Archive for the ‘Sampling’ Category

The Economics of Sampling…

March 20, 2008

This is certainly an interesting issue, politically speaking, because there’s no big bad villain on either side for people to rally against and take sides. It’s fan vs. his favorite musician; techie-information-ager vs. the anti-establishment artist that supplies the soundtrack to his web-surfing and blogging.

So, to follow up on Pete’s post, here’s my take:

In my reading of Madlib’s comments, he was basically saying, “If you like our music, stop posting those samples, because we’re going to get hit with lawsuits and have to stop making this type of music.”

Every Google-able blog post incrementally increases the chances that an enterprising lawyer or corporate research department latches on to an uncleared sample, and files suit. Sure, the information is all discoverable on the net, but that’s why this is the information age and people pay money for other people to organize all that information into an easily-digestible format. The organization of this information is vital (and ironically, copyright-able, as well). These blog posts are doing that work for free.

Whether you pay up front by clearing the sample, or at the back-end by settling a lawsuit, sampling can be expensive for artists like Madlib, and indeed cost-prohibitive.

That is the simple economics of this game, from what I understand. If these artists complied with the strict letter of the law, they couldn’t afford to make those beats.

Ivan actually concedes this point, and ultimately agrees to cease the behavior that Madlib complained about:

Point #5: Should Underground Artists Get Leniency on Copyright Laws?

I mentioned this argument before, and I think it’s one of the the most grounded and fair-minded of them all. Here’s a board member who expressed it quite wisely:

Well if you don’t want to hear anymore classic underground albums come out in the future then keep doing what you’re doing. Realistically there is no way they could have cleared all the samples on Madvillainy, and Lib is obviously trying to prevent any lawsuits now that would both effect him financially, and potential listeners aurally as the album would be withdrawn from stores. You state that you believe all samples should be cleared, but if that was the case 90% of the great underground albums wouldn’t exist.

This leads me to the conclusion that I will now no longer complete sample sets of albums by underground artists such as Madlib. Fair enough people? See? I can be reasonable!…

Now, he goes on to address the various other (sometimes immature) comments made on his blog, and engages many of the faces of this issue as moral and legal matter, but I wanted to highlight the above passage, just so that it does not get lost in cacophony of unrest. It’s understandable to want to defend one’s self under these circumstances, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the issue: assuming he meant what I said above, Madlib was probably right.

In point #5 Ivan expresses an entirely rational position that I actually share. I think it acknowledges that, whatever one thinks about the morality of Madlib’s behavior vis a vis the original artist, and the appropriateness of a fan’s ability to discuss that sampling, as fans, we wouldn’t want to do anything that would make it no longer economically feasible for Madlib to make his music. That risk is real, and the decision on the part of the fan is cold, and rational. So, if you value Madlib’s contribution to the art form over the satisfaction that you get as a fan from public discussion of sample credits, you realize that these blog posts might not be a good idea.

After so many words have been written on the topic, Ivan may be disappointed to see such an binary explanation, but I really think that the issue forces these writers to choose what is most important to them: their sample heavy blog posts or Madlib’s music.

I don’t think that Ivan’s work is wrong in any moral sense. Far from it–it’s excellent. After thinking about the issue for a while, I just think it’s unwise, in light of the above.

The real culprit is the law (“Redirect the anger against politicians and judges, very clever, Kyle!” –Ed.). But until the law changes, the hip-hop community has to get by, and we need good music like Madlib’s to keep the art alive.

For what it’s worth, I think that an enterprising lawyer from our generation will one day convince a judge that sampling is form of “fair use”, making permission from the copyright holder unnecessary. I’m sure this has been argued unsuccessfully in the past (I haven’t done the research), but I’m hoping that as the hip-hop generation populates the legal culture, our attitudes might change, and make this argument more palatable. This might actually become a research project for me.

But if it happens, it is going to be intelligent, articulate folks like Ivan that make a difference… and this discussion is only priming the pump for that future endeavor. Let’s make it happen.

PS: Many of my references to Ivan and Madlib were merely shorthand, as this debate involves many other similarly-situated parties; pardon my laziness, Ivan.



