Sampling is probably one of the most beautiful forms of recycling on our dear planet. The act of taking something that’s already done, manipulating a tiny part of it and creating something totally new and different beats turning smashed wine bottles into conceptual coffee tables.
Take the original sample from Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” - that was just four piano parts all seconds apart, but when producers Noah ’40’ Shebib and Mike Zombie patched them together it became a more focused hook, and a whole new song was born from just eight seconds of material.
Enter Matt Daniels, a massive champion of sampling as an art form of its own. He's devised a free web app called Samplestitch, which puts you in the position of a producer with ready-made samples to trigger, demonstrating how intricate and frustratingly addictive the process can be. You’re given Kanye and Jay Z’s “Otis”, J Dilla’s “Don’t Cry” and 9th Wonder’s underrated “Impressknowsoul!!!” to play with. And by play with, I mean repeatedly mash the keyboard like a hateful game of hungry hippos. Eventually, you can break down the song entirely and see how the original pattern was constructed.
Daniels has a rep for being a pretty proactive hip-hop fanboy. Last summer he compared the vocabulary of rappers to see who was filling their flow with the most linguistical flair, he’s also looked at the origin of the word "shorty", and made amazing infographics about the evolution of Outkast. All in a bid to demonstrate how deep hip-hop is rooted in contemporary culture.
I called him up to chat about sampling, the bad reputation it can get when not done properly, and why he's so thanklessly determined to create free content.
Noisey: Hi Matt! So, tell me, what was the inspiration to build this sampler?
Matt: Well, I was hugely inspired by Patatap, this webpage that turns your keyboard into a mad sampler. A lot of people don't have the muscle memory to play a piano keyboard or MPC sampler but a computer keyboard is natural for most of the world.
Why that website in particular?
Patatap showed that almost anyone can be musical if the sounds were mapped to a keyboard. It was a "native instrument", kinda like our voices or whistling.
What made you really get down to actually making Samplestitch?
I heard the 9th Wonder track “Impressknowsoul!!!” (below) and immediately tried to figure out how he cut it up. I spent like 3 hours doing that. Then I'd show my friends, "Look! This is exactly how intricate and amazing this sample is and it uses various samples layered over one another." I had to use the Ableton Live program and prior music production knowledge to get the exact sound, but I wanted to find a way for people to see and understand this easily.
Why was the track so important?
It opened my eyes to the world of sampling, I then started cutting up random soul songs myself and encouraged others to do the same. I think it helps people outside of hip-hop to also gain empathy and respect for contemporary hip-hop production. I also just like reverse-engineering samples.
Do you feel hip-hop gets a bad rep from people that don't understand sampling?
Absolutely, there are some people who look at a sample and just view it as copying. But those people are largely outside of the genre, and that's a theme that's been going since the genesis of hip-hop and synthesized music.
Too true. Why did you choose the other tracks?
I picked “Otis” by Kanye because I felt it would be more accessible and it would get people in to play with the sampler. As for the J Dilla “Don’t Cry” beat, that's because he is pretty much one of the most talented people ever. I felt that he deserved a nod, so I included one of the more amazing tracks from Donuts. Though, I really did him a disservice in some ways, since the track is shittily cut up by me.
So, Samplestich isn't your only digital invention. Tell me more about your previous musical projects…
My first project was on the origin of the word "shorty" in hip-hop. That started because of a ping pong game with a friend. We were debating why the semantic meaning of "shorty" changed from boy to girl over the past 20 years. After some thought, I reached out to Rap Genius for a data dump of lyrics, arguing that it'd be cool to have an analysis of "shorty" using their lyrics database.
What did you do with this dump of data?
I did the research and used it for a couple other projects as well.
Like, your rap vocabulary project?
Yeah, that came about last summer because I was learning a natural language processing framework called NLTK. The first chapter of the manual had an example on how to analyse the number of unique words in a body of text. I figured it would be cool to use that same analysis on my lyrics database of Rappers, and rank them by the size of their vocabulary.
What is your ultimate goal for the this?
The end-game for all the projects: break the internet. I love the internet. I spend way too much time reading and sharing content. Making cool content is a bit of paying it forward, I just want to make stuff that I would want to read/use.