What’s the Difference Between Sampling and Stealing an Artist’s M

Early in October, Gwen Stefani became the first musical artist to have a recording cross the threshold of an astounding 1 million downloads, with her unapologetically nonsensical ‘Hollaback Girl.’ At least, this is what Interscope Records would have you believe.
With both legal and illegal downloads counted, the actual recordbreaking artist is unknown. Nonetheless, Stefani commented that ‘it’s always an honor to be recognized for your music.’
Her music? I’m not so sure all the music presented in her latest singles is really hers for which to claim credit. OK, ‘Hollaback Girl’ is a catchy, original song with creative lyrics, but ‘Rich Girl’ would not likely have attained double-platinum status if it weren’t for a key riff borrowed from the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ How many people actually know that her song’s lyrics and melody center on a musical that was first written at the beginning of the 1970s? How many of them care?
Well, all right, I can put aside how demeaning I think it is for such an esteemed musical to become a bouncy pop song, but what about other songs?
Stefani’s latest hit, ‘Luxurious,’ is a case in point. The younger listeners of KIIS-FM may never know that the background of ‘Luxurious’ was created not by Stefani, but by the Isley Brothers for ‘Between the Sheets,’ a classic song to which many babies have surely been conceived. Both songs are great, but Stefani’s is more of a dramatic restructuring than an original and creative composition.
These more recently conceived listeners may attribute complete creative credit to Stefani. This isn’t an issue on the same scale as Vanilla Ice comically defending his ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’ as a different creation from Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ or C+C Music Factory’s cruel use of a model to pose as the powerful singer Martha Wash in the video for ‘Everybody Dance Now,’ but as a journalist and a singer, I know what it might feel like to have someone else run with your creative juices.
Yet Stefani does the Isley Brothers’ juice justice.
‘Luxurious’ is a satisfying song which contrasts a unique vocal chorus of Stefani’s with the lavish chords of ‘Between the Sheets.’ In fact, Stefani’s song is not so much a dramatic restructuring, but a mostly different song altogether.
Where dramatic restructuring ends and grifting begins, you will find Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and, as of this August, Diddy. P. Daddy has ‘sampled’ from more quality songs than he has diamond jewelry in his closet.
Well, maybe not that many sampled songs.
But in Puff Diddy’s song ‘Been All Around the World’ alone, David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and Lisa Stansfield’s ‘All Around the World’ form most of the song’s creativity, melody and originality.
What some people may call artistry, I call laziness.
Is it any wonder, then, that another favorite song of mine which involves Combs Daddy ‘borrows’ another’s creative work. The foundation of Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Juicy’ was largely lifted from an early 1990s song called ‘Juicy Fruit,’ by Mtume.
Or how about B.I.G.’s ‘Hypnotize’? Although B.I.G. did a fine job making the Herb Alpert song ‘Rise’ his own, the lyrics are the only part of that song which could truly be called his own.
Maybe some of the more tasteful examples of sampling, like B.I.G.’s songs and Stefani’s ‘Luxurious,’ should be praised for bringing back older and classic songs to the forefront of modern music. Younger, oblivious and indifferent music listeners can enjoy a Broadway tune (Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’) or a 1970s funky smooth-jazz song (B.I.G.’s ‘Hypnotize’) without ever knowing.
So perhaps the omnipresent yet invisible sampling in the music industry should be hesitantly praised. Just a little advice for Stefani’s future creative sampling efforts: Lay off Broadway. Picturing the older man who originally sang the melody from ‘Rich Girl’ in place of you in the music video is an image I’m still struggling to rid myself.