Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Manuel

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Music | United States History


Beat Making, Ethnomusicology, Hip Hop, Hip-Hop, Production, Technology


In 1979, the first commercial recordings of hip-hop music were released. The music's transition from the parks and clubs of the Bronx to recorded media resulted in hip-hop music being crafted and mediated in a recording studio before reaching the ears of listeners. In this dissertation I present a comprehensive investigation into the history of the instrumental component of hip-hop music heard on recordings, commonly referred to as beats. My historical narrative is formed by: the practices involved in the creation of hip-hop beats; the technologies that facilitated and defined those practices; and the debates around these two aspects that established the aesthetics of the music. The span of years covered in the dissertation are bookended by the establishment of precision breakbeat compositions on turntables in 1975 and the technological, economic, and legal developments in hip-hop music and culture that became a turning point for the practice of beat making and the sound of hip-hop music beginning in 1991. Beat makers, producers, and engineers--the recordists predominantly responsible for the sound of a hip-hop recording--are cultural producers involved in the social practice of cultural production. As such, the history in this study is informed by ethnographic research in the form of interviews and participant observation. Musical analyses are also utilized to illuminate the historical development of hip-hop music, particularly to display the ways that beat makers created their sound arrangements through the functions of certain technologies. This dissertation explores the intermingling of technology and human practice and serves as a foundation for further inquiry into the effect of technology on music making practices.