So without further ado, let’s start this new season of Know Your History.
Sampling is the cornerstone of hip-hop music. Everything in this culture was built upon sampling. At its root, sampling involves taking a piece of music from any source and incorporating it into a new composition. This was originally done by the deejays who would take two turntables playing the same record to extend the break.
The break of the record was the spot where most of the instruments dropped out so we could hear the drum pattern all by itself. DJs would effectively loop that section of the record so that it would play over and over again. This way, it sounded like an uninterrupted drum pattern.
Way before samplers or computers allowed us to loop up sections of songs, we were doing so with record players or tape decks. The advantage to doing it with a tape deck was that you only needed to have one record, one turntable, and one blank tape.
Making a pause-tape was time consuming. You needed to find the section of the record you wanted to loop up, wait for it to play and hit record on the tape deck at the exact right time. You needed to count to make sure the drum pattern would play back with the right timing.
Nowadays, all you need is a computer or an external piece of hardware to create musical loops quickly and efficiently. A lot of people see the ease of creating a sampled beat and mistake it for laziness. They are failing to see the history behind rap music. It started with sampling.
Sampling allowed us to create music with very little. You didn’t have to have a lot of money to make hip-hop music. You didn’t have to take music lessons, buy an instrument, find people that played different instruments, and form a band to produce something new.
You could take a small portion of someone else’s music and create something entirely new. That is basically what sampling is.
“Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang used the same music as Chic’s “Good Times.” It is instantly recognizable. We played this song in the very first episode of Know Your History. It is one of the most well-known rap songs even from those outside of hip-hop culture so I won’t play it again for you right now.
Taking a piece of music from a record and looping it up for MCs to rap over is the basic building block of hip-hop. We’ve moved beyond the simplicity of this over the years with the technology that soon became available. We can now take tiny sections of a record, chop it up, tweak it, replay it, add layers of sounds, and create a new song that most people wouldn’t immediately recognize as just a simple and quick borrowed musical backdrop.
Let’s look at some creative sampling now. I just stumbled across this sample myself last week. I was working on my computer and listening to an old mixtape that Eliot Krimsky posted on the excellent website Cassette From My Ex. The tape is called “How To Eat Ice Cream” and can be streamed for free, along with dozens of other tapes, at http://www.cassettefrommyex.com/?p=44
Let’s listen to the original song and then see how the rap group Mullet ‘N Steps flipped it for their song “You Can’t Have Me.”
I couldn’t find a video of the original to embed here so click on the above link to hear the mixtape or download this show to hear it.
I did find the hip-hop example though,
I’m sure you’ve inadvertently discovered some samples on your own. It’s happened to me time and time again. There have been several times where I have found myself in a store or on an elevator and the song that was playing was familiar somehow. I would listen carefully trying to figure out how I knew that song. Every time this has happened, I had never been familiar with the original record. I only knew the hip-hop song that had used the sample.
It would always take me some time to rack my brain and come up with how I knew it. I would then exclaim to whoever was within earshot that this song was sampled by so and so. No one in my present company seemed to care much though.
There are plenty of us who delight in discovering these old samples. Many hip-hop groups get so creative in how they sample, that it is a complex mystery to discover all of the sounds and samples they in their sonic masterpieces.
De La Soul crafted a song by taking a sample, slowing it down and playing it backwards. It wasn’t easily recognizable. It was a brand new composition. This is one of the most shocking cases that brought to light the legal ramifications for using samples in music.
Ultimately, artists should be compensated for the use of their music, however it is used. MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” for example blatantly uses Rick James “Superfreak” and I am not saying that this use of a sample was a bad thing at all. We need to remember that rap music was built around samples.
Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” uses Queen and David Bowie samples in much the same way. Hammer and Vanilla Ice were both chastised by fans of the original artists for stealing and ruining the old songs. I still see people complaining about this style of sampling in hip-hop music.
I think that we can be creative in how we use our samples. For instance. in the De La Soul song in question, they slowed down the original sample and played it backwards. As such their, “Transmitting Live From Mars” only has a slight resemblance to The Turtles’ original “You Showed Me.”
De La Soul was taken to court for the use of that sample and it was a huge case that had ramifications for all of hip-hop. Samples now had to be cleared, meaning that we needed to get permission from the original artists before we could commercially release our new compositions based around those old sounds.
In theory, this makes sense. It is respectful to the original artists. Those artists should be recognized for the incredible building blocks they have given us. However, if we can disguise the original song, build layers of samples, chop up the sounds, replay them, and craft them into something that is no longer recognizable, then I think we should be allowed to do so.
It’s gotten to the point now where we have forgotten our history and the importance and brilliance that is sampling. I had an interesting discussion about this with Lucy ‘Lo a while back and I’d like to play you some of that interview right now.
Chase: “I think that is something that is sorely missing in hip-hop these days. Cats are afraid to sample almost because of all the legal ramifications and bullsh*t like that.”
