Beat Switches in Hip-hop

EDM music has the bass drop, heavy metal has the breakdown, and if there is an equivalent in hip-hop music it would be the beat switch. A good beat switch can take the listener by surprise and serve as a crucial turning point in a record. A bad one can be jarring, uninspired, or otherwise uninteresting. With that said, here is a short list of some of my favorite beat switches in hip-hop!

  1. NEVER by JID: Perhaps the most underrated song on this list, this beat switch finds JID shifting into his highest gear.
  2. Under Pressure by Logic: In this two-part epic, Logic explores not only pressure from the music industry, but from his family as well. These two aspects are delineated by the beat switch halfway through the song.
  3. Furthest Thing by Drake: Generally speaking, Drake has two sides – vulnerable and boastful. The beat switch on “Furthest Thing” showcases both of these, with Drake reflecting on his shortcomings in the first part and taking a victory lap in the second.
  4. XXX. FEAT. U2. by Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick is known for his ability to change tone at a moment’s notice, and this song is one of the best examples of that. He ends a frantic verse about gun violence by saying “Alright kids, we’re gonna talk about gun control.” The irony here is accentuated by the beat switch, where police sirens are traded for simple piano chords.
  5. This is America by Childish Gambino: In 2018, Bino broke the internet with his surprise single and music video for “This Is America.” The back and forth between a cheery chorus and bass-heavy verses symbolizes the duality of the Black experience in America, making for one of the most powerful beat switches ever.
  6. Sicko Mode by Travis Scott: The three-part structure of this song, with not one but two beat switches, has led some to call it “the Bohemian Rhapsody of our generation.” Such a comparison might offend old heads, but only time will tell if it will make the same impact that Queen’s song has.
  7. Nights by Frank Ocean: Last but certainly not least is one of the most transcendent beat switches my ears have ever heard. Not only does the beat switch on “Nights” mark the exact halfway point on Blonde, but it also marks a sonic and thematic shift from child-like naivety of the first half of the album to the contemplative and mature second half. Though not exactly a hip-hop song, it still has one of the best beat switches ever.

What do you think? What are your favorite beat switches?

– DJ Mango