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From Neighborhoods to Online: How Music Sampling Changed

Older songs often find new life thanks to music sampling. Contemporary artists — most typically in hip-hop and electronic — take a beat, hook, or snippet from a previously recorded track and use it in their new song. Take, for instance, James Brown’s 1976 hit, “Get Up Offa That Thing” — it’s been sampled by rappers Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator, among others.  

Neighborhoods in places like Brooklyn and Compton used to serve as hotbeds for collaboration when it came to music sampling. Artists who hailed from those areas worked with one another by sharing physical source materials. But the advent of the internet shifted how such exchanges occur.

Mason Youngblood, a doctoral student at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and Queens College examined several datasets to understand that transformation. He published his results in the journal PLOS One.

Using network-based diffusion analysis (NBDA), a methodology often applied to the study of animals, Youngblood found “the first quantitative evidence that music samples are culturally transmitted via collaboration between artists.” Cultural transmission typically refers to a process where things like values and knowledge pertaining to a given culture are transmitted between generations.

Collaboration is still the “key cultural transmission mode” for music sampling, but that collaboration has moved online. “It’s the communities where people meet and interact,” Youngblood said. “The results indicate that the transmission of music samples still primarily appears to be occurring through collaborations between artists as opposed to artists independently discovering samples online.”

The shift from neighborhoods hasn’t been disruptive, though. “The internet might be enhancing human interaction rather than transforming it,” he said. “It’s that idea that the same kinds of cultural transmission mechanisms are probably at play with the internet, and are just expanded and heightened and made a bit more complicated as opposed to being completely changed.”

Beyond SUM

Work By

Mason Youngblood (Doctoral candidate, Psychology and Biology) | Profile 1

Bonus Content

"What Happens When Music Sampling Goes Digital" (The Graduate Center, CUNY)