The track I want to look at today is Erykah Badu’s 2007 single Honey. It’s produced by 9th Wonder, who has worked with Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Drake, Destiny’s Child, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and blog-favourite Jill Scott, to name but a few. Honey is taken from Badu’s fourth alum New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), which saw release in early 2008.

The video sees Badu recreate numerous album sleeve artwork including classics from Eric B. & Rakim, Chaka Khan, Grace Jones, Nas, Funkadelic, Minnie Riperton, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players and De La Soul.

Badu had this to say on the track:

We chose ‘Honey’ as the single because of its appeal as far as it feels good. It’s a 9th Wonder track and 9th Wonder is a wizard when it comes to the drums and the bass. It’s about a lover whom I’m chasing by the name of Slim who I think is sweet, so sweet sugar got a long way to catch him.

Let’s try and get close to it using Logic X and some basic plug-ins.

I’m in Love…

The backbone of the track is a two bar sample of I’m in Love, written and conducted by Clarence McDonald (of Lovely Day notoriety) with the aid of Fritz Baskett and David Shields and performed by Nancy Wilson from her album Music On My Mind released Capitol Records in 1978.

Clarence was kind enough to respond to my email asking for pointers about the composition and recording. Be sure to check out what he’s up to on his website.

I’ve got the sample at roughly 81.9982 bpm but I think we’ll work at a nice round 82 bpm if that’s alright with everyone else?

The backing track comprises of drums, bass, a few guitars and piano. Let’s start off with Logic’s Drummer. I’ve loaded the R&B drummer “Rose” and used the “New Soul” preset.

You can convert this to a MIDI track by ctrl + clicking (or right click) the newly created region and following Convert > Convert to MIDI region.

I made some small changes to the kick drum pattern, added in a crash cymbal and slightly tweaked the high-hat pattern to 16ths instead of 8th notes. I’ve also tuned the kick and hi-hats up a few cents and tuned the snare down.

Logic’s Drum Kit designer has a dead-posh multi-output setting, allowing us to mix each individual element of the kit separately. However judging by the age of this record I’m going to hazard a guess it was made with fewer microphones and will just work processing the stereo output.

For every track in this I’m going to add some Waves Kramer HLS Channel strip to simulate the type of desk that might have been used to track this.

I’ve added some Vulf Compressor by Goodhertz, using the 2-Bus Glue (Parallel) preset adding in some Analog Lo-Fi noise and reducing the amount of compression. Then I’ve added some basic Logic EQ to tame the subs and higher frequencies, which wouldn’t be as present in an older soul record. It’s good enough for us to move ahead with.

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The piano outlines the main harmony. The chords are Eb-7, Eb/F, Db/Gb, Gb/Ab with an Ab/Bb as a passing chord. These are known as slash chords and are hugely popular in soul, funk, R&B and offshoot genres.

After initially struggling with the chords myself, Clarence helped me out hugely with not only one or two of the voicings but the left hand part in particular. I’ve used the sub-tenor clef so we don’t have to deal with too many ledger lines.

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I opted for another Native Instruments Kontakt sound, this time the New York grand. The sound is quite dry and thin so I’ve brought the internal reverb down and used some Logic EQ to remove some low-mids and boost around 7.5 kHz.

This was still a little too hi-fi so I added some iZotope Vinyl, which can be used a little like an EQ. Just like Brexit, set the year to 1970 and increase the input gain a little.

Let’s turn our attention to the bass part. I was blessed with the chance to have a talented bass player and good friend of mine David O’Neill to track the bass for this tutorial. We recorded his Warwick Corvette into a Dbx 580 preamp and FMR Audio RNC500 ‘Really Nice Compressor’.

However if you don’t have a top bassist at your disposal there’s a plethora of good bass guitar plug-ins out there. I’m going to use the Scarbee MM-Bass that comes as standard with Native Instruments Komplete (we can A/B the real and MIDI bass for you to compare yourself).

N.B If you don’t have complete there’s a fantastic free version of Kontakt called Kontakt Player that has a very competent bass guitar patch in it. Failing that the Logic EXS-24 sounds aren’t even that bad!

