Crate-digging was a time-honored tradition for the hip-hop aficionado. Kids would throw on a dust mask and head deep into the basements of record shops for the “good shit.” Those were the obscure first-run issues of vinyl, ranging from Brazil’s pagode to German kraut rock. Of course there were Soul and Funk records sprinkled in, but this act of digging ultimately led to hip-hop’s fascination with samples. By the time DJ Premier learned the art of the chop, it became the norm to meld genres comfortably into a rap song. By the time the ‘90s hit their halfway mark, popular music from decades prior hit the sample pool thanks to Puffy. It was all relative: finding songs you grew up listening to and flipping them into your own concoction. What happens, though, when people grow up listening to you? You, being hip-hop? Your music is the new Funk sample. A sample within a sample being sampled by the same young kid you used to be. Well, you sue, of course…
…or you take it to the international soapbox called Twitter, where arguments are validated by retweets and at replies. It’s hard to gauge who is right or wrong. On Gang Starr’s “Royalty” (off Moment Of Truth), DJ Premier closes the track with a diatribe on sampling:
“To whom it may concern,” he says. “This goes out to anybody who’s doing the bullshit, straight up. Yo, everybody’s calling me, my lawyer, everybody on this, ‘Yo did you scratch such and such name or this, that, and the third on the record for a hook?’ Y’all keep calling me on that shit, man, and y’all supposed to be hip-hoppers and all that, letting the industry control the rules of the hip-hop world that we made? Y’all need to knock that shit off, that’s some greedy ass fake bullshit. Knock that shit off forreal.” He adds, “And one other thing…what’s the deal with you break record cats that’s puttin’ out all the original records that we sampled from and snitchin’ by putting us on the back of it saying we used stuff. You know how that go. Stop doing that! Y’all are violating, straight up and down.”
How times have changed. Just this week, the legendary Lord Finesse slapped a $10 million dollar lawsuit on newbie Mac Miller for his use of Finesse’s ’95 cut “Hip 2 Da Game.” Mac sampled the song on “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza” off his K.I.D.S. mixtape. A free mixtape, meaning Mac made no money off Lord Finesse’s hit. Mac Miller retorted, citing that Lord Finesse never cleared the original Oscar Peterson sample on his song (that was made for retail). He did lace that innocent jab with pleasantries and explained what a fan he was of Lord Finesse. “All I wanted to do is shed light on a generation that inspired me,” he said via Twitter. Finesse replied again on Twitter that Mac’s “people” didn’t handle his business correctly. “Mixtapes are one thing, but you can’t take someone else’s entire song, shoot a music video, and call it your own.” Isn’t that exactly what Puffy did to the Luniz, though, when he took their beat to “I Got 5 On It” and called it “Satisfy You?” This scenario is far from new. However, it’s a different landscape now.
Fifteen years ago, mixtapes consisted primarily of rappers either rocking over someone else’s instrumental or making original beats to rock over 30-second outbursts. Sure you bought the tapes (1 for $10, 2 for $15, 3 for $25), but they were far from the promotional monsters (and album release detractors) that they’ve evolved into in recent years. Perhaps that’s where Lord Finesse’s anger stems from – knowing the current market value of mixtapes and the financial potential it has on another artist’s career. Is it worth $10 million dollars though?
There’s also a respect case to be made. Take Pete Rock’s disapproval of Lupe Fiasco using the classic “T.R.O.Y.” beat for “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” off his upcoming Food And Liquor 2. The reaction to Lupe’s usage was “How dare you?” Were Tom Scott and The California Dreamers appalled that a rap group chose to pull the heartstring-tugging breakdown in their song “Today” for a song about the late Trouble T-Roy?
While we all await this fictitious changing of the guard in hip-hop, situations like these will continue to arise. Elder rap statesmen will turn their noses up at plebeians using their material until they’re plebeians no more (who really knows the plebe expiration date, considering Lupe Fiasco’s been a rap fixture for a while now?). The “simplest” solution is to declare a moratorium on using rap samples until every other genre in existence has been exhausted.
Grab your dust masks.