Perhaps the most vital element to try and get right when dealing with hip hop in any of it's varied forms are the drums; both in sounds and programming.
A quick glance over this blog will show that we're lucky enough to be sat on quite a horde of hardware drum machines, both vintage and modern, including a few hip hop classics including the Oberheim DX and DMX. Both of these machines are punchy beasts and capture those early Run-DMC style beats perfectly.
As well as the drum machines we also used lots of live drum breaks recorded especially for this project. We're great believers in simple being best so often we used a basic 3 or 4 mic set up (kick, snare, and overheads) and then either chopped the loops up and fed them into the 12 bit samplers or just took single drum hits from different breaks just as if we were digging from records. We also dug through years of DAT tapes of our own recordings, demos, and sample sessions treating them like a sample source (which of course they are). It's a handy exercise and it's amazing what audio gems turns up in long forgotten projects or sketchy ideas.
Of course we also used the hardware sampling sequencers (MPC2000
/EMU SP1200) for putting beats together in a traditional hip hop manner but we also used a drummer playing electronic kit triggering gritty samples and the more modern DAW drum grid as well as Geist itself.
One sequencing/sampling trick that many overlook when aiming for that elusive 'MPC swing' is that lots of movement in oldschool beats was as much down to badly cut samples as it was to any swing settings. The older sampling machines didn't have the visual tools to cut the start points of drum samples quickly and easily and we suspect most users couldn't be bothered. This meant that often drum samples had milliseconds of noise, crackle or silence left on their beginning or end which affected how fast they sounded when triggered in a sequence which can lead to their own form of 'swing'. It's one of those little tricks we've been using for years ;)