Postpostmodernism: sometimes sampling can good.

I Find Karma (
Mon, 25 Aug 1997 19:39:42 -0700 (PDT)

The extraordinary Richard Goodman writes:
> Well, the rip off jobs continue: I saw a new Notorious B.I.G. song start
> to play and I was going to see how long it took for me to consciously
> recognize a sample. As soon as the song started. Right away. This was
> a direct swipe of the Diana Ross song 'I'm Coming Up'- the background
> beats, the chorus, the style. I'm not sure if that offended me more or
> the fact that the two people watching with me didn't know that. They
> then procede to say "But it's a good song anyways." That is circular
> reasoning- if they steal a good song and don't change it, that doesn't
> mean they have then created a good song.

The real question is, of course, the question posed by Baudrillard:
in postmodern thought: is the simulation good enough to approximate
a new "real" experience?

For example, if Rohit reads four reviews of the book _Maus_ by Art
Spiegelman, reads a Web discussion of the themes in the book, and talks
about the book with friends who have read it, is that the same
approximate experience as reading the book?

For, in that old Baudrillardian challenge, if one stages a bank robbery
and carries the performance all the way to the bank, fooling even the
teller and guards, one arguably has succeeded in redefining oneself not
as an actor, but as a bank robber. With Baudrillard, the simulation *IS*
the reality, and this philosophy applies to everything, including:

Pop-Up Video

Howard Stern


Las Vegas

Beavis and Butt-head

Commodity Capitalism

Shopping Malls

the Vatican


Martin Amis

I Ching

Aaron Spelling soaps

Coca Cola Classic

the Real World

Virtual Reality

and of course, the Internet.

The question you need to ask yourself, of course, is: does the new thing
add something above and beyond the original. If "Seinfeld" uses a
Junior Mint in a way it's never been used before, and that adds value in
a way Junior Mints alone never could have (in this case, the value being
humor), that is a good thing. If Howard Stern simulates a crude
(again, for the sake of humor), then again the value-added is good.
Pop Up Video adds a different kind of experience -- adding information to
an otherwise braindead source (music videos).

And, in their own way, the rap stars you name add something to each of
songs they sample from.

> Let's run down the recent list as I recall it:
> Men in Black: Forget Me Nots
> B.I.G.- Hypnotize: Herb Alpert
> B.I.G.- the new one: Diana Ross
> Mariah Carey- Fantasy: Tom Tom Club
> tribute song for B.I.G.: Every Breathe You Take
> Wyclef from Fugees- Trying To Stay Alive: Staying Alive
> Fugees- No Woman No Cry: No Woman No Cry
> Fugees- Kiling me Softly: Killing Me Softly
> what's her name- I Can't Stand The Rain: I Can't Stand the Rain
> God's Property- Stomp: Stomp
> Snoop Dogg- Snoops Upside Your Head: Ooops Upside Your Head
> Lightning seeds- You Showed Me: You Showed Me
> Aqua- Barbie Girl: Just Another Night

The new B.I.G. song is called "Mo Money Mo Problems", and he uses the
catchy riff from Diana Ross's "I'm Coming Out" to make the point that
just because he has money does not mean his life is free from trouble.
In fact, it reigns true: he was shot and killed earlier this year,
presumably from a jealous rival or fan.

Similarly, if Coolio samples from Stevie Wonder, he can produce an
amazing (and catchy) portrait of the life of a 23-year-old living in the
inner city, complete with his hopes and fears. The song becomes an
anthem of sorts, propelling an otherwise-mediocre movie into the

Coolio shows us as well that rappers need not sample from modern songs.
He riffs off Pacelbel's "Canon in D" in his latest single, "C U When U
Get There", which is an insightful ditty aimed at people who want to
learn before their "mind is prepared." Again, the sample provides a hook
that attracts an audience to a song.

If they take an old riff, and use it to a new end, is that simulation of
a new experience not as good as a brand new experience generated from
scratch? I would say so.

It's not limited to rappers, either. George Michael produced a cool
1996 dance song, "Fastlove", from the same song Will Smith's "Men in
Black" was sampled from: Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots." Both songs
have gotten substantially more airplay than the original. Why? Because
they take the original and extend it in an original way.

Likewise, if the Beastie Boys sample a wide variety of sources (check
out the album "Paul's Boutique"), it makes for a more holistic
experience. If Madonna samples a line from Socrates ("The unexamined
life is not worth living" is in "Now I'm Following You"), it makes the
song better than it might have been. If Stephen King samples a line
from Blue Oyster Cult ("Don't Fear the Reaper"), it makes "The Stand" a
better novel. If the Fun Lovin' Criminals sample lines from "Pulp
Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" in their song "Scooby Snacks", it makes
the song sound more authentically criminal. If a post to a public
mailing list like FoRK samples from web sites and newsgroups (and yes,
even private emails), and then adds interesting commentary, then what
we experience is a post that transcends and improves the original bits.

Sampling works. The good rappers are not hacks; they take catchy riffs
and craft a new song around that familiar yet fashionable theme. I, for
one, happen to like the new Notorious B.I.G. single, and I'm not the
only one: it's been #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the past 7 weeks,
second only to the tribute song the Puff Daddy and Faith Evans penned to
the riff on the Police's "Every Breath You Take", which has been #1 on
the Billboard Hot 100 for the past 10 weeks.

- ----

The truth is, you're weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men.
But I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.
-- Pulp Fiction