Music is beautiful because it is the expression of a person’s emotions, life, and experiences. When musicians cover or sample a song from the past, they are essentially merging their vision with another artists idea. They then leave it up to the listener to decide if the two songs can work in harmony to create something new.
But how far is too far? Before we go too much into this discussion, let’s take a look at what it means to actually use a “sample”. In essence, sampling is when an artist takes a portion of one song, and reuses it in another. Now this could be as miniscule as a one off sound bite, though there is only so far you can go before someone will call your art biting or jacking another person’s vibe, flow, or song. But to the artist using the sample, what do they think? They obviously wouldn’t consider themselves to be jacking another artist’s idea, though instead the common reason can be attributed to inspiration.
Think about it. It wouldn’t be unheard of to think that a huge percentage of current and past artists became the type of musician they are now from listening to similar types of music in their youth. Relating it to another topic, you could say that I became inspired to write about music after reading article after article from my favourite music bloggers. Now would I ever copy one of their articles? No. But would I consciously, or un-consciously identify with myself what exactly I like about their article, and try to incorporate those factors into my own work? Absolutely. The legendary artist Miles Davis once said “sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself”. A telling quote to help prove the inspiration argument, though there is nothing stopping anybody from thinking that I simply stole that quote to make my article better. Using that quote could definitely be seen as sampling Miles Davis, or copying him, depending on how you’d like to look at it.
“If you love something and you’re inspired just do you, don’t tell somebody how they can make music, or how they feel or don’t feel, if there is an artist who wants to paint a beautiful sky … don’t tell him he can’t paint the sky pink”
Logic – The Breakfast Club Power 105.1 (11/17/2015)
After Maryland rapper Logic released his 2015 critically acclaimed studio album “The Incredible True Story”, Logic faced some criticism in terms of his authenticity and was accused to be “borrowing” a little too much from established artists. Logic has always addressed these accusations mentioning that he has been inspired by these artists, but is proud to say that at the end of the day, on and off the record its different simply because it’s him. No one has rapped it like him, and nobody has done it like him. To address the use of a drum line on Logic’s “Contact” that is very similar to one used on Kanye West’s “Amazing” Logic stated that while you may hear Kanye’s “Amazing”, he hears the drums from the soundtrack to Akira which are called Japanese Taiko drums. Logic called up his executive producer No I.D. (who worked on Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak), who explained VST’s to Logic and allowed him to create the sound himself with a faster BPM and different kicks. The lesson being that music can mean different things to different people, and although end results can often sound similar, its creational process may have been completely different.
Another point of authenticity in Logic’s music was “Thalia” on Logics debut “Under Pressure”. Thalia was essentially a narrator that would explain various aspects of Logic’s creative process at the end of each track on the album. This idea was first used on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” album. Although the idea is used in almost the exact same way, Logic mentioned that Ali Shaheed Muhammad (a member of A Tribe Called Quest) gave Logic props and praise for using the Thalia idea. So if the originator of the idea doesn’t have a problem with Logic using it to create something new, why should anyone else?
This is a difficult debate to have however, because at the end of the day this all comes down to a personal opinion on each individual artist. What one would see as copying, another would see as paying homage. One has to ensure that you pay your respect to the original artist, and give credit where credit is due. Paying homage to musical history is a feat that is respected by many if done right, and one sure-fire way to do it right would be to shout out the artist you are sampling. It wouldn’t even necessarily have to be in the song either. When you post your new track on SoundCloud, link the original artist in the song description and give that artist the credit they deserve. At the end of the day, it can all be attributed to inspiration, and if you are still being true to oneself, representing honestly one’s own experience and identity, how could anyone ever have a problem with it?