Instrumental Hip Hop

Instrumental Hip Hop: Hip Hop for people that don’t like rap.


Instrumental hip hop is hip hop music without vocals or contains minimal vocals.  Although producers have made and released hip hop beats without MCs since hip hop’s inception, those records rarely became well-known.  In its early days this was the primary sound during hip hop gatherings but took a backseat when rapping became popular.  Over the years, producers have continued to release instrumental hip hop music with some gaining cult followings.


The beat can be anything that fits into the description of Hip Hop.  Hip hop music typically contains rapping which serves as the primary focus of the song, providing most of the complexity and variation over a fairly repetitive beat.  Instrumental Hip Hop does not contain rapping which gives the producer the flexibility to create more complex, richly detailed and varied instrumentals.  Songs of this genre may wander off in different musical directions and explore various subgenres, because the instruments do not have to supply a steady beat for an MC.   



During the late 60 and early 70s disco was the most popular music in the African American community amongst adults however, some of the youth were looking for something different.  Disco was depicted with everyone having on suits and best dresses.  However, this didn’t reflect the reality of New York and specifically did not reflect South Bronx.  

The South Bronx had about 12,300 fires during the early 70s and many buildings were decimated.  It looked like a warzone with pockets of devastation, abandoned buildings, and urban decay.  The gang culture was heavy as well as conflicts with the police.  


On August 11, 1973 Kool Herc threw the first Hip Hop party which was advertised as a “Back To School Jam” in the westside of South Bronx. 

The party was located at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Rec Room using the kitchen and two windows for the recreational room.  The first one held about 40 to 50 people and the room was described as an echo chamber. 

Kool Herc didn’t want to play disco music which was dominating the radio at the time.  Instead he elected to play older soul music and funk music.  He would play the break of a song which usually was the part where most of the instrumentals were dropped and only the drums were heard.  Also, he used two turntables in order to extend the breaks on the records.  As soon as the break ended for one record, he would play a different record or the same record at the starting point to keep the drums going.  The dancers during the breaks became known as break dancers.  He referred to this technique as “The Merry-Go-Round.”  Many of the records were ones which were not played on the radio.  Some of the early records spun include

  • Pigmeat Markham – Here Comes the Judge (1968)
  • The Winstons – Amen, Brother (BPM 125, 1969)
  • Babe Ruth – The Mexican (1970)
  • Dennis Coffee – Scorpio (1971)
  • Ohio Players – Funky Worm (BPM 87, 1972)
  • Skull Snaps – It’s a New Day (BPM 110, 1973)
  • Little Feat – Fool Yourself (BPM 153, 1973)
  • The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Hihache (BPM 105, 1973)
  • Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock (BPM 124, 1973)
  • Incredible Bongo Band – Apache (BPM 119, 1973)
  • The Soul Searchers – Ashley’s Roachclip (BPM 110, 1974)
  • The Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Darkest Light (BPM 101, 1974)

Primarily breakbeats ranged from 100 to 120 but could go all the way from 80 to 160.  Some of the early attendees included Melle Mel, DJ Red Alert, and Kurtis Blow. 

Grandmaster Flash

On the southside of the South Bronx, Grandmaster Flash was working on perfecting the merry go round technique.  Invented the art of scratching and turntablism by putting his hand on the record to stop it.  Grandmaster Flash was fascinated with electronics and things that spin.  He went to backyards looking for speakers, receivers, amplifiers, turntables and tinkered with it.  He set out on a research and development project to figure out how to mix records seamlessly and master his technique.  Grandmaster Flash describes the two methods he witnessed as such    

Mixing Technique

  1. Mixes on the air and radio would mix in and out of a record really slow and blend it. This took a lot of time to switch records.
  2. Kool Herc’s style was the opposite. Flash referred to it as ‘disarray in unison’.  He would extend a drum solo but when putting on the other record the two records would clash because there was no way to put the needle on the turntable in the right place. 

Eventually, Flash started placing his finger on the record to stop it.  It was a taboo thing but he felt this was the only way to do it.  He used a crayon to mark where the break lived and made another to mark where the break started on the record. 

