Recently I have watched a video series called Everything is a Remix, and it got me thinking about the idea of reframing/remixing ideas. The video explained how today’s world is greatly built on the ideas and thoughts of our predecessors. In addition, new ideas and creations are made by the transformation of these ideas. While watching the video, I immediately thought how hip-hop/rap music perfectly embodies this idea. Since the earliest days of rap music, the idea of sampling beats or instrumentals was prevalent. For example, The Sugarhill Gang used a piece of the beat from Chic’s Good Times in order to create the classic Rapper’s Delight. The Sugarhill Gang didn’t flat out copy Chic’s song, they just used one component from the song, a part of the instrumental, and built their beat around it so they could musically innovate.
Sampling is an essential part of rap music, its not only a way for artists to pay homage to those that came before them but it allows a starting point for creation. It is very rare that a rapper has never sampled somebody else in the slightest way, whether it be a part of the beat or background vocals. For example, Drake has always been influenced by the music of Aaliyah and Whitney Houston so he pays homage to them by sampling them. One critical, often overlooked, aspect of rap music is the beat because in the end of the day it’s not all just about the lyrics. The beat adds a lot to a song; it adds rhythm, tone, mood, and atmosphere. Thus, often rappers wish they could use a particular sound to add to what they are trying to convey with their music and if they really want to include it they can sample it. In rap, there are two types of sampling: authorized and unauthorized. Authorized sampling comes when the parties directly involved, as in those that own the sound being sampled, are in agreement with the person wanting to sample it. For example, after the death of Biggie Small’s, P. Diddy (or Puff Daddy at the time) sampled the instrumental from The Police’s song Every Breath you Take to create the tribute song I’ll Be Missing You. On the other hand, unauthorized sampling is where an artist will try to sneak in a sample and hope they don’t get in legal trouble. One of the more notable examples is Vanilla Ice’s hit Ice Ice Baby which wrongly used the bass line from Queen’s Under Pressure.
The rap game is very competitive and with modern culture it is much more interconnected with technology and social media. As mentioned there are different kinds of sampling, but there is a gray area when it comes to the legality of sampling in one scenario, mixtapes. Mixtapes are a collection of songs established or aspiring artists make and distribute freely, usually by the internet these days. As long as the artists aren’t making money from this they usual sample freely and it allows these artists to build off something and create their own songs. An example of this is Drake’s third mixtape Sooner than Later which sampled some artists and it helped him get the attention of the music industry while also being Grammy nominated for just that mixtape. In addition, artists often freestyle over the beats of other artists to make their own version or to send a message to that artist. Now, these freestyles are never released as official songs in order to avoid legal trouble. An example of this is when various artists covered Drake’s ballad Marvin’s Room.
I recently watched one of my favorite musical turned movies, Les Miserables, with my other favorite being The Phantom of the Opera. Upon watching Les Miserables, I noticed there were two scenes very similar to that of Hamlet, which I happen to be reading as of this moment. These two works both have the motifs of revenge and serious contemplation. Hamlet is bent on revenge for his father’s death through killing Claudius, while the revenge in Les Miserables comes from how Javert is obsessed with catching Jean Valjean. However, the scenes of serious contemplation really intrigue me.
There are two scenes in the beginning of the movie that are central to setting up how the audience views Jean Valjean. The first one is immediately after the police come to the church where Jean Valjean is staying and are about to arrest him for stealing but the priest clears his name. Realizing how the priest saved him from going back to jail, he has a soliloquy where he contemplates what he is doing with his life and his character. Now, it isn’t of the same subject matter of whether he should commit suicide or not, but this scene is important as it leads to the all important question of the movie in the next song. The next more comparable scene is the scene where Jean Valjean has heard how an innocent man will be tried for being mistaken to be him, and he must make a decision: take action or don’t. If he takes action he risks his life, but if he doesn’t he has the guilt of a man’s life over him. He asks the question that will continue to echo through the play/movie: Who am I?
Toward’s the end of the movie, the scene I am about to discuss takes place, and note if you haven’t seen the movie/play I am warning you this is a spoiler. Now, if you recall the end of the movie has the scene where Javert has failed to catch Jean Valjean ater he just watches him walk away from the sewer exit. The next scene the audience finds Javert on top of a bridge walking on the edge. He then continues to sing the song titled “Javert’s Suicide” where he decides what to do with his life after failing at his really own purpose for living, justice. He believes he has failed and contemplates whether to live or die. This is very similar to Hamlet in the “To be or not to be..” soliloquy as he too contemplates suicide. The only difference between the two is that Javert takes his own life and Hamlet instead takes a different action, deciding to carry out revenge.