Throughout the week, I was thinking about the state of sample based hip hop today. One topic in particular crossed my mind. It was the topic of people, beatmakers and non-beatmakers, who openly divulge sample sources for songs. As I pondered on my thoughts about it, I flipped through the channels of the television. I came across one of my favorite hip hop movies “House Party.” As I was watching the movie and reciting line after line, one part in particular caught my attention more so than it had previously. It was the part when the DJ, Bilal, (Martin Lawrence) was having a conversation with Kid (Christopher Reid). As he’s spinning, playing a record, Bilal shows Kid another record and tell him that he covers the label so other people can’t bite it. Although it’s such a small part of the movie, it had great impact. I first thought about why it was so important for Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director, to include that small part into film. In order to understand more, I decided to look back at the state of hip hop during the time period of the film.
The film was released on March 9th, 1990. I took this to mean the movie was filmed during 1988 and 1989. I looked in Sa’id’s book- The Art of Sampling and found that this was during hip hop’s “Pioneer/Avant-Garde Period.” It was the time where hip hop was raw with the SP 1200, Roland 808, and Akai S950. I remembered that this was during the Marley Marl era where most beatmakers had a DJ background.
I began to see from studying some of the things during the era that having a deep record collection and knowledge of rare records was paramount. In addition to that, I found that beatmakers kept these rare records to themselves. Although some producers shared their knowledge of artists, labels, and albums, the student still had to go and dig for his own copy of the record.
Fast forward to today and herein lies the argument that I want to present. I feel that sample based hip hop is suffering due to people divulging the original source that was used.
I think that beatmakers have became more inclined to chop up their samples since people outside of hip-hop (and within) started divulging beatmakers sample sources. These days divulging the sample source is so accepted that there are sites dedicated to this purpose specifically (No, I won’t name them). I think that it’s a double edged sword that should be used carefully.
I often find myself wondering what sample was used when I hear a good hip hop song that I personally enjoy. I am usually able to find the sample pretty easily thanks to the internet. I am able to listen to the original and do so in an effort to determine how different the hip hop track is from the original sample source. I think that I have fallen into the trap (like some of you) of expecting beatmakers to chop, pitch, filter, EQ, etc… the source and rearrange it behind easy recognition. I think most of us expect this even though the loop itself may be great as it is originally.
With that being said, I offer you a few things to consider when you seek out sample sources:
#1. If you can help it, wait before searching for the source. Listen to the hip hop track numerous times so that you enjoy it and get a listeners (musicians) enjoyment from it before you decide to start dissecting it. Don’t listen to the beat just once and then start searching for the source. It can cause you to lose the appreciation that you had for the hip hop beat when you first heard it.
#2. Make your own beat from your sample source before you see how/if the sample has been used before by someone else. Often times I hear a great song (sample source) and then check around to see if it’s been used before. I sometimes don’t even listen to the record first; I just buy it because it’s interesting and then check to see if it’s been used before. If it has been used before, I check to see if the used part is the same part that I was going to use/would have used. If it’s the same part, I discard the sample and then look for something else (I know this is a bad habit that I’m trying to break). In reality, I probably would have used it differently had I made the beat first and then checked afterward. So my advice is don’t start the bad habit because it’s hard to break.
#3. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and use a sample source anyway that you want to. I know that there are certain practices that we as producers/beatmakers like to adhere to, but these days, it’s all about doing what’s comfortable for you. If you feel it’s worth it, then take a chance and do it the way that you see fit.
So although I feel that easy access to sample sources is detrimental to beatmaking and deviate from the original practices of our fore fathers, easy access has also helped steer some new beatmakers in a positive direction. It has allowed beatmakers to find records and sample sources that they otherwise would have never found. I know that there are tons of artist that I would not have known had I not read the liner notes and sample credits for producers such as Marley Marl, Just Blaze, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Da Beatminerz, DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, Pete Rock, Marco Polo, RJD2, etc, but be careful! Sample sources are a tool and it is up to you as to how you use them.Articles, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts