A piece on sampling

I remember days of crate digging and searching for the right record to sample from. My friends and I would spend countless hours visiting various record shops in the tri-state area. Most of the time our search turned up nothing. Looking back, I’ve realized I walked away with an appreciation for a sound that I wasn’t familiar with.

In the world of music, especially Hip Hop, it has sparked a debate whether sampling is creativity or stealing. I guess that depends on which side of the coin that you stand. On one hand, sampling is an art form which is like alchemy; taking one sound and creating something totally new. On the other hand, if you are a songwriter or musician, you would feel somewhat cheated. Again, the latter depends on your point of view.

Years ago, I had the same debate with friends in the industry. Keep in mind, these were acts that made it big between the late 70’s to the early 90’s. The subject always revolved around the use of samples and it’s history. I must say, after the debate, we all had a new understanding of the art called sampling.

As a child, I was exposed to all sorts of music ranging from blues to funk. Those sounds resonated with me and it was then I realized a deeper passion for music. At that time, there were no ways of learning music traditionally. Fortunately, my father made an impulse purchase that would change my reality. That purchase was a keyboard with a built in sampler.

There were many who shared that same experience. One common thread was a family with loads of vinyl LP’s. As time progressed, I would study the many and greatest forms of music ever composed. Soon I would notice certain sounds of various songs could mesh together perfectly. Imagine using drums from one song, the baseline & horn riffs from another. That was Hip Hop to me. I would listen to the early producers and beat makers then take note of their techniques. Despite lacking the professional studio equipment they had, there’s one thing in common with those who I looked up to. That was sampling.

The art of sampling started way before the invention of Hip Hop. After thorough, research I discovered the earliest forms of sampling can be traced as early as the 1940’s. French composer Pierre Schaeffer began spicing various recordings; creating what was known as “musique concrète”. As the time went on, more sophisticated equipment was developed to continue the process. By the time The Beatles used the splicing technique, it was then referred to as interpolation.

The late 70’s & early 80’s introduced a new sound called Hip Hop. The production was crafty and heavily based on the drum machine and sampler. This is due to the lack of music programs in most urban neighborhoods as well as over priced recording equipment. Out of necessity, the forefathers of Hip Hop production had to improvise using turntables and their favorite records. That choice lead to a multi-million dollar industry which is still growing 40+ years later.

Although the art of sampling my be seen differently by many, one thing remains. It has taught generations much about music, let alone to appreciate music of all kinds. In various ways, it taught many about music theory, song structure, notation and pitch. As a beat maker, the art of sampling diversified my listening taste. It also allowed the opportunity to use portions of music to chop-up, rearrange and present it to the artists I’ve debated with. They were all surprised to find out it was their songs I’ve used. Soon, they were intrigued about the creative processes and the magic made to deliver the final product.

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