Tear Down This Track - Little Simz | Dead Body

Dead Body was the lead single of Little Simz debut album, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons released in 2015. Dead Body falls into the Grime genre, which is a derivative sub-genre of hip-hop. As mentioned in my review a few weeks ago, the sub-bass is very prominent and it is the most radio commercial song on the record, which says a lot for this album considering the edgy synth voices and experimentation in sound design. In this weeks teardown, i'll look at all the different elements of this track and how they relate with one another. The use of creative sound design in this song tells me, that these songs were recorded as part of a broader media collaboration with film and choreography of dance. 

Song Structure

The song follows a simple structure of AbABbAbB and is at a slow tempo of only 119bpm in 4/4 time. In my opinion, the structure of this song was not as relevant as the sound design and creative automation that was used in the sonic qualities of the track. Having extra long verses allowed for the sonic components to flourish through the quieter parts of the song. The length of the song seems very long for such a successful radio heavy track at a very long 4min31sec. The intention to make this track a listening experience as part of an album is evident in the intro and outro parts. They come in with parts of the previous track and then bleed back into the next track. It's a great way to connect songs in a more creative way than just fading out the end. 

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Song Elements

Wavetable Synths

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The lead synth is similar to the main lead voice on 'Sandstorm' by Darude. It uses a 2 oscillator voice with a low pass filter and fast release, slow attack envelope and slow LFO set in between 1-10 which gives a slightly more rhythmic effect to the lead line. The difference between the 'Sandstorm' lead line and Dead Body, is the lack of higher sine wave frequencies through the oscillator voice. The 'Dead Body' voice seems to use a combination of saw tooth and much lower frequency sine wave to get the effect they ended up with. This sound runs through the entirety of the track, and creates the basis for all the other elements. 

Although there are many wavetable synths that could recreate this sound, I feel as though Massive has a better capability in recreating those 90s style dirty oscillator sounds and it may have been what they used to replicate that particular synth voice. Junkie XL uses massive in his compositions and is famous for the hit remix of the Elvis Presley song, 'A Little Less Conversation'. That track contains similar warmth and tone that the Massive Oscillators produce naturally. Co-producer for this track 'Prezident Jeff' has been known to use emulated Moog  and Decapitator plugins as part of his go-to sound. This is why I think he would use Massive to recreate those old-school sounds.

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The modulation of the lead synth sound seems to be controlled by an automated filter, with the cut-off opening and closing throughout the length of the track creating dynamics and bass behind the beat. The LFO stays at a constant rate throughout the track, but becomes more prominent as the filter opens up. The other synth line is more ad-lib and not a main hook component of the song, but the use of layering rhythm, melody and tone adds a lot of definition to the lead line. In every instance the ad-lib synth lines happen on the third beat in the bar, this allows the layers to resolve on the fourth and come back into the main synth line.  

 

 Vocals

   Rode K2 Valve Mic

   Rode K2 Valve Mic

The vocals in the track are very clear and pronounced in the high end of the frequency spectrum, and could be because a large diaphragm condenser microphone was used as a main vocal. The screenshot below appears to show Little Simz in the live room with a Rode K2 Variable Pattern Dual 1" Condenser Valve Microphone. Valve microphones typically give more colour to a sound and add more harmonics to things like vocals, so the effect of good tone should come directly from the source and be amplified by the mic. There are also many microphones that can create these great tones, but the appearance in the photo and sound of the vocals in the track sound to me like a valve mic. The processing on the vocals seems simple, with reverb, slapback delay and parallel compression being used to bring the vocals on top and creative panning on backing vocals used to add tail and extra effect to the delay. There is a reasonable amount of sybilance on the S and T sounds, used primarily as a way to let the story be told in the lyrics. There doesn't seem to be any de-essing throughout the track, but the producer may have used a tiny amount of high-end saturation to bring out those tones.  

