Thoughts on the MPC2000XL, its workflow and other drum machines
The MPC 2000xl was one of the most popular tools for hip-hop production in the mid-late nineties and continues to allure beat makers due to its fairly affordable price, big sound and the no-frills workflow it encourages.
Pete Rock and the MPC2000XL
As far as workflow goes, by modern standards it is quite limiting. Due to this I recommend tracking out to a DAW like Logic or Ableton.
I tend to record a basic beat and sample into the MPC, then track out each pad individually into Logic via a midi/audio interface (like a Focusrite Sapphire or Motu Ultralite).
If you use the midi sync option with a low buffer setting in your DAW, the timing will be near perfect. If you hit shift/midi sync. Select midi in to read midi clock. Then you just need to change your project settings in your DAW and make sure you set them so that they are sending midi Time info to the MPC. That way when you press play on your computer, the MPC sequence will launch at the same time. You can track out from the MPC via the individual outputs or simply via the stereo main out. I use the latter. If you track each hit out separately, you will have more control over eq and dynamics when it comes to fine-tuning the beat in your DAW.
Some general notes on operation:
1. OS 1.2 is a must because it lets you import Wavs (both 16-bit and 24-bit)
2. That said it is a glitchy OS. Save before any big macro-edit as if it hits the RAM ceiling, the unit will freeze. Things like timing correct, clip stretching all risk overloading the RAM so save often
3. Dynamics (varying volume) can play an important role in giving a beat more character. There is no subtle midi compression available, which is the unit’s biggest drawback really – there’s no way to softly limit the dynamic range of the pads. I recommend recording with full dynamics. You can macro edit the recording later if you want completely flat dynamics via the main screen/edit window – at the top select ‘Velocity.’ Then on the right select ‘set to.’ Alternatively you can use the ‘16 levels button, but that will only let you perform one sound at a time. It will allow you to control dynamics very precisely though. If you don’t need dynamics for sure, record with the Full Level button on.
4. A CF card upgrade is recommended for ease of use and data transfer/backup. Floppy disks suck and become increasingly incompatible the older the MPC you’re using. At this point MPC60 floppy disks are unreadable on most modern computers.
5. Step editing is a nightmare as it only shows the event at the exact time stamp you’re looking at, the later MPC 1000 presents the whole roll, but the MPC2000xl is less adept at editing beats. Best play it right the first time or record for longer sessions and select the best moments to form your beat.
6. ‘Timing Correct (MIDI quantization) is ok but permanent. As far as I know, you cannot unquantize something. So save your unquantized take before editing.
MF Doom rocking an MPC3000
It’s been a long time since this hardware came out. It’s easily overloaded and will likely crash if you’re running a lot of samples and running large-scale processes. That said it still has an impactful sound and presence that I have rarely heard in sample packs or through VST audio effects.
The pads while less responsive and balanced than newer models like the digital MPC studio, can take a beating and illustrate why the instrument is still popular on the live Hip-Hop and finger drumming circuits.
Onra playing two MPC1000s live
Ultimately beatmaking comes down to two things for me,
1. Connecting to the rhythm
2. Making the drums sound integral to the song
In a world where most producers are working on laptops with a billion instruments, dongles, adaptors and cables connected, an in-the-box solution to beatmaking is attractive and you get the sense that the rhythm playing back has been precisely recorded as there are no cables involved.
The MPC 2000xl’s quantize doesn’t seem to quite shine like that of the mpc60, but that was Roger Linn’s seminal 1980s creation and this is by all means an instrument AKAI perhaps deliberately made to be an affordable solution.
The lack of midi compression is annoying, as it exists on other mpc’s, including the smaller MPC1000 (running JJOS).
DJ Shadow’s old room complete with epic vinyl library & MPC60II
I find myself using the 2000XL more as a tone modeler these days. I play in a beat, and if I like the timing I’ll track it as is. But with such variant dynamics, I’ll often just quickly single hit each sample and resample those recordings into a VST sampler like Battery or Logic’s in-built one.
