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”?
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.