7 Perfect Mistake Beats: When Producers Screwed Up, But Loved the Results

Great musicians are often known for an obsessive level of detail, so much so that it sometimes causes creative paralysis. In one of the most famous hip-hop examples of over-perfectionism leading to inaction, Dr. Dre worked on Detox—an album Rolling Stone journalist Mosi Reeves dubbed "the Chinese Democracy of rap"—for a decade plus.

Despite a star-studded cast that included Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Lil Wayne, and assurances from collaborator Scott Storch in a 2004 MTV News article that Detox would be "the most advanced rap album musically and lyrically we'll probably ever have a chance to listen to," an official release has yet to see the light of day.

Thankfully for rap music fans, not every project is relegated to the vaults for having some slight imperfections or being a bit rough around the edges. In fact, rap and sample-based music production both have a long history of fortuitous mistakes that ended up benefiting the creative process.

Though it may not have been the artist's intent at the time, mistakenly included snare drums, accidental silence, incorrect drum programming, random jam sessions inspired by computer crashes, and unintentional MPC pad pressing have all helped spawn important records in the modern music canon.

The Unintentional Sampling Origins of Marley Marl

Such happy accidents can be traced all the way back to rap's original super-producer and early beatmaking innovator Marley Marl, who mistakenly discovered the art of sampling during a mixing session for Captain Rock's "Cosmic Blast" record in 1984. As Marley worked on getting the mix just right, he wanted to record a single riff off a vinyl record to enhance the instrumental. Without realizing it, he accidentally left a snare drum at the beginning of the segment before the desired sample started playing.

Captain Rock - "Cosmic Blast"

As he truncated the vinyl snippet while a programmed drumbeat played in the background, Marley realized how crisp the accidental snare from the record sounded. The moment was a true revelation. "It just smacked me in the face what just happened," he told Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley in a 2013 Microphone Check interview. "I was like, 'Hold up!' This will enable me to take any kick and a snare from any record that people love and make my own beat."

Prince Paul, Silence, and Incorrectly Programmed Drums

Marley Marl was far from the only production pioneer to make an ear-pleasing mistake. Prince Paul, who co-produced De La Soul's critically acclaimed first three albums and masterminded The Gravediggaz extremely dark and brilliant 1994 effort 6 Feet Deep, also missed the technical mark in a way that was essential to the creation of early rap records.

In a 2008 Smoking Section interview, Paul recalled the prevalence of minor errors in De La Soul's sample-rich 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising that helped give the music some added charm. Paul pointed an unintended beat drop on the album's hit single "Me Myself and I," that occurred as he and Posdnuos mixed the song by hand without the benefit of automation.

De La Soul - "Me Myself and I"

"There was a part where one of us was supposed to leave the beat in, and we forgot," he told The Smoking Section. "We just looked at each other, threw it back in on time, and said, 'Eh, that's good enough.'"

Paul's willingness to accept imperfections was reenforced when a cool-sounding misstep led to a key track on 3rd Bass' The Cactus Album, a critical and commercial success that came out eight months after 3 Feet High and Rising.

3rd Bass - "The Gas Face"

With a grand total of 21 songs included on the record, singles like "Steppin' to the A.M." made some noise through radio and music video, while "The Gas Face" also proved to be one of the true breakout singles from the group's debut effort. According to Paul, the reason the drum pattern has a unique shuffle is because of a misstep in his programming on the original 4-track version.

Despite the fact that the percusion sequence was unintentional, the members of 3rd Bass balked when Paul suggested that he should fix it. "I was going to change it, but [MC] Serch and Pete [Nice] said, "Yo, that's crazy. We really like it how it is," he told Eric Thurm in a 2013 A.V. Club interview. Paul left it as-is, and 30 years later it remains one of the group's most well-known songs.

How a Computer Crash Birthed a D'Angelo Classic

Some six years later, Paul's fellow Native Tongues affiliate Ali Shaheed Muhammad and D'Angelo made one of the best songs from 1995 because of a technological glitch.

As the duo worked on D'Angelo's Brown Sugar debut in Battery Studios' Studio C room, the computer system crashed—a frequent occurrence according to journalist Michael Gonzales' excellent 2010 Wax Poetics cover story on the making of the album.

D'Angelo - "Brown Sugar"

While an engineer scrambled to get the computer up and running again, D'Angelo started messing around with his Ensoniq EPS 16+ keyboard sampler, the precursor to the famous ASR-10 popularized by folks like Alchemist, The Neptunes, Jake One, RZA, Timbaland, Kanye West, and countless others.

