The first time I heard Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” was courtesy of Motorcycle Guy, a prominent Brooklyn eccentric who drives around on a tricked-out motorcycle bedecked with lights and equipped with a powerful sound system. I encounter him every so often and he’s always bumping some good funk, soul or R&B. One night, he was playing what I thought was an extreme remix of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” by Michael Jackson, with the end chant slowed down and pitch-shifted radically. As it turns out, I got the chronology reversed. Here’s Manu Dibango’s song:
The defining musical experience of my lifetime is hearing familiar samples in unfamiliar contexts. For me, the experience is usually a thrill. For a lot of people, the experience makes them angry. Using recognizable samples necessarily means having an emotional conversation with everyone who already has an attachment to the original recording. Music is about connecting with other people. Sampling, like its predecessors quoting and referencing, is a powerful connection method.
This week I’ve been all about Kanye West’s “Lost In The World,” the most gripping track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye is one of the few commercial producers with a high enough profile to be able to license whatever samples he wants, so he carries the banner of memetastic collage-based music in the mainstream, and god bless him for it. Click through for the song on YouTube.
There’s nothing going on in contemporary music that interests me more than the vibe of this track. The blend of electronic and tribal drums and Auto-tuned singing draws on the same sonic palette as “Love Lockdown,” which continues to be my favorite song of the 21st century, but “Lost In The World” is much bigger and denser.
My friend Adam, a non-musician but devoted music fan, asked me why sampling is good. He’s used to hearing me defend sampling from the accusation that it’s bad, but he’d never heard a positive argument for it. In case you’ve ever asked the same question, here’s my answer.
My favorite Michael Jackson song is “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” This post is part of what’s turning into a series on it. The previous post is about the song as fan art, and some of the fan art that it’s inspired, from bootleg Youtube videos to licensed remixes. This one is about who owns the song, specifically the famous chant at the end. Here’s a list of everybody who I think could reasonably make a claim.
Today the Michael Jackson fan art I have on my mind (and on the iPod) is “Please Don’t Stop The Music,” sung by Rihanna and produced by a couple of Norwegian guys. It includes a sample of MJ singing “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” The sample includes both his quasi-Swahili chant and his unearthly woo-hoo. It runs under almost the entire song after the first minute, with dramatic filter sweeping and what sounds like some vocoder.
MJ never made a video for “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” leaving a vacuum that the fans are only too happy to fill. This video even includes footage of MJ’s video game.
This MJ song has inspired a lot of fan art, maybe because it is itself fan art. The music industry likes to send lawyers after people who make fan art, which is dumb and self-destructive on their part. No fan art, no art.