Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Original Samples

There was a time when DJ/Producers kept the samples they used under wraps whenever possible. They took the time and made the effort to dig through crate after crate listening for that one perfect sound to create a new song around, and they'd be damned if someone else went and piggy-backed on their hard work and used the same sample.

I may be a little off with my history here. But, I guess shortly after hip hop artists started being sued for sampling records without permission, we began to see the original music being credited in print in the album's liner notes. It's funny to think about, but this could very well have been what helped to introduce me to various forms of music from years past. I've been listening to hip hop since around the age of five, so that is what I knew. But, after a combination of seeing the original songs credited in print, and hearing these classic songs played on the radio (the big soul and funk records anyway), I began to pay attention to where this music called hip hop actually came from. It was original, though not completely. James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Curtis Mayfield, etc. As well as countless jazz musicians, especially when it comes to producers like Pete Rock, J Dilla, and DJ Premier. All of these were used as the foundation for a lot of hip hop records. So, I started picking up these albums as well, and playing them whenever I wasn't playing a hip hop record. To this day I have an ever-expanding appreciation of music that comes mostly from hip hop.

Today, a lot of hip hop albums credit the orginal artist that is sampled for a track. But, some don't. I'm not sure if this is a choice (as long as you pay the fee), or if the rule only applies if you use a certain amount of the song. In other words, if the sample is short enough then no royalty is required. I don't really know how it works - feel free to educate me if you know. I've noticed that Gangstarr CDs don't usually have the sample listed.

I'm not sure how long ago, but within the last ten years I became aware of DJ Neil Armstrong, a DJ that beautifully blends hip hop tracks with their original samples (among many other things). His albums amaze me and are EXTREMELY enjoyable. In the last few years, I have come across several DJs doing the same thing. Some with specific artists/albums like DJ Parler for his Sampology series, and some that release CDs of their crate digging exploits that are chock-full of famous samples - Dj Muro and the legendary Lord Finesse, for instance.

This week, I came across 'Originals' by DJ Premier, a collection of Funk and Soul records that the man himself had sampled for various tracks that he produced over the years. "Better Luck Next Time", "Memory Lane", "Betrayal", "Moment of Truth", "Code of the Streets", "So Ghetto", "Follow Instructions", "Friend or Foe", "A Million and One Questions", countless others. They are all here. All kinds of hip hop classics, and I could give a fuck about a radio single. This right here is what hip hop is about. Listening to this collection is a real experience. It's like taking a journey through the man's secret music collection. How nice of him to let us in to experience them as he was able to. Well, kind of anyway.

If you didn't know before, after hearing this collection, you will agree that DJ Premier is a world-class crate digger. And, if you heard a collection of what he actually did with all of these samples, you would know (if you didn't already) that Preemo is possibly the greatest hip hop producer that has ever lived. Very few are even in contention. And, it's really incredible sometimes to hear the one tiny little sample of a whole song that Premier uses to construct a track around. The sample for "Moment of Truth" is a great example. And listen to how he completely restructures the sample used for "Above The Clouds", or "Skillz". Amazing. This isn't Puffy-type sampling. This isn't jacking a whole song, and sometimes the concept too. This is using existing music to make entirely new music. And, it's a beautiful thing.

After hearing all that I've heard over the past 5-10 years of these "original sample compilations", you cannot tell me that sampling - when done right - is not an art. It takes a lot of difficult and meticulous work, and the finished product usually is a completely new song. DJ Premier is at the head of it all. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to listen to 'Originals' by DJ Premier. Also try to pick up some work by people like DJ Neil Armstrong and DJ Muro. They will give you a much-needed history lesson while you enjoy some unbelievably great music.

'Nuff respect to the Crate Diggers of the world. You are appreciated.

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