Every Sample on Chris Brown’s “X” Album (An Accidental Music Licensing Lesson)
I'll be honest.
Lately I've been writing about samples a lot, and when I started I assumed there'd be me and 12 other people excited to talk about that one second of "Funky President" that gets used over and over again. But instead the response has been huge-ish. The internwebs seemingly loved that article on the "Yeah!" sample, there was a ton of conversation around the Kendrick Lamar lawsuit article; it turns out there's a real demand for sample-related breakdowns out there.
So I had a genius idea. I knew the interest around Chris Brown's new X album would be big. What if I broke down every sample on X? Brilliant! It would bring together sample heads and pop fans, production nerds and #TeamBreezy. It'd do enough pageviews for me to retire and I'd probably win a Pulitzer. So I hit my good friends at WhoSampled asking for a list of every sample on the album, and that's where things went wrong.
It turns out only three songs on X contains a sample(s). Out of 21 songs on the entire album, only three. Goddamn three! I wasn't expecting the next Paul's Boutique, this was a pop/R&B album after all, not a hip-hop album, but I was still expecting more than that. Well, there goes my Pulitzer. But then I thought more about it, and I began to realize that if I really wanted to write about how samples are used in music, the absence was actually a far more meaningful story than if there were 100.
As music sales have plummetted, the importance of licensing - placing songs in ads, tv shows, movies, etc. - has predictably risen. In 2014, artists pray their song blows up on Billboard...so music supervisors notice and place it in a movie and they can actually make some money. Albums aren't so much albums as they are collections of possible ad campaign theme songs now. While I know that sounds very anti-art and commercial and I am exaggerating to some degree, it's also simpy true that any truly professional artist or producer at least has a conversation about a song's placement potential before they release it, especially when it comes to samples.
Samples are to licensing what kale salads are to Rick Ross. If Nike's looking for music for their new commercial, the last thing they want is to deal with multiple people, and they certainly don't want to get caught up in a lawsuit over an uncleared sample. You produced the song by yourself and there's no sample in it and Nike only has to deal with you (and maybe your lawyer and publishing company)? Congrats, you just moved to the top of the pile. There's four samples and they've got to make sure both you and your lawyer and your publishing company and the sample rights holders and their lawyers and publishing companies and someone's momma are all on board? Recycle bin.
That's an extreme example, clearly songs with samples make it into commercials, but for every sample, that song has to be that much more incredible. Really, as an artist you're stacking the deck against yourself by including samples. If two songs are equally good and fit the scene of that movie equally well and one has samples and the other doesn't, why would they possibly choose the one with samples?
Whether it was Chris Brown or the producers or his management or his lawyers or the label or his trusted advisors or some combination of all of the above, it makes perfect sense from a business standpoint that X is so light on samples. Frankly, major companies are already going to be wary of including Chris Brown songs in their campaigns because oh yeah he's Chris Brown, don't make it any harder on them. This isn't some indie album that's going to redefine the musical landscape. This is a huge pop album from a superstar, and when one huge song placement in a movie can make you as much money as your album sales, you better be pretty damn sure that sample in the song's really worth it. I'm actually really interested to know how the sample volume on this album stacks up against other comparable releases, that will be my next project because that's the type of thing I care about because my life is ridiculous.
So that, my friends, is my article about samples that I crafted from an almost complete lack of samples. And as long as we've already gone through all this, we might as well circle back to the original point of the article and actually break down every sample on X. So without further ado, here we go:
"Loyal" (2 samples)
- Lil Wayne "Shine"
- Jermaine Dupri "Money Ain't a Thing"
"Songs on 12 Play" (4 samples)
- Changing Face "Stroke You Up"
- R. Kelly "Sex Me"
- R. Kelly "It Seems Like You're Ready"
- R. Kelly "Bump N' Grind"
Note: Makes sense to include so many R. Kelly samples on a song that's basically about R. Kelly. Also, as with "Loyal" and Lil Wayne, it's a lot easier to clear a sample when the artist is also a guest on the track.
"Don't Think They Know" (2 samples)
- Jon B "They Don't Know"
- Digital Black "Don't Think They Know"
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]