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Page 4 DTH Omnibus
Thursday February 21, 1991
Are rappers7 free samples worth paying for?
aclc in the dav. sav 1978 or
Q J so, the Sugarhill Gang rap
C group recorded the first
Q 1 popular rap hit, "Rapper's
J Delight." (You know, the
song! ) Anyway, the
song used the melodies from Chic's
popular soul hit, "Good Times." It
sounded good so everything was
But now in the '90s, things aren't
so groovy. This use of another's work
has now been officially called "sam
pling," and it is a big topic of debate
in the music industry. Rap became a
significant part of popular music in
the late '80s and many critics even
called rap the new evolution of music
something that was needed to burst
the droll in rock'n'roll. And when rap
became popular, so did sampling.
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Sampling really didn't start to get
noticed until 1986 when Eric B. 6k
Rakim used the "pieces and bits of all
the hip-hop hits" of James Brown.
Raps to this point were mostly Run
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious
FiveSoul Sonic Force bass-snare beat
songs. No real melodies were needed
or used in the new style of hip-hop,
distinguishing these artists from the
likes of James Brown. Brown had been
dubbed 'the funkiest man ever', and
in rap circles, his arrangements based
on his outrageous melodies did not
appeal at the time.
Then came the trend of using
others' melodies in rap. And in the
'90s, it has progressed (some would
this and more.
bv nhone 929-ARTS
say digressed) to robbing from the
most popular songs in music such as .
M.C. Hammer's use of Rick James's
"Superfreak" in "U Can't TouchThis"
and Vanilla Ice's use of the David
BowieQueen song "Under Pressure"
in "Ice Ice Baby."
But many musicians are upset, for
good reason, that rap artists are using
their real songs in less than genuine
raps. These musicians are claiming
copyright infringement and are suing
several rappers. For example, the
popular '60s group, The Turtles, sued
De La Soul a while back for using one
of their songs in De La's "Transmitting
Live From Earth."
So now comes the big debate is
sampling wrong? Is it improper use of
The answer, my children, is yes
and no. Jurisdiction wasn't necessary
when the Sugarhill Gang did
"Rapper's Delight." After all, it was
the only one of its kind. Nobody
thought it would become what it is
today. But now that it has hit mega
hip in the annals of rap evolution,
something needs to be done about
this sly sampling and coy copping
What the situation boils down to
is percentage, respect and taste. First
off, let's throw away beats from the
argument. Too many songs have
similar beats and rhythms and as
Flavor -Flav from Public Enemy said
. in one song, "You can't copyright no
beat." So there.
Percentage deals with the amount
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The Beastie Boys know the
of time another's .work is used on a
single rap song. Whoever the "proper
music authorities" are, they should
decree the maximum percentage that
should be allowed. Here's an example
to make things simpler: 100 percent
of "U Can't Touch This" used melo
dies or James s bupertreak wait,
that's not right. It was 95 percent (I
forgot about.the "break it down.-top,
If the "Supreme Music Court" de
creed that the maximum percentage
allowed was 20 percent, "U Can't
Touch This" could only use
"Superfreak" in the chorus parts.
Understand? This seems troublesome,
but it could be done.
Of course, the percentage judge
ment could be done away with if the
original artist gave a rapper consent
to use his or her song. This was
demonstrated (sort of) when Bruce
Springsteen said that 2 Live Crew
could use "Born In The U.S.A." for
the Crew's "Banned In The U.S.A."
Respect is another fine way to deal
with sampling. De La Soul acknowl
edged the melodies for "Eye Know"
were created by music-god Donald
Fagen (as was established in the last
Music Scene). This has been done in
other pop songs like when Sting
printed the music bars he "borrowed"
(not sampled) from Sergei Prokofiev
for his song, "Russians."
This acknowledgement can also
be done within a song, like when
ABC used the bass beats from "Tears
Of A Clown" in their Smokey
Robinson tribute, "When Smokey
And lastly, good taste is modeled
by the best rap artists. These masters
only use snippets of other songs and
they do it very creatively. De La Soul,
3rd Bass and A Tribe Called Quest
employed such techniques on their
albums, but the best example is how
the Beastie Boys soul-sampled on both
of their albums.
The Beasties used mostly spot
proper method of sampling.
samples in their work. Good examples
include "Hey Ladies," "The New
Style" and "Shake Your Rump."
One way that rap artists are not
offending other musicians is by
changing the scope of the song en
tirely. For example, Father M.C.'s "If
You Do For Me" is totally comprised
of Cheryl Lynn's "Got To Be Real."
With different keyboard work and a
different chorus, the song is com
pletely altered. L.L. Cool J. also did
this on "Around The Way Girl."
But what looks like the new style
of sampling has been done by the
dance group Deee-Lite, who mixed
old songs and their own music together
to create a revolutionary delectable
hybrid. This allows originality and
creativity to be more dominant than
So is sampling wrong? Is it improper
use of another's work? The answer is
"no" when the above-mentioned
things are done and done properly.
But it is "yes" when an artist doesn't
do any of these things. It becomes the
same thing as stealing and that's it
clear and simple.
Rap artists for the '90s should be
safe and stick by the rule for kids
before dialing a 900 number: "Get
In the last Music Scene, Donald
Fagen was the feature and several
Omni readers sent "interesting" let
ters to the Scene. Bailey Irwin and
Glenn Holzapfel notified me that
Fagen has been performing in New
York with several other artists in a
show called the "Rock and Soul Re
vue." They also informed me that he's
doing some studio work. Bless you for
your information I can rest easy
Comments? Questions? Crude aid'
cisms? Write your opinions down and
send them to Tim Little, The Music
Scene , Omnibus . Maybe we'll talk about
you, er, your comments.
(Hip Hatty (tar BM