Responsible Sampling in Hip Hop

Sampling and Hip Hop go hand in hand. Finding the perfect break beat to loop or chop is part of our music’s DNA. Crate digging and finding some hard drums, a bad ass bassline to filter, a melody to reconstruct, then putting them all together to create something dope is a satisfying process. If you’re a beat maker maybe you do all those things. Perhaps you enhance your samples with some live instrumentation of your own. Whatever your process is, I’m not here to challenge it. I don’t care to argue the legality of sampling either. Sample clearance issues aside, it’s my belief that we should be more careful with how we use our sampled beats. Shouldn’t producers and artists be more responsible for the messages on certain sampled tracks?

I’m not condemning anyone’s irresponsible lyrics, but I will argue that some lyrics do not belong on their sampled source material. If you’re going to use a gospel track or something meant to uplift maybe the rapper’s message should match. This is particularly an issue when the sample used is just a melody loop with little to no filter.

This issue isn’t a new one but I do bring this argument to you after listening to Mask Off by Future. The song is catchy, and already inspiring dancers and memes online despite it’s simple, repetitive lyrics in praise of Percocet, Molly, and making money. Drugs and money are popular themes in rap music, but do we need to hear about Future’s lavish, yet damaging lifestyle choices over music originally meant to encourage and inspire?

The sample source is Prison Song from The “Selma” Album (1976) by Tommy Butler. The album is a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. Prison Song is a soulful ballad for the freedom fighters locked down by abusers during the era of segregation. It’s a song with a heartfelt message that is still relevant today.

Future doesn’t need to change his message; people will buy his music regardless. However, Future and all rappers and emcees should be a little more responsible about their message on songs with powerful samples behind them, so as not to destroy and undermine the intent of the original song.



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