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Tracklib Presents State of Sampling 2020

What role does sampling play in today’s popular music, and where is it headed? Tracklib’s State Of Sampling offers an exclusive analysis of this year’s hit songs, 2020 highlights, and industry-changing clearance cases.

By Tracklib

BIG SAMPLES IN 2020

Which tracks belong to ‘The Best’ flips of the year is food for debates. But these four samples certainly belong to some of 2020’s biggest tracks, high on the Billboard charts.

Powfu - Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head)

Initially planned for release in early 2019, Powfu didn’t put “Death Bed (Coffee for your Head)” on Spotify because he was "scared [he'd] get in trouble from the sample use in it." Fast-forward to February 2020: after a lengthy sample clearance delay around 2017's "Coffee" by UK singer-songwriter Beabadoobee, the lo-fi hip-hop track finally made its way to an insane 796 million streams on Spotify alone, fueled by a viral TikTok hit with over 4 billion views.

Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion - WAP

Most weekly streams of 2020, debuting at #1 in the Hot 100 and the uncrowned acronym of the year: “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, was a huge hit this year. The original sample producers Ayo the Producer and Keyz used is as radio-unfriendly as WAP stands for: “Whores In This House” by Baltimore club and Miami bass DJ Frank Ski. His voice was looped around 80 times in this 3-minute monster of a hit.

  • Fun Fact:

    Music duo 100gecs is famous for their unique production style. Why would their sampling be any different? Earlier this year, they sampled a Youtube guitar cover of their own track “Hand Crushed by a Mallet” for its official remix of the same song!

21 Savage x Metro Boomin - Runnin

The opening track of Savage Mode II, the collaborative album by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin samples “I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)” by Diana Ross. 21 Savage raps about how he frightens his enemies, showing you can even go full-on savage over a sugarsweet Diana Ross sample.

Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande - Rain On Me

The Gwen McCrae interpolation on Gaga’s synth-heavy “Rain On Me” featuring Ariana Grande, was a random move by producer BURNS. “It was kind of subconscious that I started playing the bassline from ‘All This Love That I'm Givin’ by Gwen McCrae under the chorus,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “That felt like another lightbulb moment. I remember Blood turning to me and smiling as we'd just cracked a code.”

WHAT WE SAMPLE

There’s far more than the golden years of the 60s and 70s. The sample usage in this year’s Billboard hits shows how the 90s are on the rise. And that for six years in a row, the 2010s is steadily the most sampled decade.

Average year being sampled: 1999

The average release year of all the songs sampled for Billboard Hot 100 hits during 2020 is 1999. This makes sense since last year's average was one year earlier: 1998. Many associate Rap with its 70s soul sampling style. But this year, the genre crossed the turn of the millennium, with 2001 as an average year - and Rap sampled the “newest” music out of all genres this year.

Sampling the 90s is more popular than ever

For anyone keeping up, it’s probably no surprise that the 2010s dominate: it’s the most popular decade to sample for six years consecutively! However, the millennials are waking up: sampling the 90s increased 143% this year. It seems the 90s are making a comeback in more areas than fashion...

  • Fun fact:

    For Drake & Future’s “Life Is Good”, producers D. Hill, OZ & co-producer Ambezza sample an excerpt of an interview with... Future. In a French TV interview, the rapper talks about “wearing Red Bottoms” (the red-soled shoes by French designer Louboutin) and how life is good. The song title was originally intended to be the album title - but instead “just” turned out to be one of 2020's megahits.

Sampling soul is back (neo soul, that is)

Both in terms of sampling and being sampled, hip-hop has dominated the sampling charts. However, sampling “modern” R&B/Soul/Funk has been getting more popular since 2018: increasing by 130% this year.

Sampling pop, jazz, and electronic music is also growing. Last year, there weren’t ANY samples of these genres in Billboard’s 2019 year-end charts.

