Crate Digging and Sampling Ethics… Who Heard of Such A Thing???

They let me out of my gig a little early today so I took the opportunity to do a little crate digging on my way home from work. It’s tough when you walk into store and can’t find anything that you want. Imagine walking into a store and not being able to find one old record that deserves to be plucked from the numerous others to receive the designation of chosen one.  It’s downright heartbreaking! I left the store without any new acquisitions, hopped train back home, and on the ride home began to think about the current state of Hip Hop production and sampling ethics.

I was rockin’ Beat Konducta volumes 1 and 2 while simultaneously jockeying for body position with oblivious tourists on the bumpy subway ride when I realized how well Madlib flipped James Browns "Big Payback". If it had been anyone else, the sample would have probably been done similar to Biggie and Total’s "Can’t You See", but Otis Jackson’s version was completely original. This brings me to the current conversation. Is it ok to reuse a sample that is too obvious or has already been used and abused?

Perhaps I’m being a bit of a snob, but my ears automatically shut down and I skip over a track if I recognize the sample too easily. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for producers like The Beatnuts who love to show off their rare record collections and have beat heads scrambling to find out what they sampled. It just seems wrong, especially when you consider the deep pockets that many mainstream artists have, for someone like Nas on "Hip Hop Is Dead" to sample Incredible Bongo Band’s version of Iron Butterfly’s "Inna Gadda Da Vida". It’s just too easy and the challenge completely disappears when the average person can catch the lifted sample or break. I guess Hip Hop really is dead.

Even worse is when I hear something along the line of "Show Em What Ya Got" by Jay Z. You can call it a tribute, throwback or whatever you want, but that does not change the fact that this was already made classic by Public Enemy, Wrecks In Effect, Rass Kass and numerous others. At what point to we call it quits and just let the previous versions stand as classics? I’ve even known people to straight sample someone else’s beat! It’s a complete violation, but it happens. There is nothing creative or elevating about sampling someone else’s complete beat. It’s just an invitation to get attacked and ridiculed.

I personally take deep pride in having others scratch their heads to figure out what records I have sampled. On the other hand I also take great joy in blowing the spot of what records other people have sampled. Maybe I’m just a sample "hater", but maybe too many artists are lackadaisically pursuing their craft.

394 thoughts on “Crate Digging and Sampling Ethics… Who Heard of Such A Thing???”

  1. I was also impressed at how Madlib flipped Payback too. I also think that anybody who wants to rap needs to know what they sound like over a tried-and-true sample. Funky drummer…

  2. I disagree with you. What ever happened to COMPOSING YOUR OWN MUSIC FROM SCRATCH ? When did that go out of style ? All sampling is wrong, period, it doesn’t matter whether it was sampled from a popular or obscure record, it’s still a reflection of laziness and lack of musical talent. If you can’t compose your own music, YOU ARE NOT A MUSICIAN.

  3. I think your missing the point john there are those of us whom grew up to listening to our neighborhood friendly musicians that were to poor to afford real instruments and yet were moved by the passion of the players behind them…….what A RUN ON SENTENCE. Anyhow once thus reaching that level of production(track arranger)it stays in your blood,the hunt,the search,for the next, beat, sound, phrase,effects and pattern or style to launch into the listener’s ears which would thus be the virgin ears of those will be inspired by us and our Hero’s we paid homage to …That being those of us whom take part in paying our royalty dues once we make it…

  4. Sampling is an art form to me. It really helps one’s ears to advance to the next level. I play many instruments and was raised by classic and 80’s rock, and I started sampling and making beats not to long ago. I think it’s fun how one can completely change the mood of an original track. John, I think you just don’t understand. Sampling is a technique not everyone can obtain. Anyone can play a guitar. But if I had the instruments and money, I wouldn’t mind conducting my own symphony.
    No dis to John.

