“History repeats, so I loop beats”
Even though I prefer the saying ‘History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes’, Thes One’s line has always struck a cord. As a history student and beatmaker I’ve always felt blessed to be able to channel pieces of musical history through modern means. But after roughly 1001 beats looped from anything from jazz to soul to psychedelic-prog-folk-rock (dig deep brother), I found myself questioning my art form more and more.
There Funkee Apeman sat between a shitload of records. Digital paradises of musical dust waiting for him to unravel their sparkle. But maybe all this dust got to his head. He started thinking how all these craftsmen took centuries to perfect the art of making musical instruments. And how the beatmaker currently resides at the end of generations of geniuses who have used these instruments to command their inner worlds. ‘Cept we don’t touch violins, we fuck with samplers. And he started thinking that he should stop thinking in third person.
So I started wondering, as a beatmaker, what’s my responsibility? Are beatmakers really nothing but thieves, stealing other people’s hard work like some might say? Can I even call myself a musician or am I nothing but an editor? I know I shouldn’t put too much pressure of the giants on my shoulders but damn… I can barely read notes and I’m nowhere near Herbie Hancock on a keyboard.
If you’ve had these questions yourself as a sampling beatmaker, that’s good. It means you’re conscious about doing what you love.
Creating Worlds .. through Sampling
After dazzling myself with these questions I came to the conclusion that as an artist I create worlds. Worlds that are shaped for people who speak my modern musical language. Or rather, without sounding like an abstract asshole, I strive to create music that takes you to another place. Sorry, I can’t make it sound less wavy. Let me clarify what I mean with creating worlds by taking a look at what kind of big bang shapes them.
‘Cause every world has to start somewhere right? Whether you see me as a God or a random chemical phenomena, I’m doing something. The first step is to quest for that one special sample, that small piece of music. That piece is gonna be my building block right there. When I hear a good sample, I feel like there’s a story there. The problem is that the story introduces itself but lacks a plot or ending. But somehow, if I keep replaying the sample, the story keeps building. It’s like the sample finally found a voice to speak and is enticing you with all its experiences and descriptions. A good beatmaker finds that one part, that one diamond in the rough illuminating you with what it has to say. For a beatmaker, not touching that sample’s like having George Lucas tell us there’s a galaxy far, far away, and then just leave the room. No Luke trying to find the force and no Princess Leia in a skimpy bra. Looping a sample allows the world to build itself.
But in order for the beatmaker to put all his passion in the beat, he needs to study the styles of music and the origins of where his samples come from. You may not have the factual knowledge but you can develop an ear for the music. Some people don’t have the patience to listen to hours of prog-rock until they get it and that’s fine. I’ve thrown tons of fits because some old white dude kept ominously whispering in my ear that it’s the end of the world while the horn section tried to stay as far away from the rhythm as possible. But then out of nowhere there’s that one riff, accompanied by that one sturdy bass line which makes you feel like you’ve lost your virginity all over again. Except you’re not wondering if you’re in yet. Baby you’re in and even beyond. You understand where it came from, you just feel it couldn’t tell its story in that old world.
So what’s exciting about this moment is you can give that sample, the opening line to the story, a new context. You adapt it to the modern world. Thy becomes your, middæg becomes midday. You translate the language of the old music and adapt it to modern conventions so everyone can understand it. And then you can just fuck around and enrich this world by incorporating new melodies and telling your own story through a collage of samples. You can create a new crown by uncovering all those diamonds in the rough. And look at you on that throne, feeling all pretty and shit.
Understanding the Culture
Now, many kings through history have upset a lot of people by claiming their crown and ‘what was rightfully theirs’. The breed of anti-samplers feel the beatmakers don’t deserve their thrones because sampling to them is theft. They feel that artists put so much work in their music only to have some kid steal it because he found a Fruity Loops torrent. But in order to understand the principles of sampling, you have to understand the culture it came from.
Even though people sampled sounds before the birth of hip-hop, incorporating samples into rap beats is what made sampling big. What’s funny is that it wasn’t an issue until people started making money off of it. Only then the principles of sampling changed. So I guess stealing wasn’t an issue until it started involving cheese. I have a couple of things to say about this.
First off, hip-hop is a culture that started out of poverty. Even when people started making money off of rap records, most hip-hop artists were still dead broke. If sampling had cost as much back then as it does now, nobody would’ve been able to afford it. So I feel comfortable saying that if a beatmaker had to pay for every sample he used, then only major labels could afford it. But record labels have never been known to take leaps, so if they had never seen some broke kids make money off of sampling, they never would’ve tried it.
