Cortex & Sampling — Crown Jewels of the Underground
Amidst its grassroots origins, hip-hop has heavily relied on the re-appropriation and re-imagining of past sounds and images. The very essence of DJing requires some sort of prerecorded audio to be scratched, mixed and flipped into a danceable or otherwise enjoyable groove. As a fan, this side of the culture is wholly enjoyable, but as a writer and reviewer I, and many others recognize the complications that arise from the practice that eventually came to be sampling.
On its face sampling is comparable to what other genres incorporate; artists frequently create their own creative renditions of tracks of yesteryear, whether through direct recreation of the sound, or by simple interpolation. The difficulty for the hip-hop movement lay in the original disconnect between performers and the record labels. Although in 1979 Kurtis Blow became the first rapper singed to a label, Mercury Records, DJing and “unauthorized” mixing was already a staple in the genre for at least a decade. The connection between past recordings and hip-hop performers was, and remains indelible, despite the difficulties imposed (and rightly so) by record labels and publishing deals.
Giving rightful attribution (or lack thereof) to music originators has become increasingly requisite in hip-hop. As the music went mainstream, sample clearances were a necessity by rappers and their respective labels. Even then, rap producers and affiliated artists have cried out for greater recognition in the use of their work. Over the last year alone Hudson Mohawke, DJ Quik, TM88 and Flying Lotus all voiced concerns regarding the use of their work without claim.
The problem is not easily solvable, as in a culture once benchmarked by free mixtapes that included heavy usage of popular beats (Lil Wayne’s Dedication series comes to mind) the politics of attribution almost run counter to the ingrained spirit of the art. What the industry can do, however, is continue educate listeners and creators on the origins and influences of hip-hop classics.
One such act doesn’t originate from the continental US. Rather French composer Alain Mion, founder of the 1970s Jazz Funk ensemble Cortex, crafted the group’s debut Troupeau Bleu (which translates directly to “Blue Herd”) for release on July 15, 1975 by Disques Espérance. Recorded in just two days, the 14 track album has become staple sample fodder for hip-hop producers, ranging from cuts on Rick Ross’ God Forgives, I Don’t, to Flying Lotus’ alter ego Captain Murphy’s Duality. In a short documentary by Gasface, Moin disucsses some of his influences, views on his prevalence in hip-hop, his sample rates and more.
What follows are a few of my personally favorite implementations of Mion’s work.
“Dope!” (prod. DJ Pain 1) — The 12th track on Royce da 5’9’s sixth studio album avoids popular tradition of sampling a large chunk of “Huit Octobre 1971” (as was the case with MF DOOM’s “One Beer” and Tyler, the Creator’s “Odd Toddlers”) in favor of a short loop of the female vocals at the 20 second mark. DJ Pain 1 slows the flip which adds a darker timbre to the track’s already heavy subject matter. The eventual break of the vocal sample is further accentuated by Loren W. Oden’s crooning on the hook making for an impassioned cut.
“Mural” (prod. Wiz Buchanan, Keyz & Quality Kid) — Lupe Fiasco’s production trifecta reimagines much of the cold spirit of “Chanson D’Un Jour D’Hiver” (“Song From a Winter Day”) by throwing in some hefty bass and speeding up Moin’s keys. While the track ignores the more free form piano melodies around halfway through the original, the hookless verses from Lupe are something of a modern substitute.
“Mighty Morphin’ Foreskin” (prod. Flying Lotus) — Captain Murphy’s penchant for dark and gruesome lyrical content meshes well against this 31 second chop of Cortex’s “Sabbat (Part 3).” Notably, FlyLo flips the end of the track to be the intro for his rendition that is a calamitous, lo-fi wonderland of Captain Murphy’s mind.