Yo. Fuck Michael McDonald.
Wait, who's Michael McDonald and why do you want to fuck him?
Great question, I'm glad you asked. Michael McDonald is a GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter best known for being in dope bands like Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. Dope bands, yes, but that was seven million years ago. Now? He's just another grumpy old fart who hates computers and looks eerily similar to George Lucas. Anyhow, after the GRAMMYs everyone had something to say about Kanye and Michael "Ronald" McDonald was no different.
"I don't think it even really bears too much thought," McDonald said. "It's pretty obvious what Kanye's problem is. When Kanye gets to a point where he can actually put a couple of notes together either vocally or two bars of valid music playing an instrument, then he might have a right to criticize somebody else. Until then I think he's just talking to hear the sound of his own voice."
Okay, as someone who has studied everything from Kanye's weird voice to his paparazzi attacks, I can safely say his problem has nothing to do with talent. If you want to call him egotisitcal, there is little I can do to defend him. However, don't you dare assault his talent. The man is an asshole but he's also an incredible artist and I will defend his music to the death. Oh well, though, I guess it's no sweat off my back. Haters gonna hate. I was willing to let it go...until I read this.
"The whole kinda cut-and-paste thing is a certain kind of artform all by itself. I don't know if I call it songwriting from a musician's standpoint. ... Beck is obviously a consummate musician. He plays instruments, many instruments. He can make his own record without having a fleet of computer operators onboard."
Woah. Now you've gone too far Mikey. Say what you want about Kanye, but don't you come at hip-hop as an art form like that. "Cut and paste"? You mean SAMPLING!?!?! You mean the thing that hip-hop started and now every genre does? You mean the incredible skill to take something and completely transform it into something new? You mean that thing Beck sometimes does? He acts like Beck is rocking his dulcimer in the basement of a gothic castle surrounded by candles and recording his shit on a talkback. Seriously though, how does he think Beck's music gets recorded, mixed, and mastered? Does he really think there aren't a fleet of computers making sure each instrument is perfect?
Fuck this dude.
So Mike hates sampling, thinks it's "cutting and pasting." As a purist, as someone who wants to preserve the art of "real" songwriting, I'm sure this man would never, ever, let someone "cut and paste" his music. There is no way in hell he would let, say, Warren G and Jadakiss sample "I Keep Forgetting" and then cash the check. Oh he did? Seriously, fuck this guy. For someone who is such an "artist," a music pursuit, he certainly doesn't seem to have trouble accepting cash flow. I guess he's above sampling but not above making money off of it. Oh, by the way, when not clearing samples, he can be found covering Marvin Gaye songs, turning them into songs for white people to play during a wine tasting; that's far worse than cutting and pasting.
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Now you tell me which is more original. A straight up copy of a Marvin Gaye song or a whole album of Marvin Gaye samples blended with Mos Def songs? Sampling is like chiseling a beautiful sculpture out of Michelangelo's David; you take small section of a masterpiece and turn it into something new. What Michael McDonald does is like mushing silly putty against a statue and claiming that it's as good as the original. HE MADE A WHOLE GRAMMY NOMINATED ALBUM OF MOTOWN COVERS AND IS NOW SAYING CUTTING AND PASTING IS NOT AN ARTFORM!!!!! AHHHHHH!!!!!!
Seriously, though. Fuck Michael McDonald.
Ok, there, I think I'm done freaking out. At the off chance he reads this, I want him to know just what this "cut and paste" art form means to me. All scathing reports of hypocrisy aside, I'd like him to maybe learn something. (Although I doubt he has the internet if computers are too scary for him.) So let's refocus on what really matters, the beauty of a great sample.
The other day, I started thinking, "You know, I don't really think I'm a hip-hop head anymore." It was a frightening revelation and I began to tumble down a existential black hole. All the times I've declared myself a rap nerd, my Detox Isn't Dropping shirt, it all lead me to believe I was a hip-hop head. Yet here I was, listening to some '70s soul and getting that same feeling I do when I listen to Kanye or Nas. Shit, last night I was on a Sara Bareilles kick. I had totally forgotten how much I love her. The end of "Come Round Soon" gave me just as many goosebumps as PRhyme. I wouldn't be a Curtis Mayfield fan if it weren't for "Touch The Sky"; I love Curtis Mayfield. I've been listening to a lot of Funkadelic lately, it's been great. I was super sad the other night because I found out I missed a Casey Musgraves show. Every night before I got to bed I put on "In a Sentimental Mood" - you should have seen my face when I heard Mac Miller sample it - followed by the Harlem Nocturne and Chopin's Nocturne and I'm still bugging about Chili Pepper flips from a few weeks ago. I just smoked a bowl to Sublime and checked out this new joint from Alabama Shakes.
The point I'm trying to make is that I used to be such a staunch hip-hop fan, it was all I listened to. If it wasn't rap it wasn't worth shit and if it was popular, fuck it to death. That is a HORRIBLE way to go about life, let alone music. Only listening to what you already know actively makes you dumber. With each article and every sample piece I write, I can feel myself getting smarter. The further I get outside of the norm, the more I learn about music. The more I learn about music the more I realize I don't know a thing about music and the more excited I get to learn. And do you know what one of the best ways to learn your music history is? That's right, sampling.
I may not always listen to hip-hop, but I am always listening through the hip-hop lens. I listen for where a great sample might be. It's harder than it sounds; even before getting to the fleet of computers, finding something sampleable is an art all its own. Hip-hip heads are so passionate, but we can't let that passion get in the way of what hip-hop is all about: experimentation, exploration and appreciation. Socially or musically, hip-hop is about tearing down walls, borders and constraints and it's all done through sampling. What Michael McDonald doesn't see is that hip-hop is a history book on tape. Listening to hip-hop you absorb bits and pieces of other genres. By taking a drum beat, bassline or a vocal chop and molding it into something new, producers leave bread crumbs for future generations. Those generations can quite literally trace the origins, the roots, of music back decades simply through a great sample. It keeps all music alive, not just hip-hop.
Compared to other genres, hip-hip is so young, but through sampling, taking bits and pieces form every other genre, hip-hop has found a way to form an unique identity. Without sampling, I wouldn't be able to appreciate Miles Davis, because I probably wouldn't have even thought to listen. I wouldn't have remembered how much I love Sara Bareilles if it weren't for John Legend. I wouldn't have heard the same Sublime cut I've listened to 9,000 times in a new way - I can now appreciate all the samples they use. Hip-hop music is great, but if you let it, it can be so much more. It is it's own genre, but it's also a portal to everything else that's wonderful in music. Don't be like Michael McDonald, don't only listen to one thing and dismiss everything else, let hip-hop take you where it wants and the possibilities (and the genres you'll end up in) are endless.
Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]