The art of the sample: where does one begin? It’s been a staple of production since the 1980’s. Whether it’s a drum break, a sound effect, an “ooh” or an “ahh,” sampling has been the cornerstone of most modern music. The art was frowned upon by a lot of sampled artists during the hip-hop takeoff, considering most of what was going on in rap was lost in translation by the sampled guys. However, hip-hop pushed through like it always does, and innovated as it always has. Back then most of the artists who ventured into sampling had no access to large-scale studios and used what they could to create something special and unique. Sampling was and always will be a staple of music.
Now, the art of digging for samples is whole other adventure that has significantly changed over the years. I want to preface my next words by saying they will absolutely read like I’m an old curmudgeon, but it is what it is. I take this very seriously. Music pays my bills, primarily because my style is bred from samples that you’ll probably never unearth. Why? Because you don’t dig how I dig. I hold my samples in my hand still, and most are worth more than your mother’s mortgage (including that $200 you pay to occupy her basement…I see you). Anyway, so the record store is a level playing field. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, how talented you are, who you know, or even how much money you have. If you have a single dollar you can find something in a record store. There is a serious lack of ethics when it comes to sampling—partly because it was bred out of necessity, partly because the elders would rather throw up roadblocks than encourage and teach the youth, and partly because people are scumbags. The more accessible something becomes, the lower the barrier of entry gets. Eventually the standards fall. Rap music without sampling is everything you don’t want in your life. It’s synthetic and cold. There’s no feel to the music, so there’s no emotion in the music, and the listener is left with an empty feeling they replace with “Molly and Percocet.”
That’s why I’m here; to remind everyone of the value of sampling with finesse and not bastardizing it for the sake of grab someone else’s creation as a lazy way out of creating your own. I am going to omit the obvious. I’m not going to mention drum breaks a la “Substitution” and “Impeach The President.” I’m not going to talk about James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Kool & The Gang, etc. This is more in tune with simply things that I hear that annoy me as a fan and as a producer. I know the “Amen” break was sampled 2500 times. Nobody gives a fuck; that break is shit anyway. It’s hard to tackle the issue of sampling because SO many people just do it wrong. So many people are looking for a hit or a quick fix; most people don’t know shit about arrangement or progression. Then you have the flipside of kids who only want to make beats that already sound like someone else’s. You have to take and use your influences, and apply them to YOUR music. Have something identifiable for the listener to relate to and feel. That’s the whole gig. Give the listener something they can feel.
Over the years, sampling has become sort of a lost art. Very few people dig for records and even fewer people dig for samples. As rap music becomes more corporate, more diluted, and less artfully done, the music will suffer. The keys on a piano sound exactly the same on every piano. An A-flat is always gonna be an A-flat. DJ Mustard is not a genius. The sad state of affairs we’re currently in is our own fault. People are led by the urge to profit off what they’re creating, as opposed to creating itself. EVERY corner a kid can cut in 2017 is getting cut. They don’t go buy records and try to make something that they identify with. No, they go look up “hot Alchemist sample” on YouTube and then sample a poorly encoded, lo-fi, no feel, YouTube video and do their best impression of Alchemist. I’m going to illustrate this the best way I possibly can.
There are four simple rules—and if you are going to sample, please for the love of God and all things holy: STOP DOING THESE THINGS. Here are the rules you SHOULDN’T follow.
Rule No. 1: If you can’t do it better than the original, then don’t do it at all.
Stavros Xarchakos – “Palikari Dipsasmeno”
Dilated Peoples – “Reach Us”
Bryson Tiller – “Self Made”
The Dilated Peoples beat is sublime and is produced by Joey Chavez & Bravo. Together they make Sid Roams aka the last purveyors of quality street rap music. Bryson Tiller’s shit is buns: 808 kit, lazy chop, and a bad mix make for things all bad. The Bryson Tiller joint is so wack, if you go search for it on YouTube, the first page is like four instrumental versions. Do yourself a favor and just go listen to the Dilated joint.
Rule No. 2: If it’s a hit, leave it on the goddamn shelf.
This goes both ways. I’m not talking about P Diddy and Trackmasters sampling “Juicy Fruit,” I’m talking about everyone hearing “Mask Off” by Future, finding the sample, and then sampling the OG. You are a SCUMBAG if you do this. PERIOD.
Tommy Butler – “Prison Song”
Future – “Mask Off”
Insert 500 try hards here for everyone else who tried to flip this sample better. Just search “Mask Off flip” and grab a bucket to vomit into. Young Metro and I don’t trust you. This was hands down the best execution of the sample. Don’t even try it.
Rule No. 3: Stop sampling the same songs.
Here’s an extreme example of an artist sampling a song twice.
Incredible Bongo Band – “In a Gadda Da Vida”
Nas – “Thief’s Theme”
Nas – “Hip Hop is Dead”
Incredible Bong Band’s “In a Gadda Da Vida” was masterfully used by Salaam Remi on “Thief’s Theme” and then poorly used by will.i.am on “Hip Hop is Dead.” This is an abuser of Rules 1 AND 2. It’s a perfect highlight of everything that can go wrong with sampling.
Now for an overused sample.
Sister Nancy – “Bam Bam”
Run-DMC – “Down With The King” (Ruffness Mix)
Jay Z – “Bam”
According to my calculations, I can recall 50+ songs that sampled this shit. I only hope that Sister Nancy is eating a full plate as opposed to Ruff House who probably owns the sample (insider gag lulz). Pete Rock’s “Down With The King” remix was killer, Jay Z’s most recent usage in “Bam” was also dope. What’s really crazy is how the value of the 45 plummeted after it was reissued. That’s probably why there are 75 versions of it out there, you beat jackin’, CD samplin’, reissue ownin’, YouTube diggin’ hacks. STOP SAMPLING THIS SHIT.
Also sampled by:
Sean Price – “Jamaican”
My favorite flip, it’s a very straightforward beat produced by Khrysis. Sean P rides it flawlessly. You don’t need anything more than this and the original sample. It’s hardbody.
Wiz Khalifa & Chris Brown – “Bomb”
The worst flip of any sample of all time. This is so extra in every sense of the word and is unpleasant to listen to.
If you want to sample, take 20 dollars and Google “record stores near me” and turn your location on for three minutes so the FEDs can spy on you *cues dramatic music*. Then just go to a record store, buy whatever you think looks good in the dollar bins, go home, and start there. You can get a USB turntable for 99 dollars. It’s an investment in yourself that will ultimately help you expand your horizons as an artist and more importantly, as a listener. There are WAY more records in the world than there are mp3’s and YouTube videos. Be unique. Go do something different. Even if your first beats are breaking all of these rules, you get a grace period of 1 – 3 years before that becomes a felony offense. Everyone that started making beats was garbage when they started. It’s a combination of effort and time that will develop your skill set. Anything less is uncivilized. Don’t put your beats on Soundcloud three weeks after you started and get that American Idol ego. Put the time and effort in and grow into yourself as an artist. Sampling is a path to enlightenment when it’s done properly. The rest of you guys can go back to using your MIDI controller keyboards rocking on those broken (stolen) VST’s pumping out the same two-finger melodies until the cows come home.
If you need me, I’ll be in the Gospel section pushing this shit forward.