Riding in on a wave of Y2K paranoia, the dawn of the 21st century saw our increasingly globalized pop culture turn to a series of calamitous creature comforts like Heelys, Livestrong bracelets, T9 texts, and velour tracksuits. But it also brought the exponential growth of the internet, and with it, unprecedented access to new music — specifically hip hop and R&B, which reached their commercial peak and dominated the musical landscape for most of the decade.
The sudden change made household names out of performers like Aaliyah, Eminem, Usher, Jay-Z, D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, and Destiny’s Child alum, Beyonce. With the guidance of visionary producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes, and increased access to niche sub-genres from around the world, these artists ushered in a new era of unbounded creativity and multicultural exploration that continues to shape the musical landscape of today.
Today then, we’re continuing our series of 25th-anniversary sonic recaps with the second decade of NI’s existence – the 2000s. Keep reading for a brisk breakdown of each trendy track, followed by soundalike samples and expert instructions for shaping these sounds at home. And if you missed our countdown of iconic 90s sounds, be sure to check that out here.
Missy Elliot and Timbaland's global inspiration
Known for his rhythm-heavy drum programming and percussive samples and synths, Timbaland’s productions regularly charted in the international top 10s and influenced a whole generation of beatmakers and producers around the globe. For the lead single on Missy Elliott’s So Addictive, the duo drew from a kinetic patchwork of international influences: from the spoken word Japanese intro (which roughly translates to “Everyone start dancing together wildly now. Let’s make some noise. Let’s make some noise”), to the upbeat Punjabi melody, and samples of German ambient artist Karunesh, this spirited single is a decidedly global affair.
When it came to that hypnotic six-note riff, Timbaland turned to the high-pitched, single-string Punjab tumbi and introduced the pop world to sonic staples like the tabla twin hand drums, whose combined presence built the bold Bhaṅgṛā beat that took this track to Platinum popularity. To swipe those trademark Timba tones, simply load up the tabla from the Spotlight Collection’s INDIA library.
Flying Lotus's off-kilter beats
Inspired by sci-fi space aesthetics, unconventional production methods, and the unquantized grooves of J Dilla, Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) spearheaded a whole new generation of beat makers with his debut studio album, 1983. Alongside Dabrye’s Two/Three, these seductively offbeat explorations marked a blueprint for abstract and left-field hip hop sound design whose significance and strength can still be heard echoing through the 2020s.
When it comes to copping 1983’s stirring sonic signatures, remember that FlyLo relies heavily on wonky and off-grid drum programming with experimental sound design and synth-heavy harmonies. To drum up some bass-heavy beats of your own, dive into the drums presets on offer in the BURNT HUES Expansion.
MIlkshake's funky synths and percussion
Long before stepping out as a successful solo artist, Pharell Williams was one half of legendary American production duo The Neptunes. Alongside multi-instrumentalist and producer Chad Hugo, the pair spent the 90s cranking out hits for New York rappers like Noreaga and Ol’ Dirty Bastard before striking gold with longtime collaborator Kelis’ metaphorical “Milkshake” — a euphemistic banger that brought all the boys to the yard and cemented the duo as critically-acclaimed super producers.
Originally offered to Britney Spears for In The Zone, “Milkshake” deftly demonstrates The Neptunes’ signature synth-funk sound: a stirring combination of big, sawtooth synths with organic percussion paired with low beat dance grooves. To steal this sound, cue up MONARK’s Tom Saw Ya preset and scatter in some percussion from Tarbuka 1, which you’ll find in MIDDLE EAST.
Peaches' electro-punk drums
After a decade of developing the persona known as Peaches, Canadian musician and performance artist Merrill Nisker moved to Berlin and signed to the quirk-heavy Kitty-Yo record label — a pyrotechnic pairing that resulted in the endlessly-quotable electroclash album The Teaches of Peaches, whose highly-explicit and relentlessly sexual opener brims with blown out bass, grimey punk production, and punchy 909 drums. With shoutouts to Blondie and Pretenders frontwoman, Chrissie Hynde, the song oozes a nonchalantly sex-positive postfeminism that was way ahead of its time and, according to Thom Yorke, inspired Radiohead’s “15 Step.”
To access these delightfully debased tones, we prgrammed a similar pattern using Soniccouture’s excellent Electro-Acoustic library for KONTAKT, then ran that through the free VHS Audio Degradation Suite for REAKTOR, whose saturation, pitch modulation, and noise perfectly emulate an imperfect VHS tape for maximum grit and grime. You can also find suitably punchy electronic drums in BATTERY, or roll your own with DRUMLAB.
The Streets blend UK garage with hip hop
On the lead single from The Streets’ debut album Original Pirate Material, English rapper and multi-instrumentalist Mike Skinner blended 2-step and UK garage rhythms with hip hop, spoken word, and a down-to-earth attitude to create an iconic sound that quickly became his signature. Heavy on the American hip hop influence and brimming with humorous anecdotes about British working-class life, the album sits at #9 on NME’s “100 Best Albums of the Decade” and #36 on Pitchfork’s “Top 200 Albums of the 2000s.”
If you’re looking to ape The Streets’ signature blend of hip hop and garage, you’ll find all the drum samples you need in the BUMPIN FLAVA Expansion, while MASSIVE X’s Bump preset is perfect for that garage sub bass. The sounds are simple here, but emulating Skinner’s downbeat minimalism and melancholy charm may take some practice.
Defining dubstep from Digital Mystikz
Long before Sonny Moore donned his signature sidecut and became Skrillex, Mark Lawrence (Mala) and Dean Harris (Coki) were hard at work crafting sparse, syncopated sub-bass anthems with their archetypal production duo, Digital Mystikz. The pair founded the hugely influential nightclub and record label DMZ, which forever altered bass music and laid the foundations for what came to be globally known as “dubstep” while the future icon was still screaming his guts out for post-hardcore outfit From First To Last.
To mimic the tones on “Anti War Dub,” one of the most iconic dubstep tracks from the genre’s originators, try layering two copies of MASSIVE’s Bull Trava preset, and pitching the second up two octaves.
There’s plenty more 25th-anniversary celebrations to discover. Click here to download TWENTY FIVE for FREE, and be sure to check out the 25th Anniversary Collection – an ultra-exclusive range of KOMPLETE. MASCHINE, and TRAKTOR hardware in your choice of Ultraviolet or Vapor Gray.
Sound design: Konstantin Grismann