Does Sampling Ruin Music?

by Jason Gross @SockofFleagulls

I am a huge fan of rock music. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, my personal music collection also included a lot of rap and hip hop music. The first cassette album that I remember owning was Run DMC’s “Raising Hell.”

It was my favorite for a long time. I can probably acknowledge the song “Walk This Way” for opening my ears to artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, LL Cool J, MC Hammer, Tone Loc and for a short time, Vanilla Ice.

“Ice Ice Baby” erupted across the USA in 1990, becoming the first hip hop song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It wasn’t until a friend of the family told me that it “ripped off” another song that I became aware of the method of sampling.

That “little bitty ting” became a resounding gong in Vanilla Ice’s career. Sampling the 1981 song “Under Pressure” from Queen & David Bowie, and not giving the appropriate credit, made him open season for criticism. He eventually gave songwriting credits and profits where they were due, but not before Jim Carrey was impersonating him on In Living Color.

The rap group 3rd Bass also gave him a good beat-down on the “Pop Goes The Weasel” music video in 1991. But even after Vanilla Ice’s career went down in flames, I still didn’t scrutinize the originality of other rap and hip hop music that was sampling songs I knew from the 80s. It wasn’t until the mid ‘90s that rap and hip hop began disappearing from my personal music collection.

I worked for a radio station for about 2 years after high school. A few of my colleagues, who were radio veterans, greatly influenced me about the historical significance of music. By the time I was studying radio in college in the late ‘90s, I was scoffing at songs like “Been Around the World” by Puff Daddy that reused rhythm and lyrics from two 80s songs.

So let me pose the question: “Were the sampled hits of the 90s a good thing for music or just the sloppy seconds of the 80s?” Before you answer, here are a few points to consider. Thanks to the blatant attempts of Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer to profit from other artists, copyright laws and originality are protected more than ever in the music industry.

Were the sampled hits of the 90s a good thing for music or just the sloppy seconds of the 80s?

I also don’t think its fair to criticize young folks for not recognizing sampled songs and just enjoying popular music. But, those that say sampling introduces kids to the music of past generations are out of their minds! If you want to teach a kid what Juicyfruit gum taste like, are you going to give them a piece you’ve chewed for the last hour? On the same token though, using a song to criticize sampling that contains a sample itself (see aforementioned “Pop Goes the Weasel”) does not help to get your point across.

Personally, I don’t get upset anymore when I hear sampling of my favorite 80s songs. I just turn the other ear to it. I figure if the original artist is okay with someone else butchering their music, then why should I pitch a fit about it? I’m not going to blame someone for earning a living, whether you are making the royalties or selling the albums.

I believe most people appreciate history more as they mature. For those of us who have reached that point, let’s be glad for the 80s on 8 on SiriusXM radio. For those that don’t look back on history, I wish your ears well in 5 years when your favorite song is a 3rd generation sample of PM Dawn and Spandau Ballet.


Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls) is the creator of Rediscover the 80s and loves to subject his two sons to cartoons, TV, movies, and music from the decade. Currently promoting a M.A.S.K. live-action movie script (co-writer), he is a freelance 80s music & pop culture writer.

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