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!