WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Fight Over Music Sampling

Oct 4, 2013

An author and film producer said hip hop artists initially enjoyed quite a bit of freedom in using samples.

But Kembrew McLeod – who believes sampling is an audio version of collage - said hip hop artists lost a great deal of creative freedom when they gained cultural popularity.

Kembrew McLeod
Credit Rich Egger

“When you had the collage tradition collide head-on with big business, that’s when the lawsuits exploded,” McLeod said. “They (the artists) were potentially selling millions of records.”

He doubts albums such as Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys and Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy could get made today because they used many samples within single songs, and it would cost too much to gain permission to use snippets of all those recordings.

McLeod said some artists, such as Prince, make it difficult to sample their music by charging exorbitant fees, and record companies that own the rights to songs have also made it difficult.

He pointed to the case of George Clinton, who was sued by a record company for sampling one of his own songs.

“He was legally in the wrong for doing so because he did not own the sound recording copyright,” McLeod said.

McLeod is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. He was in Macomb to give presentations at Western Illinois University and talk about his documentary film, Copyright Criminals.

McLeod said one the musicians featured in the documentary is Clyde Stubblefield, who drummed for James Brown. McLeod said Stubblefield is possibly the most sampled artist - his drumming has been sampled in music from a wide range of genres including pop, R & B, and dance songs.

McLeod said Stubblefield was honored to learn his music had that reach.