I always wondered about music if there was not a finite amount that could be made. How many rhythms, melodies, grooves, whatever you call them, could possibly be made, doesn’t there have to be a logical limit? Only so many combinations can exist in the bounds of our imaginations. I’m not sure that the question can be answered though without many millennia’s worth of sonic output and creativity to test the hypothesis. Humanity would have to make it that far first, but I do know one thing, that in the short term our societal obsession with intellectual property rights and ownership is jeopardizing the output of some amazing music. The golden age of rap is called the golden age for a reason: because the genre was so regional and overlooked at the time that the R&B an funk it so heavily relied upon could be sampled with immunity. Look at the results. The Geto Boy’s “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” practically created the template for the psychology of gangster rap, it also unabashedly samples Isaac Hayes “Hung Up On My Baby”. Does that make the beat any less the product of Scarface’s mind? His reimagining of Isaac Hayes’ work creates something totally new and refreshing, indebted to the original song but hardly plagiarized.
One of the main artist’s that this accusation is leveled against by the industry seems to be none other than their favorite target of ire, Kanye West. Whatever your thoughts on the man, and I have many conflicting ones, his true genius lies in sampling. His early reworking’s of classic soul changed the face of rap permanently, and he hasn’t stopped evolving since. Who in the world ever would have thought that a Daft Punk song would be reworked into one of the most recognizable songs of the 2000’s? Or a James Bond theme song into a pointed social commentary on the state of wealth and imperialistic exploitation? How about a Ray Charles song into a genre defining mega hit known the world over? None of these were considered to be too derivative at the time, so why now the question of intellectual property and accusations of unoriginality or even worse theft? Credit is given where credit is due, so let the art flow. Learning occurs when we connect the new with what we already know, together they form something entirely separate, a third independent and revolutionary category.
In the case of Drake borrowing I do highlight a difference. That distinction comes from cultural borrowing versus borrowing from within. Borrowing from one’s own culture and building upon it seems to be one thing, while borrowing from another and making it your own seems to be another. To this I say it is the utmost and highest form of hypocrisy. Drake’s use of a variety of international soundscapes I applaud, tomatoes weren’t native to Italy, rock n’ roll and rhythm and blues were black art forms. There cultural appropriation was morally fuzzy and perhaps wrong, but it also gave us The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The collision of old and new is what constitutes progress, without the old foundation what is the new to built upon? Without the new what keeps the old from becoming stale and oppressive? Drake and Kanye are at the forefront of an old way of thinking that needs new support, borrowing. If we borrow from older generations our music supply will never run dry, and it will always be new and refreshing.