thesis vomit #4

March 16, 2012

Everything I write these days is beginning to sound like this: “blah blah blah LONG BEACH blah blah blah.” I feel how annoyed everyone is with me continually talking about this city that L.A. forgot, but I can’t help but get excited at the connections I draw and ideas I have because I genuinely feel as though I might be the first person who ever thought about this city and these artists in a critical way. That being said, I cannot fault Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola for not thinking of Sublime when writing their book Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling–especially when they glossed over the sample-based politics of dub altogether–but the band is another important example of new music that was created as a result of sampling’s golden age.

The authors call the period between roughly 1987 and 1992 “The Golden Age of Sampling” (p 19) and during that time, artists were sampling artists from across eras and genres because copyrght laws had not yet caught up with those using them. After that time, laws were re-written and “the aesthetic of taking everything and the kitchen sink and throwing it into the blender” was gone (p.20), replaced with licensing necessities and reduced freedom with which music artists could sample. As discussed in other chapters in the book, many artists believe that the sampling laws requiring consent from the author have restricted artists’ creative expression and limited the new sounds being made. And then there is the question of who exactly owns a certain riff, which quickly becomes convoluted when musicians have been borrowing and influencing one another for centuries (the Jay-Z-KRS-ONE-Grand Funk Railroad-The Animals-Alan Lomax case proves this).

Indeed, the time was vibrant with cross-genre and hybridized hip-hop sounds, artists paying homage to those that came before them by remixing, mashing up and sampling the crap out of their favorite tunes, making music that the world had never before heard. The book gave several album that examplify this, but I would like to present two more: Sublime’s 40oz. to Freedom, released in 1992, Robbin’ the Hood, released in 1994, both at the tail end of this “golden age.”

The two albums sample tracks, make references and feature so many outright covers of songs across the musical spectrum that it sounds like a playlist for what Sublime singer Bradley Nowell was listening to when the albums were recorded. A Sublime fan site explains all of the elements that went into each song on these albums in a section called “Wisdom.” What is listed is an interesting mix of reggae, rock steady, punk, ska, rock and film samples, none of which were cleared by independent Skunk Records before the albums’ releases (Sublime’s self-titled album that skyrocketed the band to fame also showcased this heavy sampling, but because it was released on a major label, all the samples were cleared and I will not include it in this assessment).

I also won’t bother applying the cost matrix to these albums, but we can take a look at a few of the songs and its elements as outlined by the fan site:

“Waiting for My Ruca” on 40oz. To Freedom

Samples:

  • “Punk rock changed our lives” – D Boone from The Minute Men, History Lesson Pt. 2, Double Nickles on the Dimes
  • Barking – Lou Dog
  • “Damn Tough” – Kurtis Blow, Tough, Tough
  • “Be-biddy by-by-by” – KRS-One / Boogie Down Productions, The Style You Haven’t Done, Ghetto Music: The Blueprints of Hip-Hop

To make things more confusing, the Curtis Blow and KRS-One samples are actually a sample within a sample taken from the Sublime song called “KRS-One” that occurs later on this album. So since Sublime has a publishing right on its own “KRS-One” song, would they have a stake in the sampling of it in their other song “Waiting For My Ruca”?

“Get out!” on 40oz. To Freedom

Samples:

  • The answering machine message at the beginning is from Brad’s girlfriend at the time, Eileen’s, landlord.
  • Drum Fill – The Minutemen, It’s Expected I’m Gone, Double Nickels On The Dime
  • Scratched Keyboard Melody – Willie D (from the Geto Boys), Clean Up Man, Willie D, Goin’ Out Like a Soldier
  • Background Horns – Beastie Boys, Slow Ride, Licensed to Ill (1986)
  • Drum Roll at 1:14 & 2:50 – Led Zeppelin, Moby Dick, Led Zeppelin 2
  • “1, 2, 3, 4” and “There were elk and bison, a gnu or two, giraffes and elephants, quite a few” – The Four-Legged Zoo, Schoolhouse Rock! (1973)
  • “Let me bust a freestyle then.” – Eazy E (NWA), Ruthless Villain, Eazy-duz-it
  • “Fuck you man! I got a bone to pick!” – Geto Boys, Fuck ’em, The Geto Boys
  • Bassline at the end – Led Zeppelin, Lemon Song, Led Zeppelin 2
  • “fussin’ and fightin'” – this was the name of an early Bob Marley song on Soul Revolution (1971). The phrase was also used by The Beatles, We Can Work It Out, single (1965)

This song is also not without its complicated histories. While the keyboard melody in Get Out was sampled from the Geto Boys, that G.B. song was actually using a sample from Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman,” from The Best of Betty Wright recorded in 1971. Same goes for the “Fuck you man! I got a bone to pick!” sample – the sample used comes from the Geto Boys song but that sample actually contains another sample (“Fuck you man!”) from the 1983 movie Scarface, spoken by Al Pacino.

There were so many licensing issues with the song “Get Out!” that it was removed from all subsequent releases of the album (in 1995, 2002 and 2010) which were made by major label MCA. Other songs were cut down and unlicensed samples removed from the tracks as well, but is all of that necessary?

This book made me seriously question the licensing process for samples and wonder if we are only hurting ourself in discouraging intertextuality in music. As McLeod mentions, jazz and bebop were largely about taking existing melodies and harmonies and blowing them into entirely new realms, but I can’t imagine a lawyer sitting in Mintons making tallies of royalties owed by Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk.

Is Sublime’s sampling taking away from Geto Boys, Scarface or Beastie Boys purchases? Or are they like Led Zepplin–who took riffs from Willie Dixon and implanted them in rock songs–“stealing from the best and then taking it to another place”? (p. 107). As DJ Scanner notes, “the artist is becomign more of a curator…they are collaging these elements together and curating this new world” (p.177). So under these post-postmodern circumstances, it doesn’t seem very fair to expect only music that is entirely original and untainted by the influence of other texts. Instead, we should be embracing these new hybrid sounds by restructuring the legal system to allow them to flourish.

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