March 20, 2008

I think some fellow bloggers have done a good job of elucidating the sampling debate given some shine by Lord Quas’s apparent request for the removal of a compilation of original samples for Madvillainy. Hiphopisread has been on the story like Fox News on a car chase in Los Angeles; I’ve enjoyed perusing it during my morning blogroll. (Side note: some of the “blogger” comments he imbedded in his post are quite funny). Being as Kyle and I have often had this discussion in the past, and also employed the oft-quoted Primo, “…that’s some greedy ass, fake bull$hit…” I wanted to add my nickels.

The researcher in me accepts most of the sentiments shared by Ivan and some of his readers. There are few experiences that get me more amped than listening to a track and having that “A-Ha” moment that links a track to some dusty song from three decades ago. I’ve often, in my excitement, dropped some of my friends an email, something to the effect: “Yo, check [Track Title] by [Artist]; you hear that vocal sample/bassline/etc.? Yadda yadda yadda…”

As such, my interest in compilations such as the aforementioned Madvillainy samples, or websites that curtail my research, e.g. SampleSpot, certainly peak my interest and have serviced me well. And I have sought out sites that provide information on tracks; I own several compilation albums, e.g. (and perhaps ironically) DJ Premier Salutes James Brown, which features original James Brown tracks on one disc, with Disc 2 featuring hip hop songs that sampled said tracks…mixed by Primo by the way (as per my sources).

In short, the hip hop fan in me appreciates the access to sampling information, whether it’s in the album’s credits or not.

With that said, I can also align with the ideas that Lord Quas, or Madlib, or whoever else may posit regarding the act of posting/promulgating sample origins. Hear me out.

Hip hop producers have managed to make great music AND clear/cite their samples. Both activities can coexist in a “financially perpendicular” relationship. ha

However, I can understand, from an artist’s perspective, why they’d prefer to have the samples remain obscure…or at least not available in a collective union. It MAY challenge the freedom they have in making the beats we love so much. I understand the gist of sample clearance. From that, I can derive a sense of what an artist must go through when conceptualizing a track/beat/album – it can be quite daunting I imagine. And while I mean no disrespect to the sampled artists, I don’t think clearance should be a hindrance to the creation of an amazing album, say…for consistency sake, Madvillainy.

I know, it’s really an argument one can hardly push through too easily.

Okay, the grand finale.

From an artist’s perspective, I can certainly understand Lord Quas’s request (the manner and reason of his request are another thing). While I don’t wholly agree that identifying samples hurts hip hop, I think it walks the fence of hip hop capitulating to “the Man,” or sample clearance regulations. As such, it almost defies the spirit of what backs the revolutionary history of hip hop. Despite the Souljah Boys and Rick Ross’s of the world, I still see hip hop as the music of the people; the unity, soul, and creative threads that tie its listeners together. (Sorry, I’ve been distracted by Duke winning…talk about snitches…) In a way, I see sampling as aligning with that notion, and allowing artists to spin some sonic yarn that I, in NJ, can feel, as well as dude in Texas, L.A., Chicago.

NOTE: The above are the thoughts of me, and do not necessarily, or in its entirety, reflect the thoughts of other Trading Tapes contributors. But, if Kyle agrees with what I’ve shared, he damn well better cite me.

UPDATE: Check hiphopisread for an update on the debate, and another insightful perspective.

Browsing the blogs…

January 21, 2008

Piggy-backing on the inclusion of Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” on my Morning Cuppa Go, I came upon this write up on “Grazing in the Grass” over at …And It’s Still All Good. Add in Stevie Wonder’s cover, and we’re starting to get a fuller picture here.

Also, check this interview with Damu the Fudgemunk from FROM DA BRICKS; if you haven’t checked Y Society’s Travel at Your Own Pace (alternatively, here) yet, make sure you do that – some really excellent beats on there, e.g. “Hole in Your Pocket” (great bassline), and the classic sounding, “This is an Introduction.” I also learned that Damu has done some work with Panacea (mainly as DJ), and I guess is kind of like the Jerobi White of the group. I actually found this interview at the perfect time: I’ve been listening to Damu’s instrumental, Spare Time.

