Looking For The Perfect Beat

Album: Planet Rock: The Album (1982)
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Songfacts®:

  • For the follow-up to Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force's groundbreaking electro hip-hop tune "Planet Rock," producers Arthur Baker and John Robie were literally looking for the perfect beat.

    "We had a problem coming up with one beat that could compete with the beat we had done from 'Planet Rock' which everyone was sort of doing," Baker told Red Bull Music Academy in a 2014 beat:repeat episode. "I just wanted to do something different. That's where 'Looking for the Perfect Beat' came from." Like its predecessor, the tune is regarded as an influential track in the early hip-hop canon for its pioneering use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine and other electro instrumentation.
  • Robie explained how the galactic-funk track came together in an unconventional fashion. "Tradition usually dictated that you'd have like a sequencer part, a chord part, a bass part," he said. "This was just a free-for-all. Lots of sixteenth notes doing whatever they wanted to do it. And, you worked it out later."

    The producers also built the arrangement while they were mixing it live. "We actually constructed new patterns by pulling things in and out of the mix selectively," Robie explained. "Editing was a very important part of those mixers 'cause nothing was linear. That created an element of surprise."
  • Like "Planet Rock," this track features the Roland TR-808 drum machine, which the producers were eager to explore further. Said Robie: "It wasn't like other conventional drum machines where you'd establish a beats per minute and then you'd have to listen to a click track then play a drum along with the click. You can basically play and change your mind and add. It was very, very liberating. It wasn't like work, it was like play."

    He continued: "After the 808 beats are put onto tape, we can manipulate those beats even further by pulling things in and out of the mix or adding effects to the individual drums. The mixing board becomes an instrument in itself. You're playing it like a piano or a guitar."

    The TR-808 became a fixture in hip-hop and dance tracks for its booming bass drum rhythms. Kanye West paid tribute to the TR-808 in the title of his 2008 album, 808s and Heartbreak, which prominently featured the classic drum machine.
  • Afrika Bambaataa, a Bronx-born DJ and leader of the electro-funk ensemble, explained the meaning behind the song in a 2012 interview: "'Looking for the Perfect Beat' is that everybody got something in their heart that they're looking for which is that perfect beat, whether you're dealing with mathematics, science, or anything that you look for in life with that perfect beat. And at the other side of the record, when you saying each other country was looking for the perfect beat, and they didn't listen, like they still not listening today, and at the end you hear that big 'BOOM' go."
  • In another Red Bull Music Academy interview from 2018, Baker explained how the song was a jab at Sugar Hill Records founder Sylvia Robinson. She was also the renowned record producer behind Soulsonic Force's rival rap group Sugarhill Gang, who recorded the seminal hip-hop classic "Rapper's Delight." He said: "I came up with the concept of looking for the perfect beat and 'beat this.' It was almost a taunt at Sylvia, because there was definitely competition between us and Sugar Hill. It was like a challenge. It was really adventurous. I didn't wanna do a typical rap record."
  • This has been sampled several times, including on Bomb the Bass' hip-hop/house track "Beat Dis" (1987), Moby's "Bodyrock" (1999), LL Cool J's "Control Myself" (2006), and DJ Khaled's "Holla At Me" (2006).
  • This was used on the TV shows The Deuce ("The Camera Loves You" - 2019) and The Last Man On Earth ("Falling Slowly" - 2016). It was also used in the movies Battle Of The Year (2013), The Proud Family Movie (2005), and The Honeymooners (2005).

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