Sampling in Hip Hop Culture

By: Alvindra |

Have you ever listened to a new Hip Hop hit and got the feeling that there is something familiar, that you have listened to it before although it was released just last night? The chance is you actually know the song that is used as a sample on this new song, yet the tweaks that have been done to the sample might left you thinking. This leads us to the next question. What is sampling, actually? Sampling is a method used in the music industry, especially Hip Hop, where a producer uses parts of a sound recording to be incorporated into a song. The parts of sound recording used is called a sample. Samples come from various sources, whether from another song, speech, conversation, movie, radio, or any other recorded sounds. Once samples are gathered, producer will tweak the samples and they will use the finished sample loops as one of the instruments building up a song.

The first use of the sampling method was in the late 60s during the rise of Dub Reggae. Jamaican producers used pre-recorded Reggae songs to produce Dub tracks, that were either danced over or rapped over. This practice was brought to New York by Jamaican refugees, one of them being Clive Campbell, known as DJ Kool Herc. Herc sampled mostly Soul tracks to produce dance tracks that birthed b-boy, known as breakdance today. Soon Herc became a cult figure in Bronx, and many young African Americans, African Caribbeans, and Latinx are influenced by him. One of them is Joseph Saddler, known as Grandmaster Flash. After spending his childhood in New York DJing scene, Flash formed group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, consisting of Flash as DJ and producer, and Melle Mel, The Kidd Creole, Keef Cowboy, Mr. Ness, and Rahiem as rappers. They released their first album The Message in October 1982, one of the first few albums to incorporate samples. The album uses samples from “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club, “Mt. Airy Groove” by Pieces Of A Dream, “Good Times” by Chic, “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen, and many more. The album charted at number 53 in the US, which was a great accomplishment considering it is their debut album and one of the first Hip Hop albums ever. Flash was not the only one influenced by Herc though, as then Black Spades gang warlord Lance Taylor, known as Afrika Bambaataa was inspired by both DJ Kool Herc and his trip to Africa and proceeded to release Planet Rock: The Album in December 1, 1986. The album includes samples from Kraftwerk, Babe Ruth, and Chuck Brown songs. The trends continue with the birth of Gangsta Rap with Ice-T’s debut album Rhyme Pays in 1987, which incorporated samples from Black Sabbath, James Brown, and Led Zeppelin, and blockbuster Straight Outta Compton of The N.W.A in 1988, which used samples from Funkadelic and Beastie Boys. As a result, the whole wave of Gangsta Rap, which includes Wu-Tang Clan, Big L, Nas, Biggie, and 2Pac can’t be separated from the sampling culture. The trends stayed in the next generation of rappers, Jay-Z, DMX, Eminem, and 50 Cent, who are heavily influenced by the superstars of Gangsta Rap. Sample heavy producer and rapper Kanye West took sampling to the next generation through his protegee Travis Scott and until now, sample is still an important part of Hip Hop.

Sampling is not devoid of controversy however. Many musicians claimed that sampling is not creative and even just another term of theft. Unauthorized sampling may even lead to lawsuit against the samplers. One of the first case was Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. in 1994. Acuff-Rose Music sued Hip Hop crew 2 Live Crew for composing “Pretty Women”, a parody based on Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Women”, which includes a sample from the latter. However the case ended in settlement after the judge doesn’t find it breaking the Copyright Act. This results in the introduction of sample clearance. In order for your sample to get cleared, you need to ask for permission to both the artist you are sampling from and their recording company. Artists usually ask for credit on the song and the record company might ask for some payment. However, they might give different requirements. One of the famous case is when Aretha Franklin wouldn’t gave Kanye West permission to use samples of “Spirit in the Dark” in “School Spirit” as long as there were still cursings in the song. As a result, Kanye was forced to censor some parts of the song before releasing it. In Hip Hop, when a rapper failed to clear the sample, they might release it as a part of a mixtape instead. Since mixtapes are not for profit, it doesn’t break the Copyright Act.

Like it or not, sampling has been a huge part of Hip Hop since forever. Every big Hip Hop act from Wu-Tang Clan, N.W.A, Biggie, 2Pac, Nas, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Drake, Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, to Tyler, The Creator has been using samples all their music career. It has embed deep in Hip Hop culture, and it will stay at the very least for another generation of Hip Hop artists.

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