In its infancy, the art of sampling mainly referred to the looping of drum breaks. However, as technology advanced beyond turntables and the genre spread across the world, sampling took many new forms. There are three subgenres in specific which I would like to go over in terms of their effects and appeal, those being Memphis rap and vaporwave.
Starting with Memphis rap, the genre was perhaps most popular in the 90’s, with groups such as Three 6 Mafia taking front stage for the style of music. Characterized by dark lyrics, lofi aesthetics, and eerie beats, Memphis rap was one of the progenitors of the horrorcore genre.
When it comes to sampling, however, Memphis rap has some rather unique components which differentiate it from other sample-based genres. For one, Memphis producers often did not sample drum breaks. Rather, they would create their own artificial drums using electronic drum machines. This was rather unique in hip-hop at the time and has been widely adopted since then by other producers who do not wish to source their drums from already-existing songs. In lue of sampling drums, then, Memphis producers mainly sampled melodies, either from jazz and R&B (which was incredibly popular at the time) or often from horror movies. An example which comes to mind is Body Parts, by Three 6 Mafia, which samples John Carpenter’s classic soundtrack to his 1978 film Halloween.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Memphis production is its sampling of hip-hop, namely Memphis rap itself. Producers, instead of having rap artists sing hooks or choruses for their songs, would simply loop a vocal sample of a previous song for a few bars. Often this vocal sample would consist of a small snippet of one of another song’s verse, however this simple repetition of a phrase was massively popular and influential. It is a hallmark of Memphis and one of the immediate identifiers that the song you are listening to came in some way or another from the region.
All of these factors come together to form the moody, eerie atmosphere that is riddled throughout Memphis rap. It is evidence of the hopelessness that these artists felt from their environments. Feelings of being trapped in a horror film, that you’ve heard these voices before over and over, are focal points of the genre, and it is the height of awful irony that many of these artists have been demonized for the nature of their lyrics when what they are truly expressing is their lack of agency and control over their situation.
Vaporwave, sonically speaking, is a fairly different genre. Popularized in the late 2000’s/early 2010’s by artists such as Daniel Lopatin and Ramona Xavier, the genre is known for its slow, looping, hypnagogic melodies and recontextualization of popular music.
Similar to the drumless movement in hip-hop, in which added drums were foregone to prioritize the natural percussion of the sample, vaporwave is one of the most purely sample-based genres out there. Inspired heavily by the work of DJ Screw, who would slow down and remix hip hop songs, vaporwave producers will take a portion of a song, slow it down and loop it. This creates a rather hazy and psychedelic environment where no sound can really be nailed down, as it echoes throughout your head repeatedly, similar to the phenomena of only being able to remember a portion of a song you heard on the radio. It is a rather simplistic, yet effective, formula, and has been majorly influential upon remixing and TikTok culture today.
Another very important aspect of vaporwave is the nostalgia attached to it. It has been very common, especially in the genre’s infancy, for producers to sample very popular radio hits of the past, or even elevator jingles which everyone is familiar with. Through this looping, hazy recontextualization, the genre was able to turn songs which were seen as soulless pop or guilty pleasures into “high art.”
I mentioned earlier the concept of remembering only part of a song you heard on the radio, and vaporwave’s appeal for many is at the heart of this idea that memories erode, that the past cannot be fully experienced as it was, and that everything one once had attachment to will fade with time. Vaporwave thus places subtext where there was emptiness before, hence being able to turn a generic pop hit of the 1980s into something which people appreciate on a greater level. And while the genre is not as overtly horror-themed as that of Memphis rap, it is this deeper level of nostalgia and the unrelenting and uncontrollable passage of time which I find to be rather similar to the feeling of hopelessness and fear which is so closely integrated into Memphis rap.
To conclude, this post-modern recontextualization of existing music is evident of the times in which we live. The things of the past are gone, the hope of a happy ending is a childhood fantasy for many, and life will simply go on, leaving us behind, and repeating the same thing to the new generations.