Saturday, July 17, 2010

When Sampling Goes Wrong: Reducing Struggle To Zero

One of my all-time favorite Doors songs is a rocking tune by the name of "Five to One", where Jim Morrison outlines the theory that the youth in the world outnumber the older ruling class by five to one and predicts a victory over the current ruling class because "they've got the guns, but we've got the numbers"! Few rock hits have been as political in recent memory (due respect to Rage Against The Machine), so I recently reflected with some regret at Kanye West's decision to sample "Five to One" for Jay-Z's "Takeover", where he wastes the propelling soundscape behind his vocals to belittle then rival rappers Nas and Mobb Deep, reducing a song about youth uprising to a petty call for his record label to take over the rap industry. Perhaps the karmic forces controlling the universe decided this was too absurd to accept, because Jay-Z's record label (Roc-a-Fella) wound up imploding a few years after "Takeover" came out.

To add an additional bit of historic irony to the proceedings, one might care to note that Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was assassinated by Chicago police in his sleep the same day that Jay-Z was born. This has to go down in history as the worst soul-for-soul trade in human history. We lost a leader who could unite street organizations in Chicago with progressive organizations from multiple races (Black, Latino, Native American and White) in his original Rainbow Coalition and we got a guy who has amassed a massive fortune mostly based on rhyming about misogyny and the drug trade, selling liquor and overpriced clothes, and generally being as apolitical as possible even as his music became less openly destructive. One can only imagine what Fred Hampton could have accomplished politically from 1969-2010, as sadly contrasted with what Jay-Z has failed to accomplish politically in that time. Big up to him for doing that one MTV special on clean water in Africa and that one verse song on the levee failure in New Orleans, though. One verse for a tragedy, three verses for a rap battle. Better than no verses, I suppose. Sigh.


Angela Nicole Winfield said...

An artist has two responsibilities 1>one's self and 2>the audience. Music as an art form has such a powerful force field around you must be even more careful with your words.

Know your history. Dig deeper.

I think it was perfect. Keep um coming and keep us on our toes.


Anonymous said...

I don't know what I like best about this post: your sharp voice, or the nuanced popular music history. I think it's the critical approach to popular music history that addresses the gray areas: great sampling, not-so-great lyricism.

Like Angie said, keep 'em comin!