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New American Songbook

The More You Listen, The More You'll Hear

raaphorst / Flickr / Creative Commons

People have been playing with recorded sound since it was first possible to record sound.

What we call this process seems to depend on what we’re talking about. If we’re referring to an art piece, we might say they used a "sound collage." In radio, we’d call it a "montage." For hip hop, we generally refer to the reformatting of recorded sound as "sampling." The word is different, but the process is pretty much the same: take some sound and do something with it: mix it, change it, cut it—anything at all.

Take a listen to a song called "The Mexican" by the band Babe Ruth.

I don’t think you can call it a bad song—it sounds good, the lyrics are a little weird, but it was 1972. There were a couple of disco-style covers of it around 10 years later, but what this song was really waiting for was hip hop.

This is Organized Konfusion’s "Prisoners of War," one of at least 10 hip hop songs to use some part of "The Mexican" as a sample. You can easily hear the bassline from the original, as well as a guitar lick that might give a clue to the sample’s origins. But it’s important to realize this isn’t a cover. It’s a different song altogether.

Sampling done well is not only an opportunity to explore the artistic possibilities in an already existing work, but also a chance for the listener to become engaged in a process of discovery. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear.