Boutique!

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Glyph

Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.

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28 Responses

  1. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    Great album, great post, extra points (as always) for grammar and spelling. A conversation I’d like to have sometime, ideally with me doing all the talking and other people nodding sagely and ordering drinks, is on how much more difficult it was to make sample-based records back then.

    The Dust Brothers and Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad accomplished amazing things with what they had to work with. (I’m sure there are others, but I was never a hip-hop connoisseur.) With modern software, it’s all too easy to approximate that dense, buzzing tapestry of sound. You damn kids nowadays, you don’t know how good you have it.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Thanks! Yeah, this album (and the second and third PE albums) really blew my mind. I was late to catch up on them, not being much of a rap guy in HS. Luckily I had a college friend who was big into hip-hop, and he got me up to speed around 1991ish.

      I’m not sure when sampling became easier/cheaper – this is an interesting story about DJ Shadow in 1991:

      He made this tape using only turntables and a four track recorder, exclusively. He didn’t even have a sampler. I learned shortly after that not only did Shadow make these early tapes without the use of digital samplers, but that he also didn’t possess direct drive turntables like Technics 1200s. His were the nearly impossible-to-control, super sensitive belt-driven variety, yet his beats were perfectly on-time and his cuts were pristine and funky.

      Total mastery in every aspect. Beat digging: Shadow had records, he wasn’t regurgitating Ultimate Breaks and Beats. Taste: it wasn’t something he needed to develop. He had it. Skill: this guy had put in the hours, weeks and years required to be able to manipulate turntables and cross-faders like that. My own experience as a bedroom four-track DJ from years before only intensified my appreciation for what I was hearing.

      Shadow and I hung out later that weekend and got into a conversation about samplers. Getting one was the logical next step for him. I suggested he pick up the new Akai MPC-60, which he did, and with that in his hands, he turned his collection of obscure records into one of the most important and enduring albums of the 90s, Endtroducing.

      I originally had a bit in here comparing Paul’s Boutique to something like Sgt. Pepper’s, in terms of ambitious psychedelic myth-making leaps forward (PB even has its own “Paul is Dead” bit, with Mike D responding to rumors that he’d overdosed after Licensed to Ill with “I’m Mike D and I’m back from the dead / Chillin’ at the beach, down at Club Med”) but I just don’t know enough about the Beatles to comfortably feel like I wasn’t talking out my rear.

      Though this made me laugh, from the PB wikipedia page:

      Mike D was asked about any possible hesitation he or the band might have had regarding their overt sampling of several minutes of well-known Beatles background tracks, including the song “The End” on “The Sounds of Science”.

      He claimed that the Beatles filed preliminary legal papers, and that his response was “What’s cooler than getting sued by the Beatles?”

      Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Also, I should clarify my statement: “sampling became easier/cheaper”. I’m referring of course to the technical aspects/equipment.

        As noted in the OP, legally and financially, it became nearly impossible to do much sampling at all, right around the same time – the Beasties spent about a quarter-million dollars to get all the samples on this record; not chump change obviously (having had a hit debut record and a major label backing them, meant they had some money to spend), but a pittance compared to what it would take today, not just in the cash, but in the time spent on legal wrangling back and forth. Which is why mainstream artists started to rely on just one or two samples per song.

        I guess I don’t understand why Congress couldn’t have passed a law stating samples under X seconds were free/fair use, so long as they are attributed.

        Though I guess you’d get into all kinds of loophole/hairsplitting questions – X seconds per song? Or album? Or artist? Do they have to be two consecutive seconds? etc. etc.

        You’ve got people like Girl Talk, who are clearly operating outside the mainstream paradigm and, frankly, the law (he calls his label “Illegal Art”, lampshading it.)

        Others, like Shadow, I think rely largely on the obscurity of their samples (and heavily-manipulating them to obscure them further) to protect themselves legally.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    Listening to the Beastie Boys, I always imagine that their writing/recording sessions were just a bunch of rap battles and attempts to outdo each other. Like when, in their videos, they one moves out of the way and the other takes front stage, they’re acting out what actually happened. MCA was on the mic, rapped a few lines, and then Mike D yanked him out of the way and grabbed the mic.

    (Watching/listening now.)Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Ponce De Leon,
      constantly on
      The fountain of youth,
      not Robotron

      Yeah, fully baked… heh.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        It’s kinda stupid that it largely took this album to clue me into what a lot of harder/gangsta rap was about. Rap as party/dance music? Sure, I got that.

        But being a white suburban kid, I won’t lie – N.W.A. and P.E. and such were…kind of scary. The stories they told, the militaristic way they presented themselves, the violent imagery – it was all pretty far from *my* experience of the world.

        But then I get the Beasties doing something like “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun”, in which they make explicit the meta-, storytelling aspects of it all.

        “Because it’s all high spirit (that is, it’s joking around – talking bullshit) / You know you got to hear it / Don’t touch the mic, baby, don’t come near it” (that is, the “guns” and “bullets” here are metaphors for rhymes and beats).