In Scarbee I’ve changed the player profile to Soul & Funk and FX preset to Old School. I’ve used some of Logic’s Bass amp (tweaking the 70’s Solid preset), Waves JJP Bass and LA-style gain reduction using Logic’s stock compressor.

The key to this sound is getting the note lengths correct (something I am a being proponent of is tweaking note lengths to get funkier bass lines) and the slides correct – if you can get both of those it’ll sound there or there abouts. Here’s the MIDI bass:

…And here’s the real one for comparison. I’ll use the real for the resampling in this demo, but as you can hear Kontakt does a good job.

Here’s the notation and tab. The rests and slides are important to getting those grooving properly.

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Here’s the piano roll, which is easier for us to see where the slides are.

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Next, the guitars. I was lucky enough to have the excellent Martin Case track the guitars for this tutorial. He used a Fender Telecaster with an MXR Dyna Comp through the same dbx pre-amp as the bass.

I counted about three guitar parts which doesn’t entirely stack up as I’m sure there was just two guitarists but I’ll follow my ear.

The first is a simple single picked line that repeats throughout the verses. It’s important to sit just behind the beat to get the feel right.

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To get it to sit there’s as little boost around 1 kHz and a dip around 120 Hz with some optical compression from Logic’s basic compressor. It’s quite pokey so I was surprised at how low in the mix I needed it to get it sitting right.

The second guitar follows the chords, albeit slightly simplified. Below I’ve listed the Db/Gb as a Gb∆7 as harmonically it performs the same function and is slightly easier to read. By this logic the Eb/F could be thought of as an F-9/11 or similar.

I’ve tweaked Logic’s amp sim a fair bit to get a similar sound, opting for the Boutique amp and EQ with a 2×12 cab and dynamic microphone on it. The gain’s low with the treble cranked a little to give it some bite.

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Similarly to the picked guitar I found I could keep this really low in the mix to give the chords enough attack without overpowering the rhythm section.

Lastly there’s a guitar with muted string and a wah pedal rocking back and forth. Rather than using a real wah pedal I resorted to Logic’s pedalboard and recorded the rocking myself.

Hit cmd + l to arm the MIDI learn function and selecting the pedal’s main action, move a MIDI knob/slider. I set the track’s automation mode to “learn” and recorded in the sweeping effect. It’s not perfect but close enough.

I also used some graphic EQ and compression in the same pedalboard plug-in and finished it off with some more amp sim, this time the Brownface amp with a 4×12 cab and using some EQ to attenuate around 2 kHz.

Below is a video from the recording session of I’m Gonna Let Ya, from the same album. It gives us a few clues about how we approach the mix.

From the video we can see that there was plenty of acoustic baffles but it’s still tracked in a big room, so our reverb should reflect this accordingly. I’ve routed all of the instrument to a return track using Logic’s excellent convolution reverb Space Designer, using the 1.6 Diffusion Hall preset.

Next I routed all the tracks (including the reverb) to a bus so they can be processed together. I’ve added a little Fielding DSP Reviver for some tasty third order harmonics, Logic EQ, Fairchild-style compression, tape saturation and mild limiting. Here it is:

Honey, Honey, Honey, Honey… Honey!

As stated in the introduction, the track was produced by 9th Wonder, although likely in collaboration with Erykah herself. Large parts of the album were reportedly produced by Badu herself in Garage Band and then recorded elsewhere, so it’s fair to assume that parts of this track could have been stock Logic sounds.

The sample could have been chopped up inside an MPC or similar drum sampling device or imported straight into DAW-of-choice and flex-timed. Either way… [However it has been pointed out to me that 9th Wonder was a huge fan of FL Studio].

Honey is at 88 bpm. Keen eared listeners of the track might notice that not only is it slightly faster but a semitone higher than the sample’s original recording. Ignoring potential routes like interpolation, what I seem most likely is that they time stretched the sample using a re-pitching algorithm, meaning as the sample gets faster, it also pitches up (and as it slows down, it would pitch down).