  5. Usually those who say “sampling is wrong” are those who don’t understand the culture. They just know of P. Diddy’s production and how Vanilla Ice looped Queen in “Ice Ice Baby”. Usually these people don’t understand how dedicated diggers are to find records, how acute their ears become listening to these records and how creative they are by how they flip the sounds into new sounds. If you think about it, if you use a preset sound on a drum machine or synth it’s as though you are sampling because someone else recorded that drum hit or designed that synth sound. But at the same time there’s people out there that don’t get creative with the sampler and just churns out garbage that gives the rest of us bad names.

  6. With all due respect, I disagree with all your comments. Making sampling acceptable is a shameful way of ‘lowering the bar’ and accepting the subpar work of marginally talented people who can only create music from other people’s music. Again, why do we never remember all the talented 60s and 70s R&B artiest today’s hiphop producers sample from ? These people also grew up poor but somehow they learned to play instruments and compose their own music. Being poor is not a damn excuse. There are even people like R Kelly and many contemporary R&B artists who can compose music even though they can’t play instruments. Really, all you need is an instrumentalist who’ll play tunes you come up with, but the raw talent to compose music from scratch has to be there. And m71, your analogy was bad. You can’t compare sampling a drum beat to sampling a melody. Not the same thing. We’re talking ‘musical’ talent here, not ‘rhythmic’ talent. I’ve had this argument over and over with people and I’ve never heard any good defense for sampling. It’s like defending an artist for taking the Mona Lisa and then modifying it a little bit and selling it as art. It’s bullshit. If you can’t make your own art, you don’t deserve to be called an artist. Same goes for music. Composing music is not that difficult if you have the talent.

  7. i agree john. but like i said its something else. we’re talking about sampling as its own thing. but if you wanna make your own music then do so. like i said i play a lot of instruments and also create original work.

    But the bottom line is, Sampling is fun.

    Don’t rely on it to further your career or just sample all the time. A real artist would want to do more. its not all about sampling either, creating kits is a main part. we are talking about both sampling “musically” and “rythmicly”. I hate sampling drum breaks as a whole. but to strip it down piece by piece and completely add more sounds is where im at.
    Hip Hop is Hip Hop, Music is Music. If i just want to have a Boom Bap drum for 10 mintues and have someone rap over it, it should be allowed. Its all about getting the message over. With instrumentals, its all about getting the feeling over. We should be able to do whatever we want with music. i don’t care if its not mainstream, or if someone doesn’t like how i sample, or if i didn’t sample at all. i don’t care if it never gets played, i make music cause its fun and a great way to releave stress. If you don’t wanna sample, then don’t. Let us have the fun. Besides sampling has been around since the begining of HipHop.

    ps. if i got off topic, sorry.

  8. Oh boy, here we go again. What a lot of sample haters fail to realise is it’s not just the music per-sé that a sample based producer is after, it’s also the feel and aesthetic that can only be realistically be achieved by sampling, (that is unless you happen to have a load of vintage studio equipment, a whole band, a vintage drum kit etc etc. I’ve heard purely composed hip hop beats, and frankly, they suck IMO! It’s all very well getting a musician to play their instruments the way you say, but to then take that and make it sound like hip hop, that’s another thing.

    Take for example Amy Winehouses’s Back To Black album, Mark Ronson hired the Dap Kings & Dap Tone studios, because he was after an authentic 60’s/70’s soul sound that is very hard to achieve these days in a state of the art studio, no matter what plug-ins you have. I mean, there have been bands in the past trying to replicate an authentic vintage sound in modern studios and to those ends have failed. I’m not saying they haven’t made good music, but you can certainly tell the difference between a Brand New Heavies record made in 92 to a Roy Ayers record recorded in 72.

