«NG SO R U U T N P D CA k k at z HOW T EC ar H m N O O L IC G Y S MU HA SC HANGED UNIVERSITY OF CALIFOR NIA PRESS BERKELEY LOS ANGELES LONDON ...»
He nevertheless appreciated the resulting gender ambiguity.)15 Nor does the sample oﬀer any textual clues as to gender, whereas in the original the second verse leaves no doubt as Yarbrough sings, “You make me glad I’m a woman, because you’re a feeling, thinking man.” The lack of any eroticism in “Praise You,” so clear in “Take Yo’ Praise,” also renders the voice asexual. The eﬀect of this digital denaturing is ambiguous. It is possible to hear Yarbrough’s bodiless voice as a free-ﬂoating signiﬁer, one that transforms 148 M U S I C I N 1s A N D 0 s the personal into the universal and allows the song to be heard from a male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, frame of reference. Another possibility, perhaps not mutually exclusive, is that Cook is disempowering Yarbrough, erasing her history, identity, and vitality. As Kay Dickinson has pointed out, “In the case of sampling, it would not seem untoward to derive extremely disempowering readings from male producers chopping chunks out of women’s performance.”16 It would certainly be fair to say that Cook has “chopped chunks” out of Yarbrough’s performance.
What should we make of “Praise You”? Is this just another example of a white musician—Cook—appropriating and denuding black culture for proﬁt and fame? Certainly there was an unequal power relationship. Cook was a popular and wealthy musician (becoming much more so after the release of “Praise You”), while Yarbrough’s musical career brought her rather less money and notoriety, and was all but forgotten by 1998. (Even by Yarbrough herself; she had long since moved on in her varied career as a dancer, actress, radio host, writer, and teacher.) Notice, too, the “whitening” of the title as the black vernacular “Take Yo’ Praise” becomes “Praise You.” Yet the story is not so black and white. It turns out that Yarbrough was actually “pleasantly surprised” when she ﬁrst heard the song. She was pleased that Cook had sampled the hook from “Take Yo’ Praise,” which she considers the emotional core of her song, with an important message to oﬀer. “We need to praise one another,” she explains, “we need to stop all the negativity. Once you begin to ﬁll your mouth and your mind and your heart with praising something or someone the put-down lessens.” Yarbrough also feels that the gospel quality Cook lent the sample was appropriate, and brought out the spirituality of her song, at least in the opening of “Praise You.” (While Cook acknowledges the inﬂuence of gospel, he denies that there is anything spiritual about his song. Ironically, it is the gospel sound of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” that he cites as inspiration. As Cook points out, “I’m a big fan of gospel music, more than I am of God.”)17 And although Yarbrough seems ambivalent about what she calls the “dance hall” sound of the remainder of the song, she does not feel that it in any way devalues her work. After all, she points out, “I can still do that song as I do it. And so what he did, that’s on him;
what I do, that’s me.” M U S I C I N 1s A N D 0 s For his part, Cook understands that what he did is on him. “I’m always aware that white artists who are fans of black music tend to have big hits when they cover black records. All I can say is, I don’t do it for proﬁt, I do it because that’s the music I love, that’s the music I want to make in my way. I always try to make sure that the original artist gets the credit and the money.”18 To be sure, Yarbrough received both. Cook gave her co-composer credit and a 60 percent share of the royalties, a generous arrangement indeed. Cook, however, may have learned from experience. On his previous album, Better Living through Chemistry, he sampled guitar chords from The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” without permission. Not until a year after its release did Cook approach Pete Townshend, the composer and copyright holder of the song. The ensuing negotiations between their respective lawyers ended badly for Cook: Townshend was given sole composer credit for the song and 100 percent of the royalties.19 Cook obviously wanted to avoid such a debacle with “Praise You.” Nevertheless, Yarbrough received (and still receives) a considerable amount of money from the song not only from album sales, but from licensing fees paid by the many ﬁlm and television producers who have used the song. She does not downplay the signiﬁcance of this windfall, which she has described as “a gift.” She later joked, “I have a platinum card, so now I praise Fatboy Slim!”20 Moreover, “Praise You” has brought a good deal of positive attention to Yarbrough and her music, leading to the re-release of her 1975 album The Iron Pot Cooker, two remixes of the song, and a reevaluation of her place in popular music by the press. Cook may have “chopped chunks” out of Yarbrough’s song, but the result hardly seems to have been disempowering.
