Steel Tipped Dove’s Do’s And Don’ts to Making an Instrumental Hip-Hop Album


Brooklyn-based hip-hop producer Steel Tipped Dove dropped his new album this week. Titled Nothing Touches the Ground Here, the 15-track project showcases the beatsmith’s talent for crafting instrumental rap soundscapes that veer in a contemplative and celestial direction. In honor of the album’s release, we got Steel Tipped Dove to run through a list of do’s and don’ts to consider when creating an instrumental hip-hop listening experience.

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Do use sampled dialogue to perk up songs!
“I’m a huge fan of it. I mean, I definitely overdo it sometimes — I will find myself going back in on a track and letting it breathe more and removing some dialogue — but when there’s not a rapper being considered or I know I’m making the track specifically for an instrumental album, I will always throw in some kind of strange dialogue from a movie, show, podcast, or voicemail.”

Don’t make tracks with certain rappers’ voices in mind!
“It took me a long time to get to a place where I make instrumentals with nobody in mind but myself. This is a blessing and a curse. But I’m also not trying to have every instrumental I make end up being a beat for a rapper — I would like some of them to support themselves and live on their own. I’m like a proud parent, apparently.”

Do remember that it’s trickier to keep a listener’s attention without any rap vocals!
“There are plenty of people who hit me up on Twitter and Band Camp who are big fans of just instrumentals, which is great — but those people are definitely in the minority. Using non-musical samples helps a lot, like movie dialogue. Also, either keeping the instrumentals short or changing the whole tone of them about halfway through are techniques that help.”

Don’t be afraid to get extra experimental!
“I try to get weird as hell. In fact, I really wish I had gotten even weirder. I will on my next one. Actually, I took ‘shrooms in a cabin in the woods and made a very experimental instrumental album a couple of months ago. But yeah, when making stuff that you know for certain isn’t going to include a rapper or singer, it’s fun to be way more experimental.”

Do learn from instrumental hip-hop albums that have come before!
“There are a bunch of obvious ones, like J Dilla’s Donuts, Blockhead’s Music by Cavelight, and DJ Shadow and Prefuse 73. Albums like those work because you can do many things while listening to them. You can concentrate on the music or you can concentrate on something completely different and forget you’re even listening to the music, which I think is an awesome aspect. But then you can zone back in on the music and pick up on little sounds and changes that you didn’t even notice on the first few listens. I think if a whole album is going to be instrumental, it has to have the ability to be played in many different settings.”

Don’t become too possessive over completed songs!
“Don’t keep opening the sessions of songs you told yourself you were done with. Let them live; put it out there.”

Do embrace a range of influences!
“My biggest inspirations for this instrumental album were Wise Blood’s id and The Field’s Cupid’s Head. I don’t think that really even shows in the tracks I made, but I listened to those albums over and over and over. Also, and this is weird, I would listen to podcasts at full volume through the same speakers while working on a beat.”

Do embrace the wee hours!
“Definitely make songs really late at night when no one else is up.”