Appreciating Beat Switches in Hip Hop
Not all songs are created equal. While some follow a traditional musical structure of organized verses and steady beats, others settle outside the confines of the ordinary. In hip hop, beats can make or break a song. In some cases, an artist’s lyrical ability can be completely subpar but a bold beat can be the single element that carries the song a trophy of worth. Beat switches in hip hop are proliferating across the genre as artists experiment with departing from the nucleus of a song to create something dynamic and original.
Rapper and singer/songwriter Travis Scott (La Flame) is well versed in his talents when it comes to implementing beat switches into songs. The track “90210” off the album Rodeo (2015) is iconic because of the way that all the components come together. Not to mention, it’s reportedly Scott’s favorite track off the album. During the refrain of “90210,” featured artist Kacy Hill drizzles the song with angelic vocals, providing depth and delight to the track. But we haven’t even gotten to the beat switch yet. Halfway through the song the instrumentals take a slow stop and Scott begins to rap over a softly layered version of the original beat. Truly, it sounds like a dreamy deviation from the beginning part of the song. It’s a satisfying listen that feels and sounds just right.
“90210” isn’t the only track by Travis Scott that has a cool beat switch. In fact, a good portion of his discography has calculated beat changes, as seen in tracks “Sicko Mode” and “Stargazing” off Astroworld (2018), and “Maria I’m Drunk” and “Oh My Dis Side” off Rodeo (2015). That’s not to say that his album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016) lacks impressive beat switches, but the instrumentals off Birds are a bit more scattered and experimental. It’s still a good project, but the four songs mentioned above are energetic tracks that possess a skilfull touch of rhythmic change.
Moving on from the legendary La Flame, Frank Ocean’s song “Nights” off his album Blonde (2016) is a track that pops into the heads of hip hop fans easily when asked about songs with great beat switches. “Nights” begins with a catchy instrumental that gives listeners a rush of euphoria. At the halfway mark, there’s a shock of chaos as hefty guitar riffs start to play. A few moments later, the song experiences a wave of freedom when the beat switches, almost as if everything before the change was an appetizer for what’s to follow. The beat switch is not only my favorite part of the song, but it’s my favorite moment of Blonde. If you haven’t heard “Nights,” you’re in for a treat.
Last but most certainly not least, Playboi Carti’s track “Flex” is another track displays a cool beat switch. Carti raps a series of solid bars within a repetitive flow at the beginning of the song. Towards the middle of the song, the beat switch occurs during the interlude and it’s subtle, clean and intriguing. When the interlude starts it feels like the song shifts from a typical Carti beat to a softer, The Weeknd-influenced rhythm.
There’s a whole world of notable songs that present impressive and excellent beat switches. In addition, outside the genre of hip hop live songs that are notorious for beat switches. It’s fun to play around the confines of traditional structure because you never know what the result can turn into. All in all, hip hop never fails to show artists and listeners that quality music can be produced from thinking outside the box and experimenting with changes in both sound and rhythm.
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