Reimagining Sample-based Hip Hop: Making Records within Records

Chapter summaries


The introduction to Reimagining Sample-based Hip Hop: Making Records within Records identifies a contemporary hip-hop practice that involves sample-based producers creating their own source material for subsequent sampling, the legal landscape necessitating it, and the creative opportunities borne out of it. Discussing phonographic examples from Dr. Dre’s early interpolation practices, through to The Roots’ live flavour of Hip Hop, and current approaches exemplified by producers such as Frank Dukes, alternative strategies to copyrighted phonographic sampling are delineated. Furthermore, the gap that exists between mainstream and underground beat-making is illuminated, demonstrating that the majority of practitioners situated between the two extremes are starved of the raw materials necessary to adequately and expressively practice the sample-based artform. This highlights the need for a thorough examination of the alternative practice(s) pursued, serving as the central focus of – and underlying thread in – this book. The author argues for a bricolage approach that merges auto/ethnography, literary and phonographic analysis, and creative practice, collectively powering the phenomenological paradigm that drives the book’s methodological strategy. The aim is to provide a foundational understanding of the rich tapestry of underlying layers deployed in sample-based Hip Hop, which define the style’s unique sonic signature of material ‘play’ with phonographic objects.

Chapter 0

Sample-based Hip Hop as metamodern phonographic practice

Continuing from the introduction’s framing of the practice under examination, Chapter 0 firmly places the author at the centre of the phenomenon, as a practitioner who has come face-to-face with the described conundrum in a professional context. This provides an opportunity for a practice-based investigation of alternative sample-based approaches; and sees the author dropping out of his (major) record label contract to exhaustively research the issues, mechanics, and aesthetics of original sample creation, the incorporation of the latter into a sample-based record production trajectory, and the problematics that emerge from the interaction of these co-dependent creative phases. Opting for autoethnography as central to the multi-methodological strategy, the author’s studio practice – rendered as fieldwork – allows for the extraction of nuanced developmental interpretations from the textual (journal), sonic (archiving), and (making-of) video data collected, which lead to reflexive understandings, connecting the insider practice to the larger aesthetic phenomenon. Simultaneously, the chapter provides a justification for autoethnography as essential to creative practice research – a notion that has pedagogical implications, informing a wider discussion on suitable research designs for contemporary forms of creative practice, and challenging the textual as a sufficient medium for the expression of the material dimensions in sonic creativity.

Chapter 1


Through the merging of literary analysis, phonographic case studies (enriched by interviews with practitioners), and solo creative practice serving as an applied context, the bricolage approach here takes Blues Hop as a subgenre case-in-point, to illustrate how the sonic pursuits informed by a sample-based aesthetic context drive compositional innovation – with motivic, harmonic, and textural implications. The interviews carried out with remixer extraordinaire Amerigo Gazaway and rapper Abdominal (and the Obliques) illuminate the phonographic analysis with insider knowledge (a Salaam Remi production for a Nas track is also put under the aural microscope), while the author’s own creation and ensuing deconstruction of an original blues composition to create sample-based Hip Hop is added to the mix – in all, providing the juxtaposition of multiple perspectives serving the analysis. Accompanied by work-in-progress soundbites extracted from the sonic archiving, the musicological findings are expressed in both sonic and textual terms, amplifying the performability of the process(es), and demonstrating the Afrological dimensions of the percussive reimagining of multitrack content via the use of sampling drum machines. Furthermore, the chapter extrapolates on the cross-genre implications of the, a priori, inter-stylistic workflows discussed.

Chapter 2


Chapter 2 examines the interrelationship between the tools historically deployed in sample-based hip-hop record production and the aesthetic implications their operating scripts and physical interfaces have had upon workflows and resulting music production signatures. Using the Akai MPC range of sampling drum machines as the main focus (rationalised as such due to the contemporary development of the technology alongside the boom-bap – or sample-based – aesthetic), a typology of sonic signatures is extracted and mapped to the technology’s affordances, further illustrated by key phonographic releases designating hip-hop eras and subgenres. As a defining signature in sample-based Hip Hop, the boom-bap sound is traced from its origins in the mid- to late-1980s, through to its current use as an East Coast production reference. The findings from a number of representative case studies form a systematic typology of technical characteristics correlated to creative approaches and resulting production traits. The discussion informs speculation about the future of the MPC, its technological descendants, and the footprint of its aesthetic on emerging styles and technologies.