Sampling interviews, television/film, YouTube, and speeches is making a comeback. The “genre” was becoming more popular during the mid-2010s, but last year it suddenly dropped to zero. Examples include Eminem’s Alfred Hitchcock-sampling opening on Music to be Murdered By, or Meek Mill’s “Otherside of America” sampling both his own CNN interview as well as a Donald Trump interview.

Sampling vocals has increased by approx. 30%

There’s an indisputable trend that sampling vocals have risen in popularity. Hip-hop and R&B producers often single out the vocals in a sample, often to add a human touch to the more electronic sounds of deep 808s and the heavy drums.

  • Fun fact:

    60% of the samples on Grammy-nominated albums (in the ‘Album of the Year’ category) were part of Everyday Life by none other than… Coldplay. The music of the radio darlings is surprisingly sample-heavy: they previously sampled music by Sigur Rós, Queen's Brian May, Leonard Cohen, Gil Scott-Heron, speeches by Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama, KRS-One, and the list goes on…

92% of 2020’s top producers sampled

Pretty much all producers with three or more credits in this year’s Billboard Hot 100 used samples. They include Logic's go-to producer 6ix and his many flips on No Pressure, super producer Metro Boomin utilising plenty of samples on 21 Savage's SAVAGE MODE II, and Royce da 5'9" staying sample-based on his critically acclaimed album The Allegory.

TRENDS IN SAMPLING

What’s next for sampling? Time will tell. But these trends clearly show that these are exciting times...

Straight Loops, No Drums

After the success of Bandana by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib and the numerous wins coming from the Griselda camp, the trend of loops with no added drums is massive right now. Grammy nominations for Jay Elecronica’s long-awaited A Written Testimony and the Alfredo album by The Alchemist and Freddie Gibbs, prove this trend is not going to slow down anytime soon. Other prime examples include 1988 by Knxwledge, Ka’s Descendants of Cain (who independently sold the LP for $100 a piece), and Only For Dolphins by Action Bronson.

R&B and RC-20

As in-DAW productions, quantized drums, and midi-packs have become a regular feature on Billboard hits, this year show signs that the pendulum has begun to swing to the more sentimental. One of 2020’s most apparent trends is the sampling of R&B and soul vocals from the 90s. As if that wasn’t nostalgic enough, the use of vintage emulators such as XLN Audio’s RC-20 has increased recently: adding the classic analog tape-recorded and distorted sound to the samples.

Last year's Tory Lanez project Chixtape 5, jam-packed with 90's samples was a clear indicator, and this year it’s a full-blown trend. Key examples include the Bell Biv DeVoe flip in Busta Rhymes’ “Outta My Mind” featuring Kendrick Lamar, or a classic Ginuwine track in “What You Know About Love” by Pop Smoke. 

  • Fun Fact:
    The “perfect” sound effect from Street Fighter II has been a constant in music for the last ten years, being sampled by everyone from Kanye West, to Drake, to 21 Savage, to Death Grips, to Thundercat, to Skepta, and many more. This year, Logic sampled it for his (possibly last ever) hit and took it one step further, naming the track “Perfect.” C-c-combo breaker.

Triggaman is back for more bounce

The one-bar xylophone loop from 1986’s “Drag Rap” by The Showboys, popularly known as Triggaman, shaped the hip-hop style of Bounce and has since been sampled in hundreds of songs. It made a big comeback this year when it was used in “Go Crazy,” a Top 10 hit by Chris Brown and Young Thug. But we also saw a general increase with songs like 2 Chainz' "Toni," Lil Wayne's "Clap For Em" and YG's "Equinox" using this classic sample. Welcome back, Triggaman.

Album Delays...

This year we’ve seen how uncleared samples can obviously lead to (massive!) album delays. So Help Me God by 2 Chainz was initially planned to be released in September, but took till October 30th to be released due to clearance issues with several tracks. Wiz Khalifa's 2009 track "The Thrill" also finally hit streaming platforms this year after long-lasting clearance issues surrounding “Walking On a Dream” by Empire of the Sun.

