Is Sampling Overdone in the Music Industry?

Is Sampling Overdone in the Music Industry?

Two weeks ago, Kelis blew up social media after discovering an old single in which she was featured, “Milkshake,” was sampled on Beyoncé’s new project. Kelis’ statements caught many off-guard, raising many questions and ultimately leading to the removal of the sample.

Beyonce’s “Energy” A Napalm Bomb

Beyoncé, known for her explosive releases and boundless creativity, recently made waves with the release of her new project “Renaissance.” As with everything Beyoncé, the project caused a significant amount of buzz. Upon the drop, news rapidly spread of the addition of a Kelis sample on the track “Energy.” However, it became evident Kelis was clueless about the fact beforehand. In fact, the artist found out through social media with the rest of the world.

Kelis Responds

Kelis’ response was much different than many expected. While many felt the artist should be overjoyed, Beyoncé used the track on her release; she was less than thrilled. In fact, she was enraged by the credulity of Beyoncé, Pharrell, and Hugo, who are listed as co-writers. Her primary argument lent to the premise of fundamental disrespect, saying that someone could have at least contacted her before the use of the sample.

Kelis and The Neptunes

Those who are aware of Kelis’ history with The Neptunes know that she is she doesn’t bite her tongue when it comes to them. She openly spoke out against them in 2020. Once again, she stands tall to tell the world how she feels.

“My mind is blown too because the level of disrespect and utter ignorance of all 3 parties involved is astounding.”

Kelis did not stop at one statement. Kelis made several posts on social media pontificating her point making her frustration evident. In her words,

“I have the right to be frustrated. Because no one had the human decency to call and go, ‘Hey, we’d like to use your record.”

And her grievance wasn’t done there; the artist went on to contend it was done on purpose.

History Bites Back

Two years ago, Kelis called out the duo (Hugo and Pharrell) for shady business practices. In the earlier dispute, Kelis claimed that the Neptunes outright tricked her as a younger artist. The duo tricked her out of money and publishing credit. In 2020 Kelis stated,

“I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, but we didn’t.”

When asked how she could be tricked, her contention was she was young at the time and didn’t know what she was doing. According to the artist back then,

“Just the fact that I wasn’t poor felt like enough.”

So, she signed not knowing what she was signing or what it meant, which is not beyond the norm in the industry. However, when asked for a response from Hugo and Pharrell at the time, reportedly, the argument to the counter was, “Well, you signed it,” which is also an undeniable point. Because despite a lack of knowledge, contracts are binding. Does it make it ethical? That is an entirely different argument. Nevertheless, it appears the release of “Energy” once again touched a sore spot.

Is Sampling Overdone

This is not a cut-and-dry issue. Beyond Beyoncé’s appropriate use of the song, there is much tied up in the creative nature of the sample’s origins. The issue’s root lies in the entanglement between Kelis and The Neptunes. Inarguably the root of that contention is the ideology of the authenticity of an artist’s genuine voice, the ideology of ownership regarding IP (Intellectual property), and the acceptable use of others’ work in general.

Kelis’ ardency in lifting her voice regardless of the pushback brings to the surface several inquiries. Is sampling overdone? Is sampling disastrous to the creator and the signature of the creative who uses it? And does sampling indicate a lack of creativity, and is it fundamentally theft?

Roots of Sampling: The Hip Hop Community

For many, samplings are as integral to hip hop as a seam is to a pair of pants. Much of earlier hip hop was held together by samples. According to uDiscovermusic, “legendary block party DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, and Afrika Bambaataa would scratch out record labels on the records they were playing with to keep their sources secret — and keep their punters dancing.”

Initially, the elevation or transformation of recognizable music to a new form made people move. The ability to flip an old soul album and create something new was a distinct fingerprint of the talented ones in the community. Those songs which carried the signature were undeniably hits. As it is further noted by uDiscover,
“One of hip hop’s signature songs in the golden age included a sample “Apache,” recorded by The Shadows: a British intro combo led by guitarist Hank Marvin best known for backing Cliff Richard.”

For some, the signature sample may be unrecognizable in “Jump on It,” but one close listen makes it almost undeniable. The way the Sugar Hill gang remastered “Apache” was a marker of true talent at the time. And in fact, as the source notes,

“So important is the song in hip-hop’s history that it’s been claimed as the genre’s “national anthem.”

