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Post-Purist Sampling

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Joseph Schloss’ great book ‘Making Beats: The Art of Hip-Hop Sampling’ has a section that outlines the Purist’s Seven Rules for Sampling. I wish I had a copy of the book in front of me because that would make this post way more effective but I don’t. That’s the thing I miss most about college, not the parties and easy-to-attain drugs, but a solid, reference library…basically, Schloss’ lists makes explicit those sampling rules anyone with a working knowledge of rap and samples takes for granted.

I never think too hard about sampling on any kind of ethical level until a sample jumps out at me as being particularly “bullshit” or I’m forced to defend sampling as a concept. Recently, I was struck by the odd mixing of worlds that became Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’ and Justice’s ‘†’. Kanye samples Justice’s biggest influence, months after he insulted the group, while Justice, make an electro-ish, dance music that uses samples in a way that resembles a classic rap album and even includes a a rapper on one song. Kanye’s sampling of Daft Punk is Puffy-like in its simplicity and obviousness and from a purist perspective, it seems fairly offensive. Justice’s samples are generally more brief and subtle; the purist would applaud these French hipsters.

Yet, something struck me as messed-up about this dichotomy and it became really clear on ‘Phantom Pt. 1’ and ‘Phantom Pt. 2’ by Justice (I was also reminded of this by Daniel Krow’s sampling entries). ‘Phantom’ samples probably one of my favorite songs of all-time, ‘Tenebre’ by Goblin (from the ‘Tenebre’ soundtrack) and does it in a way equally obvious as Kanye’s looping ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’. While Kanye’s sample never bothered me on any sort of “ethical” level, Justice’s use of ‘Tenebre’ does. The main reason is that I’m not sure how many people even realize that those ‘Phantom’ tracks are based on samples, particularly because the sample is from an instrumental, electronic track, so it sort of just fits right in. There’s something cheap about the song, playing a barely-sampled, really dope-sounding song to a bunch of club types that will indeed respond to its dopeness but choosing a song obscure enough that very few of them will go “Hey, that’s Goblin!”.

Perhaps an equal amount of people aren’t aware of Kanye’s use of Daft Punk, but Kanye seems to have taken great pains to make his sampling explicit. He put the group in the video and has referred to them in numerous interviews. Furthermore, his intended audience, seems to be “with-it” rap-type nerds (I recall producer Black Milk referencing Daft Punk a year or so ago) that already know Daft Punk or will search out the source of the sample, and mainstream pop/rap fans with little interest in musical minutiae. For them, the sample source hardly matters. This defies previous understandings of sampling ethics. It now seems ethically appropriate to sample something obvious and arguably played-out, for although it is audience-baiting it is significantly less disingenuous.

This is undoubtedly the opinion that could only come from someone too young to be totally offended by the Puffy era of sampling. The apotheosis of sampling is undoubtedly the early Golden-age era which birthed the Bomb Squad, Pete Rock, DJ Premier and many, many, others. At the same time, but relegated to smaller regional genres, at least at first, is the extension of sample lengths and the open-ness towards interpolations of older songs. What was once kind of regional becomes super-common with Dr. Dre and others.

Dre’s George Clinton samples to me, are similar to Kanye’s Daft Punk sampling in that, the extension into popular rap excuses the obviousness but say, the RZA’s sampling, although classic and probably my favorite of all-time, feels a little cheap for its adoption of obscure or relatively obscure music and relatively minimal sampling: Wasn’t it just a little disheartening when you heard that Charmels song that is the basis of ‘C.R.E.A.M’? This is not to discredit any of these producers but it does really sort of complicate what defines a fair or ethical sample.

The ultimate rule is (and should be) fuck ethics if it sounds cool and to me, the Puffy era, for all of its “bad” deeds, did make producers more okay with this feeling. Maybe it’s why we get so many great beats but fewer and fewer great rappers. The rules for a rapper have still not been broken-down, the Rakim style is still mindlessly imitated and the ad-lib kings just made an end-run about the rapping part of rap; no one has really gelled the two together, although an argument could be made that Kanye and Lil Wayne are these weird transitional figures…I’m not so sure yet.

But back to sampling and Puffy’s positive contributions to music- Just Blaze and Kanye West, producers that were equally influenced by Puffy as they were by Pete Rock, got their start with Harlem World and moved onto Roc-A-Fella where they basically made more acceptable, more awesome songs in the vein of Puffy’s style. Is there really that big of a difference between Puffy’s super-obvious samples and say, Just Blaze’s sort-of obvious ‘Move On Up’ sample on ‘Touch the Sky’? Now that sampling is commonplace in everything from Coldplay sampling Kraftwerk to JR Rotem sampling something as “timeless” as ‘Stand By Me’ it is context that determines a sample’s ethical “legitimacy” and not a group of static, easy-to-apply set of cratediggers’ rules.