In 2002 I presented this case study to an undergraduate class on popular music and invited Yarbrough to speak to the students. The students were enchanted by Yarbrough and fell in love with her music. Yet as impressed as they were with Yarbrough’s talent and integrity—or perhaps because of it—a number of students were disappointed that she so readily accepted Cook’s “Praise You.” In a later discussion, these students said that Cook’s treatment of “Take Yo’ Praise” was demeaning, and found it disturbing that Yarbrough, who spoke so forcefully to us about racism and injustice, did not see that she herself had been exploited. Regardless of how Yarbrough felt about the matter or how well she was paid, these students still felt there was something wrong about the whole aﬀair.
150 M U S I C I N 1s A N D 0 s Although I sympathize with their viewpoint, I disagree with it, and will persist in resisting an unambiguous view of these two songs and their relationship, and of digital sampling in general. Sampling has often been criticized as fundamentally uncreative, even unethical.21 True, one can hear unimaginative borrowings that capitalize on a sample’s familiarity, neither revealing new ways of hearing the sample nor enriching its musical surroundings. And many musicians have had their work sampled without credit or payment, with others proﬁting from their creativity. Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” however, does not allow us the luxury of a blanket condemnation (or celebration, for that matter); it can be understood as derivative and novel, exploitative and respectful, awkward and subtle. The song, moreover, raises questions of creativity and originality, and forces us to confront issues of gender, class, and race. In that sense, the relationship between “Praise You” and “Take Yo’ Praise” brings into focus some of the crucial questions, issues, and ambiguities that face the study of digital sampling, as it presents to us the practice in microcosm.
D I G I TA L A E S T H E T I C S A N D P O L I T I C SI N “FIG HT TH E POWE R” Consider the opening of Public Enemy’s 1990 rap song “Fight the Power” (Track 13 on the accompanying CD). In less than a minute, more than a dozen samples ﬂy by, chopped, looped, layered, and transformed in any number of other ways. The tone is set in the opening seconds by a resonant, agitated voice: “Yet our best trained, best educated, best equipped, best prepared troops refuse to ﬁght. Matter of fact, it’s safe to say that they would rather switch than ﬁght.” The second section (0:17–0:24), a mere three measures long, is anchored by the dotted rhythm of a vocal sample repeated six times. The words are indistinct, and with good reason—they’re backwards. The words are “pump me up,” from Trouble Funk’s 1982 song of the same name. Against this pattern a melodic line, sunk deep into the mix, snakes upward in triplets over the three measures. The sound, obviously electronically processed, may be the saxophone playing of Branford Marsalis, the only instrumentalist (in addition to Terminator X, who provided the turntable scratches) who performed speciﬁcally for this song.
Eight hits of a snare drum in the second measure and some vocal exclaM U S I C I N 1s A N D 0 s mations in the third ﬁll out the texture. (One of these exclamations, a nonsemantic “chuck chuck” from the 1972 soul song “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, may well be a sly nod to Public Enemy’s rapper, Chuck D.) The next section (0:24–0:44), which leads up to the entrance of the rappers, is even more complex. Clyde Stubbleﬁeld’s “Funky Drummer” solo makes an appearance, though it is submerged within a dense web of other samples. Only the ﬁrst two eighth-notes in the bass drum (or kick) and the snare hit are clearly heard. Competing for the listener’s attention is a host of other sounds: four fragmented vocal samples (three have text and the other is one of James Brown’s famous grunts) as well as guitar, synthesizer, bass (from James Brown’s 1971 “Hot Pants”), and various percussion samples.22 The eﬀect created by Public Enemy’s production team is dizzying, exhilarating, and tantalizing—one clearly cannot take it all in at once.23 When Public Enemy rapper and spokesman Chuck D. explains, “Our music is all about samples,” he reveals the centrality of recording technology to the group’s work.24 Simply put, “Fight the Power,” and likely Public Enemy itself, could not exist without it. “Fight the Power” is a complex and subtle testament to the inﬂuence and possibilities of sound recording; but at the same time, it reveals how the aesthetic, cultural, and political priorities of musicians shape how the technology is understood and used. A look at Public Enemy’s use of looping and performative quotation in “Fight the Power” will illuminate the mutual inﬂuences between musician and machine.
