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 believe music is a universal language, a medium in which artists can convey their emotions. Music has unlimited potential as every note, instrumental, beat, and vocal tells a story. I listen to various types of music: rock, pop, r&b, and hip-hop/rap to name a few. However, today I will be focusing more on the last two with one of my favorite artists, Drake.
I know there are many who groan and say, “Oh, Drake is so mainstream! All he raps about is YOLO and other typical rap stuff. He never started from the bottom,” and to those individuals I would like to apologize for them not having heard Drake’s music in entirety. I have been a fan of Drake since around 2008, when he first started making music but was the definition of an underground artist. People only knew him from his days of playing Jimmy Brooks on the show Degrassi: The Next Generation. Little did everybody know that he was an aspiring musician at the time and desperately wanted to escape his role on TV for the chance to make his music dreams come true. Granted, he had to support his family, as his mom was ill and his dad lived in Memphis while he lived in Toronto (his parents divorced when he was 6). By no means am I saying Drake had it harder than other rappers like Eminem, I am just simply stating the conditions he grew up in. Drake had no clout when he started to make music as his reputation was just that of a Canadian teen actor. However, Drake didn’t see it like that and he continued to try and make music. He released two mixtapes (a free collection of songs distributed through the internet), Room for Improvement and Comeback Season, in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Those who listened to his music at the first glimpse at a new type of hip-hop/rap which infused r&b. This new “genre” mixed rap and melody together along with new beats/instrumentals which created a much more introspective experience. Drake rapped about his struggles and about life in general, while being completely open and honest. His life would change in the year of 2008, being discovered by Lil Wayne.
In 2008, Lil Wayne happened to get a hold of some of Drake’s music and he fell in love with it. At the time, Drake was in the process of making his third mixtape, So Far Gone. It released in 2009, in my opinion it is the best of all his mixtapes as it is the most introspective and has calming instrumentals. The cover of the mixtape was symbolic to how he keeps climbing and reaching to obtain his goals and that perhaps they were out of his reach but he would still try desperately. In fact, this mixtape was so well received and critically acclaimed that it got him a Grammy Nomination. That’s right, his mixtape got him two Grammy nominations, and Drake was suddenly put into the spotlight. Lil Wayne then signed him to Young Money and now Drake had a record deal, proceeding to release his first album, Thank Me Later. Now more in the limelight, Drake continued to make songs that were uniquely him, integrating introspective lyrics into a sing-song rap style. His love songs quickly got him the reputation of being a sensitive, soft rapper which would later shape his music (this album would get him more Grammy nominations). In 2011, after his smash hit album he released his sophomore album, Take Care. This album pushed Drake to overtake Jay-Z in the charts as Drake became the artist with the most #1 hits in the Hip-Hop/R&B charts. His second album would also give him his first Grammy for Rap Album of the Year. At this point in his career he has two 2x Platinum albums and 1 platinum mixtape and he would proceed to make his third album. Nothing Was the Same came out on September 24th of this year and is already platinum, selling over 600,000 albums the first week. This creation was heavily influenced by his producer since day one, 40. It has been interesting to see how Drake’s music has grown and how he has grown as an artist. Even his cover art for Nothing Was the Same shows his introspective nature, his present self stares into his younger self and he sees where he started from.
Drake’s music is something I can relate to deeply, because he speaks of life and the human experience. His songs about relationships and interacting with people are profound and deep. Sure, he does have some more typical rap songs but those are the mainstream radio songs that are overplayed. The fact these songs are the radio immediately give people the wrong misconception of his music and as a fan it is really frustrating. Drake is the type of artist that wears his heart on his sleeve and on his journey to fame he has not changed as a person. He puts his family first and makes sure that the people who helped along the way get as much of the credit as he does. His music was a gamble, before him a rapper who also sung was unheard of. Especially in an era where rappers are from the projects and shy away from the topics of love and other emotional aspects of life. The vocals and lyrics in his songs are full of emotion and the piano clad instrumental only enhances that effect. His experimentation with sound and creativity and how he has shared it has landed him to be the rapper to bring true hip/hop back to the time where rap was about life and deeper matters.