Picasso once said, “Good artists copy but great artists steal.” A recent discussion on Reddit revealed that Grammy-winning producer Chauncey Hollis (also known as Hit-Boy) heavily sampled an obscure stock loop for his 4-times Platinum record “Ni**as In Paris”.
His critics accused him of blatant plagiarism, laziness and a lack of creativity. But what they failed to consider is how much his production is less about the sample and more about the idea – the idea to take this particular sample, tweak it, add to it, remove from it, slow it down and imagine MCs like Jay Z and Kanye West over it.
No matter the art form, the essence of creativity is being able to make connections between different elements. For Hollis, the sample is a small component of a larger concept. In an interview, Hollis reveals how he cultivated an ear for stringing together various sounds to form chart-topping singles:
Fat Tony: What were your first beats like and how did they develop towards what you do today? Were you imitating what local producers around you were making or what was on the radio?
Hit-Boy: I was imitating Neptunes, Timbaland, Just Blaze, Kanye, The Underdogs. Like, all those different sounds. Like, Just Blaze and Kanye both sampled but they had different styles of sampling. The Underdogs were super R&B. They were doing Omarion’s shit. I was studying all those people. That’s why I feel like even though some of my newer beats seem simplistic, they sound bigger because I studied people like The Underdogs.
When you got to their hooks, you knew it was a hook cause it sounded bigger than the rest of the song. Just studying those different people, mocking what they were doing and adding my own flavor to it is how I developed into what I do today.
Every artist is influenced in some way or another by what has been done before their time. To merely copy is to take an existing interpretation and not run away with it; to steal is to take something of value and make it yours. Michael Jackson once famously said, “The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.”
The entire underpinning of Year One is the close-study of people who inspire us. We analyse who they are, what they do and what they think with the aim of emulating their attributes. Your unique narrative of success is comprised of “samples” from other people, much in the same way that some of Hit-Boy’s beats are made. To make an artistic element yours, you have to interpret it your way with your own approach.
This doesn’t make you a thief, lazy, or uninspired; it means you’re a student of the game, hungry and inspired.
Read the rest of Hollis’ interview over at Noisey.
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