Freddy Fresh's Crate Digging Victories | Features | MN2S

The art of digging for ‘breaks’ or ‘riffs’ has been going on for ages. Some of the funkiest, most recognisable samples used in songs that we have all heard originated from a skilful producer being at the right place at the right time on the search for that one snare hit, kick drum, guitar riff or breakbeat that would turn their next production into a head-nodding victory.

The art of crate digging

Before I get into some classic examples, let me first begin by saying that there is in fact some skill involved in digging for ‘breaks’ or funky ‘riffs’ (as in guitar licks, horn stabs etc.)

An amateur goes digging with a veteran digger and passes up box after box having only looked through the first 50-100 records while digging for that special break. An amateur also passes up juicy beats and breaks on the same records that a vet does not miss. Vets know that when you listen to a record (on wax) looking for that one special loop or break, you may not hear it at first.

You may need to isolate left and right channels on your MPC – or your chosen sampler – assuming you’re checking it out in stereo. Real diggers know that stereo separation makes the difference between a clean sample and an unusable one. You must check out both left and right channels individually.

Vets look for breaks that HAVE NOT BEEN USED. They may buy a known break just to have in their collection but they will undoubtedly only take it to production level if it’s a break that they know people will later be haunting them for ‘breaking’ or being the first to flip it. If you’re not that funky, you can go break searching all day long and just not know the best way to maximise that break when it comes to studio time. But don’t worry; you can still play those breaks out live in your DJ sets and beat juggle with them, keep them going with two copies and so on.

As weird as this may sound, amazing records ‘find’ dope producers and serious diggers. All of us have that one story about how we were at a 15-hour dig and a record fell off the top shelf into our lap and we later discovered the illest break in our collection on that one record. Maybe it’s the odds of just constantly digging that mathematically works out over time.

In the mid-1980s producers started sampling breaks, stabs, riffs off disco, funk, soul and rock records as the era of background bands playing known riffs was coming to an end with covers of Chic, Taste Of Honey and so on. I’m gonna guide you through some of these examples.

A few of my favourite breaks

Freddy B & The Mighty Mic Masters feat. Capt. G Whiz – Coolin’ On the Ave. [Tuff City Records] – 1987

Sample used: Donald Austin ­‐ Nanzee [Eastbound Records] – 1972

Some of these are actually riffs – as in guitar licks. From the New York Tuff City label ran by Aaron Fuchs came Freddy B with a killer B-side produced by Aaron. His use of this dynamite riff off the Donald Austin 7” was very creative for its time and makes it funkier than many other records from the era, where the focus was heavy on drum machines.

Big Daddy Kane – Ain’t No Half Steppin’ Remix – 1988

Sample used: Emotions – Blind Alley [Volt Records] – 1972

Another gem from New York, from scorching hot producer Marley Marl, was this killer remix released as a promo only. Now a very difficult find.

Tall Dark & Handsome – Tall Dark & Handsome [B Boy Records] – 1987

Sample used: The Jackson 5 – Darling Dear [Tamla] – 1971

In 1987 I was a distributor for the South Bronx label B-­Boy Records and it was here that I did my first remix for Boogie Down Productions. I had all of their releases and this album cut ranks as one of my all time favourites by rappers Dark & Handsome.

King Sun – Big Shots [Profile Records] – 1991

Sample used: Bob James – Nautilus (LP Track) [CTI Records] – 1974

Killer tune talking about the life of a drug lord in the making on the mean streets of NYC in the early 1990s.

Nice & Nasty 3 – The Ultimate Rap [Holiday Records] – 1980

Replays the riff from: Taste of Honey – Rescue Me [Capitol Records] 1980

Many older rap records do not sound very fresh today unless you take them into the studio and rehash them with updated bass lines and stronger beats. With today’s rekindled interest in disco, many of these older disco raps – which predate the sample-based hip-hop – are starting to sound fresh again. I include this as it remakes ‘Rescue Me’ by Taste of Honey and it sounds killer even today.

For more information check out my book Freddy Fresh presents The Rap Records Volume 2 which includes 1000 colour photos of rare rap records and a section on breakbeats.

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