Initial thoughts…Esoteric’s “Egoclapper” (2007)

November 16, 2007

I just got my hands on Eso’s “debut,” Egoclapper, which came out in October. Just a few brief thoughts as I’ve made my way through the album. On the production tip, Egoclapper is inundated with samples, from a variety of media sources – very reminiscent of MF Doom’s Operation Doomsday. Cartoons, movies, music are represented in the mix, some tinged with subtlety, others playing a dominant role in the track. There are also news-related samples, including sports nods (to Boston of course): “Good defense from McHale,” on “Frank Miller Tank Killer.” The dusty sound, soul samples, and reliance on horns & drums all further the parallel to Operation Doomsday in my mind – e.g. the doomsdayesque sound to “Really Gly,” or comic book stylings on “Spidey Jail Break,” which also features a foreboding, synthy horn loop; they also work as a nod to the late 80’s-early 90’s hip hop sound.

I need to listen to the album to get into Esoteric’s lyrical concepts. Really, the similarities to Doom’s OD is what immediately came to mind almost immediately, and what moved me to throw something up on TT. I love OD and likewise, am feelin’ the depth that the busy production of Egoclapper creates.

The ARE & Dem Damb Jacksons

September 28, 2007

Another afternoon of unwinding. Today’s soundtrack includes The ARE’s featuring Dem Damb Jacksons (with Oh No & Kay [of the Foundation]). The ARE, to my knowledge half of the group K-Otix, has released a few free albums (mainly instrumental) through RappersIKnow. Other than them, my only experience has been random tracks from various albums, e.g. there is a K-Otix track on the second Superrappin volume, a cameo on the wholly underrated Art of OneMind (Illmind & S1), and a slew of production credits, i.e. “So Perfect” from Sivion’s Spring of the Songbird. (If anyone can identify the sample of the latter, it’d be much appreciated).

The ARE’s sound is quite reminiscent of Nicolay, and while I usually try to avoid the “if you like ‘x’ you’ll like ‘y’ ” I feel confident in suggesting that if you dig Nicolay’s bouncy-jazzy-synthy sound, you’ll be able to get into The ARE. Many of his beats are lined with distinct drums and you can count on an ill soul sample.

On Featuring Dem Damb Jacksons, so many things are going right I don’t know where to start. A brief synopsis may go something like this: Oh No & Kay both share the same last name of Jackson. The ARE does not. Oh No & Kay handle much of the writing and rhyming, hence the “Dem Damb Jacksons.” For The ARE’s role, he samples heavily from some other famous Jacksons, focusing mainly on The Jacksons/Jackson 5, but thankfully, on “Oh” using Michael’s “Baby Be Mine.” As with Kanye’s “Good Life” (and SWV’s “Right Here”), I’m always an instant fan when MJ is sampled. So, you roll Oh No, Kay, & The ARE out and what you have is a brief (@ 30 mins) listen which is soulful & hip-hop from 0:00 to 30:06 (the end).

Despite being a big Jacksons/MJ fan, the samples used aren’t easily identified. The ARE’s cutting is on point; he incorporates several synthy guitars, and heavy least on “Keep Trying,” one of my favorite tracks, which features D-Rose (also of the Foundation) and Donwill (of Ilwill & Tanya Morgan fame). On it, Donwill echos the sentiments of many hip hops fans (I know Kyle & I have admitted this several times): “Rap is a hell of drug/you can’t stop, won’t stop…” The track essentially works as a motivational, “this is the shit I had to go through” song.

Listening to this makes me want to listen to my entire The Jacksons collection. The sampling at times is so inconspicuous that I’ve been replaying over and over again trying to pinpoint the exact song. “So Far” is a perfect example – drifty melody backed by bangin’ drums, with MJ dancing in between it all. “I Want You Gone” uses The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” a track that has been sampled several times, yet The ARE’s use is subtle enough that it doesn’t jump out at you.