Without giving it much thought, D'Angelo started playing out random progressions and sequences with no particular goal in mind. All of a sudden he played something that made Muhammad stop in his tracks. "Even he wasn't aware of what exactly he was playing, he just had his hands on the keyboard," Muhammad told Wax Poetics. "When I asked him what he was playing, he said, 'Nothing.'"

Luckily, Muhammad had a DAT tape recording nonstop during sessions to capture such moments of divine creativity. Sensing they had something interesting on their hands, the two artists worked together to build out what would eventually become "Brown Sugar," a moment that left Muhammad in awe. "It was like it was too good to be true, because that song came out of 20 minutes and a mistake."

Stro Elliot's Happy Accident Becomes a DJ Favorite

A decade and change later, recent Roots addition Stro Elliot found himself prepping for a Root Down beat battle with a different Ensoniq sampler, which provided him with a happy accident of his own. As he loaded in a classic '90s R&B song into his ASR-X sampler, he toyed with the failed MPC competitor's ability to extend the end of a sample. In his experimentation he unintentionally stumbled upon a perfect combination, where he looped the sample forward and in reverse right at a heightened moment of emotion in the acapella.

Stro Elliot - "Soul II Stro"

This sample flip became the ideal foundation for some hard-hitting drums and Korg Triton synths, which eventually lead to a fully fleshed out beat that came together in an instant. "I want to say it was one of the quickest things I've ever made," he told Micro-Chop in a January 2017 interview. "It kind of fell together."

In addition to making the crowd and judges at the March 2007 Root Down battle lose their collective minds when he premiered the track, Elliot considers what is now dubbed "Soul II Stro" one of the most important records from his production discography—in large part because of the love DJs showed it during their live sets. "It's probably opened more doors than any other track that I know because of the DJs," he told Micro-Chop. "All the DJs I know love that track and play that track."

A New Era of Brilliant Mistake Beats

As the 2000s wore on, producers weren't done turning mistakes into musical victories. Just check out Alchemist's 2009 album Chemical Warfare—and make sure to pay special attention to the unexpected collaboration with Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile titled "That'll Work."

Alchemist feat. Three 6 Mafia and Juvenile - "That'll Work"

Give Alchemist's MPC padwork a close listen and you might think the mind-boggling speed and dexterity required to pull off such a fast and complex sequence defies human comprehension. According to Alchemist, not so. "I could have never programmed it like that," he told the AllHipHop staff in a 2009 interview. "It was some mistake shit."

If the programming isn't an intentional showcase of MPC mastery, how exactly did Alchemist get the beat to sound the way it did? It turns out the process was pretty straightforward. "I had a sample on the MPC and I held on to all 32 buttons with my hands and the chopped sound goes, 'Doo-loo-loo,'" he told AllHipHop. "So I just pressed record and I put my whole hand on the MPC pads."

The same year Alchemist was holding his hand down on MPC pads at once and collaborating with Memphis and New Orleans rap royalty, Boi-1da was in Toronto composing breakthrough tracks for Drake in FL Studio.

Drake - "Over"

His philosophy on his early productions was to focus on the percussion while resisting the urge to overcomplicate the sound. "I don't really 'cluster' my beats," he told Drew Hinshaw in a 2009 Keyboard Magazine interview. "People enjoy the simplicity. Simple always wins."

His dedication to simple, hard-hitting, drums helped in the making of Drake's early multi-platinum single "Over," but Boi-1da's mistaken use of the wrong box on the FL Studio grid proved to be the big difference maker. "I accidentally dragged the snare into the kick box and it sounded like reggae," he told Keyboard Magazine. "So I kept it there. It has a new kind of bounce that hasn't been implemented in hip-hop before."

Consider Embracing Your Next Mistake

Each of these stories teach a valuable lesson about the importance of embracing occasional imperfections in music. Mistakes can actually give a song added texture or an interesting twist that the creator wouldn't have thought of otherwise. Though it might be stressful for artists to leave unfixed errors in their hard work for the world to hear, the above songs are proof that sometimes it's worth it in the end.

Instead of rushing to fix a mistake the next time you're working on a beat, take a moment or two to sit with it. Who knows what it might morph into by the time you're done.


About the author: Gino Sorcinelli is the writer, creator, and editor of Micro-Chop, a Medium publication and Substack newsletter that dissects beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling. He is also responsible for The Micro-Chop Daily X, a 10-beat playlist posted daily on the Micro-Chop Twitter feed. His articles have appeared on Ableton, HipHopDX, Okayplayer, Passion of the Weiss, and Red Bull Music Academy.

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