DJ Shadow drops some wisdom about the art of sampling and its place in modern hip-hop

In the country for Vivid Live, where he will be playing The Avalanches’ Sydney Opera House “block party”, DJ Shadow – aka Josh Davis – has opened up about the art of sampling and its place in modern hip-hop and electronica.

dj shadow
Image via FACT Mag

“Music has never been worth less, and yet sampling has never been more risky” – DJ Shadow drops some wisdom about the art of sampling and its place in modern hip-hop.

Speaking with The Guardian, the DJ pioneer spoke in particular about the evolution of these genres that he helped shape, and how these days they require more imagination and technical dexterity.

“Sampling isn’t just about dusty 45s anymore,” he told The Guardian. “My agenda back then was like, planting a flag in the soil and saying, ‘This is my art form, sampling is my art form, the sampler is my instrument. It’s real, it’s authentic, there’s art to it, there is a discipline, it’s a craft. And that’s what I wanted to represent.

“Now, obviously, 25 years later, we all know that…The art of sampling in itself is no longer novel.”

In the interview, Davis spoke of the pervasiveness of sampling in modern hip-hop, but also of an industry that has become so litigious about the process that what was once the core of the genre has had the wind taken out of its sails.

“I’ve always believed in clearing samples, however I believe it needs to be done on a musicologist basis.”

As The Guardian note, this would involve breaking down a song in a forensic way, and working out compensation accordingly: “This bass line sample constitutes – based on the space that it occupies and the number of seconds that it plays over the course of the track, in relation to other elements that come and go … this sample is worth 16.7% of the composition.”

“Now, if that could be done,” he says, “then I would clear everything. But the problem is, you go to the first person – they want 75% whether they deserve it or not. You go to the next person they want 70% – whoops – you can’t cut a pie that many times, there isn’t enough pie to go around.”

Davis concedes that this is sign of the times, but laments it makes the process of sampling a far more precarious process that ever before – and undoubtedly far less creatively inspiring.

“In a strange sense I feel like music has never been worth less as a commodity, and yet sampling has never been more risky,” he says. “We work in a hyper-capitalist time, where you grab what you can, get everything you can, doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong, it doesn’t matter whether it’s valid, it doesn’t matter whether it’s deserved.”

Read the full interview on The Guardian.

Catch DJ Shadow playing the Avalanches’ Since I Left You Block Party alongside Briggs, Sampa the Great, DJ JNETT and Jonti at Vivid on 27 and 28 May.