The Technique of Sampling and its Controversy in Hip Hop Music Production

Term Paper, 2014

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Definition and the Purpose of Sampling

The Origin of Sampling

Controversy of Sampling

Copyright Law


List of References


It only took two turntables and a microphone to turn a ghetto dominated by violence, into a united neighborhood and community filled with enough positive energy to create a music genre and culture that took over the whole world rapidly. Ever since the Hip Hop culture emerged in the 1970s in the dirty corners and hopeless streets of the South Bronx in New York, the vinyl record has played a huge role in the development and growth of this movement towards main stream culture. A simple vinyl record has been able to give poor people a way to transform their anger and desperation into art. Even in the age of digital technology, the so called black gold is still relevant, building the foundation for artistic disciplines like scratching and sampling.

Since the early days, the technique of sampling has been the core element in making Hip Hop, be it adopting Bruce Lee moves and gymnastic elements to create a new dancing style, taking synthesizer- or vocal sounds for scratching, or the adoption and reconstruction of melodies and drum loops from dusty vinyl records to come up with a whole new way of music production. But can we really see this method as a creative and unique way of self-expression or is it rather a lack of creativity and even artistic laziness?

The aim of this paper is to take a look at the technique of sampling regarding the purpose, a definition and the origin of this method. Furthermore, emphasis will be put on the controversy of sampling, followed by a short explanation of the fundamental principles of the copyright law. Finally, a conclusion will summarize the core results and add some closing remarks to this topic.

Definition and the Purpose of Sampling

The method of sampling can generally be defined as the process of taking a segment or a piece of sound from an already existent musical recording, in order to manipulate it and use it for one’s own recording. Such a method is commonly accomplished with a piece of hardware called a sampler, or by specialized computer software (Bynoe 349). Sampling can range from using only a tone to the borrowing of entire melodies and song structures. The main idea behind this principle is to take an already existing piece of music and to transform it into something completely new, or make it even better than it was in its previous form. The layering of the adopted bits of melodies from different instruments and sources which are put together to a complete musical product can thus be basically compared to the concept of a photo collage.

The initiation of sampling in Hip Hop is to be seen as the only way people in the poor neighborhoods of New York City were able to develop their own culture, namely by the recreation of things they had at disposal. By applying this technique, people in the ghetto were able to bring up a whole new movement which spread across the globe rapidly. The art of sampling hence became tradition in Hip Hop representing the origins of this culture.

As all four elements of Hip Hop (rap, DJing, graffiti art and breakdancing) have to a certain degree the idea of competition behind, which plays a huge role in Hip Hop culture, the searching for unknown drum loops or the perfect piano roll can furthermore be understood as an aspect ofbattlingbetween the so calledbeat makers.

Sampled material has its own importance and a strong cultural reference. While sampling became part of pop music’s evolution, it also had an important social function. Sampled material to this day tends to be used either as a homage to musical forbears or as a way to establish a kind of musical community. The revival of old and forgotten records transports the listener back to a specific time in history and functions as an archive of memories of real experiences. Besides this matter of fact, the artist who applies sampling is not the only one who benefits from it. The revived music helps the sampled musicians to get attention from other audiences of different genres such as Hip Hop, resulting in getting a wider range of listeners and introducing their music to younger generations. The voice and especially the beats ofJames Brownfor instance, who probably is the most sampled man alive, can be literally considered as the soul of traditional rap music. The drum break from his legendary record “Funky Drummer”has been sampled in hundreds of rap songs by famous artists likeDe La Soul, Public Enemy, Eric B.& Rakimand many more. The following quote by Hip Hop producerApollo Brownunderlines the statement given above:

“As a sampling producer, what I’m doing is praising your art and complimenting you by saying, “Your song is so dope, that I want to sample it and turn it into some modern-day Hip Hop.” There’s a lot of artists that kind of go with it. They go, “Yo, I wasn’t even relevant in the ‘70s, but now you’re making me relevant in the 2000s.” This song was mediocre in the ‘70s even then. But now, we just sampled it, and made it into a banger. And people are now checking for that artist like, “Yo, I wanna buy his whole album. I want to hear that.” We’re helping people out. […] Taking an old joint and recreating a whole new melody with feeling and soul—it’s nothing like it. I’m not a keyboard producer, and I’ll never be one. […] I could do that if I wanted to, but there’s no soul or feeling in that. That’s why I do what I do.” (Brown)


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Technique of Sampling and its Controversy in Hip Hop Music Production
University of Erfurt
Hip Hop Studies
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
492 KB
Hip Hop, Sampling, Sample, cultural studies, Music, Musik, Rap, Copyright Law, Urheberrecht, Urban Studies, youth culture, Jugendkultur
Quote paper
Alexander Zerfas (Author), 2014, The Technique of Sampling and its Controversy in Hip Hop Music Production, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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