Don’t Let the Beat Build: Rap Songs Without Drums


Throughout my teenage years and early adulthood, I heard the same chorus from my father repeated ad nauseum in regards to my listening habits: "I don't get what you like about rap—it all sounds the same to me." I tried to point out regional nuance, differences in time periods, all manner of divergent rap styles, and even different mixing techniques. I gained no ground. To a degree, I understand my father's resistance to my repeated explanations. Certain signifiers and sounds run through the genre, especially when a sound from a particular area takes hold of an era and dominates both radio waves and underground circuits (L.A.'s vaunted G-funk sound, for example, or hyphy a few years back, or the Atlanta-driven post-crunk, Bay Area-inspired surge of the recent past).

At some level, it all comes back to rap's particular stock-in-trade: heavy drums, typically four-four, featuring serious low end and neck-snapping snares. Hip-hop has always been a music of motion, and the simplest way to move bodies is with big, pronounced drums. With four decades' worth of history, however, there are all sorts of production ideas that toss tradition to the side, using unorthodox percussive sounds or dropping the drum substitutes entirely, leaving the rapper to spar with symphonies, solo pianos, and all kinds of instrumentation not typically associated with the genre.

The goal of this feature is to shine light on unusual production that pushes the boundaries both of rap styles and what listeners expect from a backing track—not a comprehensive "best of" list. To that end, each slide includes a different quote from a notable rapper or producer, some recent, some past, some outside the realm of hip-hop entirely.

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  • nolovefordanny

    danny! – still got love
    danny! – sloppy joe

  • Robert Zaleski

    Great post. These are some of my favorite songs.

  • Dart_Adams

    Ka had several songs that could’ve been on here as well…

  • Dart_Adams

    Ka had several songs that could’ve been on here as well…

  • pickles

    Another notable song without drums is “Pouches of Tuna” by Action Bronson ft. Roc Marciano

  • Dopeness

    Also, Jay Electronica and Hov- Shiny Suit Theory. That song’s awesome.

  • Semi Automatic PEZ

    Atmosphere – Guarantees
    Sage Francis – Water Line
    Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh – La Di Da Di

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