RTB Rewind: The Minimoog Synthesizer Revolutionizes Hip-Hop

RTB Rewind: The Minimoog Synthesizer Revolutionizes Hip-Hop

Published Tue, January 24, 2023 at 2:48 PM EST

On January 24, 1970, Dr. Robert Moog unveiled the Minimoog synthesizer, and revolutionized several music genres.

The Minimoog was a more portable and affordable version of the Moog synthesizer and was the first synthesizer available for sale in retail stores. The Moog, which was produced in the 1960s, cost tens of thousands of dollars, required cables to connect to various components, and was mostly owned by major record labels. The Minimoog was smaller, more affordable, and had all of the cables and components housed within the unit. Created as a portable tool for session musicians, the Minimoog caught on immediately.

Dr. Dre should have a holiday for Parliament Funkadelic's keyboard player Bernie Worrell.

- Mos Def - Wax Poetics August 2006

Bernie Worrell, Parliament Funkadelic's keyboard player who claimed to be born with perfect pitch changed Funk and R&B with the Minimoog.

"I was born with perfect pitch which meant that if you tap on a piece of metal I can tell you what pitch it is," he explained to Wax Poetics. Worrell's Minimoog performances on "Flash Light," "Aqua Boogie," Knee Deep" and "Let's Take It to The Stage" are legendary amongst fans and musicians alike. "Flash Light" is particularly revered because the Minimoog is the only bass on the song. "I used at least four Minimoogs on "Flash Light,' all set differently to give that thick bass sound," he explained.

Like many other funk techniques, that thick bass sound would be soon utilized in some of rap's earliest hits and heavily used again in the mid-1990's by the good Dr. Dre.

Multi-instrumentalist, producer, and DJ Davy DMX tells ROCK THE BELLS he used the Minimoog on several of his productions. "The Minimoog was the first programmable synthesizer that I ever owned," he says. "I played it on 'Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)' by Jimmy Spicer and I played it with Pumpkin on 'Problems of The World' by The Fearless Four."

Musician and producer Reggie Griffin, who was a member of the Sugar Hill Records house band and produced Chaka Khan's mega-hit "I Feel For You," was also a Minimoog user.

"I came to Sugar Hill Records around 1981 and I bought a Prophet 5 synthesizer," he told ROCK THE BELLS. "I specifically wanted that sound and it's what I could afford. Most synths played one note or voice at a time, but the Prophet 5 played five voices. Sugar Hill had a Minimoog but at the time there was really nobody there that could program it."

Reggie says Sugar Hill founder Sylvia Robinson quickly noticed that he knew his way around the Minimoog. "Without it being official, I became the Minimoog programmer and drum programmer," he says. "The first record that I played on at Sugar Hill was 'Apache' by the Sugar Hill Gang and I used the Prophet 5 on it, but I used the Minimoog on 'The Message.'"

"The Message" which became one of rap music's early hits, and is credited with introducing social commentary into rap, was musically inspired by Zapp's "More Bounce To The Ounce" and Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" the song's co-writer Duke Bootee, told The Foundation.

"Duke Bootee played some bass synthesizer on 'The Message' and I played some as well as programming all the synth parts," Griffin remembers. "In a nutshell, after I got to Sugar Hill almost everything that we did that Doug (Wimbish) played bass on I would double it on Minimoog to fatten it up. There was no Midi yet (computer syncing language) so Sylvia would say 'Go on in there and double Doug on that Minimoog."

Reggie Griffin also played bass guitar and doubled his own performance on "I Feel For You" by Chaka Khan and his own electro hit "Mirda Rock."

Jalil of Whodini explained to The Foundation that their classic Larry Smith-produced "5 Minutes of Funk" originally contained Minimoog.

"It was just the beat at first," he said. "We added some stuff together and the bassline was something I was just humming, and Larry put the Funk on it with the Minimoog. It was part rock guitar, and part bassline. When we went to Europe to lay the track he left the Minimoog in New York and I was really pissed. They couldn’t duplicate the sound of the Minimoog, so we were forced to go with the Jazz Fender Bass, which I like the sound of, but there were almost fights over that."

The Minimoog played a large part in many early west coast rap songs by the Egyptian Lover and the World Class Wreckin' Cru. The "G Funk" sound credited to Dr. Dre and the late Laylaw Goodman heavily relied on Minimoog sounds, primarily interpolations of Parliament Funkadelic and Zapp songs. The Chronic, Doggystyle, and many classic Death Row releases utilized the classic instrument. Additionally, the multi-talented DJ Quik has many releases with Minimoog.

The Minimoog has been copied and reissued throughout the decades and it remains a staple in dance, funk, and rap music.

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