This invention of blending records changed how hip hop was played going forward.  Also, it changed the idea of turntables being not just technology to play music, but turned the technology into an instrument to be played.  By the mid 80s Flash faded from the main hip hop scene but is legendary for his intelligence and scientific approach.  His techniques inspired other DJs such as DJ Jazzy Jay, Grandmixer Theodore, Charlie Chase, Grandmixer DXT, Jam Master Jay, and DJ Premier.  His blending techniques led to the advanced techniques of cutting, crabbing, clamming, scratching, zukka zukka. 

Grand Wizzard Theodore is regarded as the inventor of scratching.  He says the technique was created in his childhood home when he stopped a record with his hand, after his mother demanded he lower the volume.

Grandmaster Flash pioneered mixing techniques, such as cueing, previewing tracks before they are played, and ‘phasing’ the manipulation of turntable speeds to match the tempos of records.   

Afrika Bambaataa

At the Eastside of the Bronx, Afrika Bambaataa started hosting hip hop parties in 1977.  Bambaataa realized he had many of the same records as Kool Herc and could do the same thing.  Many people were scared to come to the Bronx River Housing since there were plenty of gangs. Afrika himself was affiliated with the Black Spades.  Disco Wiz, a Puerto Rican DJ, said he had a rough time since blacks and Puerto Ricans were killing each other.

Afrika led the charge of wanting to bring peace to the South Bronx and for gang leaders to become warriors for their crew.  He organized sit downs with the different gang leaders to work out different issues.  Through this he created the Universal Zulu Nation which was about peace, unity, love, and having fun.  This pushed the youth to get into hip hop and away from gang culture.  At this time is when the cultural movement was then called hip hop.  He would have everybody come to Bronx River for one big long set and everyone would get on.  Another one of his main messages was that whatever color you are, know who your ancestors.  Some would say that Bambaataa rescued the consciousness of the youth.  Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Flash are considered holy trinity.

80s Instrumental Hip Hop

Although producers have made and released hip hop beats without MCs since hip hop’s inception, those records rarely became well-known. Jazz keyboardist/composer Herbie Hancock and bassist/producer Bill Laswell’s electro-inspired collaborations are notable exceptions. 1983’s Future Shock album and hit single “Rockit” featured turntablist Grand Mixer D.ST, the first use of turntables in jazz fusion, and gave the turntablism and record “scratching” widespread exposure.

90s Instrumental Hip Hop

The release of DJ Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing….. in 1996 saw the beginnings of a movement in instrumental hip hop. Relying mainly on a combination of sampled funk, hip hop and film score, DJ Shadow’s innovative sample arrangements influenced many producers and musicians.

2000s Instrumental Hip Hop


Jun Seba, better known by his stage name Nujabes, was a Japanese record producer, DJ, composer and arranger who produced atmospheric instrumental mixes sampling from hip hop and jazz and released three solo studio albums: Metaphorical Music (2003), Modal Soul (2005) and Spiritual State (released posthumously in 2011).  Seba was founder of the independent label Hydeout Productions and released two collection compilations: Hydeout Productions 1st Collection (2003) and 2nd Collection (2007).  Additionally, Seba produced the soundtrack for Shinichirō Watanabe’s anime series Samurai Champloo in 2004.  On February 26, 2010, Jun Seba was killed in a traffic collision.

Seba was born on February 7, 1974, in the Nishi-Azabu district of Minato in central Tokyo, Japan.  Seba was the owner of two Shibuya record stores, T Records and Guinness Records, and in 1998 founded the independent record label Hydeout Productions.

Seba adopted the stage name Nujabes (his name spelled backwards) and became notable for his approach to producing hip hop beats, often blending jazz influences into his songs creating a mellow, nostalgic and atmospheric sound.  Seba was also a member of the production duo Urbanforest, an experimental collaboration with Nao T.  Seba was one of the most prolific contributors to the soundtrack of the critically acclaimed anime series Samurai Champloo.

On February 26, 2010, Seba was involved in a traffic collision upon exiting the Shuto Expressway at 22:14. He was pronounced dead at a hospital in Shibuya Ward after efforts to revive him failed.  His grave is located within the Japanese section of Tama Cemetery.

Seba’s death has elicited many tributes from other artists around the world. On Bandcamp, the New York-based Digi Crates records have released a series of tribute albums performed by various artists in a style reminiscent of Seba’s.  In addition, Seba’s label Hydeout Productions released a tribute album titled Modal Soul Classics II featuring a number of former collaborators and with lyrics and song titles referencing select tracks from both Modal Soul and Metaphorical Music, such as the track “Music is Ours”, which directly references “Music is Mine”, the 5th track of Modal Soul.

