Warning: I’m a big fan of R&B, hip-hop, rap, funk and soul so a lot of examples are going to be from these genres.
You’ve been warned.
Sampling is the act of taking a portion of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece.
Samples may comprise elements such as rhythm, melody, speech, sounds, or entire bars of music. They may be layered, equalized, sped up or slowed down, repitched, looped, or otherwise manipulated.
It is a relatively new term, which was introduced in the late 1970s by the creators of the Fairlight CMI, a synthesizer with sampling features.
The use of sampling notably merged with the introduction of hip-hop music, which sampled a lot of funk and soul records.
However, this process is not new – A similar process originated in the 1940s with musique concrète – experimental music created by splicing and looping tape.
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the most used song in sampling (according to WhoSampled.com, it has been sampled in 4794 releases!):
There’s nothing “too special” about this song in particualr. In fact, this song itself has sampled two other songs!
One of them appears at 0:36 and is taken from The impression‘s Amen (0:40) you can listen and decide for yourself:
This song has been sampled so many times! 4794 releases contain it! the question is why this particular recording? and why now?
Let’s take a look at the most popular song with this beat sample (from start and throughout):
The second most sampled recording is Think (About it) by Lyn Collins (1972)
And again, some say this song is also sampling another recording.
You can decide for yourself, again.
According to whosampled.com, Think (about it) by Lyn Collins has been sampled in 2744 songs!
This song sampled multiple elements of the original song, including Lyn’s vocals (0:26 and throughout – sample appears in 1:22 in original song):
You should know that sampling doesn’t come easy, or cheap.
In order to use a sample, you need to acquire permission from the copyright holder – a lengthy and costly proccess.
Though in some cases, sampling is protected under American fair use laws which grant “limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the rights holder”.
But sampling wasn’t hip hop’s creation, in fact
Among the first artists to ever use sampling in a record was The Beatles, whose 1968 track “Revolution 9” from The White Album is an eight-minute sound collage that includes elements such as tape loops, stereo panning, and samples from classical music.
Stevie Wonder‘s 1979 album Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants may have been the first album to make extensive use of samples.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) by David Byrne and Brian Eno is another important early work of sampling, incorporating samples of sources including Arabic singers, radio DJs and an exorcist.
So why is sampling so popular? Especially in hip hop?
Before we get into that, since his name came up a lot in this course, let’s take a look at the most sampled Frank Sinatra song!
A day in the life of a fool by Frank Sinatra has been sampled 8 times (not bad for our friend here).
Here’s one where the music is used throughout the song:
Now back to business, why is sampling so popular in hip hop? especially using 20th century music?
Well, there’s really no one answer to this.
Some would say it’s actually uncreative and unoriginal to use samples when making music, others would say it’s precisely the act of “breathing new life into the songs of old through the embracing of current trends, sparking a newfound interest in the classic songs and cementing their timeless status.” – just like covers.
Here’s a TED talk about sampling and it’s use in music :
It’s really a matter of opinion if you agree with the use of samples in creating music, but one thing’s for sure: If you have listened to a song in the realm of popular music from any point in time from the last fifty years, chances are it has included at least some form of sampling.
Here’s one last song by the amazing Carole King which has been sampled 11 times: