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New American Songbook

Sampling Experiences

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This week in the New American Songbook, KMUW's Zack Gingrich-Gaylord looks at how one building block of hip hop can reach a lot further than you might think.

Hip Hop as a musical form has overwhelmingly relied on already-recorded music to produce work. Sampling, remixing and otherwise deconstructing songs of any genre are the producer’s bread and butter.

But the practice of sampling isn’t limited to electronic iterations—sampling is an aesthetic, a conceptual frame through which the world can be perceived. What happens when it isn’t a recording that is sampled, but an experience?

This song, from The Roots, recalls the fading in and out of a cassette tape being played and rewound over and over, a homemade loop to rap against:

Here, the sample is in one way recursive: the actual music is original, so this is The Roots, sampling The Roots. But the way they’ve sampled themselves is through a sampling of memory, referencing a physical action—the manipulation of the cassette—that carries its own set of implications, nostalgia being only one of them.

A postmodernist understanding of sampling emphasizes the fragmentary nature of the sample, considering it a device that erases or confuses the implications of the past. However, as in The Roots’ song, what is really happening is a re-ordering of the past, a re-assembling of memory, sound and experience. Ironically, the sample is, in fact, the break that keeps everything whole.