Hip-hop has always been known for its unique sound and adaptability, partly defined by its use of sampling.
If you’re not clear on what sampling is in music, it’s essentially when an artist takes snippets of existing music and incorporates them into a new composition, creating something distinctive and relatable.
Sampling first emerged in the late 1970s, as hip-hop DJs began to use two turntables to mix and scratch records; a visual we never bore of.
DJs would isolate instrumental breaks in funk and soul songs and loop them to create new beats. This technique was popularised by DJs such as Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa. It became a central element of hip-hop culture.
As hip-hop moved into the realm of recorded music in the 1980s, producers began to use sampling in their studio productions.
The dawn of the decade saw the rise of ‘Rapper's Delight’, the first classified hip-hop single to grace the billboard top 40. Sampling Chic’s ‘Good times’, ‘Rappers Delight’ is a perfect examples of taking an existing composition and reusing elements of it to create something new and fresh.
The Beastie Boys' album ‘Paul’s Boutique’ is heralded as a masterpiece in sampling (and something to look out for).
The Bomb Squad, a production team that worked with Public Enemy, were known for their dense, sample-heavy productions, which often used dozens of samples in a single track. Other producers, such as J Dilla and Madlib, developed reputations for their innovative use of samples, blending disparate sources to create new, textured soundscapes.
Check out the 10 most used samples in hip-hop history HERE.
As sampling became more prevalent, it also became more controversial. As a result, record labels and artists began to sue hip-hop producers for the unauthorised use of their music, leading to several high-profile legal battles. This led to the development of a sample clearance system, in which producers must seek permission from the copyright holder and pay a fee to use a sample.
The multimillion-dollar lawsuit claims his voice was imitated on the single “Betty (Get Money)” without permission.
Though Gravy did licence the instrumental part of the song, he nor his team gained permission to use or impersonate Astley’s voice.
Astley claims that Yung Gravy ruined any future collaborations and projects he had in mind for “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
Despite the legal challenges, sampling has remained and will continue to be a fundamental element of hip-hop production. It allows producers to pay homage to the music that has influenced them and create new compositions rooted in past sounds.
What is your favourite sample used in a song?