J Dilla and the Akai MPC phenomenon

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I’ve always preached it all along.  Through the years, sampling has gotten lazy.  “A lot of people think sampling is easy…” says Brian “Raydar” Ellis in this amazing video short about a producer’s relationship with a sampling drum machine.  Behold, J Dilla and the Akai MPC sampling drum machine.  The ability to sample is what gave a DJ wings to assume the role as producer. Behind a swamp of midi cables and a trusty record collection stacked in some dusty-ass crates lies a man and his machine on a mission to greatness.  Well, this is just one of those stories.

AKAI, along with some other Japanese electronic companies in the mid to late eighties had their notoriety cemented across the marketplace within every mom and pop electronic store with low-level consumer products ranging from their boom boxes, Walkmans, and cassette players, but it was their professional studio line of equipment that broke the cipher of  music production as we know it for Hip Hop, house music, and techno/drum & bass, with the latter of the two genres synonymous with eachother.  (AND I STAND BY THAT!!!)  Akai’s electronic love affair with Linn Drum (an old drum machine) that spawned a revolution in sampling by allowing the DJ/producer to ditch the piano keyboard for a gray box with sixteen rubberized electronic pads on a device called the MPC-60.  The rest is history, so in come the lawyers, the court dates, and the royalty checks.

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Royalty check or reality check, no matter how you view it, the DJ is now regarded as a musician, and the sampling drum machine and turntable is his or her instrument.  But wait, an honorable mention to the turntable:  [“Do not forget your dying king!”]  Sampling should not just be about taking what is already there and looping it.  The sound should creatively be stretched, twisted, flipped, tweaked, and chopped.  You can take any sound and spawn it into something that sounds completely different, and you take all these little creative packets and layer them all together to fill a void of silence.  Matter is composed of atoms and the rest is space, so is music: sounds and silence.  Too much or too little could disrupt the finished product, so the talented ones produce with caution.  A one man show, sampling creates the bassline, the riffs, the drums, the harmonies, and in some cases, even the vocals.

So what makes legends in this genre worthy of a lifetime of fame and possibly the gift of immortality?  First, watch this incredible short.  My only problem with it is that it is too damn short at a run time of just over ten minutes!  I want more damnit!  My bad -but I could watch this shit for hours and hours, so they really need to make a full feature two hour extravaganza, and not a bunch of accumulated web shorts.  My other gripe, which has nothing to do with the production, is that sampling and beat programming is most often associated within the realm hip hop in nearly every documentary and hall of fame event out there. Sampling hardly ever is associated to dance music, which is another genre that stems from disco and funk that has nailed sampling techniques down to a science.  Thank you Daft Punk and others whose names I have not mentioned…

So why has sampling  gone creatively astray the past  few years?  You can blame it on complete laziness in the studio, coupled with some deep pockets from some notorious financiers and kingpins that don’t feel the need to mask the original source on a creative level.  It has turned into a humdrum shtick for lawyers and publishing companies to bargain over in the hopes of reaching a settlement or nick a potential lawsuit in the butt prior to the record release party.   Sampling has continuously been misconstrued in the same vain as computer hacking.  It was NEVER about stealing music, just like hacking was never about stealing data.  It was ushered in to the production studio as an alternate means of using prerecorded sound as a new artistic medium for anyone who chose the creative path in the form of digital.  From a dog’s bark to a scruffy horn riff from your dad’s old vinyl record, the flood gates were now wide open, and it was open season to start diving into some serious back catalogs of music.  But within the last decade or so, it seems more and more like the industry has turned ominously black and white when it comes to the logistics behind the involvement of sampling in the creative process.  You have to get permission, scan and study the original source, make sure it’s politically correct, make sure it doesn’t “sound similar” to something from the past, and ultimately wait on someone to surface who owns the publishing rights.  That is usually one who’s completely clueless of what is being done creatively in the end product that makes a song.

Sampling now is getting much more easier when you have the moola ($$$) to back it up before hitting that button marked RECORD, and that in itself totally undermines the artistic integrity and freedom of what street DJs and producers have been bringing to the table since its conception.   In the early nineties, we were blessed with the ability to create something from nothing, a recycling of sound of sorts.  It wasn’t just loops and verses.  It was a delicate sculpting process that became an audiological spectacle.  A higher ground built to influence the music industry onto itself, where technology helped to create a new standard for excellence in digitized music.  Sampling turned a few moves into a movement, and that is the true gist of immortality in a certain sector of the music business.

I hope you enjoy the video, and immerse yourself in the brilliance behind one of the many creative minds that have set a standard for excellence in a genre, J DILLA.    Estelle Caswell, you rock in my book and thank you!  I hope the entire world watches.

 

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