Although Sugar Hill’s Gang single was an earlier identifier of sampling, it was not the first to do so in music. And in Hip hop, they wouldn’t be the last. James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” was used to undergird Public Enemy’s Fight The Power. Rob Base And DJ E-Z Rock’s It Takes Two sampled Lynn Collins (Think About it) 1:30

And Snoop Dogg retrofitted Atomic Dog, fashioning it into his anthem, Who am I? (What’s My Name)
A Problem Brewing

The use of samples did not go unchecked; not everyone was down with the free-for-all, and several producers were taken to task. For example, De La Rose, who tried the same thing in sampling music by the Turtles, was sued for using their intellectual property. According to uDiscover

“The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and budding acts were subsequently forced to be more circumspect.”

It was obvious that things were shifting. Sampling was becoming a minefield. But, of course, that didn’t put an end to sampling. Many more of hip hop’s most recognizable songs contained samples.

“The iconic bassline for Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ helped make A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Can I Kick It?’ one of the most recognizable songs on the radio in 1991.”

Still, more and more, it became unsavory to some across industry lines. Finally, Laruche’s legal suit against Marly Marl became a significant turning point.

Spinning the record

In the ’90s, producer Marley Marl (Marlon Williams) was sued for sampling drumbeats from Impeach the President, a 1973 song by Honeydrippers, on two LL tracks, one being “Around the Way Girl.”

Additionally, the producer was said to use a vocal sample from the same group (Honey drippers) for EPMD single Give The People. Mr. Fuch had purchased the Impeach the President masters, so the sampling left a distaste in his mouth. Of course, money was at the base of Fuch’s beef. At the time, Lawrence Stanley, a representative of PM Dawn, contended that if Fuch, who lodged the suit, won, it would be highly costly to hip hop. Stanley had this to say,

“Probably 99 percent of drum samples are not cleared, everyone takes beats from other songs, adds things over them, amplifies them, does anything they have to do to make their own track.”

While this argument supports the industry’s actions at the time, one cannot help but question how solid the reasoning is. It was apparent that hip hop was being held together by samples. The massive nature of sampling made making corrective actions or altering the way things were done untenable. Furthermore, pursuing proper channels for rights to samples is laborious, time-consuming, and costly.

The New York Times notes, “A single rap album can include dozens of samples, from single drumbeats to full musical phrases. Finding the copyright owners, negotiating fees or royalties, and gaining legal clearance is time-consuming and can add tens of thousands of dollars to the production costs.”

Many areas regarding what was appropriate use concerning requiring permissions weren’t precisely clear. However, one thing was sure; sampling was too prevalent, perhaps abused, extremely problematic, and warranting some change.

Kelis/Sampling: No New Thing

As we know, things haven’t exactly changed. Let’s not forget Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, which heavily sampled Ray Charles hit single “I Got A Woman” and songs as current as Beyoncé’s “Energy.”

Although using others’ work remains a go-to for many, more artists now seek the proper permission while others deal with it on the back end. However, does it still justify the overuse?

Back to Kelis

When Kelis spoke her piece, she picked up a lot of haters in the process. Many argued that the sample was extremely small. A lot contended she should have kept her mouth shut, arguing she self-sabotaged herself out of future profit. Others made claims the song wasn’t even hers to begin with. However, Kelis stood firm despite those who felt she was too dissident. Hearing what she proposed was her work being sampled without a modicum of respect for pre-knowledge broke her soul. In her words,

“I just heard the record everyone says has my sample. But it’s beyond this song at this point. This was a TRIGGER.”

She is not the only one to have argued a need for redirection, not so much regarding permissions but of using others’ work period, as Prince argued. “Sampling is getting to a point where it’s getting out of hand.”
So, the more appropriate question becomes, do artists need to sample another artist to deliver mind-blowing projects? Beyoncé’s response to Kelis’ outrage and allegations of theft was to remove the sample with no further reaction at the time. And Bey’s response gives us a bit more to contemplate. Is the removal of Kelis’ sample proof that perhaps the sample wasn’t necessarily needed? If it didn’t matter in the big scheme of things, why include it in the first place? And why remove it so rapidly if it mattered and required all the excess permissions to make it part of her creative model? Was the initial inclusion Queen B’s attempt to correct a wrong she felt Kelis had undergone? Or was it a simple artistic decision, and she didn’t feel obligated to include Kelis? Whatever the purpose of the inclusion or the abrupt removal, we don’t yet have a definitive answer.

Future of Sampling
Regardless sampling remains an issue that is not clear-cut and dry. And it will remain a point of contention. There is no denying sampling has been done before and has often gone unchecked. Some swear by it. Of course, there is the argument that using samples brings the work of latter artists to a new generation. And thus, the former artist owes gratitude to those who have selected them for this great honor. But does this matter? Does the potentiality for success or re-introduction override a creator’s desire for what to do with their intellectual property, provided proof of ownership? As the current issue has been brought to light, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the use of samples. Maybe it is past time that all artists stand on their creativity alone.
Written by: Renae Richardson



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