Sampling Music: The Ever Looping Debate




Have you ever listened to a song and thought "I heard this drum pattern from somewhere?" or "I know these vocals from this song?" Sampling in music is when a producer reuses a portion of a song into their own composition. Some examples are repurposing someone's lyrics, beat patterns or voices in a new composition. It can be distorted, slowed down, sped up, or altered in different ways.


The most famous sample in music is the 1969 song Amen Brother by The Winstons. Their six seconds of drums at the 1:26 mark of the song is the most sampled part in music history. Via whosampled.com, it was sampled in over five-thousand songs. Some songs that sampled Amen are Straight Outta Compton by the NWA, Pigs by Tyler The Creator, Zatoichi by Denzel Curry, I Desire by Salt-N-Pepa, Compton by The Game, and many more. What makes the most popular sample even more interesting is how it samples two different songs from the sixties group The Impressions: the hoof and riff from Theme From Lillies of The Field (1964) and various elements from We're A Winner (1967).


There is an ever-lasting debate about whether sampling displays creativity or laziness. In a positive light, sampling introduces sounds to new generations of crate diggers. It can build appreciation for different cultures when one genre of music is sampled into another genre. Think of it like how Aerosmith and RUN D.M.C. combined to make Walk This Way or Nelly and Tim McGraw on Over and Over, except with production.


For example, the song Victory Lap from the Nipsey Hussle album with the same name samples the rock band Arctic Monkey's song Knee Socks.


The sample starts at 0:13



The sample starts at 2:39


Other benefits of sampling are it can inspire producers to make beats around that sample. It can be cost-efficient if you're sampling indie artists or finessing a bigger sample. It can also save time for recording, producing, and editing. Sampling can supplement an instrument that a producer does not have at their disposal.


Some artists are known for their unique sampling ear. MF DOOM sampled plenty of TV shows and movies within his music. He was known to sample Doctor Doom voiceovers from old cartoon shows to captivate his fans such as The Time We Faced Doom Skit on his iconic Operation Doomsday album. His sampling skills were like when a person makes a beautiful collage out of whatever they can to truly tell a story. DOOM's sampling further established his legacy as a major contributor to hip-hop.



A major negative side to the debate is sample clearance and how costly it can be. In some cases, you must ask for permission when sampling someone. Major artists like Stevie Wonder have been sampled many times, but most songs do not make it onto digital streaming platforms unless the artist gets permission from Stevie himself or his team.


An argument to this point is how the Copyright Act of 1909 needs to be revisited and updated according to modern times. The act protected works published with a valid copyright notice affixed on copies. It mostly focused on images during its beginnings but it expanded to various forms of media over the 20th century. President Roosevelt signed the act for copyrights to be protected for fifty-six years. In 1917, the Supreme Court ruling of Herbert v. Shanley Co. was that a New York restaurant had to pay royalties for music it plays to entertain dinners. The final addition to the act was on February 15th, 1972 which federally protected sound recordings and works after that date. That did mean records made before that date did not have federal protection but had state protection based on prior additions.


With over sixty thousand songs being uploaded on Spotify per day, how does one regulate copyrights? This article on Soundcharts describes how to copyright a song and what copyrighting a song does.


Just remember this: a copyright is not a patent or a trademark; learn the difference between the three in this article.



Now that the history lesson is over, people can think sampling is lazy. It shows a lack of creativity. Going back Nipsey's Victory Lap and its ties to Arctic Monkey's Knee Socks, the producer for Tsu Surf's Vip Lap sampled Victory Lap. The same Arctic Monkey's sample and some components of the Victory Lap instrumental is sped up to fit Surf's and Leaf Ward's deliveries. I'm a fan of the song. I am not critiquing it by any means. I just see how people could think that sampling is a lazy way of making a beat.


Another example can be Benny The Butcher's Whole Thing and how it sampled 50 Cent's Many Men. Benny's song featured additional samples of the group Tavares's song, Out of The Picture that Many Men did not include. There is almost a fifty-year difference between the Tavares song in the late seventies and the Benny song in the late 2010s. People can argue that it's just a remix of Many Men rather than acknowledging the original sample.



Hip-hop is nearing the half-century mark so it's safe to say that the culture is in a metaphorical loop of sampling samples. There is nothing wrong with that as sampling content is a cornerstone of hip-hop. It's a musical version of how players imitate older players' playing styles; boxers pick up fighting styles from their influences; local clothing brands find inspiration to make shoes from famous Jordan designs. It can be done as a tribute to those who did it before like the Surf/Nip and Benny/50 Cent examples.


This debate will be repeated throughout the existence of music. Any sample can loop casual fans or the avid crate diggers into finding new music or debate how one version of a sample is better than the other. Some people see it as an art; some see it as stealing. What do you think? Feel free to let @theMSQshop know on Twitter your thoughts on the sampling debate.


Written by: Jay Guevara. @justinhisprime on all social media.


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