Should Hip-Hop Producers Stop Sampling Beats?

SHE SAID WHAT?!
Posted By Wendy

In a Bronx rec room in the early 1970s, Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, played a James Brown record to hype up a block party crowd. He noticed that dancers reacted to the “break,” the part of the song with the strongest beats, so he looped it over and over. Soon, he began switching between different records, playing the break beats of each song and MCing over the music, coaxing future b-boys and b-girls to get down “to the beat, y’all! You don’t stop!” In that way, hip-hop was born.

Sampling beats is a tradition as old as hip-hop itself and is integral to the music’s form. The first hip-hop song to become a hit was Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” which sampled the disco hit “Good Times” by Chic. Later, Run DMC gained mainstream fame by remaking Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” invigorating the rock band’s career and launching themselves into the Billboard Top 10. Since those heady early days of hip-hop, nearly every successful MC can credit at least one sampled beat to their success.

Alex will argue that sampling beats is a cheap, easy way to create a hit song. I won’t deny that to create an original beat takes a different level of creativity—going from a blank slate and building a brilliant song requires nothing less than vision. Past musical pioneers such as Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Kurt Cobain each sat in their room with a pen and paper and wrote their own lyrics and music without relying on an already-established hook. However, even pioneers don’t exist in a vacuum. Like writer Austin Kleon said, “When somebody calls something ‘original,’ 9 times out of 10 they just don’t know the sources or references involved.” Presley wouldn’t be what he was without Chuck Berry. The Beatles wouldn’t have been the Beatles without Elvis, and Nirvana was heavily influenced by the Beatles (as well as underground punk rock bands). My point being, everyone borrows for inspiration. It’s what they do with it that is the difference between ripping something off (Vanilla Ice) or creating something entirely new (Notorious B.I.G.).

Speaking of early 90s hip-hop, let’s take a second to examine a producer Alex will credit with “all-original” beats: Dr. Dre. Did you know that “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” samples “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You” by Leon Haywood? Or that “Let Me Ride” has several samples, including Parliament’s “Mothership Connection,” James Brown’s “Funky Drummer, and Bill Withers’ “Kissin’ My Love”?

I wrote this book, y’all. Lots of hip-hop legends? They sample beats.

My point here isn’t that “everyone’s doing it, so it must be okay.” It’s that sampling and re-imagining is the backbone of hip-hop. That’s how the genre was born, and that’s how it continues to operate. But instead of sampling disco and soul hits of the 70s, today’s artists are “ripping” on pop songs of the 80s or, to get real meta for a second, hip-hop songs of the 90s and 2000s. So now hip-hop is even re-imagining hip-hop! Does that get stale sometimes? Yes. If an artist samples a song that was too popular, too recent, or if he or she doesn’t do anything new with it, then I would agree that sampling is lazy. But if you can take a song like Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit” and turn it into Biggie’s “Juicy,” then, to me, you are just as brilliant as someone who creates their own beats from scratch.


HE SAID WHAT?!
Posted By Alex

There is a big difference between being inspired and sampling, which is just a nice way of saying “I copied your shit, bitch!”

I am not going to sit here and say that copy—err, sampling should go away completely. I think it can be awesome to take something old and make it even better. Without sampling we wouldn’t have hits like “Mo Money Mo Problems” or “California Love.” But how skillful can you be when most of the hits coming out of your studio are based on sampled songs? I’m not talking small sound bytes. I’m talking about actually taking the whole original track and only making a few minor changes. I think it says something about the industry when most of the hits come from older songs. It feels as if the talent died a long time ago and nobody knows how to come up with anything new.

Like Notorious. You can’t say Notorious created “something new” when most of his hits are from sampled beats. It’s like bringing a cheat sheet to a test. I won’t deny that Notorious is a brilliant rapper, but I will say that his producers are a fucking joke. To say that Biggie was a lyrical genius is a giant understatement. But a big reason why a song is a hit is because of the beat. It’s hard for me to give him too much credit when most of his hits are based off sampled songs.

I’ll give you a perfect example: 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” It’s a completely pointless song set to one of the most badass beats ever, in my opinion. 50 Cent could be rapping about being “On Da Toilet” and that song would still fly up the charts due to the track laid down by Dr. Dre. Use Dave Chappelle’s slow motion shit explosion as the music video and call it a day. You’re welcome.

Moving on. Give that same beat to someone like Biggie or Tupac and holy shit, son. It would be nothing short of magic. Because really, you cannot compare the lyrical skill of 50 Cent to Biggie.

Going through some of my favorite rap songs to see which have used sampled beats and which are original has been surprising. Most of my favorites have been sampled, and that’s pretty disappointing to me. Does that mean I’ll stop listening to them? No, I love them as I’m sure many of you do, too. My point isn’t that sampling should go away. It just shouldn’t account for more than 80% of an artist’s hits. For every song a producer samples, he should try to come up with five that are original. Even if it happens to be based on something else without you knowing, at least you’re trying.


[polldaddy poll=6545058]

23 Responses to “Should Hip-Hop Producers Stop Sampling Beats?”

  1. Rick

    I believe historically sampling was a tribute. Because its easier now it may have lost some cred but its a part of hip hop for sure.

    Reply
  2. Ozzy

    Dr. Dre can sample anything he wants cause he will just make it better guaranteed and you will have a hard time figuring out which beats were sampled, unlike Diddy. EVERYBODY SUCKS EXCEPT DR. DRE. HE HAS A FREE PASS TO THE “I’LL DO WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT” SHOW.

    Reply
  3. Amanda

    To me sampled beats is just stealing from the original artist. People need to be more original and create their own beats. Just because you’re in fluenced by someones music doesn’t mean to need to copy it. That’s why Elvis, The Beatles and bands like Nirvana are so great because they didn’t copy others they used what influenced them to make something even better.

