You can listen to almost any song nowadays and hear some sort of familiar beat and trace it back to someone else. This is called sampling. Sampling is the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a sound recording in a different song or piece. Kanye West is a master of this, as well as other notable producers, such as DJ Premier. Sampling is not bound to just hip-hop though, everyone from pop to rock to dance have been sampling all the way back to the 1940’s.
However, over time sampling has become more controversial, legally and musically. In earlier times, these experimental musicians did not inform or receive permission from the song owners. In the 1970’s, when hip-hop was confined to local dance parties, it was unnecessary to obtain copyright clearance. It became more necessary to pay for legal clearance as the genre went mainstream in the 1980’s. This forced hip hop to shift toward a wider aesthetic, with many producers crafting wholly original recordings to serve as backing tracks. Aside from legal issues, sampling has been both championed and criticized. Some critics, particularly those with a rockist outlook, have expressed the belief that all sampling is a lack of creativity, while others say sampling has been innovative and revolutionary.
I personally love it. With the progress of the Internet, sharing music is easier than ever and by sampling you are giving a sort of tribute to others’ hard work. I do understand the other side’s qualms about sampling because of the copyright issues. But with the restrictions and rules that are in place, song owners should be fairly compensated. For the purists who do not believe that it is not original enough, listen to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and try to tell me the layering of sounds is not unique and amazing.
Sampling takes great skill and a nuanced musical ear to understand how to use a certain sound. It is very difficult to dig through music that spans across various genres and history, and listen to music that you may not even like, but you may find a gem of a snippet of a sound that is unbelievable to the ears. I truly believe that sampling is a method of creativity that builds off of the foundation of others and allows the sampler to add their own uniqueness to a sound.
Every Kanye West Sample as of 2008: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XaDeC2LEdA
MBDTF samples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TSDc0vZMkc