Zach Schonfeld on the various dimensions of sampling
When I tell people about my book about 24-Carat Black, I often mention that the group’s music has been sampled hundreds of times throughout hip-hop. If you’ve listened to, say, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, or Nas’s double-platinum album It Was Written, you’ve heard bits and pieces of 24-Carat Black.
But the surviving members of 24-Carat Black haven’t received royalties for those samples, even when the samples were legally cleared. The latter half of my 33 1/3 book explores both the creative and legal dimensions of sampling, investigating the reasons why the musicians who created this music are unable to profit from its cultural endurance. People who don’t work in the music industry often seem confused by how this could be possible.
The copyright policies governing sampling (and who profits from a song’s recurring use) are indeed complex, and the norms and practices surrounding sample clearances have evolved substantially since hip-hop sampling first came to prominence in the 1980s.
So, as a supplement to my book, here’s a brief (non-exhaustive) reading list of sources that I found useful when it came to understanding both the creative and legal sides of sampling. (A number of these sources are cited in my book.) Hopefully this could be useful to anyone doing similar research, or just interested in learning more about how sampling works.
Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling by Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola (Duke University Press, 2011)
“Record Companies Are Challenging ‘Sampling’ in Rap” (New York Times, 1992)
“The Court Case That Changed Hip-Hop—From Public Enemy to Kanye—Forever” (Washington Post, 2012)
“Can I Get an Amen, Brother?” (Verbicide Magazine, 2008)
“When Crowdfunding Goes Right: Compensating the Last Living Creator of the Famed ‘Amen Break’” (VICE, 2015)
“Living Legend Tries to Make a Living” (New York Times, 2011)
“Loop History: Skull Snaps’ ‘It’s a New Day’” (Red Bull Music Academy, 2019)
“Sample Clearance Expert Pat ‘The Deteective’ Shannahan Is The Avalanches’ Secret Weapon” (Red Bull Music Academy, 2016)
“The ’70s Soul Artist Whose Music Gained a New Life While He Was in Prison” (Dazed, 2018)
“Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” (Pitchfork, 2014)
“In the Jungle” (Rolling Stone, 2000)
Paul’s Boutique by Dan LeRoy (33 1/3/Bloomsbury, 2006)
Fascinated by how sampling works and want to learn more? Buy a copy of Zach’s book today!