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WhoSampled’s Chris Read Breaks Down The DNA Of Sampling [Interview]
WhoSampled’s Chris Read Breaks Down The DNA Of Sampling [Interview]
Source: Chris Read

WhoSampled’s Chris Read Breaks Down The DNA Of Sampling [Interview]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Chris Read

We sat down with WhoSampled's Head of Content, Chris Read, to talk about exploring the DNA of music, his collaborations and charting hip-hop's history.

Right from the very start, hip-hop has always held within it a contradiction related to sampling, secrecy and artistic self-exposure. DJs soaking off the labels of records to evade prying eyes of their competitors, as Chris Read, Head of Content at WhoSampled says, co-existed with compilations such as Ultimate Breaks and Beats (or before that Octopus Breaks) breaking down the genre to core elements.

This public dimension of the producer’s craft has only become more pronounced in the internet era. “It’s impossible to live your life outside the reality of the world we live in now,” Read says. “Whether it’s making music or playing sports, there’s always going to be a body of people out there who will want to discuss and analyze what you do.”

The UK-based WhoSampled site, founded in 2008 by Nadav Poraz, has as its tagline “exploring the DNA of music”. With its collection of 462,000 songs and 156,000 artists alongside content provided by 17,000 contributors worldwide the scope of the project is vast.

Each month the site notches up two million visitors curious to discover music they may, or may not recognize, with others drawn into the “web of musical connections” the site provides. In Read’s description: “It’s discovering stuff you like, but don’t know you like yet via its connection to something you already know you like.”

With such a reach, the site’s approach is necessarily eclectic. The frontpage when I last looked featured a D’Angelo mixtape; a piece exploring the “varied catalogue of Herbie Hancock” and an analysis of samples used on the Baby Driver movie soundtrack. The deep impact of sampling on pop culture means top searches for the month are just as likely to include Katy Perry, or a track performed by an X Factor contestant, as a hip-hop classic.

For a long while, Chris Read was best-known as the “rap mega-mix guy,” he tells me with a laugh when we met in the dark recesses of a restaurant in a plush East London hotel – soundtrack: Childish Gambino, Otis Redding — because of a phenomenally successful mixtape The Diary he put out ten years ago. The mixtape charted hip-hop’s history, from 1979-2007, via more than 800 tracks — in order of release.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Chris Read

Pre-Mixcloud/pre-Soundcloud, this “labor of love” was picked up by radio the world over; when Read shared it online, the demand was such that the site nearly crashed. Read’s early years as a DJ informs his work as an established producer working with UK and US acts, he says. Last May, Read’s collaboration with Chicago MC, Pugs Atomz, Colo(u)rs of the World came out via BBE Music.

Read met the rapper with the singing style — who also works as a fashion designer at Iridium Clothing Co. — when Atomz was in London working with DJ Vadim. Some of the songs for the album were laid down then, but the bulk of the work occurred after Atomz returned to the US. The connection was such that there was a “massive flurry of activity” after his return with Atomz “emailing tons of acapellas” and the London producer “doing beats, sometimes, within 24 hours.”

Such high-energy is largely subsumed in the record, which has an extremely elegant feel to it. From the icy-restrained opener, carried along by a broken piano line that offers a moody counterpoint to Pugs Atomz delivery, stretching over the bars echoing dreamier incarnations of Mos Def, “Colo(u)rs of the World,” to the track Read identified as key to getting the work “She said” — feat. Junior P. Williams — that links a clickety-clack beat with meandering musical elements: bass, piano, again – foremost among them.

“A typical track on the Pugs Atomz album would have a sample from a jazz album and the drums bedded with drum machine sounds that give it a brighter, crisper sound,” Chris Read tells me. While the past can certainly be felt, aspects of the production is strikingly modern, say the way the vocal-line is set back and the beat remains unsteady; Read says how he liked the way the music “was rooted in jazz, with hip-hop references, but tempo-wise it was all over the place.”

In Read’s description: “What you end up is something where fundamentally there is a nod to tradition — as sampling jazz records was a practice at the peak of its popularity in the ‘90s — but has a contemporary sound because of the way it’s put together.”

Check out an upcoming Chris Read release: a remix of Norwegian vocalist, Nosizwe feat. Guilty Simpson that will appear both on her EP and a new compilation from So Real International, with a wonderfully unexpected line-up that includes Snoop Dogg, Domino, George Clinton, Sean Price and Georgia Anne Muldrow.

Madeleine Byrne is a Paris-based writer steeped in the unholy trinity of punk, dub, hip-hop and jazz for good measure. You can follow her works on Twitter @Quante_Jubila.