Monday, October 19, 2009

Sampling Beyond Beats

DJ Premier digging in the crates. DJ Premier is one of the greatest DJs and producers in hip-hop.

If there were no James Brown, there would be no "Fight the Power". If there were no Michael Jackson, there would be no "Hey Lover". If there were no Chaka Khan, there would be no "Through the Wire".

The hip-hop community gets that.

Sampling is a musical technique that hip-hoppers have mastered over the years of turntablism, from simple breakbeats for a party to skits from a kung-fu flick. Whatever record a DJ can find, cut and/or blend is up for grabs in hip-hop music. Beyond "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy, which had 12 sampled songs in it, the entire album Fear of a Black Planet has over 60 sampled songs! And one of Michael Jackson's greatest albums of all time Thriller was used by several hip-hop artists, including LL Cool J, Camp Lo, and Nas.

It is through sampling, as well as the rebellious nature of the cultures, that rock music connects to hiphop music. Everyone can recall the Run-DMC/Aerosmith classic collaboration "Walk This Way" in 1986. What some people may not know is that Aerosmith did that song first in 1975, and Jam Master Jay and Rick Rubin wanted to remake the song. So of course, like any good DJ should do, JMJ took the record to a whole new level, a level that the hip-hop community can't touch to this day.

Another big contribution rock music gave to hip-hop, along with disco, is the breakbeat. Breakbeats are the part of a record that consists mainly of drums, bongos, and guitar and piano solos. The name has been adopted by the hip-hop community because of the breakers, who DJ Kool Herc (a hip-hop founding father and pioneer) says best, "waits for the breaks so their inner self can go wild". The great thing hip-hop DJs do is that the breakbeats are cut, blended, and/or repeated so the mix keeps going. Perfect songs that include breakbeats include James Brown's "Funky Drummer", Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache", and Billy Squier's "The Big Beat".

The hip-hop community is well aware of how much they sample classic music. If it isn't stated in the rhymes, DJs always give subtle props to their sources, even through mixes. One prime example is the song "Classic" by Nas, KRS-One, Rakim, and Kanye West, and produced by DJ Premier. The first thing you hear is the infamous sample drop "And now for my next number, I like to return to the classic" from The Heller's Life Story. Although there are a slew of drops that give credibility to what precedes hip-hop, one group stands out to me the most as a group that uses samples as a theme to who they are (which is really what samples, breaks, etc should be used for) - Wu Tang Clan. Almost any Wu Tang Clan song has a skit from different classic kung fu movies, including Shogun Assassin, Five Deadly Venoms, and more. This group used beats that were hardcore and could get anyone hype, and almost ready to try out karate or something.

But like most of the breaks used, as well hip-hop in general, the art behind it wasn't solely intended as a way to make music sound, just as bebop was intentionally improv. Both of these styles of music were created and mastered by Black musicians as ways to rebel against the mainstream way of making "good" music, not to mention a form of "broken expression" from inequality and oppression. During the 30s people weren't trying to hear cut-up riffs and artists performing improv. But once people listened, bebop became popular in mainstream jazz and in the clubs. Now the DJs use their turntables, like jazz musicians used their horns and drums in the 30s, to express themselves through mending their "broken expression" from oppression that continues to this day.

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