Dibia$e dropping some live beats circa 2012. (Credit: Amhell)

“I Do it as a Test”: Boom-Bap, Footwork, and The Making of Dibia$e’s “PROgressions”

Having a reputation for leaning on one particular production style can be both a gift and a curse — just ask Sacramento-based producer Dibia$e. Though the vintage video game-sampled beats he used in beat battles and projects like Up The Joystick and Up The Joystick 2 [hidden levels] helped him gain recognition between 2008 and 2013, they also made people pigeonhole his sound. “People seemed to think I only made 8-bit beats, when I probably got a total of 30 of them out of thousands of beats,” he remembers with a laugh.

The Bandcamp version of PROgressions.

As a result of these faulty assumptions, Dibia$e decided to put any misconceptions about his sound to bed by dropping PROgressions on September 19th, 2013. Composed with a variety of physical gear and software, the album demonstrates his versatility as a producer and his ability to switch up styles with ease. “[I] just wanted to showcase a variety of styles from the dusty loops, boom-bap, samba and footwork,” he remarked in the liner notes. “There’s much more dimensions to my sound then 8-bit cartridge beats.”

To kick things off, Dibia$e made the album’s lead track “b4 U go [84]” on a Roland SP, using a re-sampling method to get the chops just right. After slicing up the sample, he sequenced and added drums to the track, later dumping it into Ableton for another dose of compression. This method of using different programs in tandem with each other or with his SP was prevalent throughout the making of the album.

“I always make two versions of a beat it I’m really vibing with the sample — one with a boom-bap vibe and one with footwork or house vibes. I do it as a test.”

Dibia$e created “suite 532 [90” with Ableton in a makeshift office space studio in downtown Sacramento while “just buildin [90]” is another notable early Ableton creation featured on the album. In an interesting bit of west coast beat scene history, Dibia$e made the song while a now-famous producer crashed at his office space and showed him how to use the program. “‘just buildin’ was made while Knxwledge stayed at that office space/lab for two weeks giving me an Ableton crash course,” he tells me.

Micro-Chopping Dibia$e — an hour plus of nonstop Dibia$e slappers.

The beautifully mangled sounds on “more steez [95]” demonstrate remarkable attention to detail for a 56-second song, as Dibia$e used Ableton and Reason together to draw on each program’s unique features. “‘more steez’ was definitely made on Reason 5,” he says. “I started in Reason and dumped it into Ableton — I used certain phasers on the sample that I recognize from Ableton. And the stutter effects are from a Native Instruments plugin called The Finger.”

Though Dibia$e is still fond of many tracks on the album, his proudest accomplishments are “can’t see us pt.1 [82]” and “can’t see us pt.2 jukin [164]”. These two tracks reveal a secret beatmaking method many of his fans are likely unaware of. “I always make two versions of a beat it I’m really vibing with the sample,” he explains. “One with a boom-bap vibe and one with footwork or house vibes. I do it as a test.”

“There’s much more dimensions to my sound then 8-bit cartridge beats.”

Footwork — a Chicago-based style of dance and music that typically hovers around 160 beats per minute — may be unfamiliar to some Dibia$e fans, but it’s a genre he’s been messing with for close to a decade. “I found out about footwork in ‘08 when I did Red Bull Big Tune and they had the finals in NYC. I lost to 14KT in the first round,” he says with a laugh.

The Bandcamp version of Collectin’ Dust.

Despite exiting the battle early, Dibia$e took the trip as an opportunity to learn from his peers. During their time in New York, the beat battle contestants stayed in a loft with roommates, one of whom was a then 17-year-old Chicago-based producer named C-Sick. C-Sick eventually won the finals and has since produced for Tory Lanez, Logic, Chance The Rapper, and many others.

Although he didn’t use any footwork instrumentals in the competition, Dibia$e saw C-Sick’s footwork tracks in his Red Bull video and felt inspired to try his own hand at them. “Since I gravitate to freestyle dance, a lot of it made sense to me,” he says. “I kinda cater to different dance styles. That’s a big inspiration.”

“Knxwledge stayed at that office space/lab for two weeks giving me an Ableton crash course.”

As different as footwork may sound to Dibia$e’s fan base initially, he sees the double time production as a natural progression from his boom-bap style beats. “It’s around 160 BPMs, but half of that is 80 BPMs,” he says. “If I have an 80 BPM sample I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna make some footwork type stuff.’”

Although Dibia$e’s current footwork tracks were inspired by his ’08 Red Bull experience, he also recalls making some very uptempo songs in the early 2000s that had a similar vibe. “Around 2001 my boy had a TR-80 drum machine and let me use it,” he says. “I was making some footwork type stuff back then, around the Collectin’ Dust era.” With the release of PROgressions, this style had a chance to come full circle.

As the five year anniversary of PROgressions draws closer, the album seems to have served its purpose well. By sharing a wide variety of styles — including a footwork vibe rarely shown to his audience— Dibia$e proved that video game samples are merely one small segment of his total production arsenal.

Connect with Dibia$e on Bandcamp, Facebook, Soundcloud, and on Twitter@darealdibia$e.

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Micro-Chop and Bookshelf Beats publications or donating to the Micro-Chop Patreon page. You can also read my work at HipHopDX or follow me on Twitter.