Culture / Sam Toller

Sampling – Crime or Art?

Whilst watching ‘This Is The End’ in the cinema, I was both excited and chuffed to notice a sample of ‘Champ’ by The Mohawks, in a song I later discovered to be ‘Step Into A World’ by KRS-One.  I was excited due to the engrossing combination of hip hop and psychedelic soul, timed perfectly to produce a new piece of music.

 The art of Sampling is essentially what the word suggests; taking a sample from one piece of music and adding it to another to produce something new. It is done endlessly in hip hop, as well as other genres of music. A famous example is ‘Stronger’ by Kanye West, which sampled ‘Harder Better Faster’ by Daft Punk. Another well known but subtle sample is ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ by The Verve, which sampled ‘The Last Time’ by The Andrew Oldham Orchestra, which was in turn an orchestral version of The Rolling Stone’s original.

 Although sampling produces some incredible mixes, it isn’t without its problems. For instance, The Verve had to hand over 100% of the royalties, as well as cite Jagger/Richards as the songwriters after The Rolling Stones pressed for charges of plagiarism. There have been many instances of legal battles over sampling; in some respects, I believe this is fair, although 100% of the royalties is a bit harsh. Listening to both The Verve and The Andrew Oldham Version, it is easy to jump to The Rolling Stones defense. However, Ashcroft of The Verve was nearly stripped of his songwriting credit, when the band had indeed created a new piece of music.

 Another flipside of sampling is, I admit a subjective one, but the horrible circumstance of having a song you love dearly sampled badly. This is made even worse when no one knows that the ‘fresh, brand new’ track has taken a huge influence from someone else. Little Mix’s ‘How ya doin’?’ released this summer, took sampling a step too far. The Verve sampled strings and percussion, but added their own musical touches as well as original lyrics. KRS-One sampled The Mohawks brilliantly, looping a small snippet of the song to sound familiar yet different. They also sampled Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ for the vocal melody, but similarly this was used in combination with KRS-One’s own sound, lyrics, and mixing. Little Mix, on the other hand, sampled the chorus, bassline, guitar riff, adding their own lyrics for the verse and the random sound effect of glass smashing.

But, for the most part, I really enjoy sampling when it’s done well. Another example of this is ‘Get Down’ by Nas, which samples ‘The Boss’, by the godfather of soul James Brown. I also sympathise with the numerous rappers who cannot make their own music, and struggle to find original producers simply because they are outnumbered by rappers. Many of my favourite unsigned rappers have to remix, cover or sample other tracks, as without them, they would simply have nothing to rap over. Its unfortunate, but sometimes you find a song which is improved tenfold by some original wordplay, such as Watsky’s ‘Wounded Healer’, or Intuition’s ‘Two Weeks’ cover. 

 Sampling is a great tool for many modern musicians. I believe that used effectively and within reason, it produces many wonderful sounds, through the amalgamation of genres and artists. But next time you hear a fresh track with an old beat, or someone points it out to you, make sure your appreciation goes in the both ways; cherish the past, and welcome the future.

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