The Life and Death Of Multi-Layered Sampling

The foundation of hip hop production has always been the use of sampling.

From the very beginning of hip hop when it was strictly heard in house parties and parks in The Bronx, early rappers would rhyme over records played by the D.J.’s strictly out of necessity. Budget cuts throughout the public school system meant the elimination of many arts programs that included music. As a result, the poor, inner-city kids that desired to play musical instruments were left without the opportunity to do so.

However, these kids’ musical creativity would not be stifled as they would take what they had and basically create something from nothing, using records they already had to create a new form of music: hip hop.

This is why the first hip hop release on record, Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” is simply three guys rhyming over the hit disco record Chic’s “Good  Times”. Sugarhill Records co-owner Sylvia Robinson was looking to recreate the party scene that was popular throughout New York at the time and this record did just that.

The Birth Of Multi-layered Sampling

As hip hop advanced with the use of samples of every genre from Afrika Bambaata’s Kraftwerk sampling to Rick Rubin’s use of heavy metal riffs, it was clear that there were no limits in the creativity producers used in crafting these records. Soon, the task would become not which records to sample but how many records could be sampled to piece together these hip hop hits.

The art of multi-layered sampling became the new standard for hip hop production. Three landmark hip hop releases in particular would exemplify this artform of building a sonic wall of sound that was both cohesive and all over the place at the same time.

One of the greatest examples of this type of production was The Bomb Squad’s work on the legendary second release from Def Jam kraftwerkgroup Public Enemy- It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.

Noticing the energy of the live crowds while the group toured following the release of their debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, Eric Sadler and brothers Hank and Keith Shocklee made a concerted effort to make more fast paced songs for the group’s follow-up and the various musical sources they pooled from reflected this.

The song “Bring The Noise” alone pulls from nine different musical sources, including James Brown, Funkadelic, The Commodores and even from speeches by civil rights’ leaders Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson.

This melding of multiple samples constructs the entire album. However,there is no rhyme without reason, so to speak. All of the samples fit in well with the angry,militant theme of the album and keeps the music revved up throughout. Think of a Picasso painting in the form of music with splashes of angry sounds across the musical canvas. The Bomb Squad’s use of production is one of the reasons this album is considered by many to be the greatest hip hop album of all time.

Sampling Diversity – Pushing the Boundaries

Now, if The Bomb Squad showed the world how multi-layered sampling is supposed to be done, producer Prince Paul would show us how diverse the samples used could be a year later with his work on the seminal De La Soul debut album 3 Feet High And Rising.

Talk about going outside the box, the super-producer smashed the box with his incorporation of diverse samples that changed the game and showed just how creative hip hop could be.

From Johnny Cash to Hall & Oates to The Turtles to a learn-it-yourself French record, this album was a musical collage of every type of music you could think of. I can only describe it as a music-fueled rocket ship that doesn’t slow down or become monotonous for a single moment. So significant was this album’s musical value that is one of the very few hip hop albums selected by The Library Of Congress to be added to The National Recording Registry. That, my friends, is HUGE.

Land Of A Thousand Samples

The greatest example of multi-layered sampling would have to be the sophomore release from The Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique. Produced by Los Angeles based production team The Dust Brothers, this fifteen track album (the last track of which consists of portions of nine different songs) is composed almost entirely of samples. The only original elements on the album are the vocals of group members Mike D, MCA and King Ad-Rock.

Originally intended to be an instrumental album from the Dust Brothers, when The Beasties heard the tracks they asked if they could use them for their own album. The Dust Brothers agreed and hip hop history was made.

While initially a commercial failure (fans were basically looking for Liscensed To Ill Part 2) industry insiders and fellow M.C.’s marveled at the musical diversity of this album. Even Chuck D., whose Nation Of Millions album was celebrated a year prior,was quoted as saying The Beasties had the best beats in hip hop with this album. Eventually, the album would reach double platinum status and be heralded as a landmark achievement for hip hop.

R.I.P Multi-Layered Sampling

Ultimately, the use of multiple samples would come to a halt in December 1991 with the court case of singer Gilbert O’ Sullivan vs. rapper Biz Markie. O’ Sullivan sued Biz Markie and his record Biz-Markielabel Warner Bros. over the use of Sullivan’s song “Alone Again (Naturally)” in Biz’s Alone Again from his third album I Need A Haircut.

As a result of this case, the court ruled that a sample had to be pre-approved by the original copyright owner i.e. the samples had to be paid for. No hip hop album budget could afford to pay for multiple sampling thus samples used in hip hop records were scaled back to a major degree. Whereas a Public Enemy record had used up to fourteen samples in a single song, now producers were only afforded one or two samples per song.

The hip hop nation had experienced the end of an era. However, like all great works of the past,we can still go back and relive those great albums that incorporated seemingly infinite samples that served not only as the soundtracks to those great MC’s,but also as the soundtracks to our lives.

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