One of my rapper friend’s favorite sayings is, “The beat is 51 percent of a song.” By that he means having a fire beat is slightly more important than a good vocal performance when determining the success of a track. While I do agree with the sentiment that hip-hop has become more focused on the overall sonics of a track and moved away from putting so much weight on the complexity of the lyrics (for better or worse), I think my buddy’s leaving out a key factor in his assessment into what makes a hot record these days.
If we exclude the new OG’s who still dominate hip-hop (Drake, Kanye, Kendrick, Cole), who would we say is running it now? It appears to me that most rappers coming up are disciples of Travis Scott, Uzi, Thugger, and Playboi Carti. What do all these artists have in common? Phenomenal mixing and engineering of their tracks. So if I were to tweak my friend’s statement, I would say he needs to account for the unsung heroes of the music we love today: the audio engineers.
It’s time we show love to the people behind the boards that breathe life into records with the perfect reverb, who create captivating moments with clever layering, and find the precise autotune settings that enable our favorite artists to hit notes that they normally wouldn’t be able to (at least not without piercing our ears). Since RMR is all about highlighting the best in the industry that the PNW has to offer, let’s increase your appreciation for audio engineers by highlighting one of the best hip-hop focused engineers in Seattle: Chris Pack.
Chris Pack has been mixing hip-hop music professionally in Seattle for 10 years now and is responsible for a lot of your favorite songs sounding as clean and interesting as they do. Sol, Nacho Picasso, Huey P, Sam Lachow, Gifted Gab, Kae One, Papa Black, Naomi Morgan, Brainstorm, Zac Levine, Jugg Mob, and Morgan Britt are just SOME of the names of Seattle artists that have had tracks and/or whole projects engineered by Chris.
Outside of the city, Chris Pack has also worked with big names such as Wale, Crooked I, Lil Baby, Dave East, Mozzy, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Ty Dolla $ign, Tory Lanez, Redman, Kurupt, Cassidy, Jim Jones, and Layzie Bone. What you will notice when you listen to Chris’s work is that all the tracks are spatialized very well, meaning the songs feel big, wide, and have layers that are distinguishable from the rest. So while all the layers come together to create a cohesive sound, they also stand out by themselves at the same time.
Having that attention to detail is what all good audio engineers will have in some fashion and a lot of the time, those seemingly little tweaks to a song are what separate them from the rest and help you fall in love with a track. If you want a recent example of how Chris’s artistic use of audio effects and digital signal processing help color in a record, look no further than Keshawn’s “Wait a Minute”, which boasts a masterful use of filtering, layering, and ad-lib placement.
If you’re wondering how someone gets involved into this facet of the music-making process, Chris will tell you that his decision to become an engineer came from artists coming to his home studio when he was an aspiring rapper, but not for his MC skills…After trying to “still live the rock star kind of life” when his college football career ended, Chris tried his hand at rapping but when it became clear he had more of future behind the mixer than in front of a mic, he enrolled in Shoreline Community College’s music school and completed both the Audio Engineering and MIDI Music Production program.
With that experience under his belt, Chris was able to score a spot at Robert Lang Studio as an entry-level engineer where he spent years climbing the ranks and eventually becoming their go-to guy for hip-hop projects. For the last three years, he’s been holding it down at Clatter & Din Recording Studio, located right by Showbox Sodo and just a block away from Safeco. Chris cites this move into the heart of SODO as the moment that things really blew up for him.
While the seasoned Seattle engineer already has an impressive list of collaborators, he will be adding to it in the near future. In the next few months, Pressa, an artist who has already toured with Drake and is slated to be the next big thing out of Toronto, will be releasing a project that Chris has done extensive production and mixing work on. He also informed me that he’s mastering all of Papa Black’s new project which will include Jim Jones, Sy Ari Da Kid, and Kirko Bangz.
With Hip-Hop moving in the sound-oriented direction that it is, it is important to recognize the engineers that help artists make the song they hear in their head become a reality because, without them, the amazing genre blending and experimental sound that is sweeping the culture wouldn’t be possible. Lucky for us here in Seattle, we have a number of legendary recording studios in the area with perfectionists like Chris Pack helping our artists achieve the high-quality sound we’ve come to expect.
Examples Of Chris Pack’s Mixing
Kae One – “Run It Up Activities” (EP feat Mozzy)