Forget sampling, interpolating or being influenced - why are modern recording artists straight-up remaking classic songs in the laziest way possible?
Please allow me to open by unabashedly stating I’ve never been a huge fan of Wale, other than of my best friend who shares the same name and same spelling.
With that in mind, I nearly lost mine when I heard “My PYT” off the D.C. native's upcoming album SHINE, which is expected to drop sometime later this year. The chorus and overall vibe of the song is less a sample of Michael Jackson’s 1983 smash single and more… a near-identical remake by Wale, albeit with a sample of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" thrown in.
In a March 2016 interview with Complex, Wale hilariously (but seriously) stated the following:
“I always wanted to push myself as an artist, always. I think SHINE is a big example of me pushing myself all the way. I’m not really the norm. I’m an anomaly in the industry as far as what I do and the people that I work with. And the type of songs I make.”
That quote reads like Young Thug naming his jam “Harambe” levels of trolling. Unlike the more original sounds displayed on his Summer on Sunset mixtape, Wale essentially refashioned a Michael Jackson hit song, called it the same name but replaced the nostalgia with the following hook:
“She a couple couple couple years younger / But she badder than a motherfucker / Ass fatter than a motherfucker / She got her own, she don’t need no ticket / She get it / Yeah, she got it / So you know I’m going to get it”
Of course, there’s a difference between sampling, interpolating, and remaking.
For example, Trey Songz essentially remade the 1972 GRAMMY-nominated “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon into 2015 single “About You,” resulting in one of Mr. Steal Yo' Girl’s more forgettable singles in recent memory. Conversely, Trigga Trey sampled the Teena Marie number-one single “Ooh La La La” for his own 2014 Platinum-certified single, “Na Na.”
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Better than “Na Na” was “Nas Album Done,” off of DJ Khaled's Major Key album, which interpolated the December 1995 Gold-certified single “Fu-Gee-La” from The Fugees off their classic album, The Score. Both “Na Na” and “Nas Album Done” used elements of “Ooh La La La” - one turned the usage into a pop smash while the other resurrected a once-forgotten song.
Perhaps the finest example of Songz’ interpolating without flat-out copying a song was his Gold-certified single “Touchin, Lovin’” with Nicki Minaj. Using portions of the 1997 classic “Fuck You Tonight” from The Notorious B.I.G. and R. Kelly, Songz made the record just original enough to avoid having it be labeled a complete remake; his version possibly even went over a good portion of listeners' heads in terms of inspiration.
Going back to Wale, it’s not impossible or sacrilegious to sample a Michael Jackson song - there’s just a level of honor typically associated with touching anything from an all-time great. Kanye West managed to win a GRAMMY in 2008, for his interpolation of… you guessed it: “P.Y.T.” His song, the T-Pain-assisted “Good Life,” went on to earn double-Platinum certification.
Another basic remake, the Gold-certified “All In My Head (Flex)” from X Factor USA-formed Fifth Harmony, used the 1993 single “Flex” from Jamaican reggae artist Mad Cobra to create a basically unenjoyable ode to sex and rolling around on the beach. Luckily for all involved, modern-day musical magician Fetty Wap arrived to save the day with the only harmony you need to hear.
A recent example of great sample usage without completely remaking the record was on Tory Lanez’ Platinum-certified breakout hit “Say It.” Lanez made the song nearly completely his own while rocking with a song built off a vocal chop from the GRAMMY-nominated 1994 single “If You Love Me” from Los Angeles, California trio Brownstone.
There are countless other examples, but it appears the over-saturation of both products and artists has created a counter-culture of inauthenticity in favor of radio crossover appeal and sales. Ironically, this will help to further expose the true wunderkinds of this era, from Chance The Rapper to Anderson .Paak to Young Thug.
Edit: In a previously-published version of this article we failed to mention that Wale's "My PYT" also includes a sample of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing."
By Matteo Urella, a Boston-based writer. Read more of his work at Medium.