Lucy’Lo: “You know what I call that? If we get caught for one of the samples we use, that’s what we call a good problem, when you’re big enough that someone’s recognizing that you’ve sampled something of theirs. That’s not something I fear, that’ something I look forward to. That’s a good problem to have because someone’s paying attention to you.”
Chase: “Yeah but at the same time, I think the sample police kind of need to stop. I actually read a post recently, somebody put it up on Twitter about “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto” which is a book that was recently published. In it, the author has sampled other author’s works, like paragraph for paragraph and pieced them together in his own book. So it’s basically a book full of sampled work from other authors. And if you think of it that way, that’s actually legitimizing sampling. And if he can get away with that, just by putting references in there, what I’m thinking is that if we were able to footnote our samples somehow, maybe at the end of a song or at the end of an EP, or a bonus track or a lost track at the end, saying we sampled James Brown and we sampled Run-DMC and we sampled The Monkees, or whatever, and we put that down, then we’ve footnoted it and we’ve created something new out of it.”
Lucy’Lo: “I think there’s something to that. Hip-hop comes out of sampling and repeating break beats. There would be no hip-hop without that. Hip-hop precedes the invent of drum machines and whatnot. So I do think there’s something to that. But as a musician I kind of feel that if someone samples me in twenty years, it’s not that I need to get paid for it, but I want the recognition that this is where this chord progression, this melody, this break comes from. So I do understand the need to credit the sample. As long as your crediting the sample as the sample, I don’t like the passing off as your own.”
I did that interview with Lucy’Lo about a year ago. We had a great discussion about hip-hop culture and of course sampling was a big part of it.
I think we should be able to sample in hip-hop as long as we give credit to the original artist. That is exactly what Lucy’Lo was saying in that little clip we just played. If you want to hear the rest of that interview, go to the Artist Interview tab at chasemarch.com to download it and read it for free.
As hip-hop artists, we should have the freedom to sample as long as we are upfront and clearly admit the samples we have used. I think we could have a footnote system in place just like how it’s done in a piece of writing. When we credit someone for an idea in a blog post, academic paper, or a book, we don’t pay them for that. Why should rappers have to?
In talking to artists like Lucy’Lo, I have found that many of them don’t care so much about the money, they want the recognition. He even stated that if he gets caught for using a sample, it would be a good thing because people have noticed him. So, for the smaller groups not on major labels, who don’t have all the resources and money, continue to sample. I’m not mad at you and I hope no one else is either.
But if you do blow up and start making a lot of money with a certain song and end up getting caught for using a sample, you will have to pay up and cut the original artist in on your profits. It’s just respectful to pay homage to those that provided us with the building blocks for what we are able to do.
Producers can put the liner notes out there. It would be easy to make a commentary-type track at the end of an album that clearly lists the samples used.
Here’s some advice for all the producers out there.
If you are making beats or songs and are using samples, start writing down the tracks you used for each song.
Years from now, you probably won’t remember what you sampled and you’ll have to dig through and try to figure out where all your sounds came from if you want to clear those samples. Of course at the end of your track, you could just tack on a small commentary by saying, “That sampled such and such.”
I want to play that De La Soul song for you now so you can see what the two versions sounded like and you can hear for yourself whether or not you think De La Soul should’ve been sued for this.
Was that what got De La Soul in trouble?
That wasn’t even a full song. It was an interlude. It was only a tiny little portion of their record. Sure, it did sell millions of copies and it is a hip-hop classic, but I don’t know if The Turtles shoudl have went after them so hard for the use of that sound.
Had I been familiar with the original record prior to this case, I don’t think I would have been mad at De La Soul for ruining the original song. I don’t think their interlude did that. I think they were creating something new and artistic.
Doesn’t all art build upon what has come before? Does the first artist to ever paint a hill get compensated every time someone else paints a hill? I don’t think so. Who owns an image of a hill?
However, we do have those records and they do belong to the artists in general. So maybe we need to leave the business behind here. We don’t need to be paying inordinate amounts of money to use a sample.
As musicians, we could reach out to each other and say, “I really like your record. I love the sound that you put down there. I want to use that to create something new. Can you let me do that?”
I am willing to bet that quite a few artists wouldn’t have a problem with that.
But maybe they wouldn’t and that’s why DJ Premier did this interlude on a Gangstarr record. (explicit language)
I love what DJ Premier said there, but it makes me feel a bit guilty for calling out the sample Mullet N Steps used. Of course, I only did so to illustrate a point, to show you what sampling is and how it fits into hip-hop culture.
I love sampling and don’t think we should do what some producers now do. They create all of their own sounds because of the fear of being sued. There is something rich and dirty and grimy about using samples that you simply cannot get with synthesized music.
Sampling is a part of hip-hop and has a place in this culture. We should recognize that and as musicians agree that we can share each other’s work to create new works.
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