Last summer, while I was interning at a music label, Jay-Z cruised through the office one July day and flashed me a smile. Surprisingly, this icon’s brief acknowledgement of me was not my most nerve-wracking moment of the job. Instead, I plop you, reader, in my spinny chair, spiraling with stress because I had been newly invited to the weekly Artist Relations (A&R) meeting. This was an invite I had been gunning for, so my stress was combined with excitement. My invite was accompanied by instructions to be ready to pitch a quality on-the-rise artist I thought we could sign, a task which felt daunting for such a small position. I fretted, agonized, about how hard it would be to impress these men whose very job was to know more about the music industry than me. However, when Tuesday finally arrived, I knew that by 2:30 I had to have an artist that would wow. So I picked Josue Janv’ier, whose song “Girls Girls Girls” brought a modern nostalgia and a groove I thought could be infectious. If you like the idea of a vibier Brockhampton, go play him immediately, and for anyone who hasn’t heard his music I recommend giving him a listen. 

I hope your anticipation has built now, just like mine had then. Maybe you can feel the soft springs of my spinny chair as you wait for the A&R team to emerge from their offices and meetings and phone calls and various other important things. Feel that even when they begin to lope past, you still need a signal, a sign from someone to indicate your inclusion. And when you finally see that signal, you feel the soft release of springs beneath you as you take a stand. 

The meeting was as magical as I expected. The music was loud, not enough to impair your hearing but enough to let you feel the beat thumping through your body and the rhythm dancing along your skin. I could hear a slight ringing in my ears and feel goosebumps for the rhythm to dance atop, both symptoms of my nerves. As the meeting progressed, each A&R played a few artists he was interested in. Finally, when the energy in the room began to wind down, someone announced that it was my turn. I connected to the soundsystem and cued up Josue Janv’ier. Thirty seconds into the track my boss declared: “this entire beat is sampled.” I felt so embarrassed. He’d borrowed the beat from another track, and they couldn’t evaluate his talent alone with someone else’s sound design thumping in the background.


Sampling, the act of splicing, weaving, or otherwise incorporating pre-existing sounds, music, or recordings into a new track, is not a bad thing. It is actually an incredibly important and interesting musical device. But in this scenario, it was my job to have realized the genius behind the beat was not Josue himself, but instead Danny Towers, whose song “What To Do” dropped a month before “Girls Girls Girls.” My boss asked me to play another track so that the team could assess his potential unhindered by his heavy use of someone else’s content and to my luck, they approved. 

“Girls Girls Girls” remains too small in popularity to inspire research on its samplings, so without sensing technology or preexisting knowledge, there was no way for me to know that the undertrack was sampled. Because of this, I don’t beat myself up about it, I just bear some residual embarrassment; however, this whole incident got me thinking: how much other music which I consume has roots in separate content? Unsurprisingly, a lot. Kanye West was my most listened to artist of last decade, and it is common knowledge that he is a master at mining the vaults of music history for sample content. 

The beauty of sampling is in its ability to breathe new life into music, to give it a new energy and audience. It can also pay homage to the artists who came before. Kanye West’s “Lost In The World” for instance, samples poet Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1,” and was honorous enough to be featured at the poet’s funeral. The track also samples and features Bon Iver, an indie folk band, which, if not included in the song, many of West’s fans may not have been exposed to. 

I continue to explore the culture of sampling as a means to discover new music. I recently found a new playlist curated by Spotify called “Sample School,” which features music of and inspired by Aretha Franklin. This is an inversion of the method I had previously practiced, letting the samples guide me to their origins rather than vice versa. Even so, I enjoy both ways. There is a charm to the integrity of original tracks as well as the rebirth they experience when supplemented with a modern bass. 

The next time you open Spotify (or your favorite streaming site), I challenge you to look a little closer at your favorite song or the newest hit from your favorite artist. What or who does it pay homage to? What musical intertextuality adds to the track? Who’s inspiring the artists you’re playing, and does knowing the answer change your song experience? You might find another artist to bump; or you might decide the original music’s not for you and simply come away from the exercise with a surprise revelation about or a deeper understanding of the melody in your earbuds or speakers. But I believe there’s a wealth in knowing a little more about what and who you’re listening to. And if you ever end up in an A&R room with scary execs staring you down, you might be a little better prepared than I was

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