Among the many different ways to experience hip hop/rap music, there is no other art form in hip hop culture that allows one to immerse themselves more extensively than beatmaking. And among the various elements that make beatmaking a uniquely intricate art form, I have found that there are three major characteristics that most underscore its uniqueness.
The first characteristic that jumps out at every beatmaker is the meticulous nature of the various processes that beatmaking requires. Because beatmakers are one part musician and one part programmer, we have to control a number of different steps in the musical process that DJs (and traditional musicians) simply do not. For instance, prior to the compositional phase of the musical process, beatmakers are enjoined with the task of finding and/or making sounds to work with. And in beatmaking, after the compositional and arrangement processes are completed—processes, I should add, that require any number of programming steps—many beatmakers (myself included) transform into defacto mix engineers, as we further lock in the sound and sonic impression that characterize our individual styles and sounds.
The reliance upon technology in the creative process of beatmaking is another major characteristic that, on one hand, helps define beatmaking's uniqueness, and on the other hand, leads beatmakers to experience hip hop/rap music more extensively than fellow artists within hip hop culture. In beatmaking, the connection of creativity and technology is paramount; it's a force that binds beatmakers to the perpetual pursuit of creating and manipulating sounds. Moreover, as witnessed by beatmakers' staunch product and brand loyalty to leading electronic music production instrument (EMPI) manufacturers, the connection of creativity and technology in beatmaking serves as a form of identity and, in many ways, a badge of musically creative honor.
The depth of analytical study that's involved in beatmaking is the third, (and perhaps most important), characteristic that most underscores beatmaking's uniqueness, and prompts beatmakers to experience hip hop/rap music in quite an extensive manner. Beatmakers engage in a high level of self-imposed study. In the constant pursuit of a higher skill level, we study a great deal—often much more than traditional musicians. Indeed, all beatmakers necessarily study the fundamental techniques, methods, and practices of the beatmaking tradition as well its history, in particular, the lineage of styles and sounds from beatmaking's inception to the present. And while most traditional musicians will never study the art of beatmaking, even once in their life time, most beatmakers regularly study the elements and processes of other music traditions outside of hip hop/rap. In fact, for beatmakers, no music form is forbidden territory; wherever we find inspiration, we use the styles, techniques, methods, and practices of our tradition to convert such inspiration into hip hop/rap form.
Here, it should be noted that the level of analytical study involved in beatamking leads to time-intense and style-focused practice. And it should be further noted that whenever we work on the creation of our beats, we enter into a ritualistic-like cycle that's every bit hypnotic as it is therapeutic and creatively meticulous. It also bares mentioning that precisely because of the analytical study component of beatmaking, many beatmakers become, subsequently, serious purveyors of music history. Thus, no matter how you look at it, in the final analysis, beatmakers represent a new kind of multi-skilled musician.