Right from the very start, hip-hop has always held within it a contradiction related to sampling, secrecy and artistic self-exposure. DJs soaking off the labels of records to evade prying eyes of their competitors, as Chris Read, Head of Content at WhoSampled says, co-existed with compilations such as Ultimate Breaks and Beats (or before that Octopus Breaks) breaking down the genre to core elements.
This public dimension of the producer’s craft has only become more pronounced in the internet era. “It’s impossible to live your life outside the reality of the world we live in now,” Read says. “Whether it’s making music or playing sports, there’s always going to be a body of people out there who will want to discuss and analyze what you do.”
The UK-based WhoSampled site, founded in 2008 by Nadav Poraz, has as its tagline “exploring the DNA of music”. With its collection of 462,000 songs and 156,000 artists alongside content provided by 17,000 contributors worldwide the scope of the project is vast.
Each month the site notches up two million visitors curious to discover music they may, or may not recognize, with others drawn into the “web of musical connections” the site provides. In Read’s description: “It’s discovering stuff you like, but don’t know you like yet via its connection to something you already know you like.”
With such a reach, the site’s approach is necessarily eclectic. The frontpage when I last looked featured a D’Angelo mixtape; a piece exploring the “varied catalogue of Herbie Hancock” and an analysis of samples used on the Baby Driver movie soundtrack. The deep impact of sampling on pop culture means top searches for the month are just as likely to include Katy Perry, or a track performed by an X Factor contestant, as a hip-hop classic.
For a long while, Chris Read was best-known as the “rap mega-mix guy,” he tells me with a laugh when we met in the dark recesses of a restaurant in a plush East London hotel – soundtrack: Childish Gambino, Otis Redding — because of a phenomenally successful mixtape The Diary he put out ten years ago. The mixtape charted hip-hop’s history, from 1979-2007, via more than 800 tracks — in order of release.