The Palimpsest of Musical History

Question: Do you think hip-hop artists are maintaining ingenuity when sampling is so pervasive?

Jay Smooth: I think the greatest challenge to our innovation and ingenuity has been the decreased ability to work with sample-based production actually. I mean, I think that the greatest explosion of artistic innovation, to me, was when sampling technology was available but the sampling laws were not yet in place, so we had free reign to create what Prince Paul created for De La Soul, what the Bomb Squad created for Public Enemy, what the Dust Brothers created on the Beastie Boys' second album, and I think the sampling laws that came in a couple of years after that, were very stifling and brought things in another direction where people were still creative in various ways and people who have a budget to be able to work with samples, like Kanye or Just Blaze, can continue doing that but a lot of other people have to find alternative ways.

I think that sort of tug-of-war between artistic expression and the protectors of intellectual property is something we're seeing in many different places in media, not just in hip-hop. But that's been one of the most dramatic places where, to me, the value of the art that was created by us having free reign to create whatever pastiche and montage we wanted to create.  I mean, it always seemed clear to me that we were creating something new and valuable and adhering to the same creative process that everyone has throughout the history of music; just the technology allows us to do it a different way by manipulating the actual recordings instead of working with those influences in different ways.

I mean, you can go back to, throughout the history of music, back to the first –-in Western music–-the first polyphonic music was based on taking a Gregorian chant in a lower register and then singing a new Gregorian chant–-singing a new melody on top of that, in a higher register. You're basically taking a song and then adding something new on top of it–-that's the same creative process as hip-hop.

You can see other parallels throughout music history. The only difference is that in the mid-Nineties we had samplers that let us actually manipulate the recordings, and do it that way instead of other ways. You can look at jazz standards, you can look at what Led Zeppelin did with blues tracks—there are parallels to that all throughout music, but people get caught up in the fact that we're using the actual recordings. They see it as lazy, but if you've ever tried to make a beat as hot as what the Bomb Squad made, or try to make a beat like Just Blaze made, or even the beats that we see as really simplistic, like the beats that Diddy made. If you tried to make a beat that sounded that good you'd find that it's much harder than you think it is, and I think the amount of creativity and innovation that goes into sample-based hip-hop is very underrated.

 

Recorded on August 4, 2009

Jay Smooth on sampling and the creative process.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.