this is a song called “life=trap” by a rapper named k. flay who is signed to RCA, which is owned by sony. it samples and lyrically riffs on the title of a song called "life/trap" that i released as elite gymnastics last year. though both songs prominently feature the word “trap”, neither occurrence of the word refers to “trap music” or the slang word for poor neighborhoods that genre takes it’s name from.
i have never had any contact with k. flay, i only know about this song because an interview where she talks about the process of making it and being inspired by the thing she sampled showed up in my google alerts one time. she just kinda made the song one day and put it up for free on the internet and i found out about it after the fact. this is kinda normal i guess - when lil b rapped over "ready for the world" by how to dress well and released it as "why they wanna kill me", tom found out about it when i sent him the link in gchat later that day. i think that song exists as the result of someone telling basedgod that pitchfork was covering him - he actually shouts out pitchfork on the track and it kicked off kind of a weird period in his career where he would read the site on a regular basis and tweet things like “gonna listen to this new deerhunter, hmm”. silky johnson, the producer of "hugh hefner" from the “red flame” mixtape posted on a message board once that he sent the beat to lil b with a note that said something like “this samples ariel pink, pitchfork will go CRAZY for this shit!” which basedgod responded to by immediately laying a verse down that name-checked pitchfork, the fader, ariel pink, daft punk, holy ghost, and the arcade fire in lightning-quick succession
a few months ago i bought an album called “tears 4 god” by lil b off itunes. i tried to listen to it once, it was terrible - it mostly just kind of sounds like someone getting really stoned and pressing random keys on a studio keyboard set to “orchestra”. it bears little resemblance to the weird, unpredictable kaleidoscopic art-rap miasmas that lil b releases every few weeks via datpiff, but nothing available in an official capacity on itunes possibly could. the music lil b is best known for exists in an ambiguous, anarchic creative niche he created for himself through sheer force of will and singular talent, a niche that is resolutely incompatible with the boundaries enforced by the traditional music industry as it currently exists. his inbox swells with beat submissions from legions of anonymous producers, many based on uncredited and/or unclearable samples of everything from imogen heap to the ico soundtrack, and he raps over them. producers are rarely if ever credited by b himself, it’s generally up to the producers themselves to let the internet know if b has used any of their beats. i’m also pretty sure none of his producers get paid - while lil b did, at one point, sign some kind of deal with a company called amalgam digital to release more conventional albums that probably did involve paying and crediting producers properly, only one materialized. after that, the deal was never spoken of again and b went back to releasing whatever he felt like releasing on his own again.
clams casino, the best known of the generation of producers that started out producing beats for lil b, is a good example of why a conventional industry-backed rap album by lil b could probably never happen. though he’s moved on to producing for k. flay’s RCA labelmate asap rocky, and i’ve heard he currently spends most of his time trying to get beats over on drake, most of his seminal early work is unsellable due to the obvious presence of several unclearable samples of well known songs by major label artists. "i’m god", arguably his best known collaboration with lil b, is based around a really artfully executed but nevertheless fairly obvious sample of "just for now" by imogen heap, and “instrumentals”, a collection of beats initially available as a free download on clams casino’s twitter that was eventually pressed onto vinyl by noise/drone label type records, features among other things a prominent sample of “bachelorette” by björk. an interview done with pitchfork to promote “instrumentals” reveals that copyright law couldn’t be farther from clams’ mind when it comes to his creative process - he explained that he sometimes found raw material for samples just by typing random words like “blue” or “cold” into the soulseek-like peer-to-peer sharing program WinMX and downloading everything that came up. the journey that his samples undergo from the original source material’s moment of conception to the moment lil b opens up a random mp3 from his inbox and lays a verse on it is so labyrinthe that it’s very likely many people involved in various parts of it don’t fully understand the totality of it. it’s a way of creating music that’s like, phenomenally exciting but also basically impossible to monetize, which is why most of the official lil b releases on itunes are unlistenable drone experiments that all of his most ardent fans dutifully buy and then never listen to. he’s a radically new and different kind of artist, and the industry isn’t really set up to process him yet.
the fundamental incompatibility of the magic of lil b at his best and the contemporary music industry has left the door open for other people to try and come up with more commercially viable approximations of what he does. if he can’t figure out a way to adapt what works about his thing into a product that record companies can sell, there are a lot of other people out there willing to try. clams casino himself was understandably pretty eager to find a way to start selling beats to people who were willing and able to actually pay him, eventually ending up in the orbit of asap rocky, who basically summoned a career into existence by forcing the cloud rap aesthetic clams casino sort of invented through the major label bottleneck onto a mainstream rap record that sony could feasibly sell. also some stuff to do with fashion i don’t know. since lil b offers his producers basically nothing in the way of financial incentives or recognition/exposure, it wasn’t really difficult for other rappers to set up competing operations offering better deals to producers who were interested in making cloud rap.
the other experience i have with being sampled is when main attrakionz sampled the CFCF remix of elite gymnastics’ “here, in heaven” on a track from their actually-on-sale-in-stores-and-on-itunes capital letters Debut Album called "bury me a millionaire". like the k. flay song, i didn’t know about it until after it was out and i wasn’t paid for it or anything. unlike the k. flay song, i wasn’t credited anywhere, neither was CFCF, and the song was not a free download dumped on the internet as promo but an actual track on an album that was being sold through official channels, ostensibly making main attrakionz and the song’s credited producer “warroom” money. i found out about the sample when the album first leaked and some people on twitter and message boards posted about it, congratulating me and saying they were happy for me or excited for me. the whole thing got even weirder when i got this email a couple weeks later from the owner of the label that released their album:
yep, you love my work so much that you either didn’t realize one of the beats you bought for your album was a 32 bar loop of one of my songs with trap music construction kit drums layered over it, or you did realize that and thought it would be super fun to rap about how rich you are over it, release it without asking anyone’s permission, and then send me an email a couple weeks later asking for a remix that you probably weren’t going to pay me for. sick!
