Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
TikTok's Hip-Hop Sample Videos Are Teaching Gen Z The Basics Of Sampling
DJs and music enthusiasts alike have used TikTok to make brief, fun and informational explainers on hip-hop samples, showing how the once discrete practice of sample sharing has become more democratized through the internet.
"OG to sampled."
Those are the words that appear above Rayymon Beatz as he plays Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." before transitioning into Kanye West's "Good Life." What happens in between is a breakdown of how the latter sampled the former, with Beatz explaining it in four steps. As he loops the last eight bars of the track at the 3:19 mark and turns down the pitch and tempo of the song, the Thriller classic becomes the basis for the Graduation classic, Beatz dancing and smiling as his sample lesson comes to a close.
Since the last one blew up, here’s one you probably didn’t know 👀 #rayymonbeatz #michaeljackson #kanyewest #dj #djmix #sampled #fyp
On TikTok, there are countless videos like this, each bearing the same or slightly altered title text. "OG to sampled," "OG vs sampled," "the sample vs the sampler," "songs you probably didn't know were samples" — with the title differences also comes different people breaking down the samples — from DJs to music knowledge enthusiasts. But they all have one common goal: creating brief, fun and informational explainers on hip-hop samples for their audience, which TikTok's primarily teen and young adult demographic enjoy.
The practice of digging in the crates for samples has gone digital because of the internet. Where producers used to comb through vinyl bins and take parts of obscure jazz and soul tracks or funk classics, contemporary producers are only a click away from finding a song to sample, whether that be ripping tracks from YouTube or using sampling subscription services like Tracklib. And with the advent of websites like WhoSampled, it's unlikely that a sample goes unrecognized nowadays. Sure, there are still purists both young and old that adhere to the practice of not disclosing a sample's source (aka sample snitching.) But sample sharing has become more democratized through the internet, with forums, Twitter threads, and YouTube comments often answering someone's question of, "What sample is this?"
Now, TikTok has become another place where people aren't just learning about entry level staple hip-hop samples but contemporary examples too, with people creating videos primarily highlighting well-known songs from artists that have samples. The standards are accounted for: the Isley Brothers-sampling "Big Poppa" and "It Was A Good Day" by the Notorious B.I.G. and Ice Cube, respectively, are common among many of these accounts. But there are more recent instances like the Sting-sampling "Lucid Dreams" by the late Juice Wrld or the Frank Ski-sampling "WAP," too.
One of the main figures associated with hip-hop sample breakdown videos on the social media platform is DJ Habibeats, who has made over 170 "Songs you probably didn't know were samples" videos since joining TikTok in January this year. The birth of the series came about as Habibeats' bar and club DJ gigs came to halt amid the pandemic, with the LA-based DJ taking to Instagram and Twitch to perform sets. After taking a break from Twitch to finish school — Habibeats will soon graduate as a law student — he started posting videos on TikTok: from him making beat remixes on a drum pad he has to making mashups on his turntables. Then came the video that would kickoff his sample series: Ariana Grande's "goodnight n go" sampling Imogen Heap's "Goodnight and Go."
"In my mind I was like, 'I bet there's a lot of younger generation people and people who maybe they're not music heads and they don't care to research stuff or they don't know too much about it,'" Habibeats said. "That's fine, they're just casual music consumers. And I thought to myself, 'Well they probably don't realize that this big Ariana song is a cover, so I'll make a video about it."
Habibeats was surprised by the traction he got from the video (although the original isn't on his feed he re-uploaded it as his 46th in the "songs you probably didn't know were samples" series, which has over 170,000 views). He had envisioned his DJ videos not only being cool and creative, but a showcasing of his technical DJ'ing skills. And yet, it was his videos where he's simply playing the original song followed by the song that samples it that was resonating most with users.
"I was like, 'Wow, that's funny. The least effort thing seems to resonate with people,'" Habibeats said. "I think the average music consumer doesn't care too much about super crazy turntablism type stuff. Although I'm sure they find it cool, they probably just more want to hear the Drake song that they like — and, 'Oh there's a fun fact about this Drake song that I really like,' you know what I mean?"
In this way, Habibeats' videos speak to the significance of sampling on an educational level: how songs that sample other songs often introduces a listener to an artist they didn't know of before. Habibeats shared his own sample story — when he first heard the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa" as a teen, and learned that the track was based around the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets." That surprise and interest he felt when he learned that are feelings he hopes his TikTok followers — especially those that are younger — get when they watch his sample videos. Sometimes, it even creates a discussion among his followers, as is the case with a sample video he did showing how Tyler, the Creator's "Odd Toddlers" samples Cortex's "Huit Octobre 1971." Users also noted how other artists like MF DOOM and $uicideBoy$ had sampled "Huit Octobre 1971" on songs like "One Beer" and "Harve$t Moon," respectively.
