You’re at your desk listening to a playlist, or maybe you’re being anti-social scrolling through your phone at happy hour. All of a sudden that song comes on. You stop and think, “I know this song.” It begins to play tricks on your mind because you recognize that old school melody. You recognize it as a song from the past. Either its a clear-cut copy or it’s a vague rendition that only highlights the iconic notes. If this sounds like something you’ve experienced then you’re already familiar with the art of music sampling.
Music sampling is the craft of producers who create a new beat using the whole or parts of an older song to then refashion it into a new tune. While this is definitely not a new phenomenon in the music industry, it’s a form that I’ve always been mesmerized by and continue to annoyingly rave about. It’s like I’m that friend who still gets astonished by street performers who do backflips and hop over strangers but everyone else is like, “yeah that’s pretty standard at this point.” Sampling is such a beautiful art and it’s a foundational component for music producers. What’s more beautiful is how far and wide the genres are of the selected samples. There’s a whole website dedicated to finding the originals and samples of songs called WhoSampled. Inspired by this topic, I even put together a Spotify playlist below where I continuously collect all the songs and their originals as I discover them. It’s a never-ending search and once you’ve begun it’s impossible to stop.
While I could continue to gush about my fascination for sampling, I decided to rope in an expert; a dear friend by the name of Jared “Jay B” Boyd. He’s a friend that I met during my time living in Mississippi but originally from Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve come to believe that his upbringing in Memphis, being the city that birthed soul music, embedded him with a musical gene that’s responsible for his extensive knowledge in the genres of hip-hop, rap, soul, blues and rock and roll. His ability to quickly recall songs and speak at length about an artist’s history continues to astonish me. Not to mention, he has a vinyl collection of approximately 3,000 records. So who better to speak on this subject than him?
1. How would you define music sampling?
Jay B: In simple terms, sampling is the repurposing of audible portions of a musical work in the composition of a new musical work. Things get complicated, of course, when it comes to unpacking that definition, though. Hip-hop is often the first style of music people think of when they consider sampling, but it happens in all sorts of music forms, from pop to electronica.
2. How significant would you say sampling is to the music game?
JB: Sampling is incredibly important to hip-hop music and its sub-genres and derivative forms. Hip-hop came about in a time when many of its pioneers didn’t necessarily have the access to more formal means of making music. So, they used parts of existing musical works in a creative way to create a sonic collage. It’s, in some ways, a practice that is bittersweet. Because a certain degree of integrity is lost when you chop up someone else’s hard work. But in that same process, if you make something wholly unique and beautiful, you create a new context and appreciation for the original work. We see that process repeat itself a ton in hip-hop. And often you’ll find that, while artists are sometimes not flattered when their work is sampled, they find a way to appreciate the onset of new fans discovering their music as they interpret it through a new means.
3. What are your top three favorite songs and their originals?
JB: This is tough, but I’ll humor you. The first song that pops into my mind is Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on By,” which has been sampled more times than I can think. Currently, my favorite way it’s been used is Compton’s Most Wanted’s “Hood Took Me Under.” I don’t know. I just can’t think of three. There’s so much music.
4. Is there a producer who you would say creates the best samples?
JB: I would vote for Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, Alchemist, DJ Premier, Marco Polo.
5. In your opinion, which artist do you think gets sampled the most?
JB: The sensibilities of producers and rappers changes over time. Early in hip-hop, James Brown was sampled a ton because he had a lot of high-energy instrumental breaks on his songs – typically those were based around these really syncopated drum solos. But that isn’t really popular anymore. Isaac Hayes certainly is sampled a lot. Bob James’ “Nautilus” is sampled a lot. It’s just hard to say. Sampling has gotten so far that people are sampling songs that already have samples in them.