anyway something that’s interesting about the CFCF remix of “here, in heaven”, which main attrakionz sampled, is that it prominently features a looped sample of the first few seconds of a piece called "rei I" by shiro sagisu from the neon genesis evangelion soundtrack. the sample was used in "here, in heaven 2", the track from my album ruin that CFCF based his remix on. but “here, in heaven 2” was itself a remixed version of the song "here, in heaven", and the original version does not feature the evangelion sample. it was just something i included at the last minute in the remixed version i called “here, in heaven 2” as like an easter egg for people who liked both my music and anime. i don’t think CFCF was aware that the little piano bit he based his remix around was a sample, the producers who sampled his remix were probably not aware it was a sample either, and main attrakionz apparently were not aware that the beat was just CFCF’s remix with some extra drums added when they bought it so i mean given that they seem to have assumed the beat as presented to them was all original production by the producer who sent it to them it is probably safe to assume that they did not know it was an evangelion sample either. as someone who is constantly trying to walk the very fine line between person who is really into sampling and the creative possibilities that life in a multicultural society affords and person who is concerned about harmful cultural appropriation, i am now sort of horrified that this sample i included as kind of a hat tip or homage to a piece of art that is very meaningful to me ended up, as the unintended result of my actions, as the basis of a cloud rap song on itunes
another thing that’s sort of interesting is that when people first recognized an elite gymnastics-related sample on the main attrakionz album, their reaction was to congratulate me. i feel like because main attrakionz look and act and sort of sound like conventional mainstream rappers, and because rap was such a dominant force in pop culture for most of the past two decades, there are weird assumptions that kind of distort the nature of their interactions with other types of music. i feel like “cloud rap”, the name given to rap music which takes direct musical influence from relatively obscure electronic producers with an eye towards mainstream success is especially rife with weird misconceptions about stuff. i don’t think a lot of people have fully processed the degree to which rap has kinda diminished as a dominant force within pop culture - i think there’s still this faulty assumption in many circles that everything that sorta scans as rap is still handled by major labels or at least by audiences and separate branches of the music industry that are distinct from the ones that deal with indie bands. i think the people who recognized the sample and congratulated me assumed that being sampled by a rap act meant that i had now tapped into some kind of imaginary new revenue stream, and/or that via sampling my work had now been exposed to some kind of huge imaginary audience of people that listens to upstart cloud rap acts but not producers who make cloudy sounding music without rapping. i submit a possible new genre name idea: “bubble rap”, a term used to describe rap music that exists or seeks to exist/prosper by means of using widespread confusion/misconception about the state of rap music as a cultural force and ongoing commercial concern to convince uninformed audiences/industry participants that it is important
(possible offshoot genre idea: “bubble pop”, i.e. mediocre chart-poppy artists who cannot afford to do what normal pop stars do and pay max martin to write them a hit that instead seek to gain a foothold in the industry by marketing themselves directly at the people most likely to be impressed enough by the fact that they nominally look and act and sort of sound like mainstream pop stars to not care that they don’t really have any singles - i.e. music writers/promoters/indie audiences who are not used to having chart poppy stuff on major labels marketed directly to them)
anyway despite the fact that k. flay is actually signed to a major label, the same label that signed asap rocky and enabled him to actually pay clams casino and i mean g-d bless him for that because he absolutely did deserve to get paid for SOMETHING and i doubt putting official sample-free downloads of stoned keyboard noodling on itunes to extract goodwill purchases from ardent fans would work as well for him as it did for lil b, nobody congratulated me when she sampled me. which is weird, because the main attrakionz sample was this weird complicated kind of irritating gesture that resulted in a song i don’t really like at all and the k. flay sample was this really respectful and genuine gesture that i was kind of moved by that resulted in a song that i am actually pretty into. if you are reading this because you follow this tumblr, the odds that you have heard of main attrakionz are probably much higher than the odds that you have heard of k. flay, despite the fact that she is a major label artist who probably had a bigger club draw and web presence even before she signed with sony
isn’t it weird how warped the flow of information sometimes becomes w/r/t music on the internet right now? how sometimes it’s not just the audience that doesn’t know samples are being used but also like, artists and labels and PR and stuff? how entire careers or hype cycles can be founded on the fact that different audiences and branches of the industry can perceive the same artist very very differently? i remember when vampire weekend released “step” and “diane young”, ezra made some excited tweets asking if people were tracing the lineage of the “every time i see you in the world…” hook, which he’d first heard on a song by souls of mischief which he then found was taken from a song by a rapper called YZ which was itself an interpolation of a song by the band bread. the artist encouraging the audience to untangle the history of a sample, weird, right?
anyway k. flay released a free mixtape earlier this year that is available on her website, the single from it is called "the cops" and it is kind of more like this warped tour-y ballad-y thing with rap inflection, i like it and the video is kind of neat, she seems cool and i appreciate her thing and am interested in it, though as an antisocial weird person i am suspicious of collaboration hearing the thing that she did using the stuff that i had done as a starting point is definitely like an official cool thing that has happened to me in music and i had good feelings after listening to it