One of my earliest memories of music was that I was very into, wait for the embarrassing confession, boybands. I often used the excuse that I listened to whatever my sister was listening to, but it was not long until she replaced New Kids On The Block and Backstreet Boys with Bosnian folk music and I was left there all alone with an embarrassing music taste. To me, back then, there was nothing more bad ass than A.J’s (of Backstreet Boys) rap breakdown in ”Get Down”. Simply put, I did not know better. I was only 10 years old. Ok, I’m lying. ”Get Down” is still a great song. Don’t hate, appreciate.
But enough of that!
The interesting part is what happened later. HipHop music, which has been enjoying commercial success for several years in the states, had finally started to make enough noise for Europe to hear it. And we heard it. And it probably saved us from eurodance.
As internet was something you only heard rumors about in the year 1996, my main source of music was a German TV channel called ViVa. Every morning before school and afternoon after school I used to sit glued to the TV, watching music videos. Besides Power Rangers, I didn’t enjoy anything else as much as watching music videos on the telly. Then one day this happened…
A new, fresh music video came on. The song started with a sound from a looped flute melody which was accompanied by a drum beat and bass. I could barely hear the rapper in the first verse because I was entirely hypnotized by the dirty, gritty sound the song was producing. This was entirely new for my ears. These were not tones, melodies or rhythms I was used to. It felt like my brain was an Etch-a-Sketch and this song shook it really hard and started drawing a whole new picture of music. This, I thought, is the only kind of sound I want to hear for ever! The song was ”Fu-Gee-La”. The group was The Fugees. Lauren Hill started singing the chorus and later rap her verse. Her voice in the chorus and her way of flowing with the drum rhythm in the rap part was incredible. This was it. I loved it.
All of the sudden my eyes opened and I became aware of other HipHop acts. 2Pac dropped ”California Love” and I remember thinking ”Damn this 2Pac group is good” assuming that 2Pac and Dr. Dre were a duo. Then I bootlegged my friend’s cassette tape which had a bunch of Warren G songs on it and that is where I was introduced to the song ”What’s Love Got to Do with It?”.
In the summers I often vacationed in my home country of Bosnia with my parents, and because it was always too hot during the days you had to sit inside in front of a fan and wait for the sun to go from unbearable to ”ok I think I can breathe now”. My dad put the radio on while we were waiting for my mom to finish making dinner and that is when I heard a chorus I recognized. ”What’s love got to dooo,” the radio was singing, and I thought how fun it was that HipHop had reached all the way to little Bosnia. But when it was time for the verse, the rapping was replaced by more singing and I noticed the music did not sound entirely the same and did not have that HipHop thump. ”This was Tina Turner with What’s Love Got to Do with It,” the radio DJ announced. I was vaguely familiar with Tina Turner but even though ”What’s Love” was her biggest hit I had never heard it before. My brain started puzzling the pieces together and I realized that Warren G had taken parts of Turner’s song, or sampled, as it is called in the HipHop world. I liked the idea that you could take an old classic and turn it into your own version. Put your own touch on it. This was, I think, the first time I was introduced to the idea of sampling.
I didn’t care much about it other than that some songs were borrowing portions of ”oldies” as they were called on ViVa. It was not until I got introduced to Timbaland and The Neptunes (Pharrell being one part of the duo) that I got interested in producers and how a song was actually made. Timbaland and The Neptunes were producers who were under a period of time making all the hits you heard on the radio. They were not only producers, but artists as well and did not hide behind the scenes as their peers (Timbo could not hide as he was fat yo! he he heeee). They had lots of fans and I was one of them. All of the sudden I got very into how beats were made and how they made all of those sounds and how they created those stuttering rhythms. I was obsessed. Later I realized, that even though you could not hear it as clearly as with other songs, Timbaland sampled as well. Everything from drum sounds (he often used punching sounds from karate films as snares), to melodies, to Godzilla’s roar, to the sound of a crying baby and making it work in songs. He was good at this. By dissecting my favorite songs and finding their origins I ran into music I would’ve never listened to, had it not been sampled. What was so interesting about the art of sampling is that even if different producers used the same sample they all had their own original take on it and turned it into a completely different beat. They all came from different musical backgrounds.
Timbaland often took his inspiration from Prince, middle eastern/indian music, UK Garage and even some Drum n Bass. Neptunes sound was more of a mix between Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Kraftwerk. Both Timbo and The Neptunes had very unique rhythms which were different from the usual ”bass drum followed by a snare” sound.
Dj Premier and J Dilla preferred to cut Soul music into tiny pieces and re-arrange them entirely. Kanye West and Pete Rock often cut and pitched entire portions of old Soul/RnB songs and played gritty drums over them. Dr. Dre is a genius at taking any sample and making it into a westcoast classic.
My obsession with sampling made me try to find the original of every one of my favorite HipHop songs, and the same way the producers of the track dug through thousands of records to find the perfect sample, I did the same in order to find the original they were using. By trying to locate all these samples I was introduced to entire catalogs of music and artists which my idols idolized. I realized that every producer had a rich history of music and that HipHop was so much bigger than it seemed. The HipHop catalog of songs is like a Wikipedia of music, available for the listener in case they want to expand their music knowledge.
Sampling can be a very creative art form, and if done right, sound really good.
Just think of how an ok pop song from the 80s became a Fugees classic. A mellow RnB song from the 70s became a HipHop club hit by the name of ”No Diggity” which to this day can be heard on the dance floor. How an arabic song is the foundation of one of Jay Z’s best songs, named ”Big Pimpin”. But most of all think of how HipHop is excellent at introducing the listener to an ocean of different music just waiting there to be discovered.
Songs mentioned in the article:
The Fugees – Fu-Gee-La borrows the chorus from Teena Marie – Ooh La La La
2Pac & Dr. Dre – California Love samples Joe Cocker – Woman To Woman
Warren G – What’s Love Got to Do with It? samples Tina Turner What’s Love Got to Do with It
Blackstreet – No Diggity samples Bill Withers – Grandma’s Hands
Jay Z – Big Pimpin’ samples Hossam Ramzy – Khusara Khusara