Sampling Ain't Dead: Hip-Hop Producers Break Down The Formula NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael breaks down what he learned making The Formula, a video series in which five of hip-hop's best producers discuss the alchemy of sampling.
NPR logo

Sampling Ain't Dead: Hip-Hop Producers Break Down The Formula

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/848488734/848666682" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sampling Ain't Dead: Hip-Hop Producers Break Down The Formula

Sampling Ain't Dead: Hip-Hop Producers Break Down The Formula

Sampling Ain't Dead: Hip-Hop Producers Break Down The Formula

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/848488734/848666682" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

As an art form, sampling has been evolving for 35 years now. That's about how long ago it's been since the legendary producer Marley Marl revolutionized hip-hop production when, almost by accident, he figured out how to sample a drum beat from an existing record. It makes this a perfect time to look at the legacy, but also the trajectory, of sampling through a handful of snapshots.

The NPR Video team conceptualized this series, The Formula, that takes us into the home studios of several iconic producers, or producers of iconic songs, to talk about their approach to sampling and how they've evolved as producers. From talking to Just Blaze, 9th Wonder, DJ Dahi, DJ Premier and Salaam Remi, what we ended up discovering is so much more — the stories behind the music, yes, but also how they've kept sampling authentic but also vital in a genre where styles and trends change and transform faster than any other.


The fifth and final video will premiere on Saturday. In the meantime, we've also been asking some of our favorite writers to "sample" an element of each video themselves and spin it off in a new direction. Watch the videos above and read the accompanying essays below.

Read The Essays

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

    DJ Premier.
    NPR

    "Jay Hawkins was a performer, first and foremost. Someone who gave a version of himself to the world and didn't save much of himself for those he loved — those he played a part in bringing to the world. In that way, it is undoubtedly difficult to determine where love begins and ends, or the way death echoes."

    Read the essay by HANIF ABDURRAQIB

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

    DJ Dahi.
    NPR

    "It's a rare song that consumes the oxygen and alters the ultra-violet. A simple sample reversal set off a chain that yielded one of the most definitive L.A. rap songs of this decade or any other."

    Read the essay by JEFF WEISS

  • Kendrick Lamar Thinks Like A Jazz Musician

    9th Wonder.
    NPR

    "On the surface, DAMN. isn't knitted to the jazz world the way Butterfly was, but Kendrick is no different than Miles, Coltrane and Herbie before him: though he's rooted in rap, he pushes his art to unforeseen places, bending the culture to what he's doing."

    Read the essay by MARCUS J. MOORE

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

    Just Blaze
    NPR

    "I must have seen that video [for TLC's 'Diggin' On You,'] a million times. But never once did I make a mental note to myself: 'Yo ... run to a studio and sample this NOW!!!!!!' "

    Read the essay by QUESTLOVE