and unique sounds assimilated to producers like Ali-Shaheed Muhammad from a Tribe Called Quest, Buckwild and 9th Wonder.
LISTEN TO ‘HYPOTHALAMUS’ HERE:
NOTE: The ‘Vessels Part I’ album never saw completion and was broken up and distributed out to rappers for mixtape purposes, according to Science.
The one thing that impressed me firsthand was his adding extra layers to a song. Many producers today have no concept or understanding of making a separation from a verse to a chorus/hook. Science utilizes this and shows his multi-dimensional mind in making music.
“I like to use layers,” he said. “I wanted to make sure each song has substance.”
With the use of electronic and computerized music in today’s sound, Science grew up learning and playing ‘vintage’ instruments and applying that while making his beats.
“I've been a musician since birth,’ Science said. “Both my uncle and my dad were musicians. I picked up playing it almost immediately and used it as my form of musical expression for the first 16-17 years of my life.”
Science’s dad was a blues guitar player while his two uncles were heavily involved in rock and 70s progressive rock. Science grew up influenced by his family’s music but also with other genres including funk and straight-edge hardcore.
“I really tried to expose myself to many different forms of music as possible,” he said.
Ironically, it was the uncles who played a heavy part in Science’s musical upbringing. His parents divorced when he was 9 leaving his mom raising him and his three siblings. Science's dad moved to Florida to start a new family of his own.
Despite the separation, the music kept the family close together. For Science, it was a life-changing experience.
At 8, Science’s uncle bought a Tascam Portastudio 4-track cassette machine along with a drum machine and experimented in layering sounds to create music. Science’s love for working on music soon became a passion—a passion so tremendous he would dedicate his life to exploring.
Along with playing guitar, Science also played drums, keyboards, bass and other instruments.
Years after learning to play instruments, a friend of Science introduced him to hiphop and instantly he fell in love and began hearing and ‘learning’ the music. Science was already familiar with the sound and often watched Yo! MTV Raps growing up, he said.
It was at this time (1992) that he began making beats.
“I started to learn how to ‘listen’ to hiphop properly,” he said. “I was listening for all of the layers and nuances … I would just study, study, study—but I was familiar already with recording and creating music so it was a natural progression for me to get into producing beats.”
I spoke to Keith about his beginnings and everything surrounding hiphop in the 90s and beyond:
James: The culture was rich in the 90s for hiphop. Did you take time to backtrack the music learning its history and growth?
Keith: Of course! The first thing I did when I got into hip-hop was study as much about it as possible. It was clear to anyone at the time that you weren't going to be accepted into this hip-hop thing without knowing your history and paying homage. You HAD to know your shit back then. I knew that I had to pay dues like anyone else. Besides, you can't really understand what hip-hop is without studying the birth. You probably can't be a positive contributor to this art form without studying before you just jump right into it. I feel like this music deserves and commands that kind of respect.
James: Hiphop in 1992 was blowing up in a major way. What rappers/groups were you jumpin on when you first got into the music?
Keith: The first one that I can think of was a Tribe Called Quest (the Low End Theory album). I was listening to Showbiz & AG, Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, Diamond D, Big L, KRS-ONE, Kane, The Main Source, etc. But the hip-hop album that really changed my life was Daily Operation by Gang Starr.
James: What is your take on hiphop today and the gradual change from what the 90s was - do you accept it? do you hate it? is it OK? Or is it wrong?
Keith: I really feel that hip-hop has gone in a commercial direction that has brought us very far from the original intent. It seems like once people found out that they could make big money on it, all of the artistic requirements and ideals went right out the window. I never really thought that hip-hop should have went that direction, but it is what it is. Having said that, there is still some GREAT stuff out there right now. I'm a big fan of Roc Marciano and Joell Ortiz. I also love what Alchemist has been doing with Prodigy.
James: The thing that becomes difficult for 90s rappers who release albums today is that some are far away from their original sounds. Others are changing their music assimilated to what it sounds like today and I think that most of us hiphop junkies loved our rappers from how they did it then. Do you find more disappointment in hearing 90s rappers change their music as they progress?
Keith: One possible perspective is that some 90's rappers feel that they want to progress and break new ground. They don't feel that it's necessary to go back to that "old" sound.
If you listen to "Stuck In The Past," a single that I produced for Kool Keith, you'll understand that perspective if you listen to the lyrics. But here's another possible take on it: I don't really hear those kind of beats coming out of most producers at all. So if those sounds don't exist, then rappers don't have those beats to choose from. These days everyone is using computers to make beats and it really reflects in the sound. The magic art of sampling is really suffering and dying right now. I feel that a lot of what I hear these days lacks imagination. Back in the early 90s, almost everything had imagination. Shit was clever, and it HAD to be or you wouldn't be accepted. It was almost like the artists were also the protectors and judges of the art. I think people challenged themselves more back then. I would personally rather hear my favorite rappers over beats that are at least a little more in alignment with golden era hip-hop, but maybe I'm just too nostalgic or something.
James: How did you and Kool Keith hook up?
Keith: It all happened through Kool Keith's manager, Erik Perry. He's a great guy and he set it up for us. I actually pursued the collaboration and set it up with Erik. Kool Keith was feeling this one beat that I sent him, which is the one he used for ‘Stuck In The Past’ so he wrote a song to the beat and we recorded it and made a song out of it. It's an honor to be able to work with Kool Keith. He's a pioneer and an innovator. Shout out to Erik for making it happen!
James: Did you get paid for the hookup?
Keith: No, I donated the beat... I wasn't interested in making money off it... I just wanted to work with Kool Keith.
James: What future projects/venues do u have coming up
Keith: To be honest, I'm not sure yet. I try not to pre-plan things too much. This year I would like to put out a 6-song EP, probably all instrumental. But I also would like to work with any emcees that might be interested in working with me.
I do have another song coming out soon with Kool Keith.
James: Changing gears, give me 5 of your favorite rappers ever:
Keith: In no particular order:
5. KRS-1 (he loves KRS-1)
James: Give me 5 of your favorite producers now:
Keith: Again in no particular order:
1. DJ Premier
2. Pete Rock
4. Large Professor
James: Im gonna go to short answers with you now. I give you a word, you give me brief or 1-2 word answers.
James: The greatest rapper of all time is ____
James: The greatest hiphop group of all time is ____
Keith: Gang Starr
James: Name 3 rappers/hiphop group u would love to produce
Keith: Nas, Jeru and Roc Marciano
James: Name 3 cities you would love to migrate to for better living/music producing
Keith: I am fine where I am... NJ
James: What is name of any woman you wanna have as your wife
Keith: My girlfriend, Denise Wilson.
James: What is the best 'love' hiphop song __________________ (ie: Electric Relaxation by Tribe Called Quest)
Keith: Method and Mary J, You're all I need to get by.
For more 411, you can log on to Keith Science’s website at:
52 Best Albums & EPs Of 2012 (Part One) – Roc Marciano / Mystro / House Shoes etc.
First and foremost I want to send a HUGE shout out to the homie Keith Science. This was an amazingly DOPE project. The music reminds me of times when folks put time and passion into their craft. This joint really had me zoning especially on tracks like Tropic and Coleco (which I automatically started writing to when I first heard it) that were just smooth compositions that took you on a journey. This tape is full of tracks like that but offers some variety with tracks like Soilders II and Century that offer much more grimey feels. All in all this is definitely something you need to check out. You can listen to the stream below and you can purchase the Beat Tape for only $8.99 dollars here. Hope you enjoy this experience as much as I did!