The looping in “Fight the Power,” and in rap generally, directly arose from the hip-hop DJs of the 1970s. As we know from chapter 6, a recorded passage—typically an instrumental solo, or “break”—would be repeated by switching back and forth between two turntables playing the same record. Although looping in most rap (“Fight the Power” included) is no longer created on turntables, its connection to DJing remains crucial. Many hip-hop producers were once (or are simultaneously) DJs, and the skills in selecting and assembling beats are required of both. Moreover, the DJ is a central, founding ﬁgure in hip-hop music and a constant point of reference in its discourse; producers who stray too far from the practices and aesthetics of DJing risk compromising their hip-hop credentials.25 Although “Fight the Power” samples dozens of diﬀerent works, the total 152 M U S I C I N 1s A N D 0 s length of those fragments is fairly short, as most are less than a second long. From such an economy of material, the four-and-a-half-minute track can only exist through an extravagance of looping. Indeed, as Chuck D.
once told an interviewer, “We put loops on top of loops on top of loops.”26 For example, in just one four-second segment (0:24–0:28), at least ten distinct samples are being looped; the whole texture is then repeated four more times as a meta-loop until the rappers enter. The section is wildly polyrhythmic; with no two samples overlapping completely, each one competes for the listener’s attention. This raises an interesting musical question: What is the eﬀect of weaving together so many distinct and opposing rhythms into an ostinato? An uneasy balance is struck. The repetition provides a consistent pulse, yet the angular syncopation of the various fragments hardly provides a model of stability. The result is something of a paradox—a groove that somehow resists inevitability however many times it is repeated. This practice is also characteristic of various African American musics that do not make use of digital sampling. One need only listen to, say, James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” or “Funky President,” both densely packed with competing ostinatos, to understand that looping represents an extension of earlier practices, not a break from them. The loops in “Fight the Power” are not only polymetric, they are polytimbral, representing what composer Olly Wilson calls the “heterogeneous sound ideal.”27 Such an ideal values a diversity of tone colors sounding simultaneously and is demonstrated in a wide variety of African and African American repertoires. Listen again to the section following the opening spoken sample: the combination of percussive grunts, singsong speech, throbbing bass, cracking drums, and high-pitched ringing deﬁnes “heterogeneous.” This meta-loop is therefore not simply a technological manifestation, but a cultural one.
Public Enemy’s sampling in “Fight the Power” serves political as well as musical ends. There is no mistaking the song’s rhetoric. The lyrics express black pride, voice opposition to the white establishment, and address racism, freedom of speech, and the representation of blacks in American life and culture. Toward the end of the song (3:18–3:24) Chuck D. raps, “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps/Sample a look back you look and ﬁnd/Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check.”28 The use of the word sample is signiﬁcant. Public Enemy’s remedy is to provide M U S I C I N 1s A N D 0 s its own samples, literally in the form of digitized snippets—performative quotations—of the work of its underrepresented heroes. Among others, these samples pay homage to Afrika Bambaataa, Bobby Byrd, James Brown, George Clinton and Funkadelic, the Jacksons, Sly and the Family Stone, and Trouble Funk, all seminal ﬁgures in the development of late-twentiethcentury African American popular music (and popular music, period).
Although many of the samples in “Fight the Power” are disguised beyond recognizability, there is no mistaking Brown’s grunts and Bambaataa’s electronically processed exclamations. Even when not readily identiﬁable, the samples clearly draw from African American culture. Various exhortations common in black music and church services—“Let me hear you say,” “Come on and get down,” “Brothers and sisters”—dot the soundscape.