From Madlib to Mannie Fresh: A Glance at iOS Apps in Music
A brief examination of how producers are using iPads and iPhones to create original sounds.
|Gino Sorcinelli||Jul 24, 2019|| 2||2|
(Image Credit: NPR)
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From Madlib to Mannie Fresh: A Glance at iOS Apps in Music
On June 29th, 2019, Madlib set the internet ablaze when he revealed a secret about his new collaborative album with Freddie Gibbs.
The tweet created a firestorm of responses, but those who follow Madlib’s career closely weren’t overly surprised by his announcement. After all, he produced Kayne West’s Kendrick Lamar-assisted “No More Parties In L.A.” with an iPad.
Though Madlib didn’t get into specifics after revealing the iPad detail in his 2016 Red Bull Music Academy interview with Jeff “Chairman” Mao, he did indicate that the beats he sent to Kanye were pretty bugged out and dusted. “He didn’t like them beats,” he told Mao with a laugh. “I’m just kidding Kanye. Sent him a bunch of crazy Quasimoto shit.”
The Freddie Gibbs and Kanye disclosures certainly enhance the backstories of their respective projects, but Madlib is far from the first artist to take advantage of the rich ecosystem of beatmaking tools and music applications available on iOS.
With iOS—originally titled iPhone OS—first made available to the general public in 2007, the mobile operating system has a long, varied, and fascinating history of use in recorded music.
Gorillaz co-founder Damon Albarn proved he was an enthusiastic early adopter by recording the Gorillaz’ entire 2010 album The Fall on an iPad during an extended US tour. Taking advantage of 22 apps to make the record, Albarn showcased the full music making power of iOS during the tablet’s infancy.
When asked about his recording process a few years later, Albarn felt his decision to turn his iPad into a portable studio was due to an abundance of free time—which was likely mixed with a fair amount of boredom and loneliness. “I had a month on tour in America and everyday I had at least three hours of emptiness to fill,” told Music Express in a 2012 interview. “So I filled them.”
Though first conceived as a way to kill time, The Fall was impressive enough that KORG worked with the Gorillaz to create their very own app, the KORG iELECTRIBE Gorillaz Edition.
Not long after the release of The Fall, veteran producer and one-time in-house Cash Money Records beatmaker Mannie Fresh also caught wind of the iPad’s capabilities. First seen in the studio with Mos Def cooking up beats on the Beatmaker 2 app, he also composed 2 Chainz’ 2013 single “Used 2” right in front of the Atlanta rapper while employing his device. “He came to my spot in Atalanta for a couple of days and actually made the beat right in front of me on the iPad,” 2 Chainz told Karen Civil in a 2013 CivilTV interview. “Showed me how to maximize an iPad with some things I had never seen before, so that whole experience was dope to me.”
His adoption of the iPad was a bit surprising, but also refreshing. A one-time vintage gear and SP-1200 loyalist who used the 1200 to make many of his classic records, he told Electronic Musician in a 2005 interview, “You’ve gotta have a 1200 or something like it—you can’t do it with nothing new because it’s gonna sound too digital.”
Now he’s proving producers can use new and old technologies to achieve their desired sound.
iOS creations are not merely limited to the iPad either, as a broad range of producers are now crafting magic on their iPhones.
In fact, esteemed beat scene vet Ras G created most of his entry in Fat Beat’s Baker’s Dozen series by using the iMPC app. “I don’t drive man,” he explained in a 2017 Micro-Chop interview. “So when I’m in the world, I’m on buses and on trains. That’s how I’ll make up my time. Make a beat.”
Beyond composing full songs and much of an entire album with his phone, Ras also likes to use the device to capture field recordings for use at a later date. “I’m hearing sounds, I hear a snare, I hear something and I’m just collecting that shit,” he said.
The iPhone found sound technique has been used widely by several other producers in recent years, as Seneca B recorded rain for her single “May” and pineapple soda bottle percussion for “Pineapple Soda” from the collaborative Bloom album.
Meanwhile, John Morrison explored the method by capturing bits and pieces of his neighborhood for the cut “58th & Chester Get Biz” from Southwest Psychedelphia. “The sample of the kids arguing at the end came off of my phone,” he said in a 2017 Micro-Chop interview. “I used to just walk around the neighborhood and record shit.”
Found sounds also made their way into music from Mutant Academy, a prolific crew of MCs and producers—many of whom have an affiliation to the city of Richmond, Virginia.
ewonee . employed the tactic on “1.10,” a key cut from his ambitious for concept album Radiance.. “There’s field recordings in the back of that and the drums are from a break that I just chopped up,” he said in a 2018 Micro-Chop interview. “That’s not normally my process. It’s powerful.”
Fellow Mutant Academy producer Tuamie—whose production was recently featured in a widely circulated Jon Bellion Instagram video—further proved the power of the iPhone by making one of the biggest records of his career by using the Beatmaker 2 app.
When a later opportunity presented itself for Tuamie to work with Mutanat Academy MCs Fly Anakin and Koncept Jack$on on their Panama Plus album, he sent over the instrumental as a test of their creative chemistry.
Anakin and Jack$on ended up ripping the beat and it quickly became one of the most notable songs from the three artist’s respective catalogs. “‘Grandma’s Spot’ is a major step in this story,” Tuamie told journalist Tyron Perryman in an excellent 2018 interview for Casa de Lowrey. “It’s an important song for my career. I made that beat on my phone.”
Now, as word of the power and potential of iOS apps continues to spread, producers like Dibia$e and brainorchestra. have taken to Twitter in recent week to share impressive iPhone captures of their latest creations.
It’s hard to say where the future of iOS production is headed from here, but with this article merely scraping the surface of the deep and complex history of all the various apps, the topic certainly warrants further exploration in future Micro-Chop stories.
Thanks for reading, see you on Friday!