How Generations of Beatmakers Evolved with Fruity Loops and FL Studio

Metro Boomin (Right). Photo by: StormGawd. Creative Commons 3.0.

From DJs extending breakbeats with just two turntables and a mixer to producers composing pause tape beats with tape decks, rap music has a long and storied history of embracing—while pushing against—the limitations of existing technology.

Yet for a culture that has benefited so much from innovating in the face of limited resources, an opaque code of "keeping it real" and a resentment toward anyone who breaks the code has often been pervasive among rap purists. This line of thinking led to many heated debates when Image-Line's revolutionary digital audio workstation, Fruity Loops, first came onto the scene. In the late '90s and early 2000s, devotees of vintage samplers saw the program as an inferior means of production.

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The software first began taking shape in Belgium during the early '90s, when Image-Line co-founders Jean-Marie Cannie and Frank Van Biesen hired a 19-year-old developer named Didier "Gol" Dambrin.

Though Dambrin started out as the mastermind behind first-person shooters like Eat This, he developed the first iteration of Fruity Loops in 1997 after trying other early music software like Hammerhead and Rebirth. Despite Dambrin's interest making a fun program for musicians to mess around with, he never thought his creation would morph into a powerful pattern-based DAW used by many industry behemoths.

"It hadn't started very seriously," he told Noisey in a 2015 interview. "It was absolutely nothing like what it is today."

Dambrin's bosses also had no idea Fruity Loops would turn into a massive success. When he passed version 1.0 off to them in 1997, they were unsure how to sell it.

"When he dropped it on our machines it was a simple, MIDI-only step sequencer that we were having trouble placing in our existing product range," Cannie wrote in a history of the company on its website.

Even still, the company's servers were overwhelmed by enthusiastic downloaders just a few days after the first version of Fruity Loops went up on the website. During this wave of surprising initial support, Cannie and Van Biesen made the decision to give existing customers free updates for life—a generous offer they continue to give to paying clients.

The popularity of Fruity Loops during product launch gave Cannie and Van Biesen signs of hope, but they had a hard time getting people to buy it instead of settling for a free demo during the DAW's first years of existence. Over time, the program slowly found its footing with a user base of young, eager producers who wanted to make beats, had access to a computer, and couldn't afford a traditional sampler.

Fruity Loops 1.0

Pirated versions on peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa also helped the software gain a fair share of users, such as Grammy Award–winning producer Hit-Boy, though it is difficult to formally weigh how much piracy hurt FL Studio (as Fruity Loops would later be renamed) during its formative years vs. how much it helped spread the brand and user base.

These days a staunch anti-piracy article exists on the Image-Line website, while Dambrin himself seems to have a much more casual view on the matter.

"No one should pay for software if they can't even buy food, and I assume those that use it seriously enough will end up buying it," he told Red Bull Music Academy in a 2015 interview.

Beyond demo and pirated versions of the software spreading through high schools and college campuses like wildfire, the almost immediate use of Fruity Loops on official rap releases helped further signal boost the brand and introduce it to the masses.

[Listen to a playlist of songs made with Fruity Loops/FL Studio as you read.]

The Dawn of FL Production

Jugga The Bully's 1999 effort Hostile Takeover may be the first album to feature beats made exclusively with the software—with CunninLynguists rapper/producer and Oregon/Atlanta native Kno crafting half of the instrumentals using the primitive version 1.2.10. (Click here to see YouTuber Wilizm using this version.) Kno also produced CunninLynguists' 2002 underground breakthrough Will Rap For Food on Fruity Loops, with the original version of the cut "616 Rewind" dating all the way back to 1998.

Fruity Loops 3

Fruity Loops version 3.1.1 allowed him to create the beats for the group's ambitious 2006 concept album A Piece of Strange, a project XXL recently hailed as "one of the finest hip-hop albums created."

Right before Jugga The Bully's Hostile Takeover dropped, Jamla Records owner and Grammy Award–winning producer 9th Wonder met Grammy-nominated artist Phonte Coleman and Rapper Big Pooh at North Carolina Central University, eventually leading to the formation of Little Brother. Undeterred by price-prohibitive samplers of the day, 9th produced Little Brother's entire 2003 debut The Listening and several other defining works from his extensive catalog with the software.

The Listening earned positive reviews from the likes HipHopDX and Vibe, and—along with his unofficial God's Stepson remix album—led to 9th Wonder album placements with some of the biggest names in the industry. He created Jay-Z's "Threat" in 20 minutes, earned a slot on Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) with a five-year-old beat, and won a Grammy for his work on Mary J. Blige's The Breakthrough—all in a three-year span, using Fruity Loops as his primary weapon.

