There are many controversial topics concerning the music making process, but one topic that is rarely talked about, unless it’s an argument about integrity, is the art of Sampling. Opinions on sampling are very polarizing, people either feel the process is a cheap way for untalented artists to ride other artist’s coattails, or their typically indifferent to it. Not many people take the time to appreciate the work that goes into sampling. With that said, once again I spoke to the YF Godmothers and together we came up with our new series “Sample Spotlight.”
To start things off, I give you XV.
Born Donavan Johnston, XV got his name from the Roman numeral for 15 which was the age he started rapping. XV’s subject matter strays form the typical, often referencing videogames, Star Wars, and various other geek culture staples while keeping the raw style and delivery any rap fan can rock with.
On his fifth mixtape, Zero Heroes, XV created a heartbreakingly close to home song for me along with many others called “Pictures On My Wall.” The song focuses on XV’s younger days spent in his bedroom surrounded by his rap idols.
The songs production utilizes two samples: Toronto’s We Are The Take’s “Montreal Love Song” is heavily sampled for the beat.
Whereas, Biggie Small’s classic line “Hangin’ pictures on my wall.” from the immortal “Juicy” is much less used, but to a heavily dramatic effect.
The tension is high on this song from the beginning as XV paints the picture of a kid just wanting an escape from his life and finding it in music and the posters of his idols. He takes a very unique yet relatable route with lyrics like:
Niggas with dreams, wearing bling, screaming that they made it
New York rapper said ‘son’, West Coast niggas said ‘cuz’,
Mid-West dude said ‘fam’, Damn no wonder I related.
While I was never one for posters, as I type this my laptop wallpaper is a minimalist photo of Jay-Z staring dead at me.
I’d be lying if said I didn’t at times pretend he was telling me to get myself together.
Sped up, We Are the Take lead singer Eric Alcock’s soft vocals add a sense of tragedy sounding significantly younger crooning snippets from the refrain, “I can’t figure it out.” and, “Always on my mind.” as the instrumental amplifies in intensity. All while this going on, Biggie’s classic line echoes in the background almost as a reminder that all the legends start out as kids just like XV.
All in all I feel this a perfect example of sampling at it’s best. I could go on for days about the exact meaning of each lyric and how the samples complimented them perfectly, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing beats just listening and experiencing the genius firsthand.