Written by Brandon

September 5th, 2007 at 6:20 am

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‘ego trip’s (White) Rapper Show’: Episode 04.

It took the show four episodes, but they finally made that Guy-In-a-Bug-Suit funny by showing him get-down at the strip-club. And oh yeah, Just Blaze is a dick. I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the guy because lately, he’s on this totally boring incorporation of “real” instruments into his beats kick…On the show last night, he just seemed full of himself. Coming in and telling 100 Proof his style isn’t good, at the point in which he did, isn’t going to do anything but ruin his confidence. The same with telling Sullee not to read off the page. Plus, I’ve definitely seen footage of real rappers holding lyrics sheets, so what is he even talking about? And even if Just is right, anybody could step-in and do that. Then, after all of Just’s snarky comments, he gives in and says they did better than he thought, an obviously back-handed comment. He couldn’t even give these guys an enthusiastic “Just Blaze!”? Come on.

I think Jay-Z comparing this guy with DJ Premier really fucked him up. Who can forget this legendary quote from Just: “I could rap right now if I wanted to. I rap probably better than most rappers”. Did that ever make XXL’s ‘Negro Please’? And they say Kanye West has a big head. At least Kanye doesn’t pretend to be humble. The whole thing reminds me of an old episode of ‘MTV’s Making the Video’, I think it was for No Doubt’s ‘Ex-Girlfriend’. I watched it to see Hype Williams in action and was disappointed to see a lazy, fat dude sitting in his director’s chair half-speaking direction and letting his D.P do all the work. That’s exactly how I felt about Just Blaze in this episode. In fact, Just and Hype are pretty similar, both are pretty good but much too lazy and rely on gimmicks and their reputation to get them through some pretty unforgivable bullshit (‘Show Me What You Got’, that Nike commercial everyone is in love with this week).

Ultimately, Just looks foolish because neither team’s song ends up being terrible, although when you see the making-of it’s pretty hilarious. I want to make fun of Blue Team’s ‘One Night Stand’ but my friends and I were all singing “That’s what it is/So it is what it is/Toniiighht” within seconds of hearing it. That’s gotta count for something. It also seems like Red Team had a better engineer or something. Blue Team’s song didn’t sound like it was produced at all, it was mixed poorly and really did sound like something on a mixtape.

Placing the club-song competition in a strip club and choosing Kool Keith, maybe the only guy that sings about strip clubs but has never had any of his songs played in a strip-club, to judge the contest was unexpected but interesting. It isn’t what viewers would expect and fits with the show’s conscious attempt at being even-handed and also contrarian with rap history. Each episode seems to consciously incorporate up-to-date rappers with significant rappers from the past or distant past, always fucking with expectations. It’s a fair-minded and hardly bitter approach to presenting rap music that is truly discerning in whom it pokes fun-of. That’s why Jus Rhyme doesn’t get any effort points for his “political rap”; he’s exposed for the jack-ass he is. He’s everything that is wrong with so-called “political” rap. “Political” rappers think they know everything; they aren’t even expressing themselves as much as they are trying to tell you how to think. Their music is more oppressive than the most misogynistic rap song. I’ve been holding out on this but Jus is the wrong kind of Ethnic Studies prof’s wet dream. He totally defers to what he is being taught and as 100 Proof insightfully put it, “harbors… an extreme amount of white guilt” which many Ethnic Studies professors misinterpret as racial understanding.

I teach 11th grade English and I was telling some of my more eager-to-please students that I am not big on “A-students”. What I mean by “A-student” I went on to explain, is students that follow the rules, say the right thing, but don’t have a single insightful or new thing to say. Jus Rhyme is something of an A-student. Had 100 Proof not stepped-in, Jus Rhyme would be perfectly okay with saying there’s a problem with “whiteness”. Wow. This show just gets better and better. Seriously though, it really does. The scenarios and contests are increasingly well-done and the show seems to have found its balance between taking the rappers seriously and allowing them to make asses of themselves rather than place them in super-obvious situations that would make anybody look foolish. Next week’s episode looks nuts! Somebody laughs at Serch! Between this and J.T Yorke’s death on ‘Degrassi’ television rules everything around me.

Written by Brandon

January 30th, 2007 at 7:41 am