Another great aspect of the album is it’s free. That’s right. Just like I did, you can head over to RappersIKnow right now and download it (along with the instrumental version). And while your there, be sure to search The ARE and d/l his Still Climbing EP, which features a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks…including the dope “Hip Hop” with Strange Fruit Project.

EWF & Raheem Devaughn

August 30, 2007

Getting a few soul joints in before bed and I realized that I had forgot to bring the Bilal/EWF/Raheem Devaughn thoughts full circle. DeVaughn’s “Guess Who Loves You More” uses the bassline and drums from EWF’s “Can’t Hide Love.” A conspicuous omission on my part but it slipped my mind – until a few minutes ago. That bassline is excellent.

Also, Kyle made a great point: that song is great because he sings like he’s having a conversation with a female…this isn’t isolated to this track and his delivery is the reason I like his album…

World Lee

August 27, 2007

Brief: Just wanted to add to my recent post regarding the flush of international flavor in this summer’s releases (e.g. M.I.A. & Madlib’s latest Beat Konducta) – I highly recommend swinging over to Rappers I Know and downloading Progress: An Audio Tribute to the Cambodian People by Rob Viktum. As per the artist, it features beats crafted sampling authentic Cambodian vinyl given to him…beats are really dope. I haven’t decided if the following comparison is odd, or makes sense, but some of the beats have a very RZA-esque sound to them.

Album features one of my favorite hip hop heads, Von Pea, along with Strange Fruit Project, etc.

Congrats to Common…

August 20, 2007

While I was away, Finding Forever found itself #1 on the US Billboard 200! I wonder how much of that was influenced by the huge success of BE; still glad to see it up there.

I tell you one thing, I was itching to hear that album upon my return. “Start The Show” been on my mind’s ear on the regular. I still listen to “I Want You” with indifference, however.

I’ve also had time to read some other reviews now that the albums been out for a few weeks. I haven’t really read anything too surprising – interesting how most reviews seem warm in temperature but all conclude that it’s a dope album. Kyle made a great point regarding its sequencing that definitely works for me, although I didn’t realize it until he mentioned it: the juxtaposition between bangers and more laid-back joints definitely gives the albums sound a distinctive shape; overall, the bangers are minimal, but the sonically, you can hear the change as the album progresses. As Kyle said, you’re kind of lulled by “U, Black Maybe,” then “The Game” hits hard.

I’m currently bumpin’ the itunes (& UK) bonus track, “Play Your Cards Right,” with Bilal. I love the original track, “Under The Street Light” by Joe Bataan, who has made an appearance on TT. In addition to that horn sample, you know Karriem Riggins had to throw that Detroit bang into it.

Common & Patrice Rushen & Joe Henderson

August 20, 2007

  My roomie from college is a jazz man. And as such, he’s been a valuable source of information over the previous few years as I’ve delved deeper into that genre (Went to my first jazz show with him in 1998, Joshua Redman…also went with his then girlfriend and future wife). Anyway, a while back, maybe in 2004, John put me onto Joe Henderson, whose Page One as become one of my favorite albums (“Out Of The Night” is ridiculous).

Fastforward to the other day – I get back from a trip and instead of unpacking, I get caught in one of my zones where I need to research an individual’s discography, including random contributions credited to him or her. Joe Henderson was my target. (I couldn’t get “Blue Bossa” out of my head on the return trip). Lo & behold, my trek some how brought up a familar name: Patrice Rushen. Now honestly, the only thing I really know about her is she is an R&B singer/songwriter, whose credits include 1982’s “Remind Me,” which Ynot sampled for Common’s 1997, “Reminding Me (Of Self).” With me so far?

To my surprise, it turns out that Patrice Rushen broke into the music industry as a jazz musician, handling the piano and keyboards; she put out three albums (all on Prestige) as leader before breaking into R&B/Soul with Elektra.

The tie with Joe Henderson, you may have guessed, is that he was on saxophone for her debut album, Preclusion, in 1974. I’ve yet to get into the album but I’m pretty excited to hear it.

