The Night “Otis” Leaked, Twitter Hashtag Replies Revealed Something Alarming About the Nature of Today's Beat Critiques
|By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)|
As the Jay-Z/Kanye West song “Otis” leaked and bulldozed its way to trending topic status on Twitter last year, I was surprised (well, actually not really) by the level of vitriol and indirect shots that were brought against it by loads of beatmakers (producers) against the “Otis” beat (produced by Kanye West). In my quick, non-scientific poll and survey of a substantial number of “Otis” tweets that night, it was obvious that most people liked “Otis”; while some people thought that is was simply OK; and still, a small minority disliked it. But whatever the consensus was or wasn’t, one thing was clear from a beatmakers perspective: Many beatmakers were alarmingly critical of the beat that night.
Among beatmakers you will find some of the most opinionated music makers in the world. Beatmakers scrutinize the beats of fellow musicians differently than the average hip hop/rap fan and music listiner, because beatmakers are usually keenly aware of any number of methods and processes that can go into the creation of any beat. We know the styles, sounds, and techniques that are being referenced. And because hip hop/rap music, perhaps more then any other twentieth-century American popular music form, is infused with the ethos of competition, many beatmakers often listen to beats with a competitor’s ear. In many ways, this is why we rate, or dare I say judge, beats on a set of metrics that are different than most people. So I can understand why so many beatmakers took to Twitter that night and offered up their opinions on the way in which that sampling of an Otis Redding recording was rendered.
But a closer look at the pulse of the “Otis” hashtag replies from last year revealed something among sample-based beatmakers that I found to be alarming: hyper-scrutiny. Although all sample-based beatmakers interpret and perceive source material differently (and, subsequently, the samples that they cull from said source material), I don’t believe that any one interpretation can automatically be deemed superior to another. When there’s two flips of the same recording to compare, we can all toss our vote for which flip of a sample was dopest. For instance, Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” was sampled and flipped by a number of beatmakers, but which one was best? I suppose a healthy debate is suitable there.
But with regard to the “Otis” beat, the debate among beatmakers on Twitter that night centered around the way in which the “Otis” sample was used—many considered it to be a weak flip of a great Otis Redding song. Some maintained that it didn’t have enough chops. Some added that it didn’t use the best parts of the Otis Redding song. Some thought that it didn’t incorporate enough changes. And some believed that the drums weren’t as good as they could’ve been. Thus, those who lobbied such critiques found that they just couldn’t bring themselves to say that the beat was dope, for lack of how the sample was flipped. Yeah, O.K., riiigght… Thankfully, however, there were some who did reply that the "Otis" beat was dope. Simply stated.
What Makes a Dope Sample-Based Beat?
The dopeness of a sample-based beat isn’t based on the number of chops that it includes; or the number of different changes that it incorporates; or how many different drum sounds that it features. The dopeness of a sample-based beat (and a non-sample-based beat for that matter) is based on how it sounds—how the combination of samples, the drumwork, and any other elements soundtogether. A dope beat is a dope beat, no matter how simple or complex it appears to be! Of course, “dope” is subjective. But if the beat inspired decent enough rhymes from Jay-Z (one of the best lyricists to date) and Kanye West (a very capable rapper in his own right), can’t we all at least agree that the “Otis” beat was dope? And if we are to agree that dope beats make for dope songs (usually), then why was “Otis” not celebrated simply for that, instead of being knocked by many for what the beat could've of been?
Beatmakers, like other artists, have strong opinions. Some of these opinions are fair and articulate, some are unfair and bizarre, some are snobbish and narrow, and some are just down-right petty. Either way, I find it disheartening and non-constructive (to say the least) when many sample-based beatmakers discredit a beat as something on the lower end of the art of sampling simply because they believe that they could have flipped the sample better. This is especially troubling when the beat they’ve sought to discredit actually celebrates sampling in a good light, using a song by Otis Redding, a great soul man that unfortunately a large number of beatmakers aren’t necessarily familiar with today.
And of What About the Use of an Otis Redding Sample and it’s Inspiration?
Here, I also wanted to comment on what some non-beatmakers had to say about using an Otis Redding song and, specifically, the name “Otis” for the likes of what Jay-Z and Kanye West did with it. The use of the name “Otis” and/or a sample of his music as “not deserving”, as one tweet from that night put it, is an ill-informed statement. Let’s be clear: At the base of it, hip hop/rap music converts other forms of music (I discuss this in-depth in The BeatTips Manual. When it comes to sampling, nothing and no one is above being sampled, reconceptualized, and transformed! Sample-based beatmakers are only limited by their imaginations and their understanding of the art form. Whether the final result is dope or not is a separate matter subject to its own debate. But the self-righteous, soap-box statements thrown against “Otis” are far reaching and misguided.
Again: Like the beat, like the song, or dislike it. But do so on it’s merits and intended effect. The notion of calling out a misuse of a sample of Otis Redding (who admittedly I’ve long been a big fan of) as a slick, sacrilegious pop music move is just plain overkill. Relax. Because like the Jay-Z/Kanye West “Otis” song or not, Otis Redding gained millions of new listeners as a result of it. And that’s gotta be a good thing. Inspiration always is…
And think about this: J Dilla’s responsible for creating some of the most engaging music ever recorded. But the fact that he and his music was able to inspire countless beatmakers and introduce scores of people to the art of sampling will perhaps be his most important legacy to the art of beatmaking. I was immediately reminded of this that night I heard what was then the “Otis” leak off of the Jay-Z/Kanye West album WatchThe Throne.
Scrutiny is good; competition is good. But I’m not sure if hyper-scrutiny advances the art of beatmaking. Be a fan, and a listener… Critique a beat/song fairly when necessary, but also support a beat/song when the art of sampling is being celebrated.
The music below is presented for the purpose of scholarship.