That West Coast Sound - Music Theory from Ice Cube "Arrest the President" (Everythangs Corrupt) 

That classic West Coast sound is all about musical attitude. But how do you give your music attitude? Easy, you can do it, just put your back into it! Well that, and use the hack in this video. But first… tea!

Hello revolutionaries, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. This website helps you make great music that stands out, so you can get discovered! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Saturday, when we publish our new video. Alright, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory.

Ice Cube’s new single “Arrest the President” (from upcoming album "Everythangs Corrupt") that just dropped yesterday, is the epitome of that classic West Coast sound, which oozes attitude. It’s impossible not to move to this song, yet a simple melody carries the whole thang! What gives this melody so much attitude? Two elements. First, it uses the natural minor scale, which embeds toughness in the melody’s DNA. And second, it’s played staccato, which means the notes are short and sharp. These staccato hits give the music a hard edge, while all the space in between the notes gives the music a chill vibe. And it’s this juxtaposed tough-but-relaxed feel that creates the West Coast sound. This staccato technique is a G-funk favourite, and can be heard in many West Coast classics, like Dr Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” and 2Pac’s “California Love”. These songs, along with “Arrest the President”, can all be boiled down to their essence, which is a simple staccato piano part. And it’s interesting to compare these songs to an East Coast classic like Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.”, which also has a piano melody, but it’s legato, which means the notes are connected to each other and played without breaks in between them. I wonder if the more spacious West Coast sound is reflective of Los Angeles having more space, and perhaps the more dense East Coast sound is reflective of New York City being more built-up. What do you think? Is this a just coincidence, or is there something real here? Let us know by commenting (on YouTube) with “coincidence” or “real talk”.

Step 1 - Home
Set up two bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 95 BPM. “Arrest the President” is in the key of E♭ minor, so we’ll use it too. And the original melody actually only uses the 1, ♭3, 4, and ♭7, so we can also say that the melody is in the pentatonic minor scale, which is just the natural minor scale without the 2 and the ♭6. Now, there’s two sections to this melody. The first section locks in the root note, making it feel solid, while the second section moves away, giving it tension. You’ll also notice that the melody is doubled an octave lower, for a thicker texture. Right, so start by playing a 1/16 root note on beat 1 and beat 3 in your first bar, and on beat 1 in your second bar. And if you wanna throw in a little tease of what’s coming up, play a 1/16 that’s not your root note on beat 4a in your first bar, like we did with the ♭7. And by the way, if you need help with the basics, like scales, chords and spelling (which is when you use numbers for notes, like we’ve been doing), then download our free book below.

Step 2 - Away
Alright, now it’s time to create some tension, by moving away from the root. So, at the end of your second bar, play five notes from the scale. Start them on beat 2+, and make sure they’re all 1/16 notes, with 1/16 note rests in between. Lastly, if you want more tension, throw in the ♭5, like we did. And if you want even more groove, then grab one of the notes at the end of your second bar, and move it a 1/16 note to the left.

Right, now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write a new section for it, and then, how do you transition between those two sections? Great questions, and if this is something you need help with, then check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll literally learn every step of the music making process, and most importantly, you’ll learn how to finish your songs! You’ll also gain access to our Private Network, which is a safe online space (i.e. social media platform) exclusively for our 400+ apprentices from 40+ countries. Our Network is a super supportive place for you to ask theory questions, share your music, get feedback, meet like-minded music makers, and collaborate! If all this sounds useful to you, then head on over to our Online Apprenticeship page now.

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada


Level 1: Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2: Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3: Learn our secret art of songwhispering & finish your music

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music that stands out, so you can get discovered! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and wife) Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).

(c) 2018 Revolution Harmony
All words and music in video by Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony

Photo of Ice Cube by Rebecca Cabage