“Slap bass got too technical. I stopped when it became all about triplets”: Preston Crump on gaining fame with Outkast and why he stopped playing slap bass

Preston Crump
(Image credit: Jon Mancuso)

You've heard him on Grammy-award-winning albums by Outkast. You've heard him supply the low-end to the sombre crooning of Citizen Cope. You've heard his groove-filled basslines on records by Raphael Saadiq. Dr. Dre, Destiny's Child, TLC, and Earth, Wind and Fire. To achieve his goals as a soul-oriented sideman, Preston Crump's bass playing abilities have had to match his willingness to please his artists. “Fingerstyle has always been my most comfortable technique,” he told BP. “Although I got deep into slap bass for a while when it was still funky. Then it started getting too technical for its own good. I stopped slapping when it became all about triplets. Theres nothing too funky about triplets to me.”

Continually adding new techniques and approaches to his tool bag is something that Crump takes pride in as a student of the bass guitar. “Ever since I read about Gary Willis and his technique I have been trying to lighten up my touch. In some situations you get really into it, and before you know it you have the hammer grip around the bass! But I’m trying to learn to relax more.”

Crump got his start playing as a teenager and quickly worked his way through a slew of gigs in Atlanta, which eventually led him to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I started on drums when I was a kid, but I knew I wanted to play some form of guitar after I saw some live shows. My mother bought me a Kay bass and a Mel Bay instructional book, which I tried to get through. My hands were all blistered and I was just hacking away at it, listening to a ton of records. Then Bootsy came out. I went to see him live and my jaw dropped. Even back then I knew that was the energy I wanted to put out.”

Crump's energy found the outlet he was looking for when his band shared a showcase with two rappers who were also from Atlanta. The duo was Antwan Patton and André Benjamin, who are better known as the hip hop legends Outkast. Upon meeting Crump, the rappers invited him to a recording session, which led to an ongoing collaboration that resulted in six Grammy Awards and over 25 million albums sold, including Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens, Aquemini, Stankonia, and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

“In the beginning I was just a session guy who worked his ass off for them. They started recognising my sound and then they wanted it on everything. Those guys are Southern soul superheroes, for real, and they were involved in every part of the process. They were already rock stars, but they still wanted to learn. As the bassist, I would just keep kicking out ideas until I got the reaction I wanted from them. As time went on, we would have whole writing days where we'd kick out a ton of ideas until we felt we had something special.”

After gaining fame for his work with Outkast, Crump was recruited by other major artists in the industry. Yet it was a call by a fellow bassist that landed one of his favourite gigs to date. “Working with Raphael Saadiq is still one of my favourite projects. I had been listening to the Tonys (Tony! Toni! Tone!) forever and they were one of my favourite bands. So I actually got in the room with him and saw him play bass and heard the sounds he was getting on these records. I just felt lucky that he chose me to play bass for him. Even in rehearsals it was out of this world, the things we would do. It was wild. Working with Raphael I really developed a more percussive bass sound with some thump behind it.”

Seeking a change from his usual routine of studio hopping and touring, Crump decided to take on more of a constant gig when he joined up with indie songwriter Citizen Cope, becoming his regular touring and studio bassist. “Cope was working with an engineer who I knew and I got a call from him to say that he loved all of the Outkast stuff and could I go in. I remember Cope was sitting there with his guitar, and we vibed well and just took off. Someone like Cope wants their thing straightforward, so I’d wait until the song opened up to put little inflections in. I tried to get him in the zone and let the song build.

“I don't like to practise things. I don't like to get a disc that I go home and study and write to, that's not how I work. I like to see what comes out of the air. When you meditate on something too hard you get stuck with narrow ideas. I like to be in the moment. Sometimes it's a dead-end street, but you gotta keep on. If I'm trapped on something I just put the bass down and wait until I hear something. Your ears have muscle memory that'll tell you what needs to be there.”

With no shortage of distorted and envelope filter-laden funk lines at his disposal, Crump continues to experiment with different bass guitars. “I always get new gear and sell gear just to switch things up, so I probably started out with a totally different set-up than I have now. The main basses I use are my Yamaha 5000, my Hot Rod P-Bass, a 70s P-Bass with flatwounds, my Spector Kramer that I used for all of the Outkast stuff, and a 77 Fender Jazz Bass. Man, when I picked up that Jazz Bass I knew it had some songs in it for me and I had to get them out.”

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.