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How Chillhop Producers Got Back to Sampling

How Chillhop Producers Got Back to Sampling

In the vast world of lo-fi and chillhop, loops and moods reign supreme. Sampling had always been an important part of that, before a new wave of producers stepped away from it to stay in the clear. A new album in affiliation with Tracklib now brings them back to their roots of samples, chops & dusty samples.

By DannyVeekens

To blatantly reconstruct an iconic Digable Planets line: sampling be to hip-hop what key be to lock. Digging in the crates is what laid the foundation for hip-hop productions, eventually leading to sampling masterpieces in the late 80s such as Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, and Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. At the same time, these milestones were used as stepping stones by record labels to chase uncleared samples, and to start lawsuits around unpermitted use of their music. Consequently, this turned the clearance of samples into a rich man’s game from 1991 onwards.

It’s as if history repeats itself. The last five years, lo-fi hip-hop and chillhop have taken the world by storm. Just like for hip-hop, sampling is at the core of these subgenres: late greats such as J Dilla and Nujabes are hailed as the kings of their mellow kingdom. And instead of dusty fingers in crates of old records, it’s partly anime samples, Adult Swim influences, and jazz loops that go hand in hand with the early wave of lo-fi and chillhop. Once that niche found its way to millions of listeners and subscribers through YouTube (live) streams, SoundCloud, and streaming playlists, sampling—just like nearly three decades prior—turned out to be a slippery slope. Especially for channels that, over the last few years, evolved into full-fledged labels.

The bedroom where the Chillhop magic happens
The bedroom where the Chillhop magic happens

That's why back in 2018, Chillhop Music—arguably the leaders of the new school of lo-fi—decided to shift from working with sample-based tracks to a new sound involving more original compositions and live instrumentation. “I agree it's harder to get the hip-hop aesthetic in the sound [without samples], and it's something we want to bring back,” Chillhop Music CEO Bas van Leeuwen expressed in a statement back then. “I miss being able to include sampled tunes as well, as we just limit ourselves. But to be honest, we just have no choice.” With 2.75 million followers on YouTube alone and around 5 million monthly listeners on Spotify, Chillhop Music is now one of the world's leading platforms for lo-fi and chillhop. In 2016, they were the very first to start a 24/7 lo-fi live stream on YouTube.

“Sampling adds culture and authenticity, perhaps even story, to a track.”

—Bas van Leeuwen (CEO of Chillhop Music)

It was a bare necessity, but their love for sampling always remained. “I think there's a lot of aesthetic and dynamic of a recording from a specific place and time that's hard to create from your own bedroom or studio,” says Bas. “It's adding culture and authenticity, perhaps even story, to a track.” On top of that, German producer Philanthrope, Head of A&R at Chillhop since 2018, sees value in sampling when it comes to creating a certain sound: “Samples can add something nice to every production if used in a correct way. Since lo-fi beats usually have a muffled and less peaky overall sound aesthetic, especially samples that come from old records that get digitalized and already have a slightly poor sound quality, work well for these types of beats.”

Reigniting the Spark

The release of Timezones: Saudades do Tempo is Chillhop’s first step since to reconnect to the roots of hip-hop culture and the art of sampling. The album sees nine beatmakers utilizing Tracklib samples for South American-inspired beats. Bas: "It's a way of creating music that we haven't been able to do for a long time. We can now dig into this awesome music from the past and celebrate music that otherwise wouldn't be heard by our audience. It also allows us to work with talented beatmakers who just kill it when it comes to using samples in their music.”

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Philanthrope
Philanthrope

“I hope Tracklib encourages people to make use of samples again. Especially artists that had a harder time adapting to the new sample-free approach."

—Philanthrope

The album features music by Psalm Trees, Brous One, Scarlett, Planty Herbs, VYNK, Mo Anando, Misha, and Philanthrope, the latter of whom made the album’s opening track together with Moods by sampling “Musica Suave” by Hermanas Nuviola. Philanthrope: “With Tracklib, we now found a way to make use of sampling again without worrying about any consequences. Hopefully, both of our approaches can co-exist and maybe blend into each other to create a new sound. I hope Tracklib encourages people to make use of samples again. Especially artists that had a harder time adapting to the new sample-free approach. I think it also generally gives you a better feeling: to know that every sound is cleared, and the original artist also profits from it.”

And yet again, it seems like history is about to repeat itself. Looping back to sampling.

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