The kick. The snare. The hat.
90s rap was deliciously simple back in the day. Despite being a 24 year-old caught in 1994, I’m a member of the thousands of fans who love the 90s.
The 90s were weird.
When I think of the 90s, I get the image of an awkward teen who think’s he has it all figured out. In reality, he’s on the edge of discovering everything he once knew is only half. That whole decade was over-the-top, but it’s fun to rewind through the memorabilia of off-kilter cartoons and cring-worthy fashion statements.
Hip-hop music saw its glory days in the 90s. Producers built classic beats from dust till dawn.
By “dust” I’m referring to vinyl, of course.
The technique I’m referring to is called “sample chopping”.
What is Sample Chopping?
For those of you new to this style of production, sample chopping is exactly what it sounds like; taking a sample and segmenting it. This is a production technique that revolutionized hip-hop, and it’s still in heavy use these days.
Imagine cutting strips of the Mona Lisa apart with a scalpel and gluing it back together to resemble your own rendition of a Banksy sculpture.
Sample chopping is a process that creates an auditory collage of an entirely new melody, beat, or chord progression. Basically, it gives you free reign to break down monuments and recreate your own. A song is sampled and completely reconstructed into a new pattern and put behind a beat.
Here is an example of the beat I produced. The sample came from an old Hawaiian record.
Traditionally, this style of sampling starts from ripping audio from vinyl records. You can rip digitally, sure; however, vinyl has a favorable warm and fuzzy texture that is irreplaceable and highly sought after to get that raw unmatched sound.
Sample Chopping 101: Dig for the Goods
Music production is a highly subjective endeavor, and there is no “right” or “wrong”. Sample chopping is the same, but there are some general tips that can lead you to some killer material.
When looking for records to sample, inspiration can spring from anywhere in the stack from Mozart to Motown.
Here is a short list of things to keep in mind before beginning your search for vinyl records to sample:
- Stay open-minded
- Always visit the “New to Store” bins; good stuff.
- Dig through the cheap, discounted record bins
- If the album cover looks cool, grab it!
- Never leave empty-handed. Grab something.
What Are You Looking For?
The first question to ask yourself before hitting the record shops is, “What genres, instruments, or sounds am I looking for?”
It all depends on what you want to sample to produce music. For example, I personally aim for records from the 50s or records with piano and strings. A lot of my music is driven by sounds that originate from that style. On the other hand, you might want to sample something from the disco or classic rock eras. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” when sampling. The sky is the limit.
You simply have to dig for what inspires you in music. Be creative and dig for records that encompass what you value in music, sounds good, and offers an edge to your music production. If you’re a DJ or a producer, record shopping for material to sample is a fun adventure that takes regular visits to build up a sizable collection.
Step outside your comfort zone! Traditionally, hip-hop producers pulled samples from jazz and R&B, but this doesn’t mean you have to. Inspiration can strike from any corner of the record store; country, classical, rock, blues. Staying open minded will really open up the possibilities.
Research & Study
Use Discogs. I highly recommend it!
Discogs is a fantastic database to use, especially if you are new to vinyl records. Discogs is a great source for discovering everything you’d ever want to learn about any record you come across. Referencing records on Discogs is a good way to get familiar with the who, what, when, and where of vinyl records. This is useful for getting the background on records before you buy them.
Discogs is a massive source of information along with a community that actively contributes to the database. If you come across an obscure record in the shop, run the catalog number and see what you can find. Often, they’ll even list approximate values, so you know about how much you should be paying.
Be sure to join their forum and be apart of a massive, knowledgeable community of record collectors!
Discogs is a fantastic source to start with, but the education doesn’t have to stop there. Take the time to research old record labels and companies and find out which artists and genres were on their lineup. It’ll give you a better sense of what to dig for. This is especially useful if you are digging for a particular sound.
Ask around! Make friends with the record shop owner. The record shop owner is your ambassador to the world of vinyl. Get some recommendations or have them point you in the direction of that particular record or style you are searching for.
Check the Vinyl Quality
The condition of the record is directly related to the quality and nature of the sample.
If you haven’t already, Read our article about vinyl restoration.
When looking for vinyl to sample, be sure to check the quality of the disc! Remember, we’re recording vinyl into our DAWs, so you want to get the best audio for sampling.
It isn’t rocket science! Vinyl is a very fragile material to work with, and overtime it collects quite a bit of scratches, dust, and grime.
If your samples have a little bit of static hiss, that’s ok. It’s actually pretty cool.
There is something to be said about vinyl that is riddled with dust. Sampling from dusty old vintage records gets +1 for style. The raw hiss of the static goes a long way, and it’s a killer sound to have when it comes time to make music.
Less is more when it comes to static. Even though it’s a nice quality to have, you want it in moderation. Make sure the sample can still shine through the static. Take care of your records, and they will take care of you.
Just Take a Stab
Ultimately, sampling from vinyl records can be hit or miss. There will be those visits to the record store that come up dry.
Nevertheless, always come back to the studio with something.
When digging for vinyl at a shop, it’s the ultimate Russian roulette of audio production, but the practice is what makes it unique. It’s an art that takes loads of patience, study, and discipline. Nevertheless, you’ll find that it’s highly rewarding!
Be sure to check out some other reads on how to work with vinyl in the studio.
Keep an eye out for the next article in this series to learn more about the art of sample chopping!