Fruity Loops to FL Studio

Though some hip-hop purists scoffed when they learned how 9th had constructed the beats on The Listening and beyond, he saw his use of the program as no different than hip-hop pioneers making due with limited resources in the culture's early years.

"In 1973, when they took all the money out of New York public schools for arts and music, kids [went to] the corner, set up turntables, and threw parties," he told XLR8R in a 2008 interview.

As 9th Wonder began to establish himself as an industry presence, Fruity Loops officially changed names to FL Studio in March of 2003 with version 4.0. Despite the change, a large contingent of producers used the original name for many years after the switch.

While a bit of company rebranding was taking place, a 12-year-old kid named DeAndre Cortez Way received a demo version of FL Studio from a relative. Now known to the world as Soulja Boy, he started posting songs on SoundClick in 2005 and opened MySpace and YouTube accounts in 2006. By the time he turned 16, he created beats with unbelievable speed and efficiency. "I was doing, like, 10 to 20 beats a week," he told Noisey in a 2016 interview. "Every day when I'd get home from school, I'd make a beat."

In 2007 Soulja Boy decided to channel his manic beatmaking energy into a more ambitious release than his previous SoundClick and MySpace work. Using nothing but FL Studio stock sounds while working on an unregistered version of the program that had a short trial window, he created his breakthrough hit "Crank Dat" in a matter of minutes.

Soulja Boy - "Crank Dat"

Aided by a low-budget music video, celebrities like Beyoncé and Samuel Jackson filming themselves doing the song's trademark dance, and an appearance in HBO's Entourage, "Crank Dat" soon became a Billboard chart-topping single that went triple platinum the same year it was released. Much like 9th Wonder, Soulja Boy believes the program gave him an affordable and attainable way to turn his ideas into a tangible piece of music. "It gave access to create," he told Noisey.

"Crank Dat" may have been an overwhelming commercial success for Soulja Boy, but the song had more than its fair share of detractors. In fact, genre elder statesman Dave of De La Soul defended the young artist during a 2009 concert because the blowback against him had grown so intense.

With Image-Line's flagship software now armed with a multi-platinum single to hang its hat on, there was a renewed sense of uneasiness directed at the DAW—and the implications of what its popularity might mean for the future of rap music. "Is Soulja Boy the future of production," XXL wondered in a 2007 article. "Or some guy who caught lightning in a bottle with a kitschy rap dance?"

FL Defends Its Seat at the Table

Flash forward to 2009, the same year Image-Line introduced FL Studio version 9.0, and a whole new generation of producers found unprecedented levels of success with the program.

Among this new wave of FL Studio power-users to emerge in 2009 was a then-18-year-old Suffolk, Virginia native Lex Luger, who obtained a pirated copy of FL Studio from friend and fellow producer Urboyblack.

After some time spent mastering the FL functions, Luger produced his breakthrough song "Hard In The Paint" on a laptop while sitting in his dad's kitchen, according to this 2011 New York Times profile. Once Waka Flocka Flame transformed his beat into a Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop hit that spent 20 consecutive weeks on the charts, Luger went on to craft hits for Rick Ross, Kanye West and Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and many others.

"We're part of a whole new generation. A generation of computer kids, the voice of the next young hot producers and our success was made possible by FL Studio," he said in an interview on the FL Studio website.

Drake - "Best I Ever Had"

Around the time of his initial success, Luger and Atlanta producer Southside formed 808 Mafia while they were signed to Gucci Mane's 1017 Brick Squad Records. Though Luger is no longer a member, 808 Mafia has since turned into incredibly successful production team that features Southside, TM88, DY, MP808, and several others.

Southside alone has a discography that boasts co-production on several multi-platinum hits and credits with 2 Chainz, Future, Gucci Mane, Young Thug, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and many more. And though he still uses FL Studio, he expressed frustration with Image-Line in recent years for failing to recognize that he, Metro Boomin, TM88, and Sonny Digital helped FL Studio infiltrate the EDM scene and boosted the DAW's overall popularity across many genres.

Another prominent member of the 2009 breakthrough was Toronto's Boi-1da, who exploded on the scene with "Best I Ever Had" from Drake's famed 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, "Over" for Drake's platinum debut studio album Thank Me Later, and a lengthy list of hits that exceed the capacity of this article. He continues to innovate and find different ways to add layers to his music while sticking with FL Studio, from sampling windshield wipers on Meek Mill's 2011 song "Tony Story" to incorporating a choir and live instrumentation on Nicki Minaj's 2012 track "Up In Flames."

