Academic journal article Shofar

Sampling and Jewishness : A Short History of Jewish Sampling and Its Relationship with Hip-Hop

Academic journal article Shofar

Sampling and Jewishness : A Short History of Jewish Sampling and Its Relationship with Hip-Hop

Article excerpt

In 1996 in an article by Hugh Davies on the history of sampling that concentrated on its classical and avant-garde uses and had nothing about the then-current upsurge in sampling by hip-hop artists, Davies wrote that: "Since the late 1970s the term 'sampling' has been applied in music to the method by which special musical instruments digitally 'record' external sounds for subsequent resynthesis."1 Davies was thinking primarily of the development of technologies that have enabled sounds to be reproduced and inserted into newly composed pieces of music. Samples, then, can be anything-"external sounds"-that is, taken from elsewhere and integrated as an element in a composition. The limit cases are tracks that are completely composed of samples.

Sampling has held an important place in the evolution of hip-hop. Joseph Schloss provides this background:

When hip-hop expanded to recorded contexts, both of these roles became more complex. MCs began to create increasingly involved narratives us- ing complex rhythms and cadences. And although DJs continued to make music with turntables when performing live, most also developed other strategies for use in the studio, and these eventually came to include the use of digital sampling.2

Here sampling is understood as a practical answer to changes in hip-hop as it developed. However, Justin Williams suggests that sampling, or rather the aesthetic that underpins the practice of sampling, is central to the generic form of hip-hop. Describing his book, he writes:

Rhymin' and Stealin' begins with a crucial premise: the fundamental element of hip-hop culture and aesthetics is the overt use of preexisting material to new ends. Whether it is taking an old dance move for a breakdancing battle, using spray paint to create street art, quoting from a famous speech or sampling a rapper or 1970s funk song, hip-hop aesthetics involve borrowing from the past. When these elements are appropriated and reappropriated, they become transformed into something new, something different, something hip-hop.3

From this perspective sampling is integral to the practice of hip-hop as an expression of hip-hop's way of relating to the past. Such a position links sampling with African American culture and, indeed, Williams quotes Schloss writing that, "the looping aesthetic . . . combined a traditional African-American approach to composition with new technology to create a radically new way of making music."4 Looping here refers to the practice of taking an extract, a break, from one record and repeating it, originally live by using two copies of the record on two turntables. The sampling technology that developed in the 1980s, perhaps most importantly the E-mu SP-1200, which came onto the market in 1987, enabled this extraction to be achieved more easily and the sample of the break, often repeated many times, to be situated within a new composition.

And yet, it is significant that the title of Williams's book, Rhymin' and Stealin', is a quotation from the title of a track off the Beastie Boys' first album, Licensed to Ill, released in 1986. With its extensive use of rock samples the album broke through to a mass, white, youth audience and over the years has sold over ten million copies in the United States alone. The Beastie Boys were Jewish and the album was produced by their long-term friend and associate, the Jewish Rick Rubin.5 On "Rhymin' and Stealin'" the Beastie Boys sampled three pieces of music, Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks," Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," and The Clash's version of "I Fought The Law." As it happens, the Beasties were not stealing in the sense that the use of the samples had been cleared with the rights holders, but they were stealing in that they were taking and reusing extracts from other pieces of music as a part of their own new composition, recombining those elements into a new, synthesized whole. Williams never comments on the Jewishness of the Beastie Boys. …

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