The Art of Sampling


Sometime late last year, I was looking through the new releases when I came across a sincere tragedy. Hilary Duff was back, and THIS time, it was personal… “Personal Jesus”-personal. It seemed that, for her “Best Of” album, she needed a new song and thus decided to sample Depeche Mode’s 1989 hit “Personal Jesus” for her single, “Reach Out.”

At first I couldn’t believe it because I consider Depeche Mode music sacred ground, but then I found a link to the music video and decided to see if it was true. For those of you that have been lucky enough to miss this, consider yourself very unlucky right now:

This song brings up a musical practice that, unfortunately, is apparently here to stay: sampling. According to Wikipedia, sampling is “the act of taking a portion, or sample, of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or a different sound recording of a song.” To me, “sampling” is another word for “ripping off.” I understand that in most cases the original artist gives their approval for the sample, but in some cases, the artist goes uncredited. Famous songs that have exercised this practice are Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” uncredited), Ton-Loc’s “Wild Thing” (Van Halen’s “Jamie’s Cryin,” uncredited), and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” (Rick James“Super Freak”).

What was first a novelty (as with those songs mentioned) has become commonplace to the point where I honestly don’t believe people think twice about it anymore. For me, though, I think it’s a sad, sad message that the music industry is sending: WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF IDEAS.

To emphasize this point, I’m going to step away from Hilary Duff for a bit and focus on a song that has angered me to the bone: Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”.

This absolute abomination of a song samples two classic songs that SHOULD forever remain untouched: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”. If you are SUCH a fan of the music, then you should respect it enough to LEAVE IT ALONE.

I can recall the first time I heard this song… I was driving down the 210E here in Cali… I swear I almost killed myself because I was in such a rage. The whole song is just the same three chords anyway, so how hard would it be to figure out a different way to play it? Bands do it ALL the time, EVERY SINGLE DAY. In fact, right now, there’s a garage band somewhere that is writing a song with those three exact chords (D, C, and G), played in the exact same progression… and amazingly enough, it sounds completely different than “Sweet Home Alabama”.

No, in my opinion, sampling is just laziness and lack of creativity. It’s a poor excuse for “song writing,” especially when the whole song sounds exactly like the original. I mean, come on… you write lyrics, a melody, everything… but then you can’t go that extra step and make the music underneath your own? LAZY… and trying to make a quick buck. It’s one thing to sample a drum beat, but it’s a whole new ball game when you take the exact structure of a song and put your name on it to claim it as your own.

A nice argument in favor of sampling is that it gives a “second life” to the sampled songs. Take “Personal Jesus”, for example. It’s been almost twenty years since that song’s release, and Duff’s reworking of it presents it to a new generation. Perhaps this new generation will enjoy Duff’s reworking and go seek out the original. Sure, that may be a nice argument, but why not just cover the bloomin’ song? She’s basically covering the song anyway, so why not find other ways to get exposure that would retain the integrity of the song? Show your fans that you REALLY respect the music… wouldn’t THAT be a novel idea????

And while I’m on this point, is “Sweet Home Alabama” SO obscure now that it NEEDS to be sampled and introduced to a new generation??? I think not.

Another argument can be that sampling is “paying tribute” to the sampled song, but THAT can be thrown out the window because if you want to “pay tribute” to a song, then do as I mentioned above: COVER the song, don’t tear it apart and then slap your name on it. There is no shame in recreating a song and making it your own, like what Joe Cocker did with “With A Little Help From My Friends”, or “Feelin’ Alright”. He did such a fine job with those covers that his versions have become the quintessential recordings of that song.

Just for a moment, let’s give these two arguments a leg to stand on. If what they say is true, then wouldn’t it make sense that everyone would know James Brown’s song, “Funky Drummer”? What? You don’t know that song? It just happens to be the most sampled song in history.

So that pretty much kills the arguments… which brings me to the question of whether there is ever a good reason to sample that does not end up being “Cuz I’m lazy.”

Sure, one may say that if the original artists didn’t sign off on allowing the sample, then sampling wouldn’t be allowed… but there are those cases (as explained before) that those artists weren’t even recognized for their work. No wonder they allow it right now… of course they want to lay claim to their legacy. I don’t blame them for laughing all the way to the bank.