    As a beat digger/record collector/sampling enthusiast, I’m very particular about what I sample, and quite frankly, I rarely find anything worth using that was recorded later than 1976, mainly because the recording sounds too clean and soulless. Modern drum hits do not have the same gritty texture to them that you would find on an old Bernard Purdie joint from the 60’s, and it’s that grit/feel that a lot of sample based producers love. On top of that, we also like to filter and layer our sounds emphasising certain frequencies. There is also a lot of ambient noise in many hip hop records that are there on the original sampled records, and without them, the record would not sound half as good. To make a certain kind of hip hop record, quite frankly you have to sample, otherwise you will end up making something that is merely a compromise of the sound you really wanted! Even group like the Roots who famously DO play all their instruments, have recorded themselves on vintage gear and sample themselves, the same as any hip hop producer would to achieve that classic sound (check Illadelph Halflife). Their purely played tracks have a totally different aesthetic to them, which is cool, but it’s still different!

    Personally I don’t give a shit if you think we deserve to be called musicians or not, I know we are not playing traditional instruments as such. However, to deny the genius of producers like Madlib, Premier, Dilla, Diamond D, Dre, Rza, Prince Paul etc. just highlights either your ignorance or close mindedness!

  9. Let me put it this way, it’s okay to sample once in a while when you want to capture the ‘feel’ and ‘aesthetic’ of old music, but most hiphop producers today sample most of the time, and they don’t do it to capture the ‘ethos’ or ‘feel’ of old music, they modify it to sound like new-age hiphop and they do it because they can’t come up with tunes by themselves. That’s the ugly truth that nobody is willing to admit. Many people in hiphop have very little musical talent. Those with musical talent go into R&B where you have a higher percentage of people who compose music from scratch.

  10. John – you have some valid points but there are is a much more creative approach to artistic sampling than you are willing to give credit for. Beats made by DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Madlib, Dilla, etc, could never have been recreated in a completely composed manner that would come close to the same vibe and feel if someone had tried composing it.

    Unless you are arguing that composed beats and sampled beats sound the same, you are comparing apples to oranges. Two distinctly different sounds, and the only way to get ours is by sampling.

    There are great composers out there who create original music from scratch. There are great sample heads out there that program samples to beats to recreate their OWN version. Though the source material is not original, we aren’t making the claim that it is. Our version of that sample, programmed within our beat, is 100% original because it hasn’t been done or heard like that ever before.

    There are bad composers out there who create very simple, boring and bland beats. there are bad sample heads out there who loop entire breaks with entire 2 and 4 bar loops.

    don’t let the kids who don’t know what their doing tarnish your appreciation for those who make great sample based music my dude. Listen to the dudes we’ve mentioned and then show me composed beats that have the same feel.

    I’ll be DITC till you do.

  11. were talking about hip hop.A genre where people originally used music to make music before sample clearance & publishing altered the production techniques.

    It is possible to recreate a sound from any decade you just have to do your homework & understand recording procedures, instruments ,equipment, frequency bandwith also need to regulate using todays hi tech crystal clear 24bit 96hz or higher digital recording & musical instruments because you are trying to emulate the past where bandwidths ,dynamic range etc were lower.

    I originally used to sample using a tascam multitrack & an akai x7000 sampler before i taught myself to play drums, bass & saxophone. I can now create ,produce & perform a wider range of musical genres because you have to evolve & advance as a musician .

  12. I agree with element but with me i already knew how to play drums, guitar, piano, any instrument that isn’t wind or horns, before i started to sample music. Its a different reason for everyone but with me i find it fun. Not to make it sound like “modern HipHop” as John said but to just have fun and show people you can create anything out of anything for any reason. In hiphop, people have sampled since its beginings. I don’t think sampling is a problem in the genre, but i know its something no one is bringing up s often as the sample technique. The Lyrics…but i do agree with all of you. Some people just have to sample because its all they want to know, other have fun with the technique, and other don’t need a reason but its all the samething if it sounds great. A major goal in music is to make it sound amazing with meaning.

    ps. I love Judy Garland

  13. My beatdigging ears were already trained to detect hundreds of samples & breaks. I just had to train them to identify notes, intervals & chords & then learn to play an instrument.
    sampling has resurrected the profile & directed me to discover many forgotten artists , musicians , labels etc.Its also influenced groups like portishead but in many situations its simpler & more rewarding if you can play because sampling as it’s limitations. we also have to put something back for future generations. Because soul , rnb ,club & dnb producers are also sampling the past.

