Public Enemies: Music Industry Greed Is Stifling the Technology That Drives Hip-Hop, Writes Becky Hogge

By Hogge, Becky | New Statesman (1996), February 5, 2007 | Go to article overview

Public Enemies: Music Industry Greed Is Stifling the Technology That Drives Hip-Hop, Writes Becky Hogge


Hogge, Becky, New Statesman (1996)


It is 2020. A young man reaches to pull down his hoodie and unplug his headphones as he enters a windswept examination hall at the EMI Special Academy for Hip-Hop and the Associated Arts. He is here to take a test, one remarkably similar to those taken decades ago by young civil service hopefuls.

Although our young man will have some space to show off his knowledge, much time is spent on auditing his personality. The test's final section--a contract assigning rights in any future work to the Academy--requires just a signature. He will leave the exam hall one of two things: an accredited and licensed hip-hop pioneer, with sampling access to the world's cultural heritage, or, as he entered it, a consumer of musical content.

Hip-hop, more than any other form of music, has its origins in cultural appropriation. The break beats that characterise it were spliced together in the Seventies by turntablists cutting quickly between old funk records. In the Eighties, DJs such as Tony Touch popularised the B-boy movement by selling bootleg mix tapes on the streets of New York. But in 1991, when the US courts ruled that a sample lifted from a Gilbert O'Sullivan song by the rapper Biz Markie had infringed copyright, the story changed.

In a 2004 interview with Wired, the Beastie Boys' Mike D explained how: "We can't just go crazy and sample everything and anything like we did on Paul's Boutique [their 1989 album] ... If we're going to grab a two-bar section of something now, we're going to have to think about how much we really need it. …

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