Chapter 3


As sample-based practitioners have been pursuing alternative routes towards music creation, including the recording of live instrumentation and the production of intermediate sampling material, it is important to consider the variables that enable an effective interaction between original source content and the hip-hop process. This chapter addresses source objects deployed in sample-based Hip Hop as constructs that communicate phonographic context, typically characterised by past sonic signatures. It proposes that Hip Hop’s ‘meta’ aesthetic is borne out of the fusion of sampling processes and phonographic signatures, examining the bi-directional dynamic involved in their (re)construction, and questioning the genre’s complex relationship with the past. Covering, but also expanding beyond, a deterministic approach to re-engineering that classifies signal flow variables, the chapter problematises the notion of phonographic context, extending the understanding of record production as – a form of material – composition. Four aesthetic deductions form the main arguments of the text (the function of nostalgia, the amount of historicity required, the notion of phonographic ‘magic’, and the irony of reconstruction), paving the way for the foci of the following chapters; and drawing parallels between the reconstructive phenomena in hip-hop practice discussed and a wider metamodern “structure of feeling” observed in contemporary culture.

Chapter 4


Since rap producers attribute an inherent ‘magic’ to working with past phonographic samples and fans appear spellbound by the resulting sonic collage, chapter 4 examines the music’s unique recipe of phonographic juxtaposition. It does so by exploring the conditions of this ascribed ‘magic’, investigating gaps in perception between emotional and intellectual effect, and deciphering parallels in the practice and vocabulary mobilised against a range of genres in performance magic. The chapter traces the appeal of the sample-based aesthetic in the creative and performative interplay between multiple levels of phonographic poetics crystallised in material (sonic domain) form. By taking a systematic approach to deconstructing examples from discography and blending the aural analysis findings with practice-based investigations, it illustrates – via schematic representations – exponential staging phenomena recognised as essential for the music’s mesmerising effects. The notion of staging is therefore extended to cover the striking juxtaposition of spatial illusions taking place in sample-based record production.

Chapter 5


By looking at sample-based record production through the lens of ‘meta-music’ (music about music), chapter 5 amplifies the multitude of material implications this understanding has for the musicological study of sample-based Hip Hop. What renders a sampled source into a phonographic object – a phonographic ‘other’ – that is aesthetically desirable for, and usable in, the context of hip-hop record production. What are the mechanisms, processes, and practices that infuse sonic signatures of phonographic otherness onto newly created objects, and how can this ‘otherness’ be defined? The chapter acknowledges that newly captured live performance benefits from a sonic ‘distancing’ or infused alterity, and explores how this quality may be expressed through mixing practices that consciously imbue spatial and temporal dimensions in their staging. Synthesising the technical with the aesthetic, the chapter deciphers the exponential staging phenomena situated at the heart of how this ‘otherness’ is negotiated (and constructed) in practice. Sections focus on the spatial-textural continuum, the sonic draw of samples, as well as notions of multi-dimensionality, juxtaposition, and additive processes in sample-based music making. The gap between live performance and the phonographic sample is re-addressed, a sample’s ‘aura’ deconstructed, and the notion of making records – not recordings – within records further exposed.

Chapter 6


This final chapter attributes the appeal of past phonographic signatures also to mastering practices, extending the investigation beyond the recording and mixing realms, and deconstructing how their sonic manifestations interact with beat-making. The chapter proposes that the staging manifestations of sonic-domain relationships materially crystallised within phonographic masters present a fertile spectrum of malleable variables in the hands of beat-makers. In this context, the lesser attention given to the sonic ‘object’ calls for a focused examination of the specific variables involved in the fusion of ‘past’ (or previously constructed), and present phonographic processes. This inquiry focuses on the merging of staging illusions as a subset of such variables, questioning how full-range masters function as source content in sample-based engineering and production practices. The examination explores how hip-hop producers negotiate the dimensions of ‘depth,’ ‘height,’ and ‘width’ imbued into audio masters when used as sampled sources, but also the ways in which beat-makers stage previously-constructed mix architectures into newly-juxtaposed sonic illusions.


The ‘outroduction’ summarises the key revelations from the book’s theoretical/analytical deconstruction – and iterative/practical (re)construction – of the sonic phenomena that contribute to ‘phonographic’ qualities in source samples powering beat-making. By deconstructing the elements of the sonic domain that constitute the ‘mechanical’ dimensions of borrowing in sample-based Hip Hop, the book concludes with a number of contributions. These include the expansion of current musicological ‘staging’ theory, extending to sample-based poetics; the exposition of the interplay between beat-making practices and the spatial dimensions of source objects; as well as a demonstration of how the notion of ‘making records within records’ enables a (re)imagining of future meta-music praxis. In closing, the ‘outroduction’ acknowledges fertile future opportunities and extensions to the book’s theoretical and practical propositions, and provides a list of credits behind the associated album’s end productions.