Disclaimer: I’m a hip hop head who uses samples for his beats

November 19, 2008 at 8:21 pm (Music)

Come to think of it, I should promote myself a little more: here’s my myspace. Still coming to think of things, I should probably mention that I’ve just finished the first EP of my group, Lilac Inferno, and it’s available for free if you just message me your address at xyphap@gmail.com. It is just a CD-R with a paper tracklist, so expect Mos Def level packaging, but hopefully better content.

Anyways, I have a bigger post below where I take Common to town over an offhanded comment in an interview, one where the reader becomes befuddled at my overdramatization. This isn’t the theatre, you say, so maybe I should find a real enemy to battle.


I ran into an interview with Common about his new album, and was just coasting through it, trying to forget that Gap commercial he’s been in (oh, and contributed original music for). He talks about his new album, once called Invincible Summer and now switched to Universal Mind Control, and remains an eloquent dude in interviews and rhymes. But then he lets rip this seemingly innocuous number, when talking about Pharrell and his (numerous) contributions to the album:

There’s something real tasteful about him. And that in itself helps to create good music. I want to say they definitely have one of the most progressive sounds I ever worked with, and the fact that they can do it with no samples, it’s really incredible.

I have no idea why he starts referring to Pharrell as “they” instead of “he.” This isn’t my only irk, which involves two things: one, that he reiterates often how tasty Pharrell is, and, two, how the only tangible, communicable appreciation of his taste is that he “can [create good music] with no samples, it’s really incredible.” Samples are the heart and soul of hip hop, and modern music would not be where it is without them, so I must ask three questions I kinda know the answers to already.

Common, does [sic] their incredibleness come from their aversion from the pilfered musical phrase? Does not using prerecording samples inherently make music, as a whole, better? Why are you (indirectly, and I bet unconscoiously) down on the most basic tenet of hip hop, the thing that allows it to be both accessible to masters of lush soundscapes (say: Madlib or DJ Shadow, to cite two progressive examples), AND to poor minorities with limited money but a political message to spread?

When Hip Hop just started getting booties bumping, it was because listeners started to control how they listened to their music. They started repeating parts they liked, that more favored a party atmosphere. So, some inspired party hosts (MCs, DJs, Whatevs at this point) started making more elaborate, personal switch ups of the music they listened to. And, to keep an orgasmic beat going on in the background, but to not make it repetitive, some put their own words atop the beats. (Whether or not this comes directly from Jamaican Roasts is unclear). This led to the further innovation of personal, idiosyncratic usages of the forms, and by now hip hop is the biggest musical genre critically and commercially, and all because people sampled stuff and made the interesting decisions with the music somewhere outside melody and rhythm. (See: Flying Lotus for a great example of pure, but progressive hip hop).

(I can’t really substantiate the claim about hip hop being so big and important except anecdotally, but it is the youngest big genre (by that I mean Best Buy or Borders has a section devoted to it), and no artists nowadays say, “man, I really wanna get into this awesome genre country, and maybe blend it with this totally fresh other one, rock.” Rock, Country, Blues, Jazz, heck, the big amorphous lump most people say is Classical music, these are signified with the past, and don’t really have innovation happening from within: it’s mostly blending tradition with new styles. What I mean to say is, they don’t have a Miles Davis and Charlie Parker innovating Bebop jazz anymore, we have jazzy hip hop). They have a Miles Davis mixing rock instrumentation with jazz performance techniques (well, plus the other million things that make Bitches Brew stand out and the derivative rock/rap remix so bad).)

So, hip hop is so big and important, and why is it this way? Because of samples. Because anyone with a vinyl player can concoct their own music. Sure, the manipulation of found sounds has gotten much more complex with the best gear costing a lot, but at the end of the day one can loop four measures of James Brown with a free downloadable program (let’s say audacity), and then this other cool synth sound you’ve found on another track, you can match its tempo to James Brown, and switch it on and off every four measures; voila: song! Now please put more effort into your next one. (And so the theory behind early sampled hip hop is born in someone’s heart: I love cosmogonies).

Okay, so sampling may have started out as covering up a lack for actual music compositional skills (which I’m guessing is how Common feels about it, maybe because a lot of early samples stole from earlier black musicians not always with respect, but that’s another essay), but it’s become so much more than that; it’s become integral to many artist’s progressive sounds (to name more, Avalanches and Beck oh my!). What really irks me about that offhanded statement (although, really, I’m just using it as a vehicle to articulate my own thoughts on what makes hip hop awesome. Common very well could have just been speaking with little edit time), is that it sees sampling as something from the past, and it implies that people without taste don’t sample. Why, look at Pharrell, he’s so tasty, and he can compose his own music instead of stealing from others. How far hip hop has come that it can be successfully solipsistic AND progressive!

But I’ve had more than enough of solipsism in my British Literature class, and welcome the opportunity musicians have of incorporating other people’s work into their own, and producing something whole and different, while paradoxically having already been recorded*. This sounds progressive to me: Putting synths on sped up beats does not, especially while singing about people liking your music because it’s so hypnotic because that’s what hip hop does and oh look their first syllables are the same: entymology is the key, she has a big booty**! But at least the beat has mad rhythm, so I guess I can’t be too mad about the final product. Plus, the video has cool robotic design style that sometimes falls into expanses of white and black ink drawings. Perhaps the philosophy does not inflect itself on the music made.

*Ding, the survey course is satisfied by the movement: I kid, I kid! but only a little…

** I unfairly paraphrase Common’s lyrics and the chorus here.

This statement kinda goes along with Kanye’s decision to move away from what makes hip hop so awesome and adopt more respected song forms (and why have all my former idols have been disappointing me lately!?!). First, he stopped sampling nearly as much as he used to, and started composing more of his song’s parts instead of sampling them*. Now, he tries to sing on all his songs. I’m expecting his next album to be a folksy tribute to Joni Mitchell, for which Lil Wayne plays guitar. Common (instead of Kanye’s ad lib partner in crime Yung Jeezy), of course, provides the ad libs.

* Not a bad thing in the abstract, and Graduation wasn’t nearly as bad as 808s and Heartbreaks is going to be.

I have no idea how the other sounds stack up to Pharrell’s, but the Neptunes have always been the most well regarded producers to produce good popular music, so I’m guessing they have the veneer of skill and idiosyncrasy but ultimately try to not offend anyone. I feel like I should talk about another ultra popular musician (by those who’ve heard him): Girl Talk. His music is VERY progressive, and created with inexpensive software and a handful of the artist’s time and concentration, which is really the essence of hip hop, why it’s become so big and tremendous. Anyone can do it if they just have the time, because the fee for entry is so cheap and it allows such possibilities- Come to think of it, this is starting to remind me a little bit of blogging. Who’s up for the next wave of the B Boys!?! If I extended Common’s comment deriding samples (i.e. the ability for poor people to do work), he would probably be against link blogging. We are opposed on two accounts, then, and so this entry ends with us in eternal conflict with no resolution in sight: such is trolling on the internet.

As always, thanks for reading.


1 Comment

  1. Hiphopsamplez said,

    nice post

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