Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sampling and Music Copyright Fuck Ups

The article

I remember being in Harlem one afternoon, where I lived for a bit, and blaring out of one of the top stories of a brownstone was the guitar riff from Zeppelin's "The Ocean", just the first 5 notes, followed by the 2 bars of Bonham's drums, repeating over and over again, over which folks were rapping. To this day I think it was the Beastie Boys, but I'm still not sure. (I guess I could google it.)

Still, by virtue of the fact that the first 5 notes of "The Ocean" are very recognizable as "The Ocean", and when you add the fact that those cats were clever enough to appreciate that riff as a perfect bed for rap, I thought it was incredibly creative, not to mention cool as shit. It pre-dated the Rap Rock genre by about 20 years.

When the Beasties sampled an extremely recognizable section of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in the late 1990s, I thought only m'boys would be sophisticated enough to pull that off.

There was a time when sampling was not only allowed but was actually seen as a real art form (and yes, it is), when dudes like Mix Master Mike (Beasties) and Terminator X (Public Enemy) were revered as the masters of the craft, when the term DJ meant something else entirely, something substantive, productive, creative.

Listen to just the open of "Fight the Power", for example. The layers, the elements, the subtleties of off beats, vocal hits, old school funk and new school punk. It's incredible that not only did they come up with these beds in the studio from scratch, but that the DJ, if he's old school (like Mike and X), has to recreate those beds during live shows. It's nothing short of a virtuoso musical performance.

That some ambulance chasing copyright lawyer cocksucker seems single-handedly trying to make that illegal strikes me as the epitome of wanton depravity not only because he's stifling the creative genius of the few "spinners" that still do it, but precisely because he's cheating the originators of those riffs, those hits, those backbeats, musicians who, it turns out, are thrilled to have them included in the collage that is the rap bed.

I have it on pretty good authority that Stravinsky would have totally dug m'Boys shout out.

(Duh! "The Ocean" is used in "She's Crafty", from License to Ill. And I call myself a fan.)


shaneekqua said...

hot damn. Ya'll is a brother?

Anonymous said...

The originators who would be "thrilled," or simply willing, can grant the rights to such use in advance. Not too big on logic, are you?

(Not too big on ethics either, but that, we knew.)

Keifus said...

1. But didn't Zeppelin steal that riff from Robert Johnson (or if not that one, 87% of the others)? And don't get me wrong, I like what those guys did to the blues.

2. Wasn't Vanilla Ice getting prosecuted rather publicly just weeks after Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys hit it big? Was it okay when Mssrs D., rock, CA, X., Flav, D., etc. did it because they didn't suck?

3. If you want to argue that there has been no good popular music since about 1992, I'm not inclined to disagree. Probably for the same reason.

K (maybe I'd say 1996)

Dawn Coyote said...

I love the Beasties. Spent one all-night proposal-writing session listening to Licensed to Ill. Whenever "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" came on, my colleague and I would get up dance. I still get a little thrill whenever I hear that song. Could never figure out what they sampled for it, but it sounds like Deep Purple or some other metal band.

I get the same thrill from the Refreshments banditos.

TenaciousK said...

Hey Swit - can't forget the Bittersweet Sympphony symphony lawsuit, right? The Verve ended up losing both their royalites and their songwriting credits on that one to Jagger and Richards.

There's a fine line between theft of an idea (or product) and using an idea (or product) in an innovative way that improves on the original. Like, taking inspiration from an article on some social topic (say), or repeating entire unique phrases and pretending they're your own.

The difference between traditional"inspiration" (read theft) of a great guitar lick and sampled music is that the one requires some form of digestion, while the other blends undigested a finished product. If I copied an entire paragraph from an article, or even a few cleverly written sentences, and placed it in my own, then despite my additions I'd still be a plagiarist.

Wouldn't I?

It might seem like a fine line to draw (or cross), but we've got to draw that line somewhere. At what point would you say a copyright has been violated?