ILLUSTRATION BY MELLOW TEA
The Melomaniac's Rhapsody is a column in which Wahrm discusses issues in music, illustrated with a Spotify playlist.
While sampling is a commonly used musical tool, especially in hip-hop and rap, there is a fine line to walk between using someone else’s work as your own and re-creating it so that it represents your own creative image. Some musicians have used samples from another musician’s song just for the “cool factor” that comes along with that sample. Instead of using the sample to express their creativity, they use the sample to fill empty space that their creativity could not. Other artists, however use samples to further express their creative image or to portray a point or belief that their words would not carry to the reader that the sample may have.
In “The Incredible True Story,” the closing track to Logic’s 2015 album of the same name, Logic samples a speech made for a house song called “What if Money Was No Object”. The speech sample taken from this song is of Allen Watts explaining how people need to pursue their dreams and do what they love rather than to pursue a way of life based on money. This fits perfectly into the song as the album is based on the idea of following your dreams and pursuing what you love no matter how many people say you won’t make money or say you will fail. Allen Watt’s speech in this context works to portray this theme in an interesting way as it does not sound as if Allen Watts is simply telling you how to live your life but rather it feels as if he is speaking from personal experience. The tone in Allen Watt’s voice feels as if he is trying to stop you from making the same mistakes that he has in his life. This amplifies Logic’s underlying message of “the come up” and going from rags to riches and all the pain and effort needed to do so in the album and brings it to the forefront of the song rather than being hidden away in the background like the rest of the album.
Another great track, J. Cole’s 2013 song “Forbidden Fruit,” samples the bass riff off of Ronnie Foster’s 1972 “Mystic Brew”. J. Cole uses this riff to portray a feeling rather than a message, the bass riff gives a feeling of scandal, lust and secrecy. The feeling given by this sample works side by side with the reference to the story of Adam and Eve and uses the tone of the sample to compare the Adam and Eve mentality of rebelling against God and committing the first sin with J. Cole’s mentality that all people are born as sinners and no man or woman is above one another as every person is a sinner inside.
These are both examples of a creative and well-used sample, but other samples may not always measure up. In Future’s song “Mask Off,” for example, you can hear a repeating flute over top of the bass line. This flute was taken from “Knives n Cherries” by Minthaze. Though this sample was most likely payed for and perfectly legal, it is using the Minthaze song in its entirety as the underlying sound of Future’s most streamed song on Spotify. I feel there was not enough creativity and thought put into this sample as Future could have used it to portray a feeling of tranquility or peace as the calming flute and simple bassline give this feeling, however Future’s voice and lyrics “percocet, molly percocet” give a “gangster” tone to the song which does not feel as if it goes along well with the sample as the two tones counteract the feeling of the other.
Sampling is used every day in music: it may be something small or it may use nearly the entire main sound of someone’s song with only the addition of new vocals over top. There is sampling to use a specific vocal or hook, or sometimes sampling is used to portray a certain feeling to contrast the idea of the song. When sampling is used poorly, it may be legal if the intellectual property has been licenced, but it is still frowned upon by many as it is almost seen as a form of legal plagiarism. Music is a creative way for artists to express themselves and it doesn’t feel right when an artist takes someone’s work and does not use it in a creative way
The Melomaniac’s Rhapsody is a regular feature in which columnist WAhrm presents a Spotify playlist organized around a theme or concern. Got a suggestion for this column? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.