90s rap was deliciously simple back in the day. Despite being a 24-year-old tangled in 1994, I’m a member of the thousands of fans who love the 90s.
The 90s were weird.
When I think of the 90s, I get the image of an awkward teen who thinks he has it all figured out. In reality, he’s on the edge of discovering everything he once knew is only half of the story. The whole decade was over-the-top, but it’s fun to rewind through the memorabilia of off-kilter cartoons and cringe-worthy fashion statements.
Hip-hop music saw its glory days in the 90s. Producers built classic beats from dust till dawn.
By “dust” I’m referring to vinyl, of course.
The technique I’m referring to is called “sample chopping”.
What is Sample Chopping?
For those of you new to this style of production, sample chopping is exactly what it sounds like; taking a sample and segmenting it. This is a production technique that revolutionized hip-hop, and it’s still in use these days.
Imagine cutting strips of the Mona Lisa apart with a scalpel and gluing it back together to resemble your own rendition of a Banksy sculpture.
Sample chopping is a process that creates an auditory collage of an entirely new melody, beat, or chord progression. Basically, it gives you free reign to break down monuments and recreate your own. A song is sampled and completely reconstructed into a new pattern and put behind a beat.
Traditionally, this style of sampling starts by ripping audio from vinyl records. Sure, you can rip audio from digital files, but vinyl has a warm and fuzzy texture that will give your beats a raw, unmatched sound.
Dig for the Goods
Music production is a highly subjective endeavor, so there is no “right” or “wrong”. Sample chopping is the same way, but there are some general tips that can lead you to some killer material.
When looking for records to sample, inspiration can spring from anywhere in the stack from Mozart to Motown.
Here is a short list of things to keep in mind before beginning your search for vinyl records to sample:
- Stay open-minded
- Always visit the “New to Store” bins
- Dig through the cheap, discounted record bins
- If the album cover looks cool, grab it!
- Never leave empty-handed. Grab something.
What Are You Looking For?
The first question to ask yourself before hitting the record shops is, “What genres, instruments, or sounds am I looking for?”
It all depends on what you like. For example, I personally aim for records from the 50s or records with piano and strings. On the other hand, you might want to sample something from the disco or classic rock eras. The sky is the limit.
Hunt for what styles of music inspire you. If you’re a DJ or a producer, record shopping is a fun adventure that takes regular visits to compile a sizable collection.
Step outside your comfort zone! Traditionally, hip-hop producers pull samples from jazz and R&B, but this doesn’t mean you have to. Inspiration can strike from any corner of the record store; country, classical, rock, blues. Staying open minded will really pry open the realm possibilities.
Research & Study
Use Discogs. I highly recommend it!
Discogs is a fantastic database to use, especially if you are new to vinyl records. Discogs is a great source for discovering everything you’d ever want to learn about records you come across Referencing records on Discogs is a good way to get familiar with the who, what, when, and where of vinyl records. This is useful for getting the background on records before you buy them.
Discogs is a massive source of information with a community that actively contributes to the database. If you come across an obscure record in the shop, run the catalog number and see what you can find. Approximate values are also listed, which is extremely helpful before making the decision to buy.
Be sure to join their forum and be apart of a massive, knowledgeable community of record collectors!
Discogs is a fantastic source to start with, but the education doesn’t have to stop there. Take the time to research old record labels and companies and find out which artists and genres were on their lineup. It’ll give you a better sense of what to dig for. This is especially useful if you are digging for a particular sound.
Ask around! Make friends with the record shop owner. The record shop owner is your ambassador to the world of vinyl. Get some recommendations or have them point you in the direction of that particular record or style you are searching for.
Check the Quality
The condition of the record is directly related to the quality and nature of the sample.
If you haven’t already, read my post about vinyl restoration.
Be sure to check the quality of the disc! Remember, we’re recording vinyl into our DAWs, so you want to get the best audio for sampling.
It isn’t rocket science! Vinyl is a very fragile material to work with, and over time it collects quite a bit of dust and grime.
If your samples have a little bit of static hiss, that’s ok.
There is something to be said about vinyl that is riddled with dust. Sampling from dusty old vintage records gets +1 for style. The raw hiss of the static goes a long way, and it’s a killer sound to have when it comes time to make music.
Less is more when it comes to static. Even though it’s a nice quality to have, you want it in moderation. Take care of your records, and they will take care of you.
Always come back to the studio with something.
Ultimately, sampling from vinyl records can be hit or miss. There will be those visits to the record store that come up dry.
When digging for vinyl at a shop, it’s the ultimate Russian roulette of hip-hop production, but the practice is what makes it unique. It’s an art that takes loads of patience, study, and discipline. Nevertheless, you’ll find that it’s highly rewarding!
Be sure to check out some other reads on how to work with vinyl in the studio.