After creating four multi-platinum singles with FL Studio in the past decade, Boi-1da also co-produced Drake's Grammy Award–winning "God's Plan" with Yung Exclusive and Cardo Got Wings. Fans streamed the song a mind-boggling 82.4 million times in its first week of release as it went on to become the most-streamed song of 2018 on Apple and Spotify. As of June 2018, "God's Plan" is 8x platinum.

Both Boi-1da and Cardo Got Wings have since confirmed that they used FL Studio to create "God's Plan," though Cardo is hesitant to reveal his secret sauce and the VSTs he used to achieve one of the biggest rap records in years. "Every magician can't give their damn tricks out," he told Digital Trends in a 2018 interview. "All I'll tell y'all is you can make anything out of anything. That's a fucking fact."

The Next Wave

2011 and 2012 saw yet another new wave of producers change the game with FL Studio, as Atlanta producer Sonny Digital broke onto the scene with YC's gold single "Racks." Meanwhile, Los Angeles DJ and producer Mustard scored a 4x platinum hit with Tyga's "Rack City" in 2011, started using FL Studio in late 2012, and has used it on hits like Ella Mai's "Trip" in the ensuing years. In Chicago, Young Chop scored a major hit with Chief Keef's "I Don't Like" and became a high demand producer at the young age of 19. All three artists continue to work with some of the biggest names in the biz.

Tyga - "Rack City"

Next up was Atlanta's Metro Boomin, perhaps the most commercially successful rap producer to use FL Studio. Like many other producers who have made a name for themselves in recent years, he studied the success of his FL Studio forefathers. "I had followed Soulja Boy, and I knew that's what he was using," he told Fader in a 2014 interview. "I knew 9th Wonder had used it too, and that a lot of EDM and dubstep was being done through it."

Since getting his foot in the door through work with Gucci Mane during his junior and senior years of high school, Metro has produced and co-produced an astonishing 15 multi-platinum songs for artists like 21 Savage, Future, Migos, and Big Sean in a matter of five years—often collaborating with the aforementioned Sonny Digital, Southside, TM88, and other members of the 808 Mafia in the process. And as this article goes to print, he's only 25.

Surprisingly, the aforementioned list of FL Studio power users only scrape the surface of the vast, varied, and talented group of artists making use of the software today. Aone Beats, Jahlil Beats, Hit-Boy, Young Carter, Swiff D, Mike Will Made It, Vinylz, WondaGurl, and countless others have also become extremely successful and sought-after producers through their use of the program. The incredible feats achieved by star users may seem overwhelming to beginners, but Vinylz took to Twitter in 2016 to demystify his use of the DAW and let people know that its powers can be accessible to anyone.

"Facts Only," he wrote. "I only know the basics in FL Studio. I don't know how to automate. I only have 4 VST plugins. I don't mix any of my beats." In other words, it doesn't take any special ingredients to make a hit with FL Studio, just a lot of practice and the right work ethic.

Metro Boomin FL Studio tutorial

Image-Line also deserves credit for the ongoing success of FL Studio—its latest incarnation is FL Studio 20.5—along with the celebrated and ever-growing list of power users. They introduced FL Studio Mobile for iOS and Android several years ago, created the ILRemote Midi controller app, and have continually tweaked and evolved their DAW to ensure it maintains a foothold in a very crowded field. Despite other programs like Ableton Live becoming very competitive in recent years, FL Studio continues to endure and succeed.

"We don't have a crystal ball here, but we've seen the number of users grow every year for 15 years now," co-founder Jean-Marie Cannie told Speakhertz in a 2013 interview. "As I mentioned earlier, we can't do a lot more than develop our products further and offer them as a free update to existing users."

Though the software has profoundly altered the landscape of rap and other sample-based/electronic music, helped many producers establish careers and become stars, given access to more potential artists, and helped generate scores of hit records, the program's creator still keeps a level head about the massive success of his invention.

"To me, it doesn't matter whether amateurs or only pros are using it," Dambrin, who left Image-Line in 2015, told Noisey. "All that matters is that some people have made amazing things using FL."

If the track record of the people using the DAW is any indication, producers will continue to make amazing things with FL Studio for many years to come. And with the prevalence and popularity of online video, it would be a welcomed addition to see the company producing more tutorials with rap producers like this one with Metro Boomin. Since the genre has played such a significant role in the growth and popularity of the software, it seems only right.

About the author: Gino Sorcinelli is the writer, creator, and editor of Micro-Chop, a Substack newsletter that dissects beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling. His articles have appeared on Ableton, HipHopDX, Okayplayer, Passion of the Weiss, Red Bull Music Academy, and Roland.

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