In my role as the Vice President of Licensing at Warner Music Group I oversaw the licensing of “samples.” A sample is when a newer song uses a portion of an existing recording. A prominent example is Puff Daddy’s sample of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” in his “I’ll Be Missing You.”
One of the most popular catalogues for sample licensing is that of Curtis Mayfield. Elements of his records have been used by many well-known and respected rap acts, including Kanye West and Beastie Boys. I’d run the requests by Curtis’ son Kirk, who was always a pleasure to work with.
Many complain of hip hop’s dependence on samples, and while often times samples are used in a lazy and uninspired way, there are many examples where the samples complement the new song perfectly. It can also be argued that samples keep the music of great acts of the past alive and introduce this music to younger generations. Where else might a teenager hear Curtis Mayfield or James Brown other than via a new Kanye jam?
Today, the third day of Black Music Month, we celebrate the birthday of the late, great Curtis Mayfield with some of the classics he had a hand in – as a solo artist, as a member of The Impressions, as a writer/producer, or via a sample. Click here for the playlist.