Not Okay, Player: 5 Samples Of Martin Luther King, Jr. That Should Never Have Been Cleared
Here's our list of 5 Martin Luther King, Jr. samples that should never have been cleared!
This March it will be 53 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead one of the largest political rallies for equal human rights in United States history with the March On Washington, DC. Students, artists, thinkers, activists, preachers and laymen from all walks of life came in the hundreds of thousands from points across the country to hear what the King had to say.
Since that March, ever more musicians, rappers and acts have attempted to harness the power of the immortal "I Have a Dream" speech for their own projects. Perhaps they were inspired by the Civil Rights activist's rhythm, cadence and melody or wanted to claim their own stake as Children of The Dream...or maybe they are just hanging off the damn bandwagon, trying to catch a little reflection off Dr. King's glory to shine on their own subpar talent.
This is a trend that seems to be increasing from both directions, so to speak. On the one hand, the hip-hop generation has always had a more problematic relationship to MLK and the Civil Rights movement than its parents did. Contrast, for instance, the number of Malcolm X clips, samples and photos that have graced rap albums and videos. Or better yet, contrast the role Stevie Wonder played in getting King recognized with a national holiday to OutKast's ambivalent, devil-may-care attitude towards "Rosa Parks" ("A-ha, what's that fuss? / Everybody move to the back of the bus."). Fast-forward another decade and find rap's offspring even more estranged from the martyrs of the Civil Rights era, with Li'l Wayne (and even, to a lesser extent, Kanye West) shocking their elders and offending by dropping the name of Emmett Till simply as a metaphor for "beat-up"--as applicable to rough sex or car accidents as to martyrdom in the cause of human dignity.
On the other, as Martin Luther King, Jr's legacy has become more recognized by the mainstream--moving his symbolic role from rebel to national hero, from outsider speaking truth to power to centerpiece of Barack Obama's presidential campaign--it has become ever more malleable and meaningless. Especially since Obama stormed the 2008 election cycle with moving invocations of King's themes, it has been seen as the thing to do--for everybody. And when we say everybody, we mean in the past few years King has been name-checked by everybody from from Glenn Beck to Ted Cruz, twisting his words in ever more contorted loops to try to make them support everything from the segregationist spirit of school choice to hateful opposition to marriage equality.
This absurd flattening of MLK's words is reflected in the world of music as well. In some sense, he is an icon who belongs to everybody the same way Che Guevara, Bob Marley and JFK have become pop art graphics on t-shirts and hackey sacks. But maybe 2016 is a good time to draw the line and say MLK's words should not be mouthed by everybody, regardless of intent. They should not be chopped, screwed or twisted into moral cover for every creepy thought that pops into your head. Being music-minded, we started with samples of MLK's actual, recorded words in drawing our personal line in the sand. In other words: please stop jacking Dr. King's words to add gravitas and righteousness to your questionable morality tales or as a grandiose metaphor for your fuckery!
Without further ado, here's our list of 5 Martin Luther King, Jr. samples that should never have been cleared! Check out our selection below and share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
1. Kid Morbid - "The X-Zone"
Better known by his stage name,Angerfist, Kid Morbid is a popular Dutch hardcore producer and DJ. It seems that "The X-Zone" is his attempt to bridge the gap between the gabber scene--an angry, dissonant techno offshoot which became the soundtrack for racism and a neo-fascist sub-culture within the rave music phenomenon--and those who love their civil rights. Arguably this is the equivalent of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice but it ends up being the musical equivalent of placing MLK on the same level as the Confederate generals of Stone Mountain. The song, which samples Dr. King in the first few seconds, backfires immensely and ends up being offensive as well as unlistenable. Should be buried in the farthest, darkest regions of the Internet.
2. The Game - "Life Is But a Dream"
"Snapback to the back, 'cause I got that crack," wasn't quite the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had when he was fighting for equal human rights. Yet, you can surely leave it up to The Game to find a way to take something powerful and make it borderline obscene even while maintaining an aura of gushing hero worship.
Through the intro, first verse and chorus, the tension between the samples, moody background and Game's sporadically brilliant/comical wordplay keep the listener engaged, if anxious. But then on verse 2 your boy comes directly out of Dr. King's sampled voice into the couplet: "N**gas robbed 2 Chainz on World Star, I seen these n**gas runnin / Them ain’t yo n**gas no more ‘cause I got mine's comin'" and anxiety is quickly replaced by horrified disappointment, leaving us more angry and confused at the artistic choices than injustices of modern America. How does 2 Chainz getting beat up on WorldStar relate to the "I Have a Dream" speech? How, Sway?!
3. Full Force - "The Dream Believer"
There's really nothing thematically questionable about the content of this song, other than--What the hell are they talking about exactly? No, this one is disqualified on grounds of pure corniness.
Say what you must about the career of Full Force, they are legends and pure dynamos on the stage. Yet, it has to be said that the above song, which was featured on their debut album, wasn't the best choice in spotlighting Dr. King's vision. Sandwiched between "Girl If You Take Me Home" and "Half A Chance," the off-key falsettos and awkward hook of "The Dream Believer" could best be referred to as novice nervousness. Influential as it was, the Full Force sound was clearly better suited to soundtracking Page 3-girl-turned popstar Samantha Foxx than MLK.
4. Tyga - "Careless World"
We don't know about the whole world, but somebody in charge of publishing rights over Dr. King's speeches was certainly "careless" when Young Money's own half-hearted pornstar was given sample clearance to use Dr. King's immortal "I Have Been To The Mountain Top" speech on this subpar track. We don't need to run down Tyga's entire resumé of under-age celebrity dating and questionable sexual hygiene here (Big Ghost already did a thorough job of that). But suffice to say we wish he'd kept Dr. King's name out of the same mouth that rapped "vagina juice like orange juice in the morning" and "I hit her, she backwards /licking her asshole, my dick is the password."
Who knows what the people in charge were thinking when they greenlit this monstrosity. But then again, we can't help but notice that while Dr. King's speech is tagged 'Anti-Racism, Spoken Word' on WhoSampled.com, Tyga's artistic interpolation is tagged 'Sample Clearance Issue'...so maybe the arc of the moral universe does eventually bend towards justice after all!
5. Guns N' Roses - "Madagascar"
Featured on the band's endlessly-delayed 2008 album, Chinese Democracy, Axl Rose wrote this track with numerous audio samples and dramatic orchestral arrangements. Throughout the cut, the band used Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" and "Why Jesus Called Man a Fool" speeches, intercut with samples of dialogue from the prison movie Cool Hand Luke and other found sources. What exactly the band is trying to say with this over the top opus about fear and hate is a mystery except that it feels like a deflective attempt at redemption for Rose's most infamous lyric, the ugly "immigrants and f**gots" verse of "One In A Million":
"Immigrants and f**gots / They make no sense to me / They come to our country / And think they'll do as they please / Like start some mini-Iran / Or spread some fucking disease / And they talk so many god damn ways /It's all Greek to me."
Sure, right. That wasn't Axl Rose it was the voice of a "character" and it is protected by free speech. Okay, player. But this latter-day attempt at addressing hate speech from the other end of the sniper scope ends up leaving the listener with more queasy questions, like, Why does Axl Rose seem to feel so abandoned and persecuted in the songs lyrics: "I won't be told anymore / That I've been brought down in this storm / And left so far out from the shore"...and, Why the hell is this song called "Madagascar"!!??
Much like the gabber track above, the end result here feels about as redemptive as D.W. Griffith calling his KKK apologia Intolerance. Fans may debate the song's meaning... but we really just rather the track never existed at all.