The Formula: A Video Series On The Science Of Sampling Five acclaimed hip-hop producers take you inside their creative process, demonstrating how they build new hits out of old sounds — one drum break or horn blast at a time.
NPR logo The Formula: A Video Series On The Science Of Sampling

The Formula: A Video Series On The Science Of Sampling

In hip-hop, sampling is a little like alchemy. Producers go hunting for raw material — be it a drum break from a dollar-bin funk record or a vocal hook ripped from today's pop charts — so they can chop, loop, warp and recombine it into something totally new. It's an art form that rearranges space and time, and even when you know how it works, it can still feel like magic.

The Formula is a new NPR video series that takes you inside the creative process of sampling. Five acclaimed hip-hop producers break down their work, demonstrating how specific samples build layers of mood and meaning in songs ranging from recent hits by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to classics by The Notorious B.I.G and Gang Starr, as vivid animation illustrates how all the pieces fit together. Each video is paired with a companion essay by a fellow producer or critic. Watch this space for new episodes every week.

The Essays

For each of the five episodes in this series, NPR Music has asked a different writer to "sample" an element of the video we've made, spinning it off in a new direction.

  • 'I Hate You, Man': Questlove On Just Blaze's Maddening Genius

    The Roots' drummer and Tonight Show bandleader picks apart exactly why fellow producer Just Blaze's talent for finding and flipping samples in unexpected combinations is both inspiring and infuriating.

    Read the essay by QUESTLOVE

  • Kendrick Lamar Thinks Like A Jazz Musician

    NPR

    Kendrick Lamar's song "DUCKWORTH." is made up of three beats, each built around a different sample, by producer 9th Wonder. The way Lamar stitched those beats together illuminates his relationship with contemporary and historical jazz musicians.

    Read the essay by MARCUS J. MOORE

  • Kendrick Lamar's 'Money Trees' Is A Time Machine

    Another song by Kendrick Lamar — this one produced by DJ Dahi — that uses a sample to change the flow of time. For writer Jeff Weiss, 'Money Trees' has the uncanny ability — at any time, in any mood — to drop him into a single night in 2015.

    Read the essay by JEFF WEISS

  • Because You're Mine: Searching For The Children Of Screamin' Jay Hawkins

    NPR

    The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Kick In The Door," produced by DJ Premier, is infused with the spirit of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' classic "I Put A Spell on You." Hanif Abdurraqib looks at the art and life of Hawkins, a man who seemed to live multiple lives, and when he died, left behind dozens of children — many of whom he didn't know.

    Read the essay by HANIF ABDURRAQIB

  • I'll Give My Love If You Return It To Me: Babyface And The Bonds Of Collaboration

    NPR

    Salaam Remi defines his skill as a producer via the art of collaboration. Writer Danyel Smith says that's also true of songwriter Babyface, who for decades has been shaping the sound of R&B by showing deep respect for the singers — mostly women — with whom he's working.

    Read the essay by DANYEL SMITH