Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sample Sets: Frequently Asked Question #1

Note: This post is a continuation of “'Can Ya Dig It'? ... No, Seriously: Can You?”, an article I wrote several months ago in which I made a promise to refrain from posting sample sets to underground artists’ albums. Due to recent developments, I’m elaborating on this point a bit further. Feedback is appreciated. Dig:

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked to compile a sample set for an independent and/or underground album, I’d probably have about $3.85. Baaaaaallllliiiiiiiiin’!

Seriously though, the question comes up here and there, from time and to time. “Hey, can you make a set for Black Milk’s album? How about Little Brother? Reks? Brother Ali? Jake One? Statik Selektah? Atmosphere?” On and on and on… I get it! I understand! These albums have some of the slickest production, often times more so than their mainstream counterparts, especially when it comes to sample-usage. But let’s discuss the potential harm in releasing a sample set for these kinds of albums.

Back in the day, the great hip hop albums thrived off of samples. Lots of them. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to find an album with a total number of samples that reached the triple-digits. But times have changed and the industry has cracked down on this practice. Because sample clearances are so expensive, what ends up happening is major-label artists spend a lot of money on only a handful of samples. But these labels can afford to do so because they Scan and pull in big bucks. But what about the independent/non-mainstream emcees and producers who can’t afford to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars for these samples? When a guy like Lil Wayne gets hit with a huge fee for that song that might have sampled The Rolling Stones, he’s gotta pay a lot of money, but let’s face it: he’s not hurting. The recession means a lot less to him than artists who are really hustling on a day-to-day grind. Weezy could probably wipe his ass with that cash anyways. For an independent/underground artist, on the other hand, if their samples are disclosed to the folks who hold the copyright, the clearance fees these artists would have to pay might put throw them into bankruptcy! This would then force these artists to completely forfeit the tradition of sampling in hip hop. And we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

As some of you might know, I’m currently compiling a “Samples of the Year” edition to The Tape Deck. So far, I’ve got about fifteen songs, many – but not all – of which have appeared on my sample sets from earlier this year. Initially, I wanted to include the samples to all of my favorite songs of the year – if they had any samples to begin with – but I recognized that doing so would breach my promise of not disclosing the samples used by indie artists.

Some of my favorite tracks from 2008 include the East Coast Avengers’ “Kill Bill O’Reilly”, Jake One’s “The Truth” (featuring Freeway and Brother Ali), and Statik Selektah’s “To the Top (Stick 2 the Script)” (featuring Cassidy, Saigon and Termanology), all of which contain samples. I was able to find the soul track used for Jake One’s “The Truth” by scouring the web, but I couldn’t find anything for the other two songs. So I reached out to the producers! I sent my request/question to DC the Midi Alien, and he replied the next day with the answer! I also sent a message to Statik Selektah, who provided me with the sample info as well; but he also had a bit of a request of his own. We had a (very) brief back-and-forth, which I’ve taken a screenshot of and posted below:

As you can see, I’ve blurred or covered some content from those messages. You can probably imagine why. Not only will I respect Statik’s request to keep the sample info “on the low”, I’m gonna do the same for the other two tracks. I’m not just doing it to comply with Stat’s request; I’m doing this because his response helped me to better understand another dimension to this so-called sample set controversy. To hear this kind of response from the producer himself puts it all into a better perspective: If the sample for one track can break an artist’s wallet, imagine what an album-full of samples would do! Have you seen the light now? With all that being said, my “Samples of the Year” edition of The Tape Deck will not be complete, nor will it be an authoritative compilation of all of ‘08’s samples. But at least I can rest assured that it won’t cripple the backbone of independent hip hop.

So to conclude, please think twice before requesting a sample set for an underground album released from an independent label. I know you wanna hear that Jay-Z sample just as much as the track that Jake One flipped. But underground sample sets are simply out of the question, officially, from now on. Feel free to submit your complaints to the comment section. Thank you!


  1. Ivan you 100 percent right on this.
    I got some questions tho!!! Do you have to clear a sample if it's for a promotional mixtape(not available in stores)??
    Do you think that they will make samples clearance less expensive???
    Please reply

  2. Yeah, usually those kinds of releases don't really need clearances, from what I've been told. They only start knocking on your door for money once they see that YOU'RE making money.

    I would also assume that the more the artist is expected to sell, the steeper the clearance fees are, accordingly.

  3. I feel what your sayin Ivan.. As long as you know what the samples are that's straight but blowing up an indie artist's spot is another thing, the authorities, labels, artists etc are always on the prowl.

    Keep grindin tho!

  4. Interesting read... I know we've talked about this before and the issue seems to always come up every few months. I too will respect the producer's wishes if they ask me not to post or to pull a post. This is why we haven't done the Jake One set. He told me when I interviewed him that it would not be good for him. Interesting that Statik told you the sample and then asked you to keep it to yourself. That sucks though... I was hoping to do a couple of Statik sets.

    For those of us that compile and make these sets available, it makes you second guess what we're doing. This is most definitely some food for thought.

  5. Tribe hitting people off for .7 Milli for a sample? sounds contradictory, BUT he is a cash money millionaire so I guess if he got it they should get it...

  6. Like Kev Wrote (or Said??!!), The Read it keeps the interest high. This isssue seems to never know when to stay away (just call before you come around this part of town, alright??). I guess since I am Sample Setter (said in Darth Vader Voice), I feel like this article hits me harder then most other cats. I do see Statik's point and at least he was cool enough to communicate with you on the subject at hand (or keyboard??!!)

  7. Sonny, it might not be Tribe. The original artists and the person who owns the publishing rights and the original masters are not always the same?

  8. I'm deep on the inside of this business and I can tell you that there are some real misconceptions going on here. First of all, many artists, publishers and labels will agree to clear samples for very modest sums unless the new recording is just some vile piece of junk that they don't want to be associated with. I've seen it happen from both sides (from the producer's perspective and the sampled artist's perspective). Second of all, ANY sample is an infringement for which the producer, artist and label that puts out the record can get slammed for statutory damages - even if it's on a mix-tape, even if it's promo only. The more money they make, the bigger the damages, of course - but even an indie project can get slammed. I came up as a mix-jock in the 80s, so I know all about the importance of sampling - but the only "correct" way to sample is to just ask for a quote. Think about it this way - when a dope producer comes up with a sick beat - how would HE feel if, a few years later, somebody just stole it and recycled it - especially if the new work is a piece of garbage. When hip-hop producers borrow from the greats of the past - the only respectful think to do is to ask up front - BEFORE mixtapes - BEFORE promo releases. That way you won't get your teeth kicked in when the owners of the sampled works come calling.

  9. Very interesting insight into how the game is played.

    Well written.

  10. damn you hear about cyprss hill being hit with a lawsuit over the 'is it because im black' sample used in one of there interludes? the guys granddaughter or something, harsh.

  11. It sure is an interesting side of the production game, I never thought of the implications of diclosing the origin of the samples. "The Truth" by Jake One is probably my favourite track of 2008, so while I understand the logic here, I'd Love to get the sampled song. Love your blog by the way, happy 2009.

  12. why can't you post the songs or the sample sets but just remove the id tag? So it's just a non-descript mp3

  13. WOW!! Thanks for droping that knowledge.. I was just going back in forth with my producer about dope samples, wondering did we have to get clearence. Now I know that we don't because it's a promotional mixtape.