The backing vocals are used in a lot of creative ways. Firstly there is a male voice that seems to be part of the beat, singing an ohh sound at the end of each bar. The second most notable backing vocal is a telephonic sounding ad-lib track that runs parallel to the main vocal in the chorus's and is sometimes used in a call and response way.

Lyrics

The lyrics are meant to be in your face and emotional, and the intention is made when she raps over a syncopated kick drum beat adding to the ominous, but fast paced vibe of the music. In parts it appears she speaks the consenants on the beat, and stylistically uses the S sounds to accent the Hi-Hat. 

Intro
We all have our demons
Our thoughts, our imperfections and our insecurities
None of which make us inhumane
This is our tale
The proton, the neutron and the electron
The positive, the negative and the ground
The trial, the person, and the story of
Do you wanna see a dead body?
Prolly not

 

Verse 1
Real dark in the cemetery
Where the souls lie, oh my
What've I become, man I’m so high
Quit killing my buzz
Love drunk in the maze like, what have you done?
Where the hell are you taking me?
What are we running from?
Demons in the back of my closet, don’t talk to them
You wouldn’t want to be me, cos I’ve walked with them
And it wasn’t a nice walk; traumatised
Left me in a bad headspace
Lookin' to Heaven’s door I been saved, or have I?
Asked for forgiveness, can I or will I?
Negative at heart, am I?
Or shall I explain what the world done to me?
You wouldn’t understand what I been through Fully
And these dark thoughts never been new to me
And nobody lovin' me; Everybody through with me
Everybody lookin' at me diff'rent
And nobody’ll listen
I can see you starin' at me what do you envision?
No faith in me, should I resort to religion?
But even I could never change the life I’m livin'
I’m a druggie; I’m a fiend
Neva' been clean
Soul’s always been tainted
Homeless; What'chu know about livin' on the street?
Cold nights; You know right? Nothin' to eat
Figured that you wouldn't give me money anyways, even though I hear the coins rattlin' in your jeans
I ain’t even beggin' no more
Fuck it! Maybe I’ll just beg a little more
But don’t judge me
God above me, why do you have me livin' like a junkie?
Fuck!
Do you wanna see a dead body?
Prolly not
Dark clouds nigga a fuck a rainbow
Nobody talk until I say so
I just might sell my soul if it’s worth anything
But, we’ll see how the day goes


Chorus
I just might sell my soul
Cause I dont feel like I am a part of the world no more
Will anybody miss me when I’m gone?
Will anybody miss me?
Have you ever seen a dead body?
Prolly not
I'mma sell my soul
Cause I dont feel like I am a part of the world no more
Will anybody miss me when I’m gone?
Do you wanna see a dead body?
Have you ever seen a dead body?
Prolly not


Verse 2
Ooo mind’s on overload
Hit straight to the face, might overdose
This ain’t the life I chose
What would you know
This ain’t the beginning I ain’t even come close
Bare robbing activity indulge
Is it very human I don’t think I have a pulse
Blacked out in the night nigga
Devil on both shoulders, ain't no motherfuckin' angel to my right nigga
Have you ever seen, a grown man cry? Never me
Shit, I need that nicotine
Heals me like medicine
Gotta be aware all times
Better be dogs out 'ere
Lookin' for a diff'rent pedigree
Know you see it
Never get too comfy
Me nuh' trust nobody
Feds always wanna roll on me
I ain’t done nuttin' I’m so sorry
You can take time, no hurry
Even though that I ain’t slept for days
My body’s achey but my mind’s awake
Shit, the flow is crazy, I should rhyme for change
Oh dear lady, gimme the time of day
See you a mile away
I can never own up to my mistakes
Perhaps it’ll take me to a higher state
No escape, I’m tryin' to find a way
I’m the one that you was tryna save
Please give up, you don’t have time to waste
This is real, I’ve been waitin' my whole life to feel
Do you wanna see a dead body? No chill


