Note: This post disappeared off the server for no identifiable reason. I'm reposting it again (saved through the magic of Reader) in the hope that it was a random blip and not a DCMA takedown. (The DJ Phabyo track dissappeared earlier today, maybe DivShare and Blogger have a deal?) I'm also attempting to repost Wayne's comment, and mine.
Wayne's incessant posting on A Milli-type clones got me revisiting just what makes Lil' Wayne's A Milli great. The idea of using small, syllabic vocal samples to build up a groove is hardly new, and the genealogy inevitably includes some prog rock mellotron samples, and more relevantly this and this, but the totally rhythm-oriented use in A Milli makes it stand out. I made a comment over at Wayne's that it somehow reminded me of Baile Funk, and pulled up a random file for my computer to prove it:
DJ Phabyo - Ta Pensando O Que Boladao
About 1:14 into this file there's a section where the vocalist goes (and excuse my transcription because I don't speak portugese) "um-pa-da um-pa-da um-pa" and so on, which reminds me very strongly of A Milli.
Of course, the number of syllables and how they're used is not exactly the same. But the nature of their use is very similar. If you could the number of syllables per word in the track above you get 3, 3, and 2, which (noting the equal length of all the syllables) corresponds exactly to the 3+3+2 pattern which is prevalent in dancehall. Now, the A Milli beat goes like this:
Counting the syllables here we've got a 3+3+3+3+2+2 instead, or perceptually probably closer to a 3+3+3+3+4. This is another pattern that is very common in electronic music.
So what does 3+3+2 and 3+3+3+3+4 have in common? There's a very insteresting account of this in a book called "Unlocking the Groove" by University of Pensylvania scholar Mark J Butler which I've recently read. Butler claims that rhythms like these have two very distinct qualities. First, they're what he calls diatonic rhythms: they're the ideal way of distributing an uneven number of drum hits over an even number of beats - 3 hits in 8 beats for 3+3+2, and 5 hits in 16 beats for 3+3+3+3+4. (In this sense they're similar to diatonic scales that distribute 7 tone values over 12 semitones, hence the name.) Second, the "unevenness" helps establish meter by breaking the pattern of straightforward beats - you get the feel of a new measure being established when you hear one beat "too little" in 3+3+2 or one "too much" in 3+3+3+3+4.
It's not an unconvincing argument he makes (read the book!), but I think there might also be a historical reason for the affinity between these two rhythms and the frequency of their appearance, which A Milli demonstrates very well. The 3+3+3+3+4 pattern is joined and strengthened in some bars by a snare drum pattern:
In other bars the drum pattern is a basic crunk-influenced one, with a kick drum and a hand clap/finger snap. Now, as Wayne has demonstrated so marvellously in his Another Crunk Genealogy, this pattern is essentially a clave. What I'm considering is whether the snare drum pattern above can't also be read as a kind of clave. Look at all the longer notes present, the three dotted crochets and the dotless ones, and they correspond directly to the famous cuban rhythm.
Could it be that the 3+3+3+3+4 pattern in A Milli and other electronic music, which is only marginally different from a Clave anyway, is connected historically to it? Or the reverse, that they both derive from a similar source? I know a lot of people know their rhythm theory a lot better than me (though I'd like to learn more), so maybe someone out there has an answer for me on this one...