Sampling: A Brief History

Over the past few decades, sampling has become an intrinsic form of production across the spectrum of many genres. The idea of reusing specific portions of existing recordings is a boundless tool for music producers. At first, sampling went off the radar and would often be unnoticed by the original owners through musicians recycling instrumentals and copying songs. Now there is a litigious business primarily focused on sampling controversies.

One of the first instances of sampling through musical compositions was in the 1940s. Pierre Chaeffer used a tape recorder to create music using a variety of multifaceted recordings. The recordings included natural sounds, human voices and instrumentation through the channeling of sampled frequencies. That discovery led to a genre of music named “concrete” that evolved over the next 2 decades through constant tinkering and revisionism. One thing to note is that during the 60s the Mellotron was invented, and that’s when sampling took off (This is something the Beatles used religiously). The sampled tapes were designed to embellish the current rhythms and melodies at that time!

It was in the 70s and 80s when sampling became very popular in hip-hop. The hip-hop DJs started to use vinyl manipulation and mixing in order to acquire samples. At that time, the most popular style was the breakbeat, a rhythm designed to break the song in sequential sections. This provided the instrumentals that hip hop MCs would rap over in front of crowds or during recording sections.

During the 80s a lot of companies like Roland and Akai started to create affordable digital samplers and this became common practice for hip hop producers. Initially, songs were easily cleared for sampling rights as the hip hop scene was an underground endeavor. As the 90s started, sampling became a primary component of hip-hop and widely utilized. In fact, a lot of producers like RZA, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock started to implement these practices into their music. As the hip hop genre grew in popularity, so did the law suits as the original owners of these copyrights weren’t being compensated for the money generated. Check out the article on clearing a sample to avoid the potential consequences and gain some peace of mind over the convoluted litigious aspects of sampling.