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Thursday, April 18, 2024

New talent discovered through use of hip-hop samples

Sampling has always been closely intertwined with the idea of documenting and paying homage to the past. In his book “Off the Gangsta Tip,” author and professor Tim Brennan claims that rap music serves to be “both the encyclopedia and the built-in commentary on all the African cultural production that existed before it.” Sampling has become the most efficient and poignant way of achieving this effect. Structuring a song around one from the past that’s preloaded with history and connotation is a great way for people to be conscious of all of the influences that have led up to the modern sample—and it sounds amazing. 

What started as an avant-garde experiment in the 1950s quickly became a staple of hip-hop culture and shortly thereafter infected the entire music industry. Sampling greatly opened opportunities for everyone from bedroom beatmakers to big-name producers.

Newspaper pencils use pulp from recycled periodicals as the foundation for writing utensils. While the object itself, the pencil, is wholly its own being, you can still see the faint tarnished ink of a world gone by. Sampling is becoming the recycling center of music history, devouring the archives of universally cherished and long-forgotten artists alike and converting them into contemporary works. 

I’ve gotten the impression that most producers believe that sampling is a strictly historical act; repurposing work from current or on-the-rise artists falls more into the category of remixing, bootlegs and refixes. However, as the past quickly dissolves into the hands of samplers and producers, where do future artists look for their inspiring sound? 

Recently, a new group of musicians is scouring the Internet for the most obscure, undiscovered talents as muses for their production. They operate digitally, shooting messages to rappers on Soundcloud in hopes of an a capella for remixing purposes. They are a generation of producers who look to the future for inspiration rather than the past.

Take hip-hop artist Thast for example. Even though she’s based in Central Florida, her tracks are being played in clubs and on radio stations all across Europe. Three years ago, Thast’s Soundcloud was populated with a couple of locally produced singles. Now she has producers from Norway and Italy crafting experimental PC-Music-esque beats for her. She’s paving a career path that few, if any, have taken. 

On paper, Thast’s Soundcloud would turn very few heads. Her track photos are more often than not a collage of selfies that more closely resemble a Facebook profile picture than official album art. Song titles like, “Bitch I’m Geeked” and “Inbox” fall in line with those of every struggling rapper to have tried to make it in the game. But listen to just one of these songs and you’ll understand why her sound appealed to so many artists around the world. Her verses have the flow of Missy Elliott at her prime and a voice so commanding and confident Thast rivals any established rapper that could claim to be tough. 

Her verses are so good that they effectively strangled any of the bedroom-produced southern beats she used to spit on. It was last May that producers around the world, such as Hi Tom and Zora Jones, started reaching out to work with her. Soon enough, Thast’s Soundcloud became populated with futuristic club beats from abroad, all with the same great voice that got her the connections in the first place. 

Thast is just one of many artists now being brought up by producers on the Internet. Her rise to success is unique in that the majority of people now producing for her haven’t met her in real life. In the case of Norway producer hi tom, a photographed Soundcloud message on Thast’s Facebook fan page indicates that he sent her a beat online for her to rap over. In this sense, Thast’s career falls into an uncanny purgatory between rapper and sample. Is Thast a real person to these creatives, or just a metaphorical record in a crate on the Internet waiting to be sampled?

I’m in the camp that this new wave of contemporary sampling is mostly good for the development of club and electronic music. It allows rappers and vocalists without a following or good marketing to get their voices to the right ears while further hastening the union between hip-hop and club music that has been destined for years. But it’s interesting to think about the implication of these musical relationships. Without warning, Thast was whisked into the world of artsy club music. Is she still being true to herself and her background by letting her vocals be appropriated for use in clubs, or does none of this matter as long as the songs bump?

Something becomes lost in translation when producers whisk away their beats to willing vocalists on the Internet, but that might be just the sound they’re looking for. Whereas soulful samples that dominated hip-hop in the ’90s were meant to present a historical and good-sounding backdrop for rappers, Internet samples tend to be filled with MP3 artifacts and are oftentimes so distorted and warped with software that they can barely be recognized as their original works. Instead of trying to match the high-quality vinyl samples of 20 years ago, Internet producers fully accept the fractured and haphazard nature of their samples and influences. It’s what causes genres to clash with such force that an entirely new sound is made. 

As tools to sample and the culture of sampling progress exponentially, appropriation isn’t a risk—it’s an inevitability. But sample culture has always been steeped in appropriation, as the majority of samples are taken without the source’s consent. Internet artists have the fortunate option of being able to disassociate from their real-life personalities or cultures. When they hear a sound, it doesn’t matter if it comes from Tampa, Chicago or Seoul. If it slaps, it slaps. Old-school record stores are filled with lost voices, begging to escape their dusty sleeves and re-enter the mainstream. Soundcloud is just one big record store, but instead of old records, young artists with ambition and talent are waiting to meet the right producer who will bring their voice to a global audience. 

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What’s your favorite artist found in a hip-hop sample? Let Jake know at jakey.witz@gmail.com.

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