these are the breaks
jesse kris has put together an amazing interactive map of sample usage based on data from the-breaks.com. a vivid illustration of the complex web of interconnections sample-based hip-hop has created, the map offers great promise for the further understanding of the way music is made in the digital age as well as additional fodder for the sample-sniffin', back-catalog-buyin', money-grubbin' lawyers and "entrepreneurs" out there.
it is my hope that such demonstrations of the rich world of creativity engendered by hip-hop's adaptation of technology and (independently arrived at) musique-concrete techniques will serve to enlighten rather than indict. for this reason, i pointed students in my hip-hop/reggae class to such sites as the-breaks and reggae-riddims, despite my misgivings about facilitating the spread of this information. (in fact, i was rather alarmed when a student of mine told me after class one day that his friend's father, a member of the average white band, was shocked to find out that his band's music had been sampled many more times than he thought. fortunately, he was, according to my student, more pleasantly surprised than pissed-off.)
back when i was writing my master's thesis about DJ premier and the way his sample-based beats--especially once he gets into the chop-and-stab phase--challenged copyright law as they upheld traditional tenets of hip-hop, i resisted naming the samples that he used even as i demonstrated the way that he flipped them. my professors were a little dismayed by this departure from the full-disclosure of orthodox scholarship, but i just couldn't be one of the guys primo chants down in the rant before "above the clouds" on moment of truth. joe schloss's book does a great job laying out hip-hop's community-regulated ethics of sampling--a community that i have considered myself a member of since i was rocking run DMC tapes, singing along with krs's sing-song melodies on criminal minded, and hiding in the corner of my bedroom surreptitiously listening to eazy-e (pops would not have been pleased--shit, he threatened to break my mary j. blige CD when he heard puba shoot the motherfuckin' deputy). i sympathized and identified with premier's b-boy stance and the plight of sample-based artists, so the last thing i wanted to do was be part of the problem.
at any rate, the information is out there at this point, so there's little that my "covering up" can do. since the emergence of such sites as the-breaks, i've decided that raising awareness by sheer glut of evidence--this is how we do--may be the best way to change the system. as i wrote in my last post, deep misunderstandings of the way music is made today (and for the last several decades) continue to dictate the way that ownership is determined and wealth is distributed. so my hope is that the kind of work that pacey is now pursuing can have a positive and productive effect on the status quo as it relates to ideas of musical ownership and originality.
pace has been on his back lately--get well soon, bredda--so he's had lots of time to get some thoughts out there, and i've really been digging his blogs and his library of vinyl entries. this is exciting work--and not just for record-nerds and ethnomusicologists. pace is working towards the creation of musical and social maps that make explicit the connections we all hear in hip-hop and its precocious children. he's also working towards an actual physical archive/library of vinyl to preserve the experience for future listeners. most promising, i think, pace envisions an audio-wiki of sorts that allows people to upload ol' public-domain records, add their two-cents (the all-important personal, social, and cultural contexts), and work towards an open, evolving, collectively-edited multimedia document that will no doubt be an engrossing, enriching experience for listeners and scholars alike. "mp3 blog" doesn't say the half.
[and i like that pacey has taken me up on my verstehen comment from a few posts back, which i simply thought was a clever, german way of saying, "knomesayin?" but now that he links to the sociological meaning of the term, i'm afraid i may have to retract, especially considering joe's recent post--manifesto maybe--about participant-observation. joe throws himself into his work admirably, sometimes finishing with an ill freeze. we should all be so willing to look goofy and look into our own assumptions.]
feels to me like hip-hop scholarship is finna explode. in terms of recent releases, joe's book, jeff's book, adisa's book, and brian's book are digging deeper than folks have dug before, and there's nuff stuff on the horizon. shit, rza just came out with a memoir. the more open--and militant--we can be about doing the knowledge, sharing the data, and arguing for the significance of all these forward movements, the more we can leverage hip-hop's transformational socio-sonic force for the good of the community. you down?