Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Watching 'Copyright Criminals' brought back memories of me and my parents debating back in the day about the originality (my side) versus the lack of originality (my parent's side) of hip-hop and sampling. I remember listening to Das Efx's song 'Real Hip-Hop', which featured a loop from the Normon Connors song (or was it Pharoah Sanders??); 'The Creator Has a master plan', which annoyed my Dad, because this was one of his favorite songs and he felt that it was stealing. This is essentially what 'Copyright Criminals' is about: The debate as to whether or not sample-based music (mainly hip-hop) is stealing or original. The documentary interviews many key people like; Chuck D, EL-P, Q-Bert, Jeff Chang, DJ Spooky, Mixmaster Mike and various entertainment lawyers. But of all the subjects who were interviewed, i felt that Bobbito (legendary hip-hop radio DJ for those who may not know) and Saul Williams brought up the most important points in that sampling is an important aspect of hip-hop culture, because the culture itself comes from a lack of resources. In the beginning, most kids involved with hip-hop didn't have money for a drum set or a guitar. A turntable (primarily used for looping and sampling) became the foundation (or what some would say; the official instrument) of hip-hop culture. Sampling is and will always be the foundation of hip-hop production. Obviously my opinion on this may be looked at as bias, because I'm a fan (and participant) within hip-hop.
I thought the documentary could have gotten a little more in to a few more predominate hip-hop producers. I love the fact that the documentary had a nice section on De La Soul and the Bomb Squad, who pretty much gave birth what we know now as "left-field" or progressive hip-hop. I mean listen to the production of El-P, Antipop Consortium or Dalek. All of that comes from The Bomb Squad. It was also very important that they focused on the idea of "mash-ups" (specifically the work of Danger Mouse), which is a very popular trend in today's internet-based electronic music scene. Now, I know that the documentary was under an hour long and maybe there were some time constraints, but with some editing, there could have been room for; Dr Dre (he's mentioned briefly), Marley Marl and The Rza. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm nitpicking. But i don't think mentioning them would've offset the documentary at all. More importantly, I'm shocked that the documentary didn't find any time whatsoever for DJ Shadow and barely mentioned Prefuse 73, who are probably 2 of the most important figures within sampling and hip-hop production today. Prefuse 73 would've been a great representation on the idea of masking samples or making samples unrecognizable (another important aspect that the documentary only kind of got in to). For those familiar with Prefuse 73's music, i don't see how anyone could think otherwise. If you aren't familiar with his music, i recommend the album; 'Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives'. And I'm sorry, but its almost blasphemous to not mention DJ Shadow's 'Entroducing..." album, which is not only one of most important albums within instrumental hip-hop, but also a major landmark in sampling.
One thing that the documentary BARELY got in to was the undercover racism within the criticism of sampling. I imagine that's a subject that would've taken the documentary to a whole other level, so I'm not mad that they didn't really delve in to that. But lets be real...the majority of sample-based music (as well as most successful) is done within hip-hop music which is predominately black. A lot people have some unchecked aggression towards hip-hop and rap music, because its a successful music movement that's pretty much all black (as far as the actual artists go). Many people don't want to appear racist (when they are), so they focus all of their hatred on hip-hop music as a way to let out their racism. Basically, hating on rap music is a veiled way of being racist.
Overall, the documentary is good, but for the most part its nothing that people don't already know. The documentary was made in 2009, so by now people should know that James Brown (well, specifically his drummer Clyde Stubblefield) and George Clinton are some of the most sampled musicians in hip-hop. Although the one aspect that i loved about bringing up these heavily sampled artists is how hip-hop rejuvenated their careers, and found them a new young audience. It also would've been nice if the documentary expanded on the points that it got in to in the last 10-15 minutes or so of the documentary like; evolution, making samples unrecognizable and focusing on more of today's prominent producers as well.

here's the link to the film on hulu:


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