Volume 92, Issue 34

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

millions of bad feelings


Sampling a necessary evil

In the last ten years, the musical genre which has expanded its borders most significantly is hip hop. No longer "old school" or even "rap" for that matter, the genre has evolved into a financial monster which has elevated many an artist into super-stardom.

An issue which many critics can't let go is hip hop's lack of originality in the age of sampling. The problem with this line of thinking is hip hop is a specific musical innovation which demands sampling – it is the nature of the beast.

History lesson. The musical style now called hip hop started from a technological innovation in the early '70s by Kool DJ Herc in the Bronx. What he did was put two turntables together and looped continuous funk for club and party crowds.

Everything from Roy Ayers to James Brown was spun in a perpetual stream for audiences, who were getting tired of dead time between record changes. He was also the first DJ to rap with the audience during sets, often challenging his opponents from other parts of the Bronx.

One of these opponents was Grandmaster Flash, who incorporated Kool Herc's skills into his own innovations. He was the first to cue his music with headphones for smooth transition and one of the first to "scratch" the records. With the help of Melle Mel and the Furious Five he sent "The Message" to the rest of America and the world.

The hip hop artists of this era were considered fresh and innovative, creating new and viable music which achieved artistic and financial recognition. It was music which was based on adding the cutting vocal skills of top MCs onto expertly mixed recordings – of other established artists! Kool Herc didn't record his own music, he mixed "Sex Machine." If it wasn't for Stevie Wonder, Ayers, Davis, Hancock, Mayfield and other funk all-stars, hip hop may not have become as successful or infectious as it is in its current form.

Why is it hip hop is suddenly not as credible because it uses sampling? The problem lies in the type and quality of the samples. Contemporary hip hop artists and producers have started using more popular music.

Nobody complained when Coolio nabbed Stevie Wonder for "Gangsta's Paradise" but Wyclef Jean's "Trying to Stay Alive" seemed to make everyone a disco traditionalist. And we know Puff Daddy gets everyone going. But the only change here from prototypic models is that the music being sampled now is more popular.

Good DJ's like RZA and Premier just disguise their sampling better.

Heads up. Just like in other musical genres the pop samplers are the poppy artists who are in it just for the money. Comparing Puff Daddy to The Roots is like comparing Ace of Base to Plastikman.

Many hip hop artists create their own music and disguise the tracks they use with masterful work on the "wheels of steel." It is important to recognize the divisions and history of hip hop before forming opinions, which are otherwise founded in ignorance.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998