I can take a phrase that's rarely heard - flip it - now it's a daily word
April 6, 2011 7:17 PM   Subscribe

In the early 1990's, a young Kejuan Muchita put to use a recording from 5 years before he was born. The recording was Herbie Hancock's 1969 song "Jessica". Not ringing a bell? Well perhaps this brief video will help you listen to how it morphed into something just as beautiful, and perhaps more familiar.

"Well here's how it started." (Mobb Deep's Shook Ones Part 1) The-breaks.com post with the discovery, and the creator (hawkeye) of the audio file on soulstrut. Havoc (Muchita) has yet to comment.
posted by cashman (18 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Tremendous, tremendous work by bronco and hawkeye. What a find.
posted by penduluum at 7:58 PM on April 6, 2011

It's interesting to me that in this age where manipulation of sound is so easy, so rote when done by so many software and hardware packages off the shelf, that no very few are so creative in sampling and manipulating.

Maybe because the budget in the mainstream is more open, or because the budget is nonexistent on the other end and law action seems so possible. In any case, things like this are so intriguing because they don't lay bare what was sampled -- they make it obvious how marginal and esoteric it was. That a very short loop of Herbie Hancock was distorted out of recognition enough to become... so recognizable? That's something in itself.
posted by mikeh at 8:03 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, not to get all kids-and-lawn, but it's strongly a generational thing. That's really how it was back then. Obscure samples mattered, keeping them secret mattered, finding rare records and scouring them for interesting bits mattered.

In a way, the mysterious part isn't that DJs and producers don't do things that way now, but rather that it was taken so seriously back then. A song like Shook Ones Pt. II isn't famous and popular just because the sample was so difficult to figure out for so long. It was famous and popular because it was (and remains) a hot song; a very slim fraction of fans actually care enough to do things like dig crates and track down samples. It seems like with the level of expertise and skill that Havoc obviously brought to making that record, it would be almost trivial to find interesting things to do with pieces of music over and over and over. But apparently it's not.

So it's not just that if you take a given sample and mess around with it enough, you can make something great. If that was the case, everybody would have done that. So there must actually be a reason for things like this specific Herbie Hancock sample, the Amen break, etc. And what follows from that is: the level of "ear" it must take to hear that little phrase in Jessica and know that if you do a few things to it you can make a line like what showed up in Shook Ones Pt. II, to already be able to hear that just those couple seconds have that kind of potential in them ... you can't really call it anything but genius.
posted by penduluum at 8:17 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

The thread where bronco reveals the news is fantastic. I love how giddy everyone is.

Though sure, part of the luddite in me agrees with the LA Times post (the LA Times?!--a msm news blog thoughtfully covering hardcore hiphop without a reference to beefs or gangsters or the degradation of American culture???*), but there's no way I would've ever uncovered that beat on my own, even if I happened to listen to that very Herbie Hancock record. So kudos to The Internet for facilitating this merry expansion of the crate-digging idol's finds. If not for It, I wouldn't have to pick up my jaw from the floor now at how incredible Havoc's ear and how skillfully integrated into the subsequent production the sample was. Truly fantastic.

*Though googling the byline reveals that Oliver Wang is the man behind soul-sides. Duh, that makes sense. Nice.
posted by jng at 8:47 PM on April 6, 2011

Devil's advocate: the Hancock loop is so fundamentally beautiful that it could have been dropped almost anywhere into a heavy beat song and worked. I give Havoc credit for recognizing the quality inherent in Hancock's fragment, but think that it's overstepping to assume that it's "genius" to figure out that it would work with the piece that Havoc created with it. Again, that loop would work in hundreds, of not thousands of hip hop tunes. Hancock is the source, and it's a damned shame that "the beat" as produced by hip hop gets to appropriate everything, including the credit, including the fame, and including the mind. Man, what a narrow trip.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:51 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Vibrissae: I totally disagree. I think Havoc's beat honors the Hancock original but is in no way beholden to it in the way you suggest. Actually, I think calling it "the Hancock loop" is misleading -- it barely resembles the original song. The Hancock arpeggio is in three; Havoc turns it into a syncopated four. The Hancock version wanders across keys without resolving, but Havoc's version anchors those five notes by reimagining the last two as leading tones and shifting the pitch down in the second iteration of the loop to suggest the tonic.

And I think there are tons of drum beats, even in a vaguely similar style, that just wouldn't work with that piano part. The drum loop in Havoc's version is actually pretty straight with just a little embellishment, but it complements the Hancock bit so well because the piano is mostly on the off-beat, so it fills in the gaps. It would clash with a beat that was swung more, or that was busier.

All this ignores the rest of the production that went into that track, too, but the point is that constructing this track wasn't a matter of lifting a few bars from "Billie Jean" or "Under Pressure." And as other people have said, I think the fact that it took ~15 years to locate the sample's source says a lot about how ingenious this recontextualization was, and how little it relies on the original for its power.

Thanks for the post, cashman.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:55 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fair point Vibriassae. It is a beautiful loop and as such, it was appreciated on its own merits.* It's not like this is from some obscure record that Havoc just wholesale lifted and passed off as his own. He recognized the potential of that loop (which sure, after the fact we can conclude that it makes a stunning bass line and obvious fodder for a hiphop track, but who would've listened to that record back in 1995 and concluded similarly?) and then built an entirely different composition around it. So artfully did he re-use the source that for 15 years, no one could figure out where he got it from. And it wasn't like he claimed he wrote that line himself. He acknowledged that it was a sample, that he found it while digging around one day,** and perhaps the fact that he didn't reveal from where he got it offends us as the transparency-loving folks we are today.