I’ve bounced I’m in Love down as a wav file set the flex-time algorithm to Speed, this makes it behave like an analog format where by speeding it up would also increase the pitch. I’ve changed Logic’s bpm to that of Honey and now the sample is the correct pitch as well as tempo.

Well, sort of… The result is actually slightly sharp, as one semitone up from 82 bpm is 86.876 bpm (I’m not Rain Man, I used this musical calculator to figure that out). Personally I don’t mind this slightly rub of consonance, so let’s move on. I’ve added a high-pass filter and some compression and bit crushing to help it sit.

We’ll start by simulating the drums. There’s a good chance they were from an MPC of some sort, but I’m opting for Logic’s Ultrabeat, tweaking the Boutique SP12 preset. I’ve tuned the kick around E (43.7 Hz) and added a little distortion to it. Tune the snare and clap down a few semitones and bring the volume of the closed hi-hat right down.

Pay attention to the velocities of the kick and bring the clap just ahead of the beat ever so slightly. With a healthy dose of compression, EQ boosting around 150 Hz, and some Bit Crusher to simulate the MPC-sampling artefacts, we can get close enough:

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The bass is a simplified version of the original, now in E minor instead of Eb minor. My guess is that it’s some sort of analog subtractive or software emulation of one. I’ll use Logic’s ES2 (which I’ll be using throughout this for continuity).

I’ve used a sine wave with a little frequency modulation from oscillator one to add in some harmonics. There’s a touch of distortion and low-pass filtering too. Ensure the patch is set to either mono or legato (hard to hear without more separation) and that’s about it!

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There are two lead lines, let’s start with the screechier of the two. This is a simple sawtooth with some light resonant low-pass filtering. Use a lengthy decay stage on an envelope to close the filter. I’ve added in some of the Analog control to add some shimmer and tuned the synth up 30 cents – this actually made it closer to the original making me think my original assumption about the sample being out of tune was correct!

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The pattern is pretty simple, it does fig. 1 three times then fig. 2:

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Figure 1.

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Figure 2.

The second is a squelchy envelope filtered motif. It sounds 30 cents sharp again, so that’s the first thing to do. I’ve used a sawtooth as the dominant tone and a quieter, pulse wave tuned an octave lower. Run these into a low-pass filter with a medium amount of resonance and a little filter FM to give it some bite. This is being modulated by an envelope with about 25 ms attack and 200 ms decay.

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To finish off I’ve added a high F#4 and F#5 on a synth string. Logic’s EXS24 Smooth Strings sounded just about right to me. This helps fill out the gaps and add some sheen to the mix. That’s it really. Run everything into a bus and compress/EQ to taste. I’ve boosted around 6 kHz and dipped at 200 and 800 Hz.

That’s it. I hope this has shone some light on this fantastic track. It pales in comparison to the original(s) but it’s been an interesting replay for me. Please leave any feedback in the comments section.

If you’ve enjoyed this check out some more I’ve done:

6 Comments

  • Tony Masud says:

    Actually. At the time 9th Wonder was a FL Studio-user. He used to talk about it all the time that all the hit records he made was done and chopped on Fruity Loops. He mentions it right here where the question was “what is your favourite piece of equipment” https://youtu.be/z_Z1tz83pn8?t=4m24s I think switched over using the MPC & and later Maschine but back then he couldn’t afford a MPC so he used FL Studio.

    • Ali Jamieson says:

      Thanks for pointing this out. Yes I did see him on the FL site, but since the track was likely demo’d in Garage Band by Badu (and I don’t own FL) I thought Logic would be a nice compromise.

  • Oli says:

    Awesome stuff! Those bass slides sound real real niiiice

  • bertstuck says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out the chords for this song for like a decade. They’re wild!

  • Dan Gayle says:

    Imagine bands tracking like that I’m Gonna Let Ya song today. How many people in the same room, playing their instruments, vibing off of one another? That’s how this kind of funky, soulful music should be played, IMO.

    • Ali Jamieson says:

      Yes I think it’s these intangibless that can easily get lost in multi-tracked bedroom recordings. Hard to communicate that to people starting out and perhaps a reason that recording studios will probably always exist: the results are just demonstrably better.

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