“Popular Demand” – precursory thoughts

March 20, 2007

Aight, I’m having overload after listening to this album a few times through so it may take a minute to collect my thoughts. If had to play a little word association with myself, it go something like this:

Black Milk – Detroit
Detroit – Dilla
Popular Demand – Beats
Beats – Bangin’

I had a similar beat overload the first the time I heard Champion Sound. The drums dominate and the patterns BM uses are easily identified with Dilla’s Detroit. On tracks like “Take It There,” the drums, along with an amazing sample, create a mob-inciting environment…not sure what the sample was before being cut up, but I love the chanting background BM creates with it.

In addition to thinking of beats when I think Popular Demand I also think consistency; that is, there is no lull on the production. Typical of another Detroit native. When it comes to sampled beats, I always think that the entire beat hinges on the sample used – picking out that sample and cutting it up just right is truly an art – and Black Milk’s beats revel in excellent samples. Similar to Dilla (is the Dilla comparison tired by now?), BM takes some soulful ass beats and makes them bang hard.

So, as I’m bopping my head to the beats, I can’t help but think: anyone of these beats could be a hit commercially; I can easily hear cars bumpin’ “Threesum,” “One Song,” or “Action.” It’s difficult to get inside an artist’s head though. Some strive for that commercial success, e.g. Kanye. Others, like a Dilla or Madlib seem content to succeed/produce on their own terms. I don’t know enough about Black Milk to guess where he’ll end up. He definitely has a marketable sound, particularly in the wake of the success of Kanye, and the death legacy of Dilla.

I’m going to have to listen to the album more to shed light on it lyrically – prematurely, I think Black Milk has that ill ability to flow over the hard drums, a la T3 and Dilla.

Oh yeah, one more thing: how good is it to hear T3 & Baatin together, along with Elzhi?

P.S. That studio session, ill. Love the lone light bulb (he needs to get one of those energy savers though); also love his remark on sampling: “Cats probably think I have hundreds of thousand records; it ain’t really like that though. I just got good records.” The art of sampling.

Black Milk – “Popular Demand”

March 19, 2007

Black Milk – “Popular Demand”
Fat Beats (2007)

Detroit is trying to take over right now… You probably been feeling Black Milk‘s work for years, but didn’t even know it. The 24-year-old producer/emcee out of the D has been producing for Slum Village since 2002 as part of the B.R. Gunna production team.

When I heard the “internet goin’ nuts” over Black Milk, I was skeptical, but very interested given all the hype. (I was sleeping on the B.R. Gunna connection).

I first checked out his promo mixtape, “Pressure” (free download), when it dropped a month or two ago. But I really couldn’t get into it because there wasn’t enough Milk on there (it featured a lot of his Slum Village production) and the mix was very poor.

However, when I finally got my hands on his new LP “Popular Demand” I was blown away. I feel stupid, but I’ll admit it: I slept on this cat.

The sound evokes a post-Tribe Dilla… that grittier, synthy sound that he ushered in on “Welcome to Detroit” and kept going into “Donuts” and whatever else remains of his library. Make no mistake these beats BANG, and they have that drunken griminess that Detroit is becoming known for.

Moreover, this kid has real talent as an emcee. Milk has this amazing presence on the mic and shows some versatility with his flow. As for the content of his lyrics, I’ll let him explain (hat tip:

[M]ost of my lyrical content be on some regular s**t, everyday s**t that you would hear from Jay-Z or any n***a on the radio. I talk about chicks and havin’ nice s**t and stuff like that. It’s just that them the type of beats I like to make. But the raps, they regular. I’m not a really a so-called “conscious” or “political” type rapper, that’s cool, but that’s not really me. Detroit, we the type of city where there’s a lot of street s**t goin’ on, a lot of negativity. I’mma rap about a lot of the s**t that go on here in the D, which is not no pretty type city. [Laughs] It’s a lot of f**ked up s**t goin’ on…like anywhere else.

While I feel like Pete’s pick was an experimental choice, and a good one at that (it really challenged us), this is one of those guaranteed bangers that will also be fun to delve into, but in a different kind of way.

I’ve provided here a two-part interview Milk did with Here, he’s on his home turf, and he shows his recording set-up, messes with some beats, and just talks shop. It’s a must-see.

