I recently saw a documentary called Copyright Criminals. It basically broke down the creative genius as well as the pitfalls of musical sampling. This very smart ninety-minute film opened my eyes to the radical origins of sampling. Hip-Hop from its earliest days sampled older R&B and funk tunes from James Brown to Parliament to Rick James, and let’s face it the genre would have never blossomed had it not been for sampling.
Now in case you don’t know what sampling it’s to use a segment of another’s musical recording as part of one’s own recording. With that said, many known people in the music industry frown upon this form of music making. Producer Steve Albini, best known for his recording of Nirvana’s In Utero stated, “It’s putting your name on someone else’s life’s work.” George Clinton called it being “lazy,” but admits in the film a good chunk of his royalties and fame comes from Hip-Hop samples.
Shock G of The Digital Underground brought out a good point. He compared the instrumentalist and DJ to a painter and photographer. He explained, “While it may be more difficult to paint an object than photograph it, both the painter and photographer are achieving the same thing which is capturing the object’s beauty.” I agree now looking at this from a cultural standpoint; Homer, Shakespeare, and Picasso, all world-renowned artists, writers, and poets who took from their influences and forged together something much stronger and meaningful. So what makes sampling any different right?
Later in the film they explain how the government started to bank on sampling creating one copyright byline after another until artists like: De La Soul, Biz Markie and Public Enemy were left nearly bankrupt. I admit I was on the side of these artists, until they interviewed legendary funk drummer Clyde Stubblefield. Stubblefield best known for providing the back beats of James Brown’s biggest hits from 1965-71. He is the creator of the standard Hip-Hop drum groove and was sampled repeatedly in all the acts listed above and dozens of others, yet he has never been mentioned in any of the songs for birthing the rhythmic foundation of today’s most profitable genre.
He now plays in small venues and doesn’t receive a dime for his samples or the James Brown tracks he helped create. I couldn’t help but feel for the guy, but he gracefully accepted that this sort of thing comes with the territory. He explained in the film as he’s driving to a gig that “That the most creative musicians never get paid.” That statement proved true for experimental DJ Danger Mouse.Danger Mouse’sThe Gray Album, which combined Jay-Z’s Black Album with The Beatles White Album was the biggest of 2004. However, with the legal entanglements that ensued after it left both the label and artist penniless. Now let’s fast forward eight years, Danger Mouse transformed sampling by creating the Mashup.
Mashups have since gone viral on the internet. The free enterprise of the web has helped DJ’s find a loop hole to use their samples freely without dealing with copyright issues, the good ol’ fashioned mixtape. Although, the government thinks, they can monitor the use musical sampling by shutting down sites and suing artists, with the internet going 24/7 it’s simply a fool’s journey. While the art of sampling maybe altogether a double-edged sword, I find it to be rebellion in its purest form. I’m all for the annihilation of the corporation’s dictatorial control of all media creativity over capitalism on with the revolution baby!
Article by: Chasidy Ryan email@example.com