Beastie Boys

The Mix-Up is the seventh studio album by the Beastie Boys, released in 2007. The album consists entirely of instrumental performances and won a Grammy Award in 2008 for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

2010s Instrumental Hip Hop

In the 2000s and 2010s, artists such as RJD2, J Dilla, Pete Rock, Large Professor, MF Doom, Danny!, Nujabes, Madlib, Wax Tailor, Denver Kajanga, DJ Krush, Hermitude, and Blockhead have garnered critical attention with instrumental hip hop albums. Due to the current state of copyright law, most instrumental hip-hop releases are released on small, independent labels. Producers often have difficulty obtaining clearance for the many samples found throughout their work, and labels such as Stones Throw are fraught with legal problems.

Modern Chillhop

Chillhop didn’t become a popular subgenre term until the late 2000s to describe the smooth instrumental hip hop often played as background music or studying music.  Nujabes and J. Dilla are two of the more popular Boom Bap producers that use this style but earlier producers such as Pete Rock and Q-Tip made Boom Bap music that fit with this subgenre prior to the term being coined.  It draws from jazz, soul, funk, and R&B in order to create a more smooth and warm sounding version of hip hop. 

Similar Subgenres

Chillhop – Laid back Hip Hop that can be produced with electronic techniques or in Boom Bap style that was initially derived from the smooth Hip Hop produced by J. Dilla, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and others.  

Some of the key Instrumental Hip Hop Artists

  • 9th Wonder
  • Beastie Boys
  • DJ Shadow
  • Dilla
  • Nujabes
  • Pete Rock

Classic/Popular Chillhop Albums

  • DJ Shadow – Endtroducing (1996)
  • Dilla – Ruff Draft (2003)
  • Nujabes – Metaphorical Music (2003)
  • Nujabes – Modal Soul (2005)
  • Dilla – Donuts (2006)
  • Dilla – The Shining (2006)
  • Beastie Boys – The Mix-Up (2007)
  • Dilla – Jay Stay Paid (2009)
  • Nujabes – Spiritual State (2011)
  • Dilla – The Diary (2016)



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  17. ^“PETEROCK.COM on Twitter: “Im a 90’s cat. To me its important that we hold on to this music with our lives and teach what needs to be taught. Im gonna start doing lectures on how i was able to maintain myself and my career dealing with the ups n downs of the music business. And origin life’s story on what my come up was like in life and in music 🎶 its a great story full of inspiration which is what i feel young producers need today. If my story can help inspire producers to be great then to thats what you call king shit 👑 The Return Of The SP1200 Drops April 12th with a few old beats unused with a tad of familiar ones which an instrumental was never made or heard like the song “Death Becomes You” on the Menace 2 Society soundtrack. S/O to my guy former marvel artist @sanfordgreene who gave the album cover the marvel feel i wanted. And to my guy @rocktheknobs & @jrocc210 for participating making thangs complete 😁 💯🙌🏾💥🌪🔥🎶🎉♥️ P.S. i will post the album cover soon and yall can tell me what ya think 🤷🏾‍♂️ 🏾i cant wait for real heads to hear this 👂🏾Twitter. March 14, 2019. Retrieved March 14, 2019. zero width joiner character in |title= at position 1016 (help)
  18. ^
  19. ^“PETEROCK.COM on Twitter: “And it starts 😃👍🏾💯 This will be my 1st release of 2019. The Return Of The SP1200 instrumental lp with beats from like 1990-97-98 i never used. The rejects or just beats that i never did nothing with. Gonna be variations of the way i do instrumental albums 😉 COMING SOON!!! All scratches and excerpts by the beat junkie himself @jrocc210 who has done a wonderful job 💪🏾🎶🎶🎶 people love good music.we love hip hop still,dont ever get it fucked up. DSR2 PRSB PETESTRUMENTALS 3 & NEW SKYZOO album Produced by Pete Rock COMING SOON! And alot more stay tuned. 😎💯❤🔥💪🏾🚀🙌🏾🎆🎊🍾 HAPPY NEW YEAR 🥳 #peterock&thesoulbrothersTwitter. January 2, 2019. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
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