Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Tillet, Salamishah. “Strange Sampling: Nina Simone and Her Hip-Hop Children.” American Quarterly 66 (Spring 2014): 119-37.

Samples of Nina Simone in hip-hop in the 2000s and 2010s enable artists to access her sonic black radicalism, revealing the possibilities and limits of Simone’s contemporary resurgence as a civil rights icon and complicating debates about black women’s role in hip-hop. In 2007, producer Devon “Devo Springsteen” Harris created an instrumental track that sampled Simone’s 1965 recording of Strange Fruit, written by Abel Meeropol in 1936 and made famous by Billy Holiday, that was used in both an unreleased track by Common and in Celebrate by Cassidy. Harris selected Simone’s recording over Holiday’s for the “rawness” of her voice, emphasized by her sparse arrangement revising Franz Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger. Common pairs the Strange Fruit sample with politically engaged lyrics about global black suffering, aligning with Simone’s political black radicalism. Cassidy pairs Simone’s Strange Fruit with a personal narrative of self-reflection and redemption, emphasizing the paradoxical desperation and celebration at the heart of hip-hop. Celebrate was inspired by Get By, a 2002 track by Talib Kweli produced by Kayne West that samples Simone’s 1965 recording of Sinnerman. West extracts three sections from Sinnerman: Simone’s lyrical shout, unmeasured vocalizing, and a portion of her piano solo. These relatively obscure extracts highlight the sound of Simone’s voice and pianism over her lyrical interpretation, drawing on the musical experimentation of Simone’s sonic black radicalism. West also samples Simone in several of his own tracks, which leads to tension between Simone’s political legacy and West’s often sexist lyrics. In Blood on the Leaves, West pairs a pitch-shifted sample of Strange Fruit with deep ambivalence toward women’s sexuality and motherhood. In effect, West uses Strange Fruit to decry his exploitation at the hands of women he hooks up with, not his exploitation by racist institutions. Simone’s musical legacy of radical genre mixing is more relevant to West’s project than her politics. While the practice of sampling Nina Simone by male hip-hop artists risks being read as appropriative, it can also introduce Simone’s radical politics to a new generation of listeners and place her voice at the center of the ongoing struggle for black freedom.

Works: Cassidy, Devon Harris (producer): Celebrate (122, 124-27); Common, Devon Harris (producer): [untitled, unreleased track] (122, 124-26); Abel Meerepol (as Lewis Allen, songwriter), Nina Simone (performer): Strange Fruit (123); Talib Kweli, Kanye West (producer): Get By (128-30); Kanye West: Bad News (129), Blood on the Leaves (129-32); Kayne West and Jaz-Z: New Day (129); Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Kweli, Mos Def, Kanye West (producer): Get By (remix) (132-33); Lauryn Hill: Black Rage (133-34)

Sources: Abel Meerepol (as Lewis Allen, songwriter), Nina Simone (performer): Strange Fruit (122-27, 130-32); Franz Schubert: Der Doppelgänger (123); Traditional, Nina Simone (arranger, performer): Sinnerman (128-30, 132-33), See-Line Woman (129); Love: Doggone (128); Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein: My Favorite Things (133-34)

Index Classifications: 2000s, Popular

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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