How Listing Sample Sources In Liner Notes Forever Changed Both Rap Music & Music Discovery As A Whole

Apr 22, 2014 · 9 min read

On August 27th, 1991 Biz Markie released his third LP “I Need A Haircut” containing the song “Alone Again” which sampled the Gilbert O’Sullivan hit “Alone Again (Naturally)”. It wasn’t adequately cleared (as in Gilbert refused to allow his consent for usage but it was on the album anyways) resulting in Biz Markie and his record label being sued for copyright infringement (Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros Records Inc).

On December 17th, 1991 the judge ruled in favor of Gilbert O’Sullivan thus changing Rap music forever. After this ruling future Rap albums were required to have to clear all of their samples in addition to listing all of their sample sources in the liner notes. Biz Markie’s album was subsequently pulled from store shelves, his 1993 follow-up was titled “All Samples Cleared” in reference to his previous album being yanked & the protocols in Rap being forever changed.

Sampling had only been widely utilized in the creation of Rap music for about 5 years at the time of the verdict so the practice was young enough that few Rap listeners and consumers were familiar with the wide range of source materials used on Rap records of the era. However, it had been simultaneously long enough where there were between 2 to 3 different generations of Rap listeners that were either curious about or were actively searching for the records that were used on their favorite Rap songs (thanks to Rick Rubin, Marley Marl, DJ Mark The 45 King, The Bomb Squad, Dr. Dre & Ced Gee amongst others).

At the top of 1992, Rap tapes & CD’s were released listing some, most or all of the compositions that were sampled & then cleared for usage in their liner notes. It was possibly akin to opening Pandora’s Box. For the first time ever, Rap fans were being told what song was being sampled and/or flipped on the album they heard. It instantaneously fed this curiosity based need for many Hip-Hop heads to seek out these records and hear the source materials for their selves.

Forget that these young Hip-Hop enthusiasts still didn’t know about what exact equipment or production techniques were used to create the music they heard on that new Rap tape, they’d simply cross that bridge when they got to it. Also keep in mind that at the time young Rap fans had no clue that the rappers and producers they worshipped that were close to their own ages were learning as they went, too. Few were masters of their craft during these early pioneering days of Hip-Hop production yet.

This new breed of record seekers and crate diggers are hereby referred to as The New Diggers. These New Diggers were a mix of three distinct generations of Rap fans separated by age and experience. The first was a generation that remembered some of the old breaks that were played at jams & parties circa when the Old School gave way to the New School and had already been actively digging for sample sources since the inception of sampling (with little success without a guide in a world of infinite musical possibilities, of course).

The second generation of these New Diggers were only familiar with the basic sample sources used between 1986 and 1989 such as James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic and a small number of essential Jazz recordings but little to no knowledge of the records or breaks that B-Boys went to the floor to back in the days. They still knew enough to use compilations like “Hey Love” as a guide to artists, groups, producers, songwriters and labels to search for certain music and work from there.

The third generation of New Diggers was the youngest and most inexperienced, they literally started digging in record stores after seeing the sample sources listed in liner notes. They often became sponges who learned from the previous two generations of New Diggers and benefited from being mentored by both. They also often took chances on music quicker than the others due to a lack of prejudice of records based on the label it was released or it’s album cover.

All of these individuals that shared a similar interest or focus soon descended upon record stores looking for the specific songs listed in the liner notes of the Rap albums they owned beginning in early 1992 which prompted a swift response from record store owners. First let it be noted that there were albums released back in 1991 that had more than just partial sample credits in the liner notes, most notably on “De La Soul Is Dead” and D-Nice’s sophomore effort “To Tha Rescue” . It seems that they both disclosed their samples due to the fact they both had earlier issues with The Turtles after sampling them on “Transmitting Live From Mars” (1989) and “Call Me D-Nice” (1990) respectively.

Stetsasonic released the single “Talkin’ All That Jazz” back in 1988 off their LP “In Full Gear” to address the criticism friends like Public Enemy & other Rap crews and producers faced for their sample based compositions from older Black musicians and even those at record labels and radio stations who bemoaned that Rap had become the predominant music form amongst the youth at the time. Following The Turtles raising issue with with De La Soul and the release of Beastie Boys’ sophomore album “Paul’s Boutique” 1989 was the year that the whole “sampling in Hip-Hop/Rap” debate sprang up on a mainstream level. By 1990 it was a hot button topic amongst musicians across the board.

Even following the landmark court decision some groups refused to list the sample sources they cleared in their album’s liner notes (i.e. Gang Starr’s “Daily Operation” & Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “Mecca & The Soul Brother”) thus leading to New Diggers frantically trying to identify the original compositions used on both classic albums. In later years, compilations would be released full of songs used on both albums which would anger both DJ Premier & Pete Rock but that is another story…

This new sudden influx of Rap fans and Hip Hop heads visiting vinyl spots searching for specific songs by certain artists and the albums they were located on didn’t go unnoticed by shop owners for very long. Within months some caught on & when they discovered a popular artist sampled something they immediately raised the prices on that artist’s entire catalogue or individual in demand albums.

