“I grew up with a grid – with visual music”: Kenny Beats says he never learned swing in his drums from jamming away on an MPC

Beats also details how hip-hop pioneer J Dilla achieves his unique feel of swing.

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Kenny Beats

Image: FilmMagic / Getty Images

Producer Kenny Beats has opened up about how he learned swing in his drums, saying “I grew up with visual music.”

In a recent podcast with Rick Rubin, the musician says that he never learned swing in his drums from jamming away on an MPC, but rather visually from a grid.

“For me, bounce, swing, groove, any feel – when you grew up making beats on a laptop versus recording music to tape… I see, swing and bounce visually. Yeah, I grew up with a grid, I grew up with visual music.”

Beats adds that while he’s currently interested in working with producers who can “track straight to tape” and do a whole song without a computer, growing up with a grid meant that he could always tell if something “felt off” or “just not right” when it came to certain drums.

“Like if they were too quantized”, he explains, adding that “I knew there was something not good about having everything perfect. I knew that even [when I was] young.”

Beats says that as he began producing more records, he would put the song into his DAW and “look at the drums against the grid”: “I’d look at the tempo, put the song in the right tempo; and then I’d look at where the snares and where the drums sit versus where the grid is.”

Citing the ‘Dilla swing’, for instance, the producer says that he did not pick up the style by experimenting on an MPC till he got the feel of how J Dilla actually did it.

Instead, “I would look at his drums and say ‘okay, if I zoom in to where the grid is now 1/128th. That’s the amount I’m seeing of subdivisions on the grid. If you zoom all the way out it’ll be 1/64th. If you’re looking at the entire song in a program you’re probably looking at a 1:2 or 1:1 ratio.”

“When you zoom in 1/128th, 1/256th — there’s a reason I have these memorised,” Beats adds, “because whenever you get that far, you see that the kick is exactly on the grid. The snare is 256th ahead most of the time, categorically, and the hi-hat is 1/128th behind or two grid spaces when I’m zoomed in to 1/128th.”

“That’s how I learned swing. That’s how I learned from my drums to have a certain feel.”


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