What’s really sad is that, like I said before, sampling is here to stay. I’ll admit that bands that I love are guilty of sampling, most notably The Beastie Boys. Some may argue that Rick Rubin (one of my favorite producers) built his entire career on sampling… and many rap artists that I respect as well have sampled their way into the charts. I absolutely HATE saying anything negative about these artists because I usually buy whatever they release, but I must take a stand here.

I still say it’s a clear message that some artists are running out of original ideas. As a music listener, I can say that I would have much more respect for artists if they would spend the time to create a new sound, a new groove, a new SONG, instead of ripping another one off. If you’re truly an artist, then be original… or at least TRY to be original. Good or bad, it’s ok… just show me that you’re trying.

Maybe that’s the bigger issue, though, that “originality” is not welcome in the current state of the music industry. Gone are the days of artist development. Gone are the days of giving an artist a few albums to find their voice, their stride… in today’s need for the immediate hit, all we hear are artists trying to jump on the current bandwagon. How many Nickelback-like rock bands are out there now? Country radio is just the same song done over and over and over and over again to the point that all you really need to do is hear the top 10 songs and you’ll get the gist of what country music is about.

And now Hilary Duff jumps in the pool to add her stamp on the sad state of music.

Understand, I am not saying that there are no original artists out there… I am just saying that what the big labels are shoving down our throats are the same nonsense over and over again. Indie labels and DIY artists are presenting us with some compelling music that, given the chance on radio, could reshape what is popular… but that’s not going to happen as long as we keep getting material like Duff’s “Reach Out” or Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long”. Both of these songs hit the Billboard charts. Wow.

It would have been so much better if the original songs recharted.

So after all that, I’m presenting you with the top 5 songs that have pissed me off because of sampling.

All Summer Long (Kid Rock) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

I’ll Be Missing You (P. Diddy featuring Faith Evans) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

Come With Me (P. Diddy featuring Jimmy Page) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

Reach Out (Hilary Duff) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

Right Round (Flo Rida featuring Kesha) [Amazon] [iTunesicon]

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22 thoughts on “The Art of Sampling

  1. AWESOME article.

    There are many details you wrote about that I did not know about and as I was reading your response to the arguments in favor of sampling I couldn’t help but say “Excellent point!!”

    You convinced me my friend and just fyi, I hate that new version of Right Round.

    “And while I’m on this point, is “Sweet Home Alabama” SO obscure now that it NEEDS to be sampled and introduced to a new generation??? I think not. ”

    I laughed out loud when I read this…yes “Sweet Home Alabama” is so unrecognizable LOL.

    Very well written, so glad you did this post.

  2. On the one hand I get what you’re saying…sampling has gotten obnoxious to a point where I just get irritated when artists (particularly rappers) do it. Once in awhile it works well (see: Kanye’s “Stronger”), but more often than not it just misses.

    But regarding your hatred for Kid Rock and “All Summer Long”. Kid Rock is one of those artists who was in a no-win situation, I think. He wanted to do something somewhat original, so he smapled the two tracks into what I think is a fairly enjoyable tribute song. I feel like if he had done what you suggested and just covered the song, he’d get eviscerated even worse than he was for “All Summer Long”. So while I get your distaste, give the man some props for at least having some creative balls.

    ==TJ==

  3. Man, I need to buy you a drink, my friend. HEREFUCKINHERE!

    I’ve gotten into many an argument over “All Summer Long” – even one rather ugly one with my 15 yr old son, in which out of exasperation I said, ‘Oh yeah?? Well you’re grounded!!’

    I have never liked sampling, even with the artist approval because I agree with you, I think it’s laziness. And in the case of Kid Rock (who I’m not particularly a fan of anyway) all I think of when I hear it is well now, you’ve made yourself a few bucks, now haven’t you?

    Another example is Gym Class Heroes’ version of “Take a Look at My Girlfriend” by Supertramp. My kids used to listen to them and then finally stopped because I kept telling him, THAT’S A SUPERTRAMP SONG, DAMMIT!

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS!

  4. Depeche Mode music IS sacred ground. Nuff said.

    And that “Reach Out” song is just “Wrong” 😉

    I think one of the biggest problems I have with sampling is that the original artist, like you said, isn’t getting the credit they deserve many times. And can you just imagine someone who isn’t at all familiar with DM (for shame) hearing “Personal Jesus” on the radio one day and saying “Wow, they totally ripped off Hilary!!” LOL. Oy veh.

