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Sean Peterson

Sean Peterson is a PhD student in Musicology at The University of Oregon, and holds a master’s degree in Jazz Studies. His research focuses on instrumental performance in hip-hop, including the band The Roots, and hip-hop musical theatre. Mr. Peterson plays bass in contemporary jazz, historically-informed classical, bluegrass-meets-gypsy-jazz, R&B, and afro-funk styles. In June 2015 he released his first album, Let It Show, which he composed, arranged, recorded, and mixed.

“21st Century Funk: A Microtiming Analysis of the Beats of Jay Dilla”
We often say that an artist has a unique and identifiable “voice” on his or her instrument. Just as we recognize voices for their particular sonic characteristics, an instrumentalist’s particular qualities of sound or musical vocabulary can make an unfamiliar performance identifiable. Hip-hop producers are no exception, and hip-hop fans often say a beat “sounds like” a given producer based on certain audible attributes. The beats of J Dilla (James Yancey) are some of the most talked about among instrumentalists and producers. Defining characteristics of Dilla’s work include the unique timbral characteristics of his drum samples, his knack for creating new melodies and chord progressions using chopped and reassembled samples, and quite often, wobbly (some might say “sloppy”) rhythmic characteristics. Focusing primarily on the rhythmic aspects of Dilla’s beats, I explore how individual rhythmic elements in the groove interact to give his beats a special swing. In other words, I consider the way he chops his samples, EQs them, and plays them back rhythmically to assemble a beat to be the unique aspects of his “voice.” By using microtiming data, this paper demonstrates how several of Dilla’s beats varied from those of his contemporaries and helped to reshape conceptions of what “funky” can sound like. By comparing these minute relationships in timings among the rhythmic elements in several recorded tracks, my analysis seeks to understand one of the most important ways that Dilla stamped his beats with his characteristic “voice."

“The Producer’s Voice/Sounding Identity”
Since hip-hop music’s earliest years as a commercial genre, MCs have taken center stage and captured the majority of the audience’s attention. The distinctive voices and larger-than-life personalities of famous rappers are veritable brands that have become the focal point of the music industry and its marketing machinery. The full effect of an MC’s performance, however, depends on the work of behind-the-scenes producers, DJs, and other contributors. Therefore, in addition to considering what rappers are saying, it is important to find ways of acknowledging the significance of what rap producers and their audiences are doing. This panel seeks to better understand hip hop as music and as a site where audiences negotiate meaning and their own senses of identity. How do we recognize the “voice” of a producer working with pre-recorded samples? In what ways does a hip-hop beat contribute its own poetic content to a song’s lyrical meaning? And in what ways can we imagine audiences engaging a song—not only with respect to its lexical meaning—but also in terms of its sound? This panel seeks to offer answers to these and other questions, helping us to hear more clearly the producer’s voice and the sounding of identity in hip-hop and rap music.

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