Boom bap is an onomatopoeia word describing the kick (boom) and snare (bap) drum sounds that define this genre. It was a popular style for 80s and 90s hip hop, particularly within the East Coast scene. While KRS-One helped solidify the boom bap name with his album, Return of the Boom Bap, DJ Premier and Pete Rock were two of the genre’s most notable producers.
Boom bap was in many ways a callback to the earliest days of hip hop, when tracks were sparser due to limited production resources. The boom bap sound could let artists feel connected with hip hop’s roots amidst a musical landscape increasingly saturated with highly-polished productions. Practically, producers with little money and limited access to big studios could use devices like the SP-1200, MPC60, and the Akai-S900 to produce heavy (if somewhat basic) beats.
The boom bap downbeat usually comes from an acoustic-sounding kick drum, with a cracking snare on the upbeat. This combination results in an unpolished, gritty feel well-suited for some added DJ scratching. A typical boom bap track would use an early sampler like the Akai-S900, with a snare drum probably also EQ’d to be very prominent.
Eric B & Rakim – “Lyrics Of Fury”
Long Island, New York, 1988
Eric B. and Rakim were one of the greatest DJ/rapper duos of early hip hop. On “Lyrics of Fury”, Eric B. incorporated the now-famous drum riff from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”, and Rakim showed why many place him among the best rap lyricists of all time.
MC Lyte – “Cha Cha Cha”
Brooklyn, New York, 1989
MC Lyte was a trailblazing rapper, who made a well-deserved name for herself within the male-dominated 1980s hip hop world with tracks like “Cha Cha Cha”.
A Tribe Called Quest – “Award Tour”
New York City, New York, 1993
The classic boom bap snare can be heard turned way up in “Award Tour”.
The Notorious B.I.G. – “Warning”
New York City, New York, 1994
The Notorious B.I.G. had a certain kind of magic in his delivery that’s never quite been equalled in the two decades since his passing. With B.I.G.’s verses about enemies plotting to take him down, the track almost feels like a premonition today.
Grand Puba – “A Little Of This”
New Rochelle, New York, 1995
Although a laid-back, slower tempo is on display, you can still hear that classic snare sound on Grand Puba’s “A Little Of This”.
GZA – “Living In The World Today”
New York City, New York, 1995
The boom bap sound is strong on “Living In The World Today”, a track by GZA (who is also a co-founder of the Wu Tang Clan).
Nas – “The Message”
New York City, New York, 1996
With eight consecutive platinum records to his name, Nas has been putting out great boom bap ever since his first record Illmatic dropped in 1994.
Gang Starr – “Royalty”
Brooklyn, New York, 1998
Gang Starr’s “Royalty” brings a 1980s beat with its old school downbeat/upbeat pattern, but a slightly more sophisticated and laidback sound makes it feel fresh.
Starvin Art Clique – “Alone”
New York, 1998
Sleigh bells overtop a classic boom bap beat make for a unique, shimmering combination on Starving Art Clique’s “Alone”.
Big L – “Flamboyant”
Harlem, New York, 2000
Big L’s brilliant track “Flamboyant” was released posthumously, over a year after his untimely passing.
DJ Premier, Rakim, Kanye West, Nas, & KRS-One – “Classic (Better Than I’ve Ever Been)”
Almost two decades after he helped create the boom bap sound, DJ Premier collaborates with some of his most famous contemporaries for this track that donated a portion of its proceeds to youth leadership programs.
Jazz Spastiks – “Dumb! (Feat. Yesh)”
United Kingdom, 2014
Jazz Spastiks go way back to the original kick and snare sound that defined the Boom bap genre on “Dumb!”.