Recently one of the godfathers of Hip Hop, Curtis Mayfield, would have celebrated his 73rd birthday. In thinking about how frequently sampled his music is in the world of Hip Hop production I began to think about the art of sampling and how it is a less seen and patronized form of production now seen in Hip Hop. Sampling, in my opinion, is one of the ways that Hip Hop paid homage to its heritage. While the people of that generation may not always support, align or even understand Hip Hop it has made no difference to that generation of music’s influence helped to shape the roots of Hip Hop. With the use of samples waning, will the future generations of Hip Hop remember from whence they came?
Hip Hop was born on the heels of the disco movement. While older people were doing it up at the discos, the younger generation was taking those same hits and looping them to create a foundation for their own sound. It truly was evolution as the youth who created Hip Hop took what their parents had offered and created something of their own.
Hip Hop samples originated with the gods of Hip Hop like Afrika Bambaataaand Kool Herc where parts of disco records were looped to create the backdrop for Hip Hop beats. This practice was standard until the early 90’s when rapper Biz Markie was sued for his use of a sample by Gibert O’Sullivan. The court held that those producers/artists/labels using samples owed monetary concessions to the original songwriters and producers. This created the standard of paying for sampling of music for which the average runs around 10k. That said, many artists were forced to create from scratch rather than risk having to pay the hefty sampling fees. Such practice on the part of a producer was reserved only for those who could afford to pay the price. This altered the Hip Hop landscape from that of which artists like Public Enemy once traversed where they could use dozens of samples in the creating of an album. However without those samples Hip Hop production lost some of its nostalgic feel and soulful sound. In short, it separated Hip Hop from its roots.
One of the reasons that I believe Hip Hop was able to resonate with so many people across cultures and generations is that it is a music born of a history. That history dates back to the disco era but encompasses all the soulful changes from before and after that era. A Hip Hop song, through a sample, can be both nostalgic and familiar and altogether new. With the advent of the legal rulings that dictated that Hip Hop samples, however minute, must financially compensate the original artist a downward trend in sampling began. Burgeoning artists could not afford to legally use samples and even those artists signed to a label with financial backing have been limited in the number and specific samples they are allowed to use. This has stifled creativity and distanced Hip Hop from its roots that lead to other genres. While I wouldn’t dare suggest that these artists should not be given their due, from an artistic standpoint, I seek to point out that one has to wonder what the climate of Hip Hop production would be like if these legal repercussions were not in place.
The legalities surrounding Hip Hop sampling have altered the original climate of Hip Hop and it begs the question if whether or not such rulings have had an artistic affect upon the sound and evolution of the entire genre. The only way that an artist can possibly get around legal sampling issues is to completely recreate the sound with new musicians/producers and integrate their desired alterations which legally would constitute as an entirely new arrangement. This again would require money on the art of the artists which is wholly different from the roots of Hip Hop where young artists could more readily access and utilize the sounds around them. This push towards individualism has, no doubt, helped to spawn the many different production sounds that have been heard over the years but has it also helped to displace Hip Hop from the roots of it original sound. Such an argument has been made time and again by Hip Hop purists and those old enough to remember its beginnings. Hip Hop lovers such as myself have to sit and wonder sometimes what might have been if things had gone a different way in the historical case of Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man