When I first started rapping back in high-school (circa 2000), I didn't know any other musicians outside of a few leisurely garage bands. Embarking into rap music was a solitary pursuit for me. I had very limited musical training myself, and after several months of dabbling with music production software I realized that I could get much better sounding music in shorter time if I worked with those who were already producing rap music.
Through music sites (like SoundClick), forums, and gradual networking I would find producers of varying styles who I would buy one-off beats from. For the most part, the production on my first two albums were sourced this way. It does the job for rappers as they start out, as you can get a very professional sound that will likely exceed your own production limitations. One of the downsides to going this route is the project can easily lose continuity and begin to feel fragmented if you aren't very selective in choosing your beats.
I've been sitting on a nice little archives of beats for several years, including a few from a local engineer / producer / musical powerhouse named Alexander Devine. I had purchased a few beats from him as he was raising funds to construct his now-thriving Flatline Studios. Given that connection and the fact that he had worked closely with other artists I admire (like Amsterdam), I went to him when I started to get back into recording.
He has been a key creative partner in this process. He's produced several of my new tracks and engineered all of the recordings. He's also introduced me to other artists and musicians to collaborate with to improve my songs. In other words, he's having a really big impact in the quality of the work that you'll end up hearing.
On Friday I switched up my approach to the beat selection process by going to Flatline Studios to work with Alexander Devine and Zak Austin on the creation of a beat for my EP from start to finish. I provided some initial direction on the theme and emotion of the beat, and he went to work adding layers of sounds and instruments to complement one another. We ended up with a cinematic, anthemic banger that is different from anything I've worked on before. It was really exciting for me and opened up a world of possibilities for creating very custom songs, and more personal expressions of the artform.
I still plan on using pre-crafted instrumentals from various producers, especially from some of my favorites like Big Ice who live half-way across the globe. It's what I'm used to, it's tried and true, and it's time/cost effective. In fact, I walked out of this beat creation session with another pre-crafted beat as well.
Whether creating or purchasing the music, it's about finding the sound that fits what you want to express - and finding the sounds that inspire you to express it.