Big Fish Audio | Virtual Instruments Magazine Chris Meyer | Heat Seekers Product Review
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Heat Seekers | Virtual Instruments Magazine

Reviewer: Chris Meyer Back to Heat Seekers product details

Hip-hop remains one of the most varied musical genres going. Not unexpectedly, loop libraries that bear the "hip-hop" name or desctription are varied as well. As a result-and unlike the stereotype-many are useful for creating music in geres other than strictly gangsta rap, especially if you are trying to add an urban feel to your composistions.
This issue, we're going to take a look at four hip-hop-themed collections published by Big Fish Audio. All are song builders that contain WAV, enhanced "Apple Loop" AIFF, and chopped-up REX versions of the loops on single cross-platform DVD-ROM's. Documentation for all is thin; be prepared to take your own notes to remember what you liked in each library.
Each collection contains multiple "songs" divided into folders that have the tempo and (if applicable) key in their names. Three of the four contain a demo mix version of the song, the components that make it up, and additional folders per song of matching hits or further breakdowns of the drum loops. most contain a sampled-and-programmed feel; most also lack variations of the component parts. Therefore, song progression will have to be built by switching parts on and off, or adding overdubs-which isn't unusual for this genre. The last one we will look at-The Rhythm Station-is the exception to most of these rules, providing a live-performed drums-only take on hip-hop.

Heat Seekers

If you already work in the electronica/dance arena, this is the most appropriate of the four collections for you. The production features a blend of lo-fi sounds (including liberal doses of noises) and adventurous rhythm programming, plus strings, synths, and other pop-oriented instruments with an occasional touch of glitchiness. Stylings spill out into the fields of big beat, ambient, trance, lounge, R&B, and even Led Zepplin references-in other words, not strictly hip hop.
There are 50 songs, all in minor keys, ranging in tempo from 70 to 140 bpm (although most are in the 80s/90s/100s). Each song features from four to 13 component loops, plus a folder that breaks down the main drum loop into two to 11 components (three to four being more typical). Each song also contains a folder with a similar number of individual hits. A combination of longer component loops (4 to 16 bars each) plus 16-bit recordings-perhaps an indulgence, given the lo-fi nature of most of the sounds-brings the AIFF version up to 1.86 gigs of material. In Short, a nice dance toolkit.

Hip Hop Exotica

Imagine crossing hip-hop with Indian film soundtracks or Turkish folk music, and you'll get an idea of what this library sounds like. There is a predominance of plucked instruments from around the world (from banjo to bouzouki to sitar, and many points in between), along with symphonic strings and even the occasional flute. The bass can be acoustic, electric, or synth; the drums are simple but slammin', often with loops of both a count-in (how rare!) and the central rhythm.
There are 55 songs, again all in minor keys. Tempos range from 68 to 104 bpm. The arrangement of each contruction kit is very similar to Heat Seekers, with 4-14 loops per song, plus folders of single hits and drum breakdowns including 2 to 11 subloops (3-5 being typical). Individual loops tend to be two to four bars each (some are eight), yielding a library size of 1.27 gigs for the AIFF version. As always I would personally like to hear more variations and longer loops per song, but the unusual instrumentation alone will certainly inspire the more adventurous songwriters out there.

Hip Hop CIty

If you're looking for a middle ground between the pop and dance sensibilty of Heat Seekers and the overseas excusions of Hip-hop Exotica, this library may be more to your tastes. The drums are hard-edged and slightly fractured; the live scratching and guitar playing help add a busy, dramitic, almost histrionic feel to many of the arrangements. African and Oriental influences are often lightly layered into the instrumention. The overall feel is more exuberant old-school than brooding gangsra rap, with occasional exursions into lounge or R&B territories.
There are 50 songs in a variety of keys. Like Heat Seekers, the tempos range from 70 to 140 bpm, with the majority being in the 80s/90s/100s. There are eight to 31 loops per song; these numbers are inflated by a relatively large number of scratching performances plus some drum break-outs (there are no separate drum component folders, although individual hits are provided). The individual loops are one to four bars each, adding up to a size of just under a gig for the AIFF version.
If you're the kind who judges the value of a library based on sheer bulk, balance this against a reduced list price of $69.95.

The Rhythm Station

Which of these is not like the others? This library consists of nothing but live acoustic drum loops, ranging in style from hip-hop to classic jazz and in sound from dry and gated to open and ambient. There's no lo-fi heavily-compressed kick and snare here; instead you get an abundance of fills, a lot of hi-hat interplay, and even the occasional dose fo brushes. There aren't any melodic instruments, but there are occasional folders with processed variations on the drums.
There are 30 song folders; in some cases two or three folders are related (including the two songs in 6/8). Tempos range from 64 to 134 bpm, with some of the loops in a set having a half-time feel. There are anywhere from three to 19 component loops per song, mostly on the short side from one to four bars in length. This adds up to 313 megs of material for the AIFF version (for a list price of $49.95). As a result, composing with this library takes a completely different approach than the others: you will be bouncing back and forth between short pieces to produce variations, rather than repeating the same loops from the entire song and muting individual loops to create variation.
This is not necessarily my favorite library in either the hip-hop or drummer-as-star genres, but it just goes to show the variety of collections you'll find with "hip-hop on the cover.

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