“Trying to Find the Perfect Melody from a Little Slice of Sample”: MPC Melodies and Micro-Choppin’ on Jay Alpha’s “Tabletop”

Though Brooklyn-based producer Jay Alpha has nothing against using technology in the production process, he wanted to challenge himself early in his career to see if his dedication to the craft was pure. Inspired by the tales of pioneering producers in the 80s and 90s stretching themselves beyond the limitations of whatever sampler they used, Jay asked himself at the beginning of his production journey, “What if I was back in the 90s? Would I still be doing this?”

The Bandcamp version of Tabletop.

To answer his own question he decided to forgo newer DAWs, samplers, and software and instead focusws on mastering the tools used by idols like J Dilla and Madlib. “I saved enough money to get some hardware like the 404 and so on and so forth,” he told me in an earlier Micro-Chop interview. “I got the MPC, I got the SP-555, I got a tape recorder. I tried to get away from the computers and get more vintage.”

On his latest album Tabletop Jay really puts his abilities with older gear to the test. “Everything on the album was sequenced on the MPC, I just used the SP-555 and 404 for FX,” he explains. Further adding to the old school feel, Jay decided to record the entire project to tape.

“What if I was back in the 90s? Would I still be doing this?”

During the composition of his new album Jay leaned heavily on the MPC’s levels capabilities, which allows producers to pitch shift their samples up 16 different levels so they can play a melody with one single sample. “I used it on most of my beats to create a dope melody,” Jay says. “It’s kind of like trying to find the perfect melody from a little slice of sample. ‘Comet_tail’ and ‘Cadillac Horns [1 4 9p’ are the perfect example.”

The Bandcamp version of Jay’s 2016 release Opus de Alpha-ism.

The only song where Jay broke his loops into smaller, chopped up snippets was the Micro-Chop tribute track “Bodega Slappa [MicroChoppin’]”. Jay tried using the melody creating method he employed on the rest of the songs, but something about this particular track felt like it needed a different approach. “‘Bodega Slappa’ got that ill bossa nova sample and I tried to 16 levels that as well but I felt like I should try to chop it,” he tells me. “That’s literally the only thing on the album I chopped up.”

Not afraid to get a little more experimental, Jay also sampled himself playing the Rhodes piano on “Teal Cracks”. And, just as his heroes did many years before, Jay had to work around some technical limitations before completing Tabletop. “It took a couple months because the MPC is definitely not up to code,” he says. “It’s still missing some key buttons. Uploading was also an issue since my laptop can’t come on like it used to.”

“It’s kind of like trying to find the perfect melody from a little slice of sample.”

Despite any technical difficulties, Jay’s confidence with the sampler is sky high after months of experimenting with the MPC’s capabilities. “After fucking with the MPC more I know how to chop crazy,” he says.

2017 was an active year for Jay Alpha. In addition to dropping Tabletop he also put out Life Cycles and the intensely personal On a Diff [type] Level, despite undergoing serious eye surgery just a short time before its release. Now that he’s added MPC mastery to his production arsenal, it will be interesting to see what he has in store for the new year.

Connect with Jay Alpha on Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, and on Twitter @olskooljay0510.

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