This forced many of the latecomers or those who refused to pay the newly raised prices to simply find records by either band mates, collaborators, producers or contemporaries of the particular artist they were looking for instead. The new practice employed by record store owners ultimately led to the New Diggers finding “new old” music that would push their collective music discovery further. One such byproduct was the re-discovery of The Sylvers back catalog amongst the New Diggers, thus making their entire discography staples of any post New Diggers era Rap producers’ arsenal.

The net widened as Rap music sampled heavily from Jazz, Funk, R&B/Soul and Classic Rock all throughout 1992. Many artists and their albums were identified and bought but even more artists and their catalogues were discovered as a byproduct of digging just for the sake of digging or found while searching for something completely unrelated.

New Diggers began to notice that some essential early records, Golden Era staples and breaks were finally being identified in Rap album liner notes. When they descended on record stores to find THESE records they often discovered them in plastic marked up in price (again) listing all of the classic records that sampled it over the past 5+ years.

In turn, they were forced to plumb the depths for new records that would end up replacing the now unobtainable recently unearthed over time essential breaks of bygone Rap eras over the next couple of years. Whenever presented with an obstacle, the New Diggers just improvised and worked around it, much like the Jazz & Funk musicians did in the compositions they were listening to/digging for.

In light of the new issues arising from artists that either wouldn’t agree to have their compositions sampled or asked for exorbitant clearance fees it became more commonplace to either have their works interpolated or just have live musicians play on the records to avoid having to clear the sample and hurt the recording budget. This opened a lane for the burgeoning Hip-Hop band movement in Rap music.

They were inspired by a combination of the overwhelmingly positive response to the May 1st, 1991 airing of “Yo! MTV Raps Unplugged” preceding The Brand New Heavies successfully backing MC Serch & Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest during a live show in New York. The Beastie Boys also went back to playing instruments and incorporated live instrumentation in their LP “Check Your Head” which dropped in April 1992.

This led to the first successful foray for a full “Hip-Hop band” in this era as Delicious Vinyl released The Brand New Heavies’ ambitious “Heavy Rhyme Experience” LP in August 1992 where the band played live providing lush sonic backdrops for many of the popular emcees and Rap groups of the time. Later on outfits like US3, Freestyle Fellowship, Digable Planets, Guru (Gang Starr)’s side project Jazzmatazz, The Roots, Justice System, etc. would perform with live instruments and further popularize the band in Rap music throughout the stretch of 1992 through 1994.

At the same time, the so-called era of Jazz Rap sprang up inspired by A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Digable Planets & The Beatnuts amongst others also sent The New Diggers to record stores in droves poring through Jazz records listed in those albums’ liner notes (even more for the ones NOT listed in the liner notes) for new sounds thus discovering classic material from related musicians and their contemporaries.

The dawn of the age of The New Diggers was marked by the introduction of Ensoniq’s ASR-10 16 bit sampling keyboard. The versatility and power of the ASR-10 coupled with a new wave of source materials unearthed by these New Diggers over time came to help reshape the sound and aesthetic of Rap music during what’s widely acknowledged to be Rap’s Second Golden Era spanning between 1992 and 1996.

As more and more singers, groups and musicians were introduced to new generations of Rap listeners via the liner notes that revealed the original sample sources it actually helped to improve the musical knowledge bases of the audience. Another unforeseen byproduct was that it aided in helping younger generations that weren’t exposed to this music by their parents in their homes or heard it on the radio or at park jams ability to appreciate music overall, thus opening them up to new genres of music altogether.

A good percentage of The New Diggers missed the era when New Jack Swing, House and Rap listeners had tensions between 1989 and 1991 but due to their steady exposure to new music through liner notes that led them to record stores they were more open to burgeoning music genres in the early 90’s such as UKG (UK Garage), Trip Hop, Jungle and Drum N’ Bass later on.

The combination of being introduced to new music through the sample sources being listed, the combination of experienced record diggers interacting with neophyte diggers who shared information with them and their common experience in music discovery soon spilled over into the world of Rap music when they began to contribute to the culture either as emcees, DJ’s or producers themselves.

The New Diggers were instrumental in the new direction and sound of Rap during its last Golden Era well into the so-called Backpack Era/Indie Explosion between 1997 and 2002. This crucial stretch between 1992 and 1994 opened with the introduction of the Ensoniq ASR-10 and was sealed with the release of Akai’s MPC 3000.

The foundation laid forth by The New Diggers changed the way Rap fans listened and it in turn transformed the aesthetic direction of Rap music over the next few years. In the next two editions I’ll go into detail about how The New Diggers redefined record shopping by discovering music which ended up becoming sampling staples in later years.

The legacy of The New Diggers is especially evident in those that hear the music of J Dilla or Madlib, two of the foremost producers of the past 20 years that were both part of this generation of young DJs/producers who began making demos and poring through stacks of dusty records to find inspiration to create timeless music.

This is just an overview of what will ultimately be a three part piece where I go into detail explaining the timeline of the development, growth, influence & byproducts of The New Diggers on Hip-Hop/Rap music and music discovery as a whole in multiple formats. If you’re either interested in running this series in your publication or being involved in any way, shape or form contact me either on Twitter or hit me up on Gmail @ poisonous paragraphs[at]gmail[dot]com.


Written by

Host of Dart Against Humanity/Boston Legends. CCO @ Producers I Know/journalist @ Okayplayer/DJBooth/Complex/NPR/Mass Appeal/IV Boston/HipHopWired/KillerBoomBox

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