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Sampling is High Culture

Sampling music is art. It is underappreciated, but it is art. People who do not appreciate sampling view it as a form of stealing someone’s work. Taking music another artist toiled over and using it without the artist’s permission is wrong and should not be encouraged. The hip hop genre gets a lot of flack for its heavy reliance on sampling. Hip hop is one of the youngest genres of music and, as such, gets a lot of inspiration from older forms of music. The earliest hip hop artists and producers developed the craft and skill of taking bits of old songs and turning them into a version that appeals to a hip hop audience. These tend to be songs the hip hop artists listened to as kids and they sample them as a way of paying homage to artists they looked up to.

Dr. Dre, a legendary hip hop producer, has used many samples in his career

Dr. Dre, a legendary hip hop producer, has used many samples in his career

The say, “imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” so why does sampling rub many people the wrong way? First of all, this is the music business. Lots of money, time, and energy go into the production of music with the hope of reaping bigger benefits. Some of these benefits come in the shape of royalties, as artists are rewarded whenever their songs are used. When an artist samples another artist’s original composition for his/her song and ends up making financial gains from this sampled product, it violates fairness in business. It is only ethical to give credit where it is due.

The Washington Post’s “It’s not Sampling, it’s Stealing” criticizes the use of sampling in hip hop. “The issue of paying for music sampling is not complicated at all. If you want to use another artist’s copyrighted material that he or she wrote, performed and/or recorded — pay the royalties. If not, then write, perform and record your own music. Don’t expect to steal the artistic creation of others without paying.” This is a sentiment shared among anti-sampling people, and it is a rational point. Taking someone’s work without giving him/her credit is plagiarism and cannot be entertained.

Are Rappers Really Musicians?
I am less concerned about the legal aspect of sampling, however; I just care about the art itself. It is a very difficult thing to do and I am bothered by critics who see sampling as the easy way out. Hip hop, after all the success it has enjoyed and the influence it continues to have on this generation, does not get the credit it really deserves. The older generation has a very hard time understanding the genre and are quick to dismiss hip hop musicians as talentless people steal others’ music and put a bunch of words together.

1SDCRMA simple Google search yields many forums on why rappers are not real musicians. “Are Rappers Really Musicians?” – a forum on musicbanter.com – like many other forums, questions the validity of hip hop and one of the comments stands out to me: “Rappers speak over prerecorded beats, listen for hours to records, find samples (snippets of melody and rhythm), then place these on tape loops and begin narration… My point is I hear ‘prerecorded beats’ and ‘finding snippets of melody and rhythm’ and I’m thinking why don’t you take out a musical instrument and write some melodies? If you or your band don’t play any musical instruments, you have no musical talent and are not musicians. Most rappers I see performing aren’t playing instruments and only have a DJ behind them with turntables.” The problem with this statement is that many people think that way and it just undermines a craft that is very difficult to master. This forum member’s comment uses sampling as one of the arguments for why hip hop is not real music. People with similar sentiments argue that what makes one a true musician is his/her ability to play an instrument. This disregard for hip hop has been around since its conception and, as long as traditionalists with outdated opinions on culture are not willing to accept change, the art of sampling will continue to be viewed as low culture.

Yeezus: The God of Sampling

Kanye West performing live on stage with an MPC

Kanye West performing live on stage with an MPC

The ability to sample music is a skill only a select few possess. As a big hip hop fan, I have heard countless samples; some good, some not so good. My introduction to hip hop happened right around when Kanye West released his debut album – The College Dropout. Kanye West since then has been able to establish himself as one of the most important musicians of this generation. One of the qualities that sets Kanye apart from other musicians is his unmatched skill of sampling.

The vast majority of songs produced by Kanye incorporate some form of sampling, as that is now his signature sound. Being able to sample well requires a lot of time, good ears to pick out what specific part of song would be good for reuse, and patience. Kanye West does a great job finding songs to sample. Fans who understand and appreciate this art form have compiled a series of videos that show how songs were sampled on his albums.

This gives the listener a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes at the recording sessions of these artists critics are quick to call talentless.

While I find so much beauty in sampling, I can admit that it is a flawed practice. “Sampling or theft?” recognizes and respects the tough skill required to sample successfully but demands that artists take the necessary steps in securing the rights to the songs the sample. There is always something in the news about a hip hop artist getting sued for sampling illegally. This only adds to the negative press hip hop already receives, and steps must taken to prevent this from continuing moving forward.



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