Because of how many of these videos he's done, many of his followers see him as sort of a founder to TikTok's sample videos trend, something he disagrees with. Because of the way algorithms dictate what you're likely to see on any social media platform, Habibeats isn't sure if there were DJs or other people doing sample videos before him. He speculates that he's now seeing more of these videos because the algorithm has adapted to his DJ content, as well as the fact that users often tag him in other people's sample videos.
This has been the case with two other popular accounts that have made a handful of sample videos: @therealrayymonbeatz and @jarredjermaine. Habibeats recalled how some of his followers tagged him in a viral video Rayymon did where he broke down Kanye West's "Good Life" sampling Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T.," a sample that Habibeats had done prior. Some followers accused Rayymon of stealing from Habibeats, so much so that he now captions some of his sample videos with, "Inspired by DJ Habibeats." For Habibeats though, it's not that serious. He's aware that DJs and music enthusiasts have long broken down samples — especially those in hip-hop — and feels that the more sample knowledge is being shared, the better.
"I'm like, 'I'm all about sharing the knowledge and sharing the love of DJing, and just having fun with it. So I don't get mad at all if other people are doing it," he said. "It's great to see other people engaged. If I did happen to inspire someone to start doing this kind of thing that's awesome, because the more people who are engaging with music the better."
what other songs do you wanna hear transformed from original to sampled? lmk in the comments! #fyp #finalsathome #thetakechallenge #takeyoudown
In terms of who actually started the trend of hip-hop sample videos on TikTok, it's hard to pinpoint. DJ B-renn first did an "Original to sampled" video in May last year but didn't follow up with a second one until five months after. He's made eight sample videos so far. DJ AyJayy began their "Mixing songs with their original samples" series in July last year and has made 30 sample videos.
It was DJ B-renn's videos that inspired another DJ to create their own sample videos on TikTok — DJ ForTunes. After seeing B-renn break down the J. Cole's "Wet Dreamz" sampling Mariya's "Family Circle," ForTunes created a TikTok account and kicked off his "the sample vs the sampler" in December last year by breaking down Kanye West's "Through the Wire" sampling Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire."
Although 24, ForTunes described himself as an "old soul" in e-mail, explaining that the music of his upbringing encompassed the music his parents listened to: old school hip-hop, R&B, and soul music that included everyone from Chubb Rock and Run-DMC to Michael Jackson and Nina Simone. In high school and college he started to branch out and listen to other genres like pop and trap, as well as newer songs that were on the radio, and noticed how some of them were borrowing — and sometimes sampling — the music he grew up with.
"When I figured it out, I was filled with this sense of euphoria and the feeling you get when you solve a mystery," he said. "The problem was, when I went to go share this excitement with my friends about what I discovered, they usually never understood how the producer took the original sample and made it into the song I was showing them."
So, ForTunes often used his DJ sets to highlight the relationship between the sample and the song sampling it, hoping that his friends and others would feel the same euphoria he felt or, at the very least, see the musical connection between the tracks. That approach is apparent in his TikTok sample videos, where he doesn't just play the sample and the sampler track back to back, but transforms the former into the latter in real time. His "Through the Wire" video showcases that, as he isolates and loops the sampled part of "Through the Fire," and pitches and speeds it up before switching to "Through the Wire" on beat.
Of the 27 videos ForTunes has made, 22 of them are sample videos, including a viral video where he breaks down Daft Punk's "One More Time" sampling Eddie Jones "More Spell on You." As for why these sample videos are so popular among younger people on TikTok, ForTunes said it's simply because they're shocked to see that some of these popular songs are made from another song, referring to it as "fun facts, but just for audio."
"There’s typically three crowds: the first are people who enjoy trying to figure out what song I’m deconstructing before I tell them. Second, there’s the people who are young and have old soul. Thirdly, there are the people who enjoy older music and newer music and love seeing a video where those two sides of music collide," he said.
Although most of the people associated with these TikTok sample videos are DJs, there are others who've contributed to the trend who are just knowledgable fans of sampling and music in general, like Jarred Jermaine, also known as J Maine. A producer who coined the music genre RnBass, Jermaine's "Songs you didn't know were sampled" series has 96 videos, which he started back in December last year. Referring to himself as a pioneer of the sample videos in jest, Jermaine's sample series was one of many ideas he had in mind for music-related videos on TikTok. Unlike many of the other figures on TikTok associated with sample videos, Jermaine doesn't use DJ equipment for his videos. He simply nods along to the track that features the sample before going to the original, with Jermaine placed in between the names of the songs and the year that they were released.
"I just feel like there's something to just having your stuff clean and on time and transitional and making sense," he said. "That's where I really pride myself in my videos. I make every one hella clean."
At 34, Jermaine said he has been surprised by the reactions he's gotten from younger followers for his sample videos. For many of them, it's a relatable a-ha moment: where they realize that the older songs their parents are playing are the basis for some of their favorite songs. For others, it's an opportunity to show they have an interest in songs that existed long before they did, as was the case for a recent sample video Jermaine did where he highlighted M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" sampling the Clash's "Straight to Hell." Although he already had the song written down to do at some point, many of Jermaine's younger followers had requested him to do "Paper Planes."
