Beats and Pieces

Shlomo Sonnenfeld, founder of Lofiles, was a music producer in NYC in the 80’s. Now we’re revisiting the “Beats and Pieces” – what it was like to be in the heart of the hip-hop scene when hip-hop was becoming a thing.

The Breakbeat

It’s that moment when the singing halts, all the instruments fade out and the drums take over. That moment is called the “breakbeat”, and though it was once a concept, it evolved over time into a genre of its own and became ever more sophisticated. Breakbeats were the foundation of all of Shlomo Sonnenfeld’s productions back in the 80’s, and he wasn’t alone. DJs would play the drum segment of the song on a loop, build texture on top of it, let the MC run with it and rap to the beat.

Lou Florez was one of the first to realize what breakbeats could become. He began producing “Ultimate Breaks and Beats”, a series of 25 compilation albums produced over five years incorporating tracks from the mid-60’s until the mid-80’s. Each and every song had drum breaks – breakbeats – and artists everywhere began using the albums in their work.

Shlomo and his team knew that for that very reason, it was important they make the breakbeats their own. Not wanting the segment to be familiar and recognizable to others, they would break the break. Using a sampler, they would take one or two bars – like the kick or the snare – and single it out from the rest. They would replace pieces, mix and match, and work it into an entirely new piece. Nowadays this would take minimal time and effort and the sound quality would remain intact, but back then there was no computer software that could do it for you. It all had to be done manually.

So, while Shlomo and the DJ he was working with would be piecing together the beat, the rapper in question would write as he listened to the track take shape. Though at the beginning they mostly worked from Shlomo’s home studio, the production team eventually moved to Electric Lady Studios (AKA Jimi Hendrix’s recording studio). They had Studio C booked solid for almost 3 years.

Breakbeats were the lifeblood of hip-hop and R&B productions – and “Ultimate Breaks and Beats” remains a masterpiece. With strange cover art, but a masterpiece.