        Which is not to say that ALL the stuff that harder rap talks about is bullshit bravado.

        Just that it’s worth listening to the genre with the understanding that there’s a LOT of tall-tale-telling and self-mythologizing going on.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Right. Of course, less than a decade after Paul’s Boutique, things got pretty violent, but for the most part it really is metaphorical. “Murder” and “killing” are still common metaphors for out rapping someone (Kendrick Lamar’s famous “I’m better than everyone” verse uses them), and actual battle rapping frequently includes what sounds like very serious threats of violence, but at the end everyone (usually) shakes hands and has a few drinks.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        A post on rap battles would be fun except that it would get me banned.Report

  3. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    I always remembered Paul’s Boutique as being made in the Wild West era, before people really knew what to do about sampling and paying for rights and so forth. I thought there was an egregious case where the Beasties prevailed in court against a jazz flautist whose trademark riff had been sampled and used without attribution. Someone needs to Google that for me. I think the thing was that the flute guy couldn’t claim ownership of the sound he made, because it wasn’t a melody or even notes, but just a trademark breathy sound he invented.

    I’ve been drinking, though, and these goddamn headphones are so loud, I don’t know what the hell’s going on.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      You’re probably thinking of this.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      I had just always assumed, before writing this post, that the samples were all “stolen”. But the PB wiki page says that’s not so:

      Contrary to popular belief, most of the sampling for Paul’s Boutique was cleared, but at dramatically lower costs compared to today’s prevailing rates.

      A 2005 article by Paul Tingen about The Dust Brothers reveals that “most of the samples used on Paul’s Boutique were cleared, easily and affordably, something that […] would be ‘unthinkable’ in today’s litigious music industry.”

      Mario “Mario C” Caldato, Jr., engineer on the album, later said in an interview that “after [Beastie Boys] did Paul’s Boutique we realized we had spent a lot of money in the studio. We had spent about a $1/4 million in rights and licensing for samples.”

      This type of sampling was only possible before Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., the landmark lawsuit against Biz Markie by Gilbert O’Sullivan, which changed the process and future of hip hop sampling.

      If we could have had a bunch more records like this one, but don’t because of choices we made legally, it seems like a loss to me.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        Well, the direction things actually headed was further from Paul’s Boutique and more towards “Can’t Touch This.”

        In truth, PB appropriated some tunes pretty ballsily. “Eggman,” for instance, makes extremely liberal use of “Superfly.” I’m not going to argue that it’s anywhere near as lazy as MC Hammer, but it’s a tricky case to make.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Oh yeah, some of the samples are very obvious and heavily-relied upon.

        I’m just wondering if we could have come up with something better; like I said, a length of sample/loop ceiling below which it’s “fair use/commentary”, or maybe some sort of reasonable mutually-agreed upon rates per second or something.

        Writers “sample” each other all day long, re-using words/sentences/phrases/references that they read elsewhere, and we seem to have survived, with a system (with a lot of admittedly gray area) in which we seem to mostly understand when it’s time to credit/attribute and/or pay the other guy.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Censored version. I insert it for the many levels of its relevance.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I didn’t realize iTunes was already going in the background when I started the video and put my headphones on.

        Based on what I just heard, Nas and Beat Happening should never do a collaboration together.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Glyph,
        what’s your e-mail address? I’ve got a suggestion for the next music post you’ve got.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Kim, send it to me. I’ll set it up for next Wednesday.Report

  4. Avatar aaron david says:

    I can see the genius and I appreciate the hard work, but no matter how hard I try it does absolutely nothing for me. Mostly when I hear the samples I want to go listen to the original (mmm, Curtis Mayfield.) I always had the same problem with Big Audio Dynamite.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      It’s not my favorite either. I find myself tapping my feet for a bit and then tuning out.

      Also, I believe I’ve said this before, but Curtis Mayfield = God. There may be no more perfect album ever recorded.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I think if PB has a flaw for me, it comes at the very end, with the 12-minute suite (“B-Boy Bouillabaisse”) collaging all the different sections/fragments; while I like it in itself, and it’s very ambitious (and I don’t know where else on the album it could go), I sometimes find it a little overwhelming after all the stuff that’s crammed in what came before.

        Sometimes I’m just sort of spent already by that point.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        “Also, I believe I’ve said this before, but Curtis Mayfield = God. There may be no more perfect album ever recorded.”

        Which album?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Uh, Super Fly!Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      I bought one of those cheapie CD comps you can find sometimes on Amazon for legacy artists, that had like 5 Curtis Mayfield albums all packaged together in one sleeve.

      It is awesome.Report

  5. Avatar SM&A Prod. says:

    Hey Glyph! Thank you for the nice write up. You really pinned it down in a couple of sentences. It’s funny, because we got the same thought about QT, while working on this. Cool that you liked the movie 🙂Report

  6. Avatar Glyph says:

    I just noticed AVC posted a piece on “Hey Ladies” today. Coincidence? I think not.

    That’s the kind of influence we have here. Always on the tip.Report