After Demi Lovato + Sleigh Bells: This Is How To Do A Well-Sampled Song
Sampling, despite being the dominant mode of musical production today, seems to be a continual controversy. The latest victim is Demi Lovato, who has been dragged through the mud this week by indie-rock band Sleigh Bells. The duo have claimed that the Disney starlet have lifted the drum beat from their hit ‘Infinity Guitars’ and plopped it right into her own ‘Stars.’ Not taking any sides, but the two sound pretty damn similar.
Legal battles about sampling seem more frequent than we can keep up with, and most of them seem to stem from something as simple as lifting a beat. There are a plethora of more exciting ways in which one can use the sampler, not to mention the more interesting ways that also got explicit permission. Here are a few songs we think exemplify the delicate art of the sample.
Sleigh Bells—Rill Rill
Because it takes one to know one. Easily the best song off their debut album Treats, here Sleigh Bells ditch their normally earth-shattering guitars for a slightly sped-up, richly textured guitar line from Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get to That.’ The result is a track that is considerably warmer than anything else in the band’s output, and one that spins a groove from the masters of funk into bleeding-heart teenage rock beauty.
A$AP Rocky—Fuckin’ Problems
The sample of this song is not only the very first millisecond of sound that hits your ears, but it’s the backbone of A$AP’s entire Greek chorus of rap. And the sample in question? A pitch-shifted vocal that appears more than halfway through Aaliyah’s ‘Come Over.’ It’s a sample that forms an instant hook, and the only part of the song that everyone is guaranteed to sing along to.
Animal Collective—What Would I Want? Sky
It’s one thing to put a vocal sample as the structure of your song, like many others do on this list, but it takes a special kind of musician to be able to duet and trio with a vocal sample. But that’s just how Animal Collective rolls. Incorporating the first ever authorized sample of the Grateful Dead, their song is a blossoming piece of indie-pop, one that takes the warped voice of Jerry Garcia and meshes him perfectly into their decadently layered psychedelia. He seems like he’s a bona fide member of the band by song’s end.
A lot of us–this author included–initially met ‘Anaconda’ with an eye roll. How can Nicki Minaj claim to call this her song when so damn much of it comes from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s classic 90’s one hit wonder? The skill here is how Nicki turned the thematic content of ‘Baby Got Back’ on its head. She created a reverse thesis of female empowerment and obliterated the original song musically, restructuring and repurposing it like a conductor to their symphony orchestra. It’s a towering achievement of pop music and sampling, and we ain’t talking bout Eiffels.
Kanye West—Good Life
Kanye is the ultimate master of sampling, so picking just one example of his prowess seems nigh impossible. But a true champion comes in the form of ‘Good Life,’ a song that’s chorus, lyrical content, and even goddamn chord structure are an extension of its sample: a near unrecognizable lift from Kanye’s hero, Michael Jackson. Stretching out the bridge from ‘PYT (Pretty Young Thing)’ into mammoth-sized beat production, this specific sample is the quintessence of Yeezy’s love for the King of Pop, the excess expressed in the song, and how one sample can transform a great song into a masterwork.