As I was listening to Doug Schulkind’s show this morning, the song “Love and Understanding” (click to hear in Real Audio) by Sugar Minott struck a faint memory of some misfiled factiod in my brain... I seemed to recall that this artist, one of the most prominent figures in the Jamaican reggae and dancehall movement, was also one of the first to record new songs over old and established rhythm tracks. It turns out that the backing track for “Love and Understanding” is actually William De Vaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” (Real Audio link from WFMU's archives).
Fast-forwarding to the late 80’s/early 90’s hip-hop scene, the art of sampling pop songs exploded, with copyright and intellectual property law trailing behind closely. I came across an interview with Chuck D and Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy, discussing how copyright law is affecting hip-hop (link to June 2004 article in Stay Free! Magazine).
Back in 1988 when the Public Enemy album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” was released, copyright issues were rarely considered, save for cases where the entire rhythm track of a pop song was looped and rapped over. But what about hip-hop songs that sampled bits and pieces from many different sources? Did the artists then have to purchase rights from each of these sources individually? You betcha. So a band like Public Enemy, who typically used to sample tens of other songs, were in a tough spot. Just listen to the instrumental track of P.E.’s “Bring the Noise” (Real Audio) from Charlie’s show a while back. And for good measure, here’s the a capella vocal track for “Bring the Noise.”
There are two different
copyrights to pay for per sample:
1. Publishing, which is for the written music
2. Master recording, which is for the song as it is played on a specific recording
(i.e., Jacko owns the publishing copyrights for most Beatles songs, but EMI owns the master recording copyrights)
For hip-hop artists, the way around paying BOTH of these fees is to have their musicians imitate the original recording (thus avoiding having to pay the master recording copyright). This method was used by Dr. Dre (looking mighty gangsta in this photo). Listen to his song, “Deep Cover” here (Real Audio snagged from an archive of Nickel and Dime Radio), featuring Snoop Dog. The backing track of this song was originally derived from an unknown source (the rumor mill says it was from Underground Railroad, but don’t condsider that gospel), which was emulated by Dre’s studio musicians for his purposes.
Now consider mash-ups, the latest sampling craze that the kids have co-opted. For those not riding the metaphorical L train these days, mash-ups are created when a DJ superimposes layers of 2 or more different pop songs, rendering a strange, yet somehow apt, new interpretation. For example, in mash-up land:
The Beatles “White Album” + Jay-Z’s “Black Album” = Mash-up “Grey Album”
Sounds like it wouldn’t
work, right? You will no doubt be amazed by how well-produced a lot of mash-ups
are. Some WFMU favorites include Go Home Productions and the Kleptones (click to hear Real Audio mashups from the WFMU archives).
Do the fun police approve of mash-ups? Read about the RIAA’s stance here. They may be sending a mixed message, though. This year’s Grammy Awards will feature a mash-up medley with the likes of RIAA-buddies Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani, Eve, Los Lonely Boys, Maroon 5, and Franz Ferdinand. (Link to the story in the NY Daily News)