Girl Talk and the power of sampling music

“Generals gathered in their masses / Get out the way / Just like witches at black masses / Get out the way, bitch,” is quite an introduction. That’s Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” merged with Ludacris’ “Move Bitch,” a combination followed by Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Jane’s Addiction, the Ramones, The Doors, and Missy Elliot, because that’s how music normally flows, right? It is in Girl Talk’s “Oh No,” and it looks like people like it that way.

With an ear for great songs and an eye for merging them, Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk shot through the music market with his 2010 album All Day

Now, years later, Texas Judicial Law Clerk W. Michael Schuster has just wrapped up a study that looked at all the songs sampled on All Day and found that the copyrighted songs saw an increase in sales the year after the album was released, compared to the year before it was released. The 74-page study points out that to a 92.5% degree of statistical significance, the copyrighted songs sold better the year after All Day’s release. 

As a musician who creates music almost solely by sampling others’ work, it’s easy to take a jab at what he does. Where’s the talent if the man isn’t making music himself? He’s skipped years’ worth of trial-and-error practice, instead opting to take on the difficult task of finding the highest peak in a song—which isn’t always the chorus — that resonates the strongest with a listener. Decoding which part of a song is the most well-known is quite the challenge, and that’s where Gillis succeeds.  

Even from someone as notable as Black Sabbath, it’s Gillis’ mix of samples and their order that get people wrapped around his finger. He knew how to pull responses from people like “I haven’t heard this in forever,” “Oh my God, I love this song,” and “Who sings this?”

Take a step back and think about recent songs whose samples are the most notable part about them. 

M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” still gets clubbers to roar when they hear the song’s opening notes, a background part taken from “Straight to Hell” by punk godfathers The Clash; Kanye West’s sample of “Harder Better Faster Stronger” by everyone’s favorite robots, Daft Punk, helped bring the electronic heroes to the forefront of mainstream music in 2007 with “Stronger”; and the bizarre use of Imogen Heap’s emotional “Hide and Seek” in Jason Derulo’s 2009 hit “Whatcha Say” came out of nowhere. 

All of these cases saw people broadening their appreciation of other genres, digging into music history vaults without even knowing it until the original song came on somewhere, and they started singing along. 

Not to mention all the unlicensed samples on rap mixtapes like Mac Miller’s use of an old Lord Finesse instrumental or Danny Brown nabbing Gorillaz’s “Tomorrow Comes Today” for “Grown Up.”

With every sample used in All Day (which, by the way, is a whopping 374, according to record label Illegal Art’s website) comes a heightened awareness of music. The instantly recognizable hooks were being tugged on by listeners who held the rest of the fishing line.

 Being able to point out who wrote what is exciting, creating a game for listeners to see how many songs they recognize, how many they listen to already, and how many they haven’t heard before. That desire to play creates an engagement between the listener and the record. 

As a fun music quiz, a challenge to redefine what it means to create music, and a major increase in sales, sampling is looking quite nice. 

Those sampled are befitting from more than a revival of their song and a few extra bucks; they’re gaining new listeners. As Schuster says in his review, it could be time “objective financial review of fair use and the market effect” takes place. As bitter as I may be (I’m looking at your Menomena sample, Schoolboy Q), it’s hard to disagree. 

So keep complaining, baby boomers. If there’s no “good music” anymore, then it’s about time we start building off what we’ve already got.