Shit, If I had to give money to Galt MacDermot for taking his shit while making 0 euros off of one of my first succesful beats, while at the same time earning five euros an hour at my local supermarket? Weeeelll, I think my sixteen year old ass would’ve never made a beat again… Ever. Now-a-daze, unless you’re fucking Kanye West, you simply can’t afford clearing your samples every damn time. You’re barely making a profit as it is. So if everybody had seen sampling as straight theft from the beginning, hip-hop would’ve never happened and the modern pop soundscape would’ve sounded significantly different. And even if you hate pop music as it is today, I can assure you, without sampling it would sound a whole lot worse. So alright, I made a case for hip-hop and the sound of pop-music but what about the artists people sampled from? And what about the muthafucking kids? Don’t worry, they both benefit too.
Because now-a-daze, there’s a whole online community of rap nerds obsessing about samples. So if people like a sample, they can seek out where it came from and then enjoy a whole new spectrum of music. Example: When Dilla sampled Cris Williamson for The Red, Dilla actually tried to clear that sample but Williamson wouldn’t let him. But a lot of people still heard the original version, found out where that sample came from and then everybody started running and buying Williamson records. Her sales went through the roof.
And beatmakers introduce the youngins to a whole wide spectrum of artists. This includes people who actually have the patience to listen to hours of prog-rock but just simply never knew it existed. Or people who never heard of the P-Funk invasion (which sounds like it could’ve been made last year, goddamnit George Clinton, you were on one). There’s just such a vast amount of musical information that people don’t have time to process, so beatmakers dig in the dirt for them.
A Thought on Easy Loops
Does this mean that every beat is a complex world full of small, inventive samples? No, not every beat’s a creative miracle. But most beats are made with a rapper on them in mind. Sometimes the combination of a barren world and a lively MC works really well. If the rapper does his job well, then the end result can sound so much better than if you started out with a complex world.
And next to that we have to keep in mind that rappers, contrary to what many people may think, are the most adorable and fragile creatures there are. Let’s stick with the ‘worldly analogy’ and say that rappers need a certain oxygen to breathe. The drums are that oxygen. Sometimes by simply addings drums you create a world that becomes habitable. Sometimes drums are all you need to create the perfect living conditions, add anything else and the weather gets all humid and sticky and ugh. And then the rapper gets sad. And sad rappers make crappy songs. Most happy ones do too but I shan’t indulge in that now.
My point is, should a beatmaker avoid creating a beautiful world because it’s easy? Should he refrain from turning middæg into midday because all he does is change two letters? If I hear this amazing loop which would sound great by simply adding drums and a rapper’s voice, should I not do it because it’s the intro of a song? Even though the experiences of both worlds are totally different?
There are simple beats and complex beats but the only thing the average listener gives a fuck about is if it’s dope or not. He only cares if it’s processed through modern conventions so he can fuck with it. It’s about the difference between being drawn into a world or feeling like you’re still in your shitty one bedroom appartment. The same goes for what kind of programs the beatmaker uses (I’m looking at you Fruity Loops haters!). But I won’t indulge myself in that discussion here either, I’m feeling disciplined today. Sometimes a loop tells us such a beautiful story that if we would chop it, you would lose a certain flair.
And There Was Light
So in the end, to me, music is all about creating worlds. And in our day-n-age we’re sampling our own identities from pop culture. And pop culture is sampling itself into an eternal loop of recognition, emotion and understanding. Instead of seeing sampling as a step back, we should see it as growth. As long as electronic innovations, like the sampler, spawn new ways of creativity, I’m all for it.
So you see, my dear readers and my fellow beatmakers: with us there lies a big responsibility. We keep the old relevant, passed artists alive and the basis for this revival is all in the drums. So seriously, stop using those plastic-ass drums, I mean goddamn. Either throw some swing in them, make ’em bounce or make ’em pop! I just compared drums to oxygen, do you know how important oxygen is? Do you realize how often we use it to breathe? Precisely.
I welcome discussions on any matter of sampling in the comment section. Should you agree with my vision, I ask you to share this article on social media or anywhere on the internet. This will help to keep the conversation going. It is the only way to stop polarizing the two different ruling opinions on the matter of sampling. Never stop discussing. Never stop thinking. Never add new information in your last paragraph. I’m out.
Freedom through expression.
Love through connection.
Funkee Apeman ’til ∞.