    Loved the post.

  5. Oh yeah, and I agree… I think it sends the “lazy” message too. The more I read your posts, the more I realize just how much awesome music there is out there in the Indie world. It’s a shame something like “Reach Out” tops the charts, and some other MUCH more deserving songs don’t.

  6. Oh wow, first Depeche Mode and now another one of my favorites?? Please tell me there are no samples from any U2 classics out there…

  7. I can understand your point… I tend to agree that Kid Rock was in a “no-win situation.” But if that’s the case, the should have tried to really be creative and write something new that he can call his own. A tribute song doesn’t have to contain samples of the song it’s honoring. What Rock did was merely bank on the fact that the two songs he used are so well known that people will unknowingly buy them because it’s a new version of those songs, not because HIS song was any good.

    “All Summer Long” is one of the worst songs ever… but Rock could have at least maintained his self respect by writing a new song around those three chords. Don’t just take someone else’s invention like a radio, put a clock on it, and then claim that YOU invented the “clock-radio.”

  8. You raise an excellent point… the fans of the original song usually won’t accept the new sampled version. “All Summer Long” is just “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London.” I’d rather here those two songs than “All Summer Long” any day of the week.

    Duff’s “Reach Out” is just Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,”and it will ALWAYS be “Personal Jesus” to me.

    Congrats that these artists can sell some records, but when all is said and done, their “new” versions will be forgotten like a fart.

  9. Thank you I’m glad you enjoyed the post! “Right Round” is a culmination of all that wrong with sampling, as is Duff and Rock’s entries. “Sampling” used to be merely grabbing a sound like a glass shattering and using it in a song… not taking the entire BACKBONE of a song and calling it your own. But I guess whatever moves records wins, regardless of what it says about the artist.

  10. You make an excellent point, too –

    “Indie labels and DIY artists are presenting us with some compelling music that, given the chance on radio, could reshape what is popular…”

    That’s the absolute truth, but I wonder will it ever change? Maybe not in my lifetime but I think with the internet, etc., it might just in my kids’ lifetime, you know? We can only hope.

  11. Hi Frontloaader! I have strong views on sampling, but since I’m racing through my day, as I do through life, I’ll just pose a curiosity question. Do you have less of an issue with sampling if the artist/band sampled isn’t someone you personally dig and/or respect?

    BTW- Love your blog and look forward to reading it. Peace and rock on, always. (-:

  12. That’s an excellent question. The straight answer is that I have an issue with sampling even if a band I dig does it. For example, I stated in the post that I was disappointed that The Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin sample… I think they are legends in the music field, but I can’t play favorites.

    Is sampling here to stay? I’m afraid it is. Will people continue to sample bands I love? Of course. is there anything I can do to stop it? Probably not, because the original artists are often giving their blessing for the sample. They want to get recognized for their work (and get royalties), so it comes down to business.

    Thank you always for reading and supporting the site!

  13. your an idiot sampling is not rippping off a song. sampling is a real art that takes skill and time of looking through old material. the fact that you call it being lazy shows how ignorant you are. the fact is learning how to mix tracks and alter music samples is very hard and time consuming. sure artists take big pieces of a song and use it as their own but the majority of artists who sample take many small pieces of music and put together a great work of art that they spent a large amount of time and energy creating. you use kid rocks sweet home alabama as just ripping off two songs yet he mixed the beat from those songs himself which im sure was not an easy task. it just shows how it was a genius idea of his to use those two songs and then incorporate his own lyrics into it.

  14. Wow you've GOT to be kidding. Your entire comment is based on the mixing and production process and NOTHING to do with sampling.

    Just a few pointers:

    – I didn't know there was a “skill” in taking the “time of looking through old material.” So you're telling me that listening to music from the 40's is a “skill” that I can put on my resume?

    – You wrote: “learning how to mix tracks and alter music samples is very hard and time consuming.” You're right… but you're proving my point: Wouldn't it be MORE worth the time to write something ORIGINAL than spend it altering/mixing something that's NOT yours?

    – You say that Kid Rock's mixing of two songs “sure was not an easy task.” It probably wasn't, but that doesn't have ANYTHING to do with SAMPLING. It has everything to do with MIXING, which IS a difficult process… but still, it has NOTHING TO DO WITH SAMPLING.