I'll trot out the usual arguments in defense of sampling:

1) The loop is part of the composition, a case where the whole can be more than the sum of the parts, just like how Herbie Hancock's song wasn't just a single piano line. In a sense, it's just a series of notes re-purposed. If you just use a whole series of the same notes without adding anything new, it's shameless copying, like making a replica of a painting. But if you take just a few chords to make something new, what's wrong with that? We shouldn't stop people from using a C# or the color blue or a few clever lines of code just because someone else used it first. A sampled string effect or a short series of piano notes is just an extension of that.

2) Sampling is oftentimes an homage--except in this case it happened to be a very obscure reference that was manipulated and layered so that it became very hard to decipher. We don't trash writers when they show respect to the writers they love by dropping references or themes to them, we applaud them for being learned and well-read. Same for Havoc. I am uber-pleased to finally know that it was a Herbie Hancock sample. It adds another dimension to that song, knowing that this is the sort of thing that an artist finds so good that he has to use it in his own work. If anything, we should blame ourselves for being so dull to have taken 15 years to figure this out.

Sure, sampling rightfully comes under fire when artists lift shamelessly without crediting their sources, especially when the copying is shamelessly obvious and the artist an obscure enough one that it isn't simply a case of homage or parody. The Timbaland controversy a couple years back is a good example of a case of these two conditions being met. I think even this usage is still defensible, though obviously less so than what Havoc did with the Herbie Hancock loop, which is to integrate it so that it becomes nearly unrecognizably different than the source. It probably also helps that he didn't compare Herbie to a can of paint.

On preview, agree wholeheartedly with en forme. Doublethanks to cashman for reminding me to check the-breaks and soulstrut more often.

*In this case, I don't think Hancock is hurting for fame or credit. Plus he was as much an early pioneer of appropriating of others music in new and fresh ways as anyone (see: Rockit [wikipedia]).

**From an interview Havoc did that's reposted on the-breaks:
So one rainy afternoon (the mood was perfect) I was going through samples and I came across this jazz track. It was real, real dark and gloomy. That’s when I heard the muted trumpet (although I thought it was a saxophone at the time). I remember it took me a while to figure out how I was gonna use it. I took the loop from the song, and I had to mess with it a little to get it sounding right. Once I got the loop going, I let it play for a while and then the bassline came to my head. I quickly hooked up one of my vsts, and played out the bassline. After that I did the drums. I found a break and layered it with some other drums over the top to give it that extra snap.
posted by jng at 12:07 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like the story. I don't think the use of the sample is magical-genius-level, just very, very astute and more creative than many.

It also doesn't strike me as so unlikely. I can imagine the scenario going like this:

- the album that the track appears on, Fat Albert Rotunda would be a kind of obvious-listening source for hip-hop producers. Get it, listen through the songs. Some, like Fat Mama contain real easy ready-made loops. Too obvious; don't use.

- Producers listen for sections of "bare" instruments of all kinds in tracks... ah, here's a nice solo piano intro on "Jessica" -- let me grab that.

- Load the sample into a sampler. If its a rack sampler like the Akai S-series, you would probably map the sample across a range of keys on a midi keyboard. Okay, start messing with the sample, triggering it on different keys so the sample plays back at different pitches.

- Ah, part of that arpeggio sounds REALLY great at this particular lowered pitch,and then, on another key, this one. Trim the sample start and end point to isolate that section.

Still, he hit on something really great with that loop and THEN also built a track around it that perfectly complimented it. This is kind of like a best-case microcosm of loop-based production transforming its source material. Combining the two different pitched-down segments makes it way above average in how it was manipulated.
posted by alb at 7:23 AM on April 7, 2011

I am more shocked by how long it took the Hive Mind to solve this one.
posted by Theta States at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2011

Does anyone ever do song competitions where they have to take some random sample and work it into a good song? Something like Iron Chef, but for music?
posted by Nelson at 8:40 AM on April 7, 2011

Nelson--that's a great idea, but the rights clearance would be horrific. And expensive.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2011

Can someone explain what's going on? Did someone recently plagiarize an old sample and then someone did some forensic work and busted them?
posted by spacediver at 12:28 PM on April 7, 2011

I disagree with the basic premise.
posted by spock at 12:57 PM on April 7, 2011

I'm still trying to understand the big deal here. Someone figured out the origin of a sample that havoc used in one of his songs. Were people trying to figure it out for years or something, and finally there was a breakthrough?


I've gone through the linked thread, and can't find any sort of explanation. Everyone keeps going on about how this is an epic find. Why is it an epic find?

What the fuck is going on?
posted by spacediver at 4:20 PM on April 7, 2011

Spacediver: did you read this article, linked above?
posted by en forme de poire at 7:16 PM on April 7, 2011

wow that explains it perfectly. You said this was linked to above, where? And why didn't the OP include this vital link from the beginning?

posted by spacediver at 8:07 PM on April 7, 2011

Hmm, I see it now - it's the "morphed" thingie. Coulda sworn that that linked to something else 10 minutes ago.

I'm losing my mind!
posted by spacediver at 8:46 PM on April 7, 2011

Woooah awesome! Thanks cashman!
posted by hellomina at 11:50 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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