    Reply
  4. Scott

    I had a hard time voting because I agree with both of you. Sampling is certainly a hallmark of the form, but I wonder if the form itself is so limiting that without sampling hip-hop would have no durability? I freely admit to musical snobbery, but I’ve thought a lot about this, and am fascinated by hip-hop’s popularity. I get the dance part – it’s pretty hypnotic. But the harmonic language is so sparse (and basically dependent on the bass being as loud as possible) that any artists have to create interest only using rhythm. And since 4/4 time can only yield so much, taking from other songs became a hook. It’s not like that’s even novel: Brahms 1st Symphony has probably the most beautiful melody ever composed in its final movement, and it’s a total rip-off Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”in his 9th Symphony. When confronted with this fact, Brahms gruffly replied, “Any ass can see that!”

    Reply
    • wtg22

      I see your point: you wonder if hip-hop artists didn’t sample, would the form have any lasting popularity. But I don’t think a song’s success is contingent on the sampling itself. For example, most people don’t even realize how many hip-hop artists sample other songs. If someone can create an original beat that’s enticing and hypnotic, then I think that song has just as much of a chance at being popular as one that uses a sampled beat.

      Reply
      • alex

        That’s the rub though. Why bother to create something new that’s enticing and hypnotic when you can just take older hits and call it a day. Does something original have the same chance as a sampled beat? Absolutely, but why bother when I have this track here I can use instead.

        Reply
  5. echavez

    Sampled songs are often awesome but kills the rep i have for the artist. I consider them more of a entertainer or performer, than an actual artist. Dr Dre is tight but i would never say he is more of an artist then even Bono, and i think Bono is douche bag.

    Reply
  6. Gaby

    50? Biggie? Tupac? Diddy? Dude, Alex, hip hop’s roots are a little older than the mid-90s and it would behoove you to strengthen you argument with something a little older than 50′s “In Da Club”. Sampling has occured since the beginning of hip hop. I’m not all that familiar with this genre, but I can tell you that some of my favorite songs of this genre have been sampled. I like hearing creative beats, and I really like to hear how some artists take something they’ve sampled and made it into something unique. This takes creativity too and really, sampling done right is not the only thing the artist has in her/his album. Bad sampling, a la Diddy or even some of the new artists I don’t bother with, does happen, but I don’t think you can generalize all hip hop sampling based on the new artists or the crappy samplers.

    Reply
    • alex

      No, I don’t need to dive deeper as I’m not doing a research paper as to when this trend started and who it started with. I don’t need that sort of background to know that sampling is copying. As I said, should it go away? No, but it is a little sad as to how often it happens.

      Reply
      • gaby

        You should if you want to convince me and other readers that beats that are completely unique are better than sampled hits. What of 80s hip hop do you enjoy that’s unique? Plus “In Da Club” takes like 6 notes and repeats them. How is that more creative than Kanye’s “Through the Wire”? Plus, Beastie Boys use creative beats but you think they’re overrated, so…

        I don’t agree that it’s sad that sampling happens so often, what’s sad when it’s used so poorly or when they deny they sampled, like Vanilla Ice did with regards to Ice Ice Baby.

        Reply
        • wtg22

          Oh THAT was hilarious. “No, it’s not the same beat as ‘Under Pressure!’ Mine has an extra beat in it!” Riiiiiiiggggggght. Move along, Vanilla. Just move along.

          Reply
          • gaby

            rofl! I loved his defense “Mine goes ‘dun dun dun duh-duh-duh dun!’ Their’s goes ‘dun dun dun dun dun dun dun!’”

        • echavez

          Beastie Boys are super overrated. Two good songs they ever made, Fight for your right and Intergalactic.

          Reply
  7. Jeff Autenrieth

    I don’t care where the “inspiration” came from if the songs dope then the songs dope. Is it cool to hear someone put their artistic spin on a classic rock song and have someone like Jay Z rhyme over it, absolutely. The fact that it’s being abused in the industry is annoying but to say don’t do it or for every one copy you have to come up with 5 original is useless. Some people like Diddy only get it right every 5th time anyway so they need to keep copying to be able to come up with Mo Money Mo Problems and other classics. Do I respect him for his “craft” no but my head will bob with the beat and I’ll still rhyme along with the song in my car.

    Reply
  8. Toogull

    Beastie Boys. Paul’s Boutique. One of the greatest albums of all time. 100 percent sampled. Suck it, originality.

    Reply
  9. mike

    Why is it that when Hip Hop artists or producers sample track it’s called copying…but when and indie or rock artists or even a pop artist at that samples its not viewed the same way?? I wouldn’t to bring the race card in but something seems fishy…For example when you get pretty little miss daisy doing a cover of some old school rap song she get’s all these lovely praises…but i swear when an artist samples a track, especially one that hipsters love, you get a flock of naysayers who talk shit about the whole Hip Hop genre…

    Reply
  10. dxtr

    lol some of these people sound so stupid saying that it disappoints them to know that a song is sampled… for one the rapper has nothing to do with the beat so i dont know why you can discredit biggie’s songs because of something he had nothing to do with… and have you actually ever been in a studio session? have you ever created a sampled beat? and i mean from scratch? not downloading samples… if you were a producer, you would sample, and you wouldnt be talking shit.. quit sounding so fucking stupid. you were obviously on a mission to hate from square one, otherwise you wouldnt search for which songs were sampled… and you shouldnt have to search for that shit anyways.. if it sounds like garbage its synthetic fruity loops, if it sounds good then they sampled a(n old) record… and if you arent using sampled drums, gtfo. period.

    Reply

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