Is Sampling Dying?
Simple beats and Auto-Tuned vocals form the foundation of 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West's latest release. As the title implies, it's a breakup album. But perhaps the split is deeper than even West realizes. His new sound is a bold departure from his previous efforts, but also a challenge to the parameters of what many listeners would consider hip-hop. 808s & Heartbreak doesn't rely on an element once pervasive in the genre: samples. The album doesn't contain any prominent samples, while West's previous release, Graduation, featured them on 10 of its 13 tracks. He is not alone in this change: Young Jeezy's last album, The Recession, boasts just three samples, and T.I.'s latest, Paper Trail, features only four.
The staple of hip-hop's beatmakers for nearly 30 years, sample-based production has slowly eroded over the past decade, due to rising costs and rampant litigation. Today the average base price to clear a sample is $10,000, and the threat of lawsuits over copyright infringement looms heavy over artists and labels. High-profile rappers have become legal targets for music publishing companies, while independent MCs struggle to compete. With no standardized pricing, the prohibitive cost of samples has altered the creative approach of many hip-hop producers. The trend toward purely electronic production -- synthesizers, drum machines, Auto-Tune -- has injected major stylistic changes into the genre, with producers like the Neptunes, Timbaland, and T-Pain at the forefront.
"The art form of hip-hop -- the sound that attracted us to it -- is diminishing," says RZA, Wu-Tang Clan producer and MC. "It's becoming just another form of pop music."
Up until the early '90s, artists sampled liberally from other musicians. But a case brought against Biz Markie in 1991 changed the rules of hip-hop and sample-based music as a whole. That year, the rapper appeared in a U.S. District Court in New York accused of copyright infringement for sampling portions of a 1972 Gilbert O'Sullivan song, "Alone Again (Naturally)," for a track on his album I Need a Haircut. Though he initially sought permission to use O'Sullivan's original composition, Markie never received it and included the sample anyway. The rapper's actions incited a stern response from presiding Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy.
"'Thou shalt not steal' has been an admonition followed since the dawn of civilization," Duffy told Markie. He then issued an injunction against Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros. Records for the distribution of the album and song. "People talk about the Biz case as a turning point," says Hope Carr, president of Clearance 13'-8", an agency specializing in sample clearance and risk assessment. "It was enormously frustrating, because the decision didn't really decide any actual law; the only citation was the Bible. But it certainly got a lot of people's attention."
Thanks SPIN MAGAZINE!