  14. Dude it’s music, if you feel that some people have no creativity so be it. It’s all about respect. Just don’t hate. Other people have ideas too. Even if they are not so creative. If I recognize the sample I don’t care. All I care is if I can rock to the song. Peace.

  15. 1. when you actually sample, and not just loop part of a song, you are taking ELEMENTS and combining them in an original way. to fools like john, i ask: is it “unoriginal” to use elements that you didn’t create (frequencies, notes, rhythms, words, instruments, instrumentalists, etc) when composing “original” music as opposed to composing sample-based music? Where do you draw the line?

    All artists use elements that they did not invent. Originality lies in HOW one uses the elements, since everyone has the same elements to work with as everyone else in their artform.

    2. there are lazy jackasses who contribute nothing original in EVERY single genre. hell, in every single artform. why single out Hip Hop?

    3. it may shock and discredit you to learn that i, along with untold numbers of other sample-based musicians, CAN play instruments and compose music and even (gasp!) know a thing or two about music theory! yet for some unfathomable (to you) reason we choose sampling as our primary creative vehicle over instrumentation. so i guess my question is… are we musicians yet?

  16. For the moment im going to ignore the whole argument with john and address the original post. There are times where songs are just looped and drums are added and it gets called hip hop, and this is usually something that I hate. However, if your going to say that “Hip Hop is Dead” sucks because the sample is obvious then you’re pretentious. Obviously when Salaam Remi originally sampled it for “Thief’s Theme or when recreated it they had no intention of fooling anyone. Sometimes there is no reason to chop the song to hell. The point is that “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” would make an awesome hip hop track and you should be glad that a deserving artist like Nas did it before someone like Wayne or Gucci got to it and the producer ruined the song by adding pitched snare rolls and other dime-a-dozen current production fads.

    Was it a violation of your Sampling Ethics when A Tribe Called Quest sampled “Take A Walk On The Wild Side”?

    Heres my Sampling Ethics:

    “Don’t sample anything that you can’t do justice.”

    Thats about it.

  17. I talked about that a few days ago, with a pair of only-rock-listener. The point was that sampling, or whatever a DJ can do, is not music. Because DJs don’t create anything by sampling. I told them that when they bought a Fender Jagstang guitar because they like Kurt Cobain and then after they play some chords, they’re sampling. They play with a sound they like.
    I think a lot of people confuse samples with loops.

    By the way, heart of DJing is mixing songs together. You play songs you like to make people party on it. Grandmaster Flash explain it very well: when he started mixing, his only goal was to be able to convert a 10 or 5 seconds (or less) parts that he likes into a 5 min songs. That’s sampling (and looping). And I think (and I’m sure) that GMF is an artist. A real one.

    So John, I’m agree with you when you say that many people in hiphop have very little musical talent, but nowadays many people in music in general have very little musical talent. In France, we have a turn of phrase : “Don’t put everybody in the same bag”. So don’t talk about hip hop if you think P Diddy do the same job as Primo or Pete Rock.

  18. I have had this argument with myself time and time again,but I think the way you release the song has a lot to do with it.say daddy was unknown when he sampled the police song and instead of it being a big production it was just on some old plastic Maxwell tape and he was like I was just fuckin around and put this together.I love takin overuse shit and putting my spin on it but I’m the same as the writer if I heard the sample before its a wrap,which was hard in the golden age cause unfortunately it applied to drums as well I absolutely hated hearing synthetic substitution to this day for some weird reason that drum haunts me I will not even chop it.and then john this site is about digging and sampling shouldn’t you be on a boat site complaining about water

  19. Why is it wrong to sample, but bands like Oasis can blatantly rip off the Beatles? Not a logical argument. As long as the music is good, who cares?

  20. Bottom line, whether you play it from scratch, loop it, sample it. It’s all music. We all have different forms of creating and that’s exactly what sampling is. It’s an entirely new creation of music, however you went about it and if it sounds good it is good!

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