Damon Albarn, the founder of Gorillaz and frontman of British rock band Blur, recently spoke with French publication L’Obs about his views on Kanye West, which led to his views on the practice of sampling, all of which were less than favorable.
“Moi, je ne sample pas, je crée de la musique,” he said, shrugging off Kanye's sample-heavy production work on Pusha-T's DAYTONA. Or, translated into English: “I do not sample, I create music.”
Does this mean that Albarn doesn’t believe that sampling is an act of creating music, or that he believes there’s no sampling on any of the Gorillaz records? (Note: Albarn's comments were seemingly translated from English to French for the source quote and translated back to English on our end, but while the syntax may not be perfect, the sentiment remains obvious.)
Well, either way, he’s wrong. One quick search on WhoSampled will reveal what we already know: Gorillaz sample fairly regularly. In fact, here's a 15-minute video analyzing their sampling history from 2001-2017. Additionally, Albarn is a frequent collaborator of De La Soul—to say nothing of his work with MF DOOM, Danger Mouse, and countless others—whose library is so laden with samples, a majority of it cannot be found on streaming services.
Would Albarn wager that De La Soul do not create music? Likely, hopefully, not.
As for whether or not sampling is creating music, this tired idea is familiar territory for some. In 2015, Steely Dan’s Michael McDonald also attempted to discredit sampling, suggesting that it was simple copy-and-paste work. This is, of course, untrue. Digging for samples and weaving them into a fresh composition is more than hip-hop tradition, it’s a labor of musical love and requires a particular level of creativity.
Speaking with producer Blockhead in 2017, he explained to us the creative gateway that comes with letting the sample guide you on a beat. “I do titles after the song is done,” he said. “I sit back and either go off of a feeling or a vocal sample that’s in the track.” Blockhead, like Kanye West and many, many other producers, takes samples and performs sonic alchemy to transform the source material into something brand new.
In layman’s terms, sampling is no different from playing an instrument. Surely, Damon Albarn could understand that.