    – Based on your last statement… you mean to tell me it's “genius” to take someone else's instrumental track, erase the vocal line, then put another vocal line over it? THAT'S “genius????” So why don't I just take Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven,” erase Plant's melody and lyric but keep the rest of the music the exact same, put my own lyric over it, re-record it and call it “I Love My Spoon and Fork,” sell it, and THAT would be “genius?” I hope to GOD that you're joking.

    – And finally… “You're” means “You are,” and “Your” means “your.”

    Thanks for reading! I totally appreciate the comment!!!

  15. Look dude, I see where you coming from because you are not the first to make this claim, that sampling lacks creativity and it's lazyness, but what you don't understand is that with music genre's like hip hop, all we had when were starting out was a drum machine and old funk/soul/disco records. That was it. The entire genre was build off of sampling and that was what gave Hip Hop it's original feel. The ability to take something OLD and express it in a NEW way. Now when you have kats that just reuse the exact same peice of music with no attempt to change or atleast make it sound new, yes that is ripping off. Why you have pop stars doing it, I have no clue. But understand sampling is infact an art. It does take skill to find that special part of the song that you can take and recreate into something else.

  16. I'm not sure i understand your level of education on the matter.
    there is fine line between sampling a whole riff and sampling parts. In this day in age i think it is trashy to be releasing whole songs with nothing more than ripping off a whole riff from somebody else specially something so over done like depeche mode's “personal Jesus” or throwing their lyrics over an entire DIck Dale song( yes black eyed peas.That was lame!)However, that is far cry from people who use sampling as an art from all in its self. Those people who are either turntablist who do it by hand and record mixes. Which is how it got started. by scrounging for cuts or those who know how manipulate sampling programs or hardware to sounds are mangled and twisted and compressed (i.e aphex twin or chemical brothers,)

    DJ are another factor mashups and such have been getting big in the DJ scene and that is why people have been letting this slip. I'm not really big on it personally i don't like going to clubs or listen to the radio to hear music i already know. I would put in my own CD or turn on my own computer for that . My opinion that is what's wrong with the radio but i digress.

    I don't think sampling is necessarily to blame here. I think it is people not taking a great tool that is really interesting and powerful using well. Also something has to be said about the rise of DJ's among music industry socially to cause this considering that this probably is the root of sampling that and producers. I could be wrong there

  17. Hey Frontloader. Based on the fact that the examples you provided for sampled music consist of: Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Tone Loc indicates to me that you are not a very musically sophisticated person. So with this in mind I would like to reach out and offer you some advice that I hope will inspire you to do a little more research or at least help you to think before you spout off your ill-advised nonsense. Firstly, don't make generalizations. It's not a good look for you. Secondly, you admit that you “LOVE” Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin yet you “HATE” the fact that they created their unique soundscapes with the aid of samples? That makes no sense to me. You will sit there and nod your head to the beat, but you are thinking to yourself the whole time, “I hate this sampled shit.” Just appreciate a well crafted song for what it is? If it's good, it's good.

    My final and most important suggestion for you is this… Do yourself a favor. Go pick up J Dilla's Donuts or any one of Madlib's Beat Konductor albums, lock yourself in a dark room with a good set of headphones and press play. If you don't come out of that room a new person, with a new appreciation for music, then I feel sorry for you. Good luck.

  18. Hey Frontloader. Based on the fact that the examples you provided for sampled music consist of: Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Tone Loc indicates to me that you are not a very musically sophisticated person. So with this in mind I would like to reach out and offer you some advice that I hope will inspire you to do a little more research or at least help you to think before you spout off your ill-advised nonsense. Firstly, don't make generalizations. It's not a good look for you. Secondly, you admit that you “LOVE” Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin yet you “HATE” the fact that they created their unique soundscapes with the aid of samples? That makes no sense to me. You will sit there and nod your head to the beat, but you are thinking to yourself the whole time, “I hate this sampled shit.” Just appreciate a well crafted song for what it is? If it's good, it's good.

    My final and most important suggestion for you is this… Do yourself a favor. Go pick up J Dilla's Donuts or any one of Madlib's Beat Konductor albums, lock yourself in a dark room with a good set of headphones and press play. If you don't come out of that room a new person, with a new appreciation for music, then I feel sorry for you. Good luck.

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