The Art of Sampling

Warning: this blog post contains links to explicit lyrics and is therefore NSFW.

Have you ever listened to a song and thought it familiar, even though you’ve never heard it before? Perhaps you’ve wondered where artists get their inspiration for a particular track, style or rhyme?

You’re not alone.

If you listen to the radio, browse your music library or even watch television, you’ve likely been exposed to countless songs that have utilised one of the greatest forms of musical recycling – sampling.

While not exclusive to the genre, sampling is a core part of what makes hip hop what it is. How would Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1996 classic Jump On It sound without the heavy sampling of the Sugarhill Gang’s 1982 rendition of Apache? We could delve even deeper. You see, the Sugarhill Gang’s version is itself a sample of the Incredible Bongo Bands cover of the 1973 track of the same name, originally made famous by the UK group The Shadows.

In this example, it is clear that Sir Mix-a-Lot has been strongly influenced by the Sugarhill Gang, one of the early pioneers of the spoken-word funk groups that inspired a bevy of future hip hop artists. In the same way, the Sugarhill Gang has taken the foundation of the Incredible Bongo Bands Apache and injected lyrics and other sounds to make it their own.

And there it is. The evolution of music over three decades, beginning with a funky instrumental, transformed into a block-party style beat, and again to an anthemic state-hopping rhyme.

More recently, J Dilla and DJ Green Lantern worked their magic on the production of Immortal Technique’s 2011 banger Toast to the Dead. The track contains a sample of the Greek electronic composer, Vangelis, originally made famous by its inclusion in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos documentary series.

Unusually, the sample has been taped from the radio. For those who appreciate the art of sampling, this track inspires awe in the same vein as the documentary series where it originated.

The examples provided here are merely scratching the surface of the wonderful art of sampling in the hip hop culture. There are literally thousands of examples out there. Once discovered, samples provide the listener with another avenue to explore their favourite artists, to see what has inspired them to make a particular track.

For many beat-heads this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of discovering new music.

Follow my blog as I take a journey through the history of hip hop music, selecting some of the most notable tracks from classic and contemporary artists and discussing the samples used within them. I’ll also keep you up to date with the latest hip hop news from around the world.