Chorus
I just might sell my soul
Cause I dont feel like I am a part of the world no more
Will anybody miss me when I’m gone?
Will anybody miss me?
Have you ever seen a dead body?
Prolly not
I'mma sell my soul
Cause I dont feel like I am a part of the world no more
Will anybody miss me when I’m gone?
Do you wanna see a dead body?
Have you ever seen a dead body?
Prolly not

Beats & Sub-Bass

The beat consists of an TR-808 kick and Hi-hat played in a 8 bar syncopated rhythm, with the kick mainly staying on the first beat on the bar, but occasionally beginning on the 2nd and 3rd. The hi-hat rhythm shuffles in between 8th note and 16th note patterns played continuously over the kick. The snare is dry and gated and sits behind most of the elements, only used to create the pattern of the drums. Below is a picture of the TR-808 drum composer, which is arguably the most used drum sequencer in the history of hip-hop. It is a staple of the sub-genre of Grime and has a distinctive sound that you can hear in 'Dead Bodies'.

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The sub-bass follows the beat closely, and was possibly a copy of the kick pattern that was used on a different instrument and had the harmonics changed by the Operator plugin in Ableton.

Sound Design

The sound design is used to ominous effect in the intro with an underlying synth progression being dropped behind a spoken word introduction by Little Simz. This is a really great pre-curser for the story and introduction into the vibe of the song. It's made even more ominous when lightning sounds are used to fade in between the spoken word and the beginning of the main synth line. 

The Way it Feels 

This track was heavily influenced by the emotions Little Simz was processing while making the album. Her creativity is legitimised with her music and choice of producers, however, her biggest asset was documenting the feelings she felt during the production, and it shows in the recording. In an interview with Jack White in 'It Might Get Loud', he was famous for saying "If you don’t have a struggle inside or around you, you have to make one up", when he was referring to the creative spirit inside him. The same can be said for the process of Little Simz, she may have needed this pressure on herself to create the lyrics and the sound, and to bring it together in such a way that the intended audience felt her cry.

 

 

 

References

(2018). Deephouseamsterdam.com. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from http://www.deephouseamsterdam.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/tr-808-free-sample-pack-deep-house-amsterdam.jpg

Ableton Operator Sub Bass Tutorial - Warmth & Presence. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeDrIG_cKxg

Album Review - A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons by Little Simz. (2018). Sonic Bakery. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.sonicbakery.com/audio-dev-diary/2018/2/27/album-review-a-curious-tale-of-trials-persons-by-little-simz

Darude - Sandstorm. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6120QOlsfU

Dirty grime production tips. (2018). MusicRadar. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.musicradar.com/tuition/tech/dirty-grime-production-tips-150369

Junkie XL, Elvis Presley - A Little Less Conversation (Elvis vs JXL). (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx1_6F-nCaw

Lights, T., Mary, G., Body, D., Empty, F., & Outro, T. (2018). Little Simz - A Curious Tale Of Trials + PersonsDiscogs. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.discogs.com/Little-Simz-A-Curious-Tale-Of-Trials-Persons/release/7687957

Little Simz - Dead Body. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44Zvdaa5eWc

Little Simz – Dead Body. (2018). Genius. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://genius.com/Little-simz-dead-body-lyrics

MASSIVE. (2018). Native-instruments.com. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/synths/massive/

Rode K2 Variable Pattern Dual 1" Condenser Valve Microphone | Condenser Microphones - Store DJ. (2018). Storedj.com.au. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.storedj.com.au/rode-k2-variable-pattern-dual-1-condenser-valve-microphone

Roy Wood$ ft MadeInTyo - Instinct - Behind The Beat with Prezident Jeff. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQeXY1qASBI

Guggenheim, D., Page, J., Edge, T., & White, J. (2018). It Might Get Loud (2008)IMDb. Retrieved 19 April 2018, from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1229360/

Reel Life Wisdom - It Might Get Loud | Reel Life Wisdom. (2018). Reellifewisdom.com. Retrieved 19 April 2018, from http://www.reellifewisdom.com/taxonomy/term/it_might_get_loud