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AIRSHAFTS, LOUDSPEAKERS, AND THE HIP HOP SAMPLE: CONTEXTS AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSICAL AESTHETICS By Andrew Bartlett The art of digital sampling in (primarily) African American hip hop is intricately connected to an African American/ African diasporic aesthetic which carefully selects available media, texts, and contexts for performative use. Thomas Porcello explains that digital sampling allows one to encode a fragment of sound, from one to several seconds in duration, in a digitised binary form which can then be stored in computer memory. This stored sound may be played back through a keyboard, with its pitch and tonal qualities accurately reproduced or, as is often the case, manipulated through electronic editing. (69) And Porcello concludes, perhaps rightly, but in any case reductively, and that "rap musicians have come to use the sampler in an oppositional manner which contests capitalist notions of public and private property by employing previously tabooed modes of citation" (82). When popular discussions of rap or hip hop come around to digital sampling, they often do so by way of telling metaphors. Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee asserts that "rap culture" is "becoming more of a scavenger culture" when "mixing all the colors together" (Kemp 20); Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace liken sampling to "holding music at gunpoint" (57); and a March 1991 Keyboard magazine article refers to sampling as "audio junkyard collisions" (Dery, "Tommy" 64). The oral pedagogical techniques hip hop artists utilize have maintained what Porcello calls "three capabilities of the sampler--the mimetic/reproductive, the manipulative[,] and the extractive" (69), and these capabilities reveal, among other things, what W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903 called "second sight" ( 5 )--that process by which the "minority" knows the majority not only better than the obverse, but often better than the "majority" knows itself. Du Boisian second sight is not reserved for quietly ideological activity, but has historically been exercised in a thoroughly public and thoroughly popular forum--and thus a forum in need of contextualization--the African American musical performance. In his study of African American musical aesthetics Black Talk: How the Music of Black America Created a Radical Alternative to the Values of
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Western Literary Tradition, Ben Sidran relies heavily on a distinction between literate and oral "approaches to perception and the organization of information" ( 3 ). This distinction, Sidran notes, is not concrete: Whereas "literacy freezes concept, as it were, through the use of print" (xxiv), the so- called oral mode relies on "basic actionality" ( 5 ), a functional elaboration, often through performance, that allows communication and perception a massive spectrum of referents. Whether Sidran's distinctions are accepted in full or not, there is a clear continuum in which African American artists have put things learned by listening into action by way of performance. Greg Tate argues that one of the most extraordinary transformations in
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This note was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course IDIS 277 taught by Professor Gilcook during the Spring '08 term at Purdue.

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