And then there are El-P and Killer Mike, who had to re-do a track on the cusp of the official release of RTJ4. “We were terrified, like shit - what the fuck are we gonna do?”, El-P told DIY Magazine. “We just completely revamped the jam and made it better. I’m never gonna tell anybody which song it was… mainly because we’re gonna beat up the artist. [Laughs] I’m just talking shit!”

HOW MUCH WE SAMPLE

Over the last few years, samples seem to be a steady factor in Billboard hits. New this year is that with genre-wide increases, sampling is breaking out of its home base of hip-hop, and instead, showing a steady growth in genres such as Latin, Electro & Pop.

13% of Billboard hits contain samples

Of all the songs which featured on Billboard’s Hot 100 list during this year, 13% contained samples from previously released songs. That’s a whopping total of 107 samples, spread out across 95 songs. This number seems a relatively steady one, with last year’s total amounting to 15%.

Sampling is becoming a genre-wide trusted technique

All genres sample: and sampling seems to get more eclectic in terms of genres using the technique. In fact, although there’s a decrease in rap and R&B, ALL other genres are increasing in terms of the amount of samples used. Rock is an exception with a steady 8%, in line with the last two years.

  • Fun fact:

    Even country artists sample now. Singer-songwriter Sam Hunt figured it was time for some honky-chops this year. The country artist sampled Webb Pierce’s 1953 country song “There Stands the Glass” for his hit “Hard to Forget,” making it this year’s oldest sample in the Billboard charts.

Half of 2020’s top albums sample from other songs

51% of the albums that featured on Billboard’s Top 25 chart during 2020 contained samples; 321 samples in total. On average, that’s about two samples per album! This, similar to the singles, seems like a relatively steady number: last year’s number was 56%.

The most sample-heavy release of this year is Lil Wayne's No Ceilings with 18 samples: an old mixtape from 2009 which originally contained uncleared samples. It was finally released on streaming platforms in August 2020—eleven years after its initial release! However, excluding nine of the tracks which still couldn't be cleared: sample clearance remains an uphill battle (well, outside of Tracklib that is).

Sample-heavy hip-hop dominates at the Grammys

100% of the albums nominated for Rap Album of the Year contain samples. This seems like a consistent trend in hip-hop, with last year’s Grammy-nominated albums (including winner Igor by Tyler, the Creator) also ALL featuring samples. More importantly, it’s not just that this year: with sample-dense albums like Jay Electronica’s A Written Testimony, Royce da 5’9”’s The Allegory, and Alfredo by Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist, there seems to be a trend of sample-heavy albums receiving all the praise: boasting (as far as we can count) around 13 samples on average per album.

TOP OF THE CHARTS ON TRACKLIB

The majority of this report is based around stats from 2020’s biggest songs and artists. But diving into statistics from Tracklib users, might reveal how producers on all levels sample...

Most Sampled Artist: Isaac Hayes

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Most Sampled Song:

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IN THE NEWS

Highlights of this year’s headlines involve clearance issues, a seven-digit lawsuit, and hip-hop feuds.

Fair use: Nicki Minaj vs. Tracy Chapman

Long story short: Nicki Minaj’s “Sorry” featuring Nas interpolates “Baby Can I Hold You” by Tracy Chapman, the singer-songwriter who is known for not being a fan of sampling, to say the least. No surprise Chapman rejected the license request for “Sorry.” Minaj’s track wasn’t commercially released, but the Queen leftover track publicly leaked when Funkmaster Flex played it on the radio. This led to a two-year legal feud between Nicki Minaj and Tracy Chapman. In September of this year, the court ruled that the interpolation was fair use since it wasn't meant to be played on the radio. The ruling states:

“Artists usually experiment with works before seeking licenses from rights holders and rights holders typically ask to see a proposed work before approving a license. A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry.”

