Joseph G. Schloss
Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip Hop

(Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004)

Review by Karen Collins

With so much of the literature (both academic and otherwise) on hip-hop focussing on the lyrics and emcees, it is refreshing to read Joseph Schloss’ take on the musical side of hip-hop--sampling. The book uses participant observation and interviews with what Schloss terms the “producers” to provide an overview of the social and technical processes of making beats.

As with many other previous books to come out on Wesleyan’s Music and Culture series, Schloss provides a useful contrast between social interaction and musical production.

Avoiding semiotics in favour of the ethical and aesthetic reasons behind sampling, Schloss uses as his foundation a critique of previous literature on hip-hop’s focus on notions of postmodern “fragmentation” found in sampling, and instead takes us on a journey of digging through crates, explaining the ethics of choosing a sample, and then follows with how these samples are re-constructed through “chopping” (‘altering a sampled phrase by dividing it into smaller segments and reconfiguring them in a different order’), “flipping” (‘creatively and substantially altering material in a new way’), and “looping” (‘sampling a longer phrase (one or more measures) and repeating it with little or no alteration’) [p. 106].

Schloss’ discussion of the elements of style (aspects of sample use, quantization, timbre, etc) is most illuminating and provides a much-needed look into this process. With such a useful first foray into sampling, it is a shame that at times Schloss reverts to attempts to find something inherently “African American” about hip-hop’s use of sampling, such as the “foregrounding of ambiguity” [p. 159], telling us that the sampling of entire melodies “would not have appealed to musicians from other genres”, while he ignores very similar uses of technology, looping, and sampling in genres that are predominantly Caucausian (rave, industrial and the avant-garde, for instance) that predate or are concurrent with hip-hop’s emergence. Overall, a very worthwhile contribution to the growing literature on hip-hop and an interesting read for anyone interested in hip-hop production, electronic music or sampling.

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