Pete Rock is a producer that made a lot of hits on the MPC 2000xl, with a good sense of rhythm and a dope sample, it’s a minimalist solution to basic beatmaking. I personally would rather EQ on a computer as the fx on the MPC are basic at best, but a die-hard bestmaker I’m sure could get some pleasing results in the box.
Nowadays these only sell used. One of the. Cheaper MPCs going, but defo needs that CF upgrade to be user friendly. Floppy disks get lost, get broken, have just like 1meg of memory and are very unpredictable in terms of compatibility.
Honestly, I would rather spend a little more for the slinkier MPC1000, but if the MPC2000XL is what’s in your budget, it’s a fine starter kit for beatmaking.
For more advanced producers, it’s a handy tone modeler and certainly can give drums more personality than simply loading up the same ultra clean/digitally crunched samples that everyone else uses. Running your audio through real circuitry is a great way to put a personal stamp on something soundwise. The pitchshifting and tempo options are good quality and quite artistic, just make sure you save all sounds, programs and sequences prior to using them as this system is so heroic, it will often overdo it trying to meet your requests.
If buying used, a basic model should not cost more than 300 dollars, and I certainly wouldn’t pay more than 500 dollars for a CF equipped model.
Roger Linn and his brainchild, the Akai MPC60 (markII in this picture)
The MPC3000 is better and more sought after, but is almost always 1000+ dollars. I personally find the MPC1000 with JJOS and an upgraded hard drive has the best workflow but the sound is a little crunchy and perhaps a little hard.
On this note, JJOS is a wonderful operating system that was created by a Japanese software developer. The customer service and functionality are both excellent.
The Mpc 60 and Emu SP1200 are both great machines and sound rich and classic but expensive, have memory limitations and are 12-bit, so they sound kinda retro too.
The original Roland SP404 is another option and has some great retro fx that have been much lauded.
More popular nowadays are the NI Maschine and the MPC Studio, but these do not involve external audio, instead holding their samples within the computer.
If you’re chasing credible hip-hop drum sounds, the MPC2000xl will do it. If you sample drums from vinyl records you’ll get the dirt and artifacts that often can be heard in older Hip-Hop records.
At the end of the day, I feel it’s about spending time with your beats and making a personal drum sound. Sample from records no one else does or process stock beats through amps, fx, rack units and stuff to make them more unique tonally.
The MPC2000xl will add a subtle amount of presence and crunch that will make even stock kits sound a little more integral to the track. That won’t matter to producers who don’t go deep on drums, but if you want to, an MPC can be a great way to enhance your drum sounds in an analog fashion.
Views from the pros
In the nineties a lot of record producers were using the MPCs to sculpt the sample and the beat and really just using that. It was a cheap, effective way to produce beats and was kind of charming in that you could do everything in a no-frills manner on one machine. Producers like DJ Premier, Dr Dre et al saw the benefits of using the MPC in the studio, often syncing it with Logic or other DAW.
DJ Premier used the MPC60 for decades and still rocks hits on the MPC60II. Pete Rock began using the MPC2000 and 2000XL because they had more memory than the MPC2000XL. Here’s an interesting interview about these legendary producers in these changing times.
The limitations of MPCs are obvious, but to producers, so are the strengths.
DJ Premier in his epic studio. Note the various samplers and outboard gear and what looks like a modified MPC.
To end with, I thought I’d link a few artists and albums that make use of MPCs.
MF Doom has used various of machines cluding the 3000, 1000 and SP404 on various recordings and has waxed lyrical about JJOS.
The late Nujabes also apparently used the MPC2000XL alongside various other samplers. It’s possible he just used the 2000XL for his drum sounds as it’s easier to finely chop on other samplers.
Onra created the whole of his ‘Chinoiseries’ using the MPC1000.
DJ Shadow made ‘Endtroducing’ using the MpC 60II.
J Dilla is infamous for his use of the 3000 and the 1000. He DID NOT use quantize. For more information, see this video, with legendary drummer Questlove saying that Dilla’s use of no quantize was incredibly liberating to him.
Anyway, I hope this has been fun or at least informative. I would like to make more content like this if anyone wants to support me.