UPDATE (February 2021): Nicki Minaj eventually paid Tracy Chapman $450K to settle this dispute, following the earlier "fair use" judgement by US District Judge Virginia A Phillips.

Unfair claims: Pretty Ricky’s Spectacular vs. Tory Lanez

After some good ol’ - well, new - fashioned social media-beefing over whether or not Tory Lanez unrightfully sampled Pretty Ricky's "Grind On Me" and "Your Body,” things turned out to be a fizzle. Tory Lanez shared documents with The Shade Room showing the sample clearances for tracks on his Chixtape 5 mixtape, killing the social shade with proof that Sony/ATV and the tracks’ writers were paid.

  • Fun fact:

    In 2019, Greta Thunberg became a world-renowned environmental activist. This year, she can add the title of ‘music writer’ to that: she earned composition credits on the album Notes on a Conditional Form by UK rock band The 1975. The album opens with the five-minute Our House Is On Fire speech by Greta, held at 2019’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The irony: a track on culture vultures plagiarises music of a South African producer

The will.i.am-produced track “Culture” on culture vultures by HOT97's DJ Megan Ryte featuring A$AP Ferg, turned out to plagiarise “Ice Drop,” a song by South African producer DJ Lag. Not just some song, but one of the biggest tracks in the South African genre of Gqom: a minimalist house style from the townships of Durban, pioneered by DJ Lag. So the song which, according to Megan Ryte, was "a statement record that recognises the importance of Black cultural contributions around the world," turned into a textbook example of exactly the opposite.

Three 6 Mafia Hit Suicideboys With a Seven-Digit Lawsuit

A massive $6.45 million lawsuit by Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J and DJ Paul claimed that hip-hop duo Suicideboys “made a career out of stealing and profiting from” at least 35 of their songs. Suicideboys, on their turn, questioned the legitimacy of the copyright claims: allegedly, Three 6 Mafia track “Mask and Da Glock” includes unlicensed samples of Diana Ross sample ("Sparkle") and Carlito Way (“I’m Reloaded”). So at the core of this case, there was a very interesting question: can unauthorized derivative works (songs with uncleared samples) be protected by Copyright Law? For the sake of an answer on that, it’s a bit of a bummer that the case ended when Three 6 Mafia and Suicideboys reached a settlement.

IN MEMORIAM

We lost far too many great and heavily sampled artists this year. Your music will forever live on, and continue to take new shape through the art of sampling. Gone but not forgotten.

SUMMARY

Sampling is still strongly rooted in popular music. But several trends are steadily evolving and bound to shake up even more music with chops, loops, and repurposed sounds. Across all genres, sampling is increasingly growing—even with a major country hit this year built around a sample.

Next to that, nostalgia reigns supreme: the decade of the 90s as a source for samples has increased by 140% (90s soul/R&B vocals play a huge role there), and sampling modern music from the 2000s onwards is steadily growing, for the sixth year in a row. And then there’s a new wave of hip-hop: producers who move from a genre originally built around breaks, to far less drums and more soul-heavy, loop-focused sampling. Affirmed by several Grammy nominations this year.

2020 will go down the books as a year of change. For sampling, it’s as steady as ever, yet with fresh takes and developments breaking new ground—across all genres.

For this piece, we’ve mainly looked at all songs which featured on Billboard’s Hot 100 during January until late November. We counted direct samples and interpolations from previously released music as samples. However references of lyrics has not been included in any way. Worth noting is that since we only examined the biggest hits of the year, it doesn’t necessarily represent the statistics of sampling as a whole. It’s also worth noting that these are only the samples we were able to discover and there are definitely some we missed. Besides Billboard’s charts, other sources were Chartmetric, ASCAP, BMI, Whosampled, Sample Spotters, Spotify’s credits system, and our own Tracklib data and user survey.

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