The art of sampling


By Jedrzej Borkowski, First Year Politics and International Relations

From J Dilla’s ‘Donuts’ to Madonna’s ‘Hung Up’, and the new craze surrounding PinkPantheress, sampling has remained a strong force in the rapidly changing music industry. But what is it? And who are some of the biggest names in sampling history?

As suggested by it’s name, sampling means reusing or combining elements of different tracks in order to create an original, brand new idea, which can be used as the melody behind the artist’s vocals. Sampling first began with looped drum breaks, but quickly advanced, with producers beginning to use various elements of songs in their tracks. This technique is most commonly used in Hip-Hop, but it is also very prominent in other genres such as Drum and Bass, House and even Pop.

Unfortunately, because of its nature, this method of music production has faced backlash, with many people calling it stealing or plagiarism. However, sampling stems from the idea of ‘originality being dead’, as there are only so many notes on a piano or strings on a guitar, it would be impossible to constantly create sounds or progressions which have not been heard before.

Now that we’ve covered what sampling is, let's look into some of the most well known sampling producers.

Credit: Mick Haupt, Unsplash

J Dilla

When talking about sampling, you cannot forget to mention J Dilla.

Known for his unique sound and unconventional methods, J Dilla is most likely your favourite producer’s, favourite producer. He famously chose not to quantize his drums, making them sound slightly off beat, more human per se. His beats also featured imperfections, which eventually led to the rise of LoFi Hip-Hop.

J Dilla’s genius is best shown in his final project ‘Donuts’, in which he combines samples ‘like pieces in a puzzle’ in order to create a beautiful mixture of sounds and melodies, which an average listener enjoys, and a producer envies. More impressively, ‘Donuts' was created in a hospital room, due to J Dilla suffering from Lupus and TP, which would eventually take his life, just 3 days after releasing the album.


Madlib continues to be a strong presence in the hip-hop world, producing for artists like Freddie Gibbs, Westside Gunn, and until recently, MF DOOM.

His extraordinary ability to isolate, remake and restructure samples, combined with gritty drums, ensures a unique listen, which leaves many producers scratching their heads, as they try to decipher how he achieved a particular sound in a beat.

Madlib’s status is further strengthened by his ability to remain relevant in the era of Trap beats, appealing to Hip Hop’s ‘old heads’ and introducing new fans of the genre to the slightly more ‘old school’ sound of rap.

Kanye West

It may come as a surprise to some that Kanye West had a humble start in the music industry.

Breaking through into the industry by producing for local acts in Chicago, Ye eventually met Jay-Z, who quickly took a liking for his beats. Because of this, Kanye ended up producing multiple tracks on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and The Black Album. His beats often featured the signature ‘Chipmunk soul’ sound of pitched up Soul samples, which quickly took the industry by storm.

Unlike many producers, Ye chose to make the listener aware of the samples. He does this by using them as choruses or placing them in the middle of the track (as seen in ‘On Sight’). Furthermore, he pays extra attention to their theme, often basing his songs on the sample’s context or title.

Although controversial, sampling is here to stay, and as the stigma around it begins to fade, more and more artists decide to use sample based beats, meaning it may soon reach a peak in it’s popularity. It is important to remember that, even if something isn’t made from scratch, it is still (and should be) considered music, so relax, play your favourite LoFi beats playlist, and enjoy the art that is sampling.

Featured image: Caught in Joy, Unsplash

What are your thoughts on sampling?