Recently I had a mind-blowing experience while listening to music, but not in a positive sense. While flipping through local radio stations, I stumbled upon a track that was--now stay with me--a song which samples another track, which sampled another track. In other words, it's a song which samples another song, which itself is based on a sample. Follow me?
"She Ain't You," a song off Chris Brown's 2011 album F.A.M.E., uses the same hip hop beat as on SWV's 1993 single "Right Here (Human Nature Mix)." SWV, in turn, based their song on a sample of the Michael Jackson classic "Human Nature." Astoundingly, Brown imitates both songs in his vocals, although the lyrics differ.
As my mind tried to wrap around this song-based-on-a-sample-based-on-a-sample (which I have dubbed "meta sampling"), I also reacted with horror. While I have no problem with sampling, if done creatively and with due credit to the original artists, this meta sampling raises additional issues. Where does creativity and originality end and mere copying begin? Are today's songwriters really so lacking in ideas that they need to "borrow" from a track that "borrows" from another song?
Sampling, of course, is nothing new; in an earlier form, The Beatles utilized tape loops and sound effects to create original songs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and several tracks off Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rap's first successful song, the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," is based on the instrumental track from Chic's "Good Times" (although they hired another band to re-record the original song). In 1989, the Beastie Boys raised sampling to an art form on their landmark album Paul's Boutique, in which songs also functioned as sound collages. By the 1990s, sampling became routine, although Beck furthered the Beastie Boys' sound collage technique on such albums as Mellow Gold and Odelay. But hip hop and R&B artists largely dominated, with artists such as P Diddy, Mariah Carey, Public Enemy, the Notorious B.I.G., and Janet Jackson lifting riffs, drum beats, melodies, and even other singers' voices to create new recordings.