I also reccomend checking out his interview with the Red Bull Music Academy. Those guys always put together an in depth program for real beat heads.

If It’s Hot, It’s Hot. No?

March 16, 2007

I don’t want to go off too far on this tangent, but my question to Pete would be: at what point does an artist’s level of musical talent supersede any of their other social foibles? If you accept this as possible, do you feel comfortable making that tradeoff of principles? That is, artists like Pharrell or Dilla quite often spout misogynistic, socially-irresponsible lyrics, so why does their artistic talent give them a free pass on the social stuff? Or does it?

Looked at from reverse, it’s hard to find a “knowledge and respect” for music in Run-DMC’s work, they were just straight spittin some hot shit, but they’re icons and some of the best emcees ever. The same is true of many artists from that era.

My point is, isn’t there a space in the pantheons of hip-hop respectability for artists that are just having fun, spitting that hot shit, and whatever sounds cool? I enjoy artists like Madlib or Dilla who are virtuosos and crate diggers, but isn’t there a place for just clownin’ shit, where we don’t ask the artist to take some pop-quiz on 1970’s soul record labels, or how many whiskers were on Curtis Mayfield’s goatee? (answer: 439).

So when Polow Da Don freaks Switch’s “I Call Your Name” on “Throw Some D’s” does he also have to show that he knows the lyrics to every other song they’ve recorded? If it’s hot it’s hot, no?

I really don’t mean to come off as confrontational, I’m purposely trying to be provocative here. Let me know what you think.

Endless Possibilities

March 11, 2007

I just wanted to call attention to a remark that Pete made in his description of ISWHAT?!’s unique sort of chemistry. He said:

“[They are a] kind of back-to-the-future-esque meeting between the young and the old; Pete Rock & CL Smooth playing with Tom Scott as opposed to sampling his “Today.”

Take a minute to consider the possibilities for that kind of recording: hip-hop acts “reuniting” with the artists they sampled to make not only hit records, but a new genre.

It’s particularly relevant that Pete and I grew up in the “pre-Diddy” golden era which loosely ran from 1988-1998 where looped up jazz samples were the norm, and hip-hop had a much stronger connection to the music from which it was sampled.

For better or worse (and I offer no opinion here right now), that era is now quite clearly over, and I suspect that the relationship between some of these hip-hop pioneers and the jazz artists they sampled was not always great. For guys like Erick Sermon, Diamond D, Biz Markie, and maybe even Pete Rock, that tension over copyright basically killed a career. For acts like ATCQ and Prince Paul, it nearly had that same effect were it not for some creative repositioning (e.g. Tribe bringing Dilla into the fold).

Well, maybe we’re past that tumultuous period, and perhaps these artists can all get along. There’s nothing like a live band reinterpreting a sampled hip-hop beat–it’s great. But imagine the original artist performing the track? Imagine if it were possible to reunite the late James Brown and his band with Rakim? Maybe this just makes beat-heads like me salivate, but I suspect that even hip-hop heads would feel a JB/Rakim “reunion.”

But this very interesting thought also raises a values question for us to ponder: would hip-hop be hip-hop if Pete Rock simply called up Tom Scott in 1993 to record a saxophone hook? Doesn’t that distinguish what ISWHAT?! does from what we normally consider “hip-hop”? Is there not an inherent “have not” appeal to sampling a big and famous jazz artist and sculpting it into a fresher, new art form for ghetto kids? If the “pre-Diddy” hip-hop producers, living in their mom’s basements, could afford to hire the jazz artist for a studio session, wouldn’t that cease to be hip-hop? Does that leave ISWHAT?! as forever an outsider to what we consider hip-hop? Said differently, does hip-hop/jazz fusion get its own wing in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame or the Jazz Hall of Fame?

If you can resist the urge to critique the reliance on labels like “hip-hop” (or that Tom Scott and his Hawaiian shirt doesn’t look “hip-hop” in the slightest), and really look at the culture quite generally, I wonder where you come out on this?

Given the dearth of truly classic hip-hop/jazz fusion acts, I call it a jazz offshoot, rather than a hip-hop offshoot. But I need to ponder the question myself.