SAMPLED is a recurring column that examines the skeletal production of a contemporary Rap/R&B/Hip-Hop or Pop song. From what song did the loop, sample, or chopped up vocal providing the backbone for a new interpretation originate? We look at the original song with some historical context, and then review the modern-day production that samples the original. For better or worse, this is the process by which a huge portion of contemporary pop music is assembled. On a weekly basis, SAMPLED aims to approach it case-by-case, and examine the dividing practice of using samples in the creation of music.
Here’s a new one. This week, the sample in question isn’t at all musical in nature. For the first time on SAMPLED, we’re looking at more of a “found-sound” recording. The sample this week is actually the sound of Venus Williams grunting during a doubles tennis match. Jump to 0:05 for the specific “grunt” that was ripped from this YouTube clip and re-purposed:
Venus Williams’ sister Serena showed some interest in a music career earlier this month, and it seems that Serena’s voice has some musical qualities as well, whether she knows it or not. A YouTube clip of the Williams sisters playing in the 2008 Wimbledon women’s doubles finals (“Williams Sisters Grunting“) showcases their very vocal tennis-playing style, as the sisters let out intense audible grunts each time they return the ball. Venus & Serena went on to win the match, securing the championship — a title they would also claim the following year.
Venus Williams’ grunt was recently sampled by the experimental hip-hop group Death Grips on their song “System Blower,” taken from their 2012 debut The Money Store:
California-based hip-hop/electro-punk outfit Death Grips aren’t exactly destined for pop super-stardom with the erratic, dysfunctional sounds prominent on The Money Store. There does, however, seem to be a place for their bombastic soundscapes on today’s music charts — Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid even compared them to Whitney Houston before signing the trio. Death Grips’ first major label record eventually charted at #130 on the Billboard 200 (and #3 on U.S. Heatseekers), so there must be some kind of widespread appeal in their spastic and raw musical coalescence.
Death Grips prefer to sample sounds from every day life, rather than sampling in the conventional hip-hop sense. On the song “System Blower,” there’s a recurring instrumental section that starts with the sample of Venus Williams screaming, and is followed by a wobbling, distorted synth line. Listen to the above YouTube clip at 0:55, 1:16, 1:44 to get a sense of the primal impact that Venus’ tennis return has in the context of the drop. Found-sound sampling can be effective in many sub-genres of hip-hop and pop music, and Venus Williams’ gutteral tennis scream found an unlikely, but appropriate home on “System Blower.”