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Sampling brings the musical past to the present: Mino’s track ‘Fiance’ has reignited discussions about citing sources in production

Dec 07,2018
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Rapper Mino’s latest song “Fiance,” right, samples a part of singer Kim Tae-hee’s “A Maiden from Soyang River” (1969) to give the song a retro feel. [SCREEN CAPTURE]
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In 2014, rapper Beenzino’s song “Dali, Van, Picasso” (2013), right, was mired in a plagiarism controversy when the record label properly failed to acknowledge its sample, “Alone Together” (1959) by Chet Baker, left. [SCREEN CAPTURE, YG ENTERTAINMENT]
Before last week, the number of young people familiar with singer Kim Tae-hee’s 1969 hit “Soyanggang Cheonyeo,” which translates to “A Maiden from Soyang River,” was limited to those who grew up listening to their parent’s record collection. But all of a sudden, the classic song’s melody has become an earworm that people can’t get out of their head thanks to rapper Mino’s latest track, “Fiance.”

The hip-hop track has been sitting atop Korea’s online music charts since its release on Nov. 26, and its music video has garnered over 19 million views as of Thursday, 10 days after its release.

Contributing to the song’s success is not just his exquisite rapping skills and the video’s sexy choreography, but the striking sound of a woman’s beautiful voice that has been sampled in the track. The unique sound adds a hip and retro touch uncommon in modern K-pop.

There have been a number of Korean songs that have sampled others and became popular, but nowhere is the technique used more than in hip-hop.

From “Fiance,” to songs in the past that have received both acclaim and criticism for sampling classics, the idea of sampling is appealing for producers, but can get legally ambiguous as well.



Taking an original

According to “Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop” (2004) by Joseph Schloss, a lecturer in music at Tufts University, the idea of sampling is “the foundation” of hip-hop.

Hip-hop as a genre grew out of the sounds of multiple genres of music played at block parties in New York City and became one of the world’s most ubiquitous forms of music.

Most of the world’s most influential hip-hop artists have recorded song over sampled beats and have album filled with tracks that are an amalgamation of music from the past.

Some of the biggest hits from Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West prominently feature samples from sources as varied as the musical “Annie” and the French electronic duo Daft Punk.

In the simplest sense, sampling refers to the act of taking a part or element from an existing piece of music. Songwriters work from the sample to make their own creations, inserting the sample into various parts of their new song, or repeating the part to make a new beat.

Mino’s “Fiance” uses “Soyanggang Cheonyeo” twice right before the hook: About five seconds of the original vocals and three seconds of instruments from the original are a fundamental part of the song. Just as the maiden longs for the return of her lover at the Soyang Riverside in the original song, Mino expresses a sense of nostalgia towards his “Fiance,” who he “misses but can’t have and can’t see.”

The overall theme is similar, but the melody is quite different from the original - a distinguishing factor that differentiates the idea of sampling from a remake, according to music producer Kim Hyuk-jin.

“A remake,” said Kim, “is when you take a whole song and change it, but it isn’t entirely new. You’re making changes to an old one, but not creating something new. In both cases, you need to have the song cleared with the original songwriter, but the two are very different.”



Double check

Because sampling always involves an original song and taking something from that song, it is important for all artists to get what is called clearance from the original source.

There’s nothing difficult about the idea - getting permission from songwriters to use elements of the original piece to create your own music - but can sometimes be tricky because people are not always honest about where they get their inspiration from.

For instance, in 2014, rapper Beenzino found himself mired in plagiarism rumors with his song “Dali, Van, Picasso.” He was accused of taking parts of a song by U.S. trumpet player Chet Baker titled “Alone Together” (1959) without permission.

The song was first released in December 2013, but was soon hit with criticism after fans found out that the song had used a melody from another song.

His agency Illionaire Records explained in January 2014 that, “We had not been aware that the song had used the sampling [technique].”

They got in touch with the copyright holder immediately and cleared things out, apologizing for their ignorance in the first place.

The incident was a result of the agency’s failure to double check, and also the songwriter Peejay’s omission of the fact that he sampled the melody from another song.

But similar problems easily arise when creators fail to be candid about their sources, which could result in much bigger lawsuits that cost more than paying the copyright holder in the first place.

If one gets caught sampling from another song without clearance, it’s plagiarism, says the Korea Copyright Commission.

“There’s no article in the law that defines what sampling is,” said an official from the commission. “The dictionary definition of sampling is taking something from the original to create something new. If you do so without the permission from the copyright holder though, then it’s nothing more than copying. The final judgment will be up to the court, but the copyright holder could legally take action.”

Though “Fiance” actually uses less than 10 seconds of the original song, it does not matter how much of the original piece of music you use, explained the copyright commission. “The law doesn’t define the details, like how many seconds you have to take from the original or where in the song you put the original source. If you’ve taken something from another song and used it, then that’s what matters.”

For the record, Mino’s song was given permission from the copyright owner of “Soyang River.”

“We had everything cleared with the original song. Even though we didn’t use the whole song, we made sure to have it legally checked,” said a representative from YG Entertainment.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]