808s and cynical corporate fiat
These TIs, man I tell you. As soon as you think they’ve run out of ways to ruin hip-hop, they find another one. Or have they?
My latest suspicion is that they’ve issued some sort of order that producers are no longer allowed to work with samples. Or maybe they’ve placed a limit on the number of samples used per album, or the total amount of money they’re willing to spend on samples per album.
This occurred to me yesterday while I was reading an article in SPIN (which I stumbled upon on the Internets – I can’t go into places that sell shit without getting depressed) about the death of sample-based hip-hop production. It was talking about there’s hardly any samples on many of the bigger recent hip-hop albums. On the new Young Jeezy album, for example, there’s only four samples, the most prominent of which just so happens to be on the one track on the album I found to be listenable – “Let the Dollar Circulate,” or whatever it’s called.
Then again, it’s not like Young Jeezy has ever been known to spit over a lot of hot samples. I was more surprised to learn that the new Kanye West album, 808s & Heartbreak, supposedly contains nary a single sample. Though obviously they aren’t counting that song “Coldest Winter,” which is a wanton rehash of an old Tears for Fears record. I guess it technically doesn’t include a sample from “Memories Fade.” It probably would have been better if it did. Could it be that the sudden, bizarre shift in the style of music Kanye West is putting out has as much to do with business concerns as it does his dead mom or whatever?
I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. Think about it.
a) We know Kanye has been complaining for years now about how he doesn’t make any money from album sales, despite the fact that he’s sold millions and millions of albums each time out, because he spends so much money recording them, shooting videos for them and what have you.
b) We know times are hard in the Def Jam building. If Shakir Stewart wouldn’t have died all of a sudden, he probably would have been let go at the beginning of the year anyway. That may have even factored into his untimely demise. Maybe he told Kanye to make his records more like Young Jeezy’s, and Kanye responded with “Love Lockdown.”
c) How hard is it, really, to loop up a few classic soul records and add a few layers of superfluous razzle dazzle? Especially given the fact that we know Kanye has guys he pays to find samples for him – just like he has guys he pays to blog. If money wasn’t an issue, I doubt they’d be in the situation they’re in, where the new Jay-Z album has been postponed to make it more like “Swagger Like Us.”
And that last point, in particular, doesn’t bode very well for the future of hip-hop as an art form. The thing about sample-based hip-hop production is that it’s already been dead, for the most part, since back in the 1990s. To the extent that you do still hear beats with samples on the radio, it’s been because of the few guys who can still afford to release albums packed full of samples. Guys like Jay-Z, Kanye, and… not a whole lot of other people, really.
Once those guys are gone… who knows? There might not be very much more sample-based hip-hop production released by major labels. If Def Jam replaced Jay-Z with the guy who brought us Young Jeezy and Officer Rawse, it’s not like they’re gonna replace him with Pete Rock or somebody. They’re gonna be looking for people with a similar sensibility. Especially given the fact that a few dumbasses are actually shelling out for 808s & Heartbreak. Given its relatively minimal production costs, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make more from it than they did from Graduation. Crap!