"I'm like, 'How do you know the Clash? You're hella young, bro. But OK, sure,'" he said.
With the rise of these sample videos, it's hard not to think of one of hip-hop's unspoken rules among older producers: that the source of a sample is undisclosed so that another producer won't have the chance to use it, too. Although producers both old and young still adhere to that practice, it's much harder to keep a sample hidden nowadays. For one, it has to be credited, and once it is it doesn't take long for either someone to recognize it or it be identified on websites like WhoSampled.
"There's gonna be somebody that figures out an unknown sample," Jarred said. "It's only a matter of time really, even if you hide it."
"...if producers don’t want people to know where they got their samples from, that’s fine and I respect that," ForTunes also said on the matter. "I just know the greatest and legend producers themselves — 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, DJ Dahi — are also making videos showing people where and how they make their popular sampled songs. Rules — especially unwritten ones — need to be broken so we can evolve."
In their defense, the figures making TikTok sample videos are highlighting samples that are already publicly known. But because of this there tends to be overlap. Take for example, the late Pop Smoke's "What You Know 'Bout Love" sampling Ginuwine's "Differences," a pairing that Habibeats, Jermaine, Ayjayy, and Gallixc have all devoted videos to.
In trying to cater to their audience, this sometimes creates problems for certain selections these figures want to personally highlight. Habibeats recalled how he was going to post a video showing Lil B's "I'm God" sampling Imogen Heap's "Just For Now" awhile ago but hesitated and, ultimately, didn't.
"I was like, 'I don't know if anyone really knows this song,' as far as the general public goes...So in that sense sometimes I think, 'OK, maybe I should try and keep it more toward more known artists,'" he said.
"But at the same time I'm like, 'Well, I don't want it to just be a bunch of Drake, and Ariana, and Rihanna music.' Not that I don't love all of them, but at the same time I want to show love and get deeper than just pop hits," he added.
Despite the overlap though, it's the way that these and other sample video figures on TikTok not only setup but express themselves through their videos that really make them distinct from each other. ForTunes spoke to this: where he likes Habibeats for providing a brief history lesson on the songs being highlighted and his emotional connection to them, he also likes Ayjayy for highlighting new hip-hop and old hip-hop songs with samples, and GallixC for his high energy and commitment to entertaining through his videos.
And it's these characteristics that have helped each of them gain their own follower base, resulting in some heartwarming moments that they never would've thought their videos would lead to.
"I made a Cameo account a few weeks ago and one of the requests I got was this person who was like, 'I'm going through chemo right now and I watch your videos every day, and they make me smile, and they make me happy, and they've been keeping me sane through all of this because you're so positive, and happy, and excited,'" Habibeats said. "She was like, 'I would love if you could send me a positive, 'You've got this' kind of message that'll help me get through chemo.' That was the sweetest thing."
As these TikTok sample videos continue to grow in popularity, others have followed suit. Jared Shaw, better known as @_jshaw on TikTok, was already doing music-related videos when he first started posting in February this year. But it's a video he did in April titled "2000s Songs Sampled in Today's Music" that happens to be one of his most popular videos.
The sounds of the 2000’s are taking over today’s music! #dojacat #musicinfo #music #ericabanks #popsmoke #musiclovers
Inspired by Erica Banks' "Buss It" that samples Nelly's "Hot in Herre," Shaw highlighted "Buss It," Pop Smoke's "What You Know 'Bout Love," and Doja Cat's "Streets" — which samples B2K's "Streets Is Callin'" — in the 2000s sample video, which has been played over 630,000 times. How Shaw has separated himself from other sample video figures are in adjacent sample videos like "Which Year Did it Best?" and "Sampling vs. Interpolation." In the former, he'll pit the original track against several songs that have sampled it, while the latter explains the difference between sampling and interpolating. (His "Which Year Did it Best?" video highlighting Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" is his most played video, bringing together not only the educational appeal of sampling videos, but competitive comment interaction, too.)
With one of the more newer accounts making sample videos, Shaw said he thinks the popularity of these videos will be around for awhile — as long as the figures associated with them continue to be creative and go "deeper beside the main popular songs."
"I'm just starting to go back. I did the 2000s, '90s, '80s — I eventually want to get into the '70s, James Brown, Motown — all of that," he said. "I just feel like the source material is deep."
It'll be interesting to see how these figures — and others — continue to expand and experiment on the sample videos as this type of content becomes more and more saturated. But whether it continues to rise or dwindle out at some point, some of the creators behind these videos on TikTok have already staked their claim as the trendsetters.
"I feel like me and whoever is doing it right now that is consistently doing it, have our own staple in this space," Jermaine said. "And people coming after are pretty much just watching what's been done and just trying to replicate it at this point."
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