Here’s the thing:
I was born in the 80’s…that’s almost 20 years after Tom Scott’s 1967 classic “Today” was released. The first time I (inadvertently) heard Scott’s arrangement, I was 6 years old and I was introduced his now famous sax riff via Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”. Even as a 6 year old, I loved “T.R.O.Y.”.
I still do. The very fact that I still get goosebumps when I hear it makes “T.R.O.Y.” a hip hop classic.
Now, I knew nothing about sampling when I was 6. And for years, I didn’t know where the foundation for the beat for T.R.O.Y. came from. In fact, it wasn’t until much later in 2006, during a particularly stirring episode of The Boondocks, that I heard Tom Scott’s “Today” for the first time. That famous horn riff jumped right out at me. After a little Googling and some digging on Youtube, I was introduced to Tom Scott’s soulful skills on the sax. Without “T.R.O.Y.”, I would have never been put on to this talented artist. (Ok, I’m lying a little bit. I have been knocking the theme song to Family Ties for years. But you know what I mean). Furthermore, without Tom Scott covering “Today” (yes, Scott’s “Today” is a cover version), I would have never discovered the gripping vocal stylings of 60’s folk rock band Jefferson Airplane, the group that wrote and originally recorded “Today”.
You see my point, right?
Today’s pre-teens were born around 2000. That’s at least 9 or 10 years after “T.R.O.Y.” made its mark on radio. For many of these kids, Lupe Fiasco’s “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” is the first exposure they will ever have to “T.R.O.Y.” and in turn, Tom Scott, and subsequently, Jefferson Airplane. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, it will be Lupe’s track that bridges the gap between today’s youngsters and all of this great music that they may not have otherwise heard. Who are we to be mad at that?
Now, as an artist and a fan, I understand Pete Rock’s initial reaction to “Around My Way”. Songs are like children. They are precious to us. We love them dearly, and we are fiercely protective over them. We wouldn’t leave our children in any old person’s care, and likewise, we don’t want our songs sampled, covered or otherwise altered by just any old person. We would NEVER be ok with someone taking our child, or our music, without our permission (which, from what I’ve read, was the issue Pete Rock had with the remake). Although Lupe’s producers didn’t necessarily need Pete Rock’s blessing from a legal standpoint (“Around My Way” contains no samples of the Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth recording but rather, it uses live instrumentation to re-create the sound), there is still an issue of respect. To hear an unauthorized remake of a song that you put your heart and soul into creating? It does a number on the heart, that’s for sure.
However, even though “T.R.O.Y.” is a classic, and even though it is a deeply personal record, the devil’s advocate in me still has to ask: why should this or any other song be “off limits” when it comes to sampling? How can we as hip hop fans all of a sudden rally for the cessation of sampling, when the very song we are defending is a remake of a remake? What if Tom Scott or Jefferson Airplane had made their songs “off limits”, as some artists choose to do? It would have been their right, yes, but for them and for us, something great would have been lost. Take the time to really think about that. And then, rather than shooting down the co-producers of Lupe’s track, be thankful that they are doing their part to keep a song that we love alive. I’m not saying you have to like Lupe’s track. I’m just saying respect the artists by allowing them to be creative in the same way Pete Rock was allowed to do so. And realize that “Around My Way” will never make “T.R.O.Y.” any less of a classic.
According to an official statement released last Wednesday, Pete Rock and Lupe Fiasco’s camp have come to an understanding and let bygones be bygones. “The storm is over and it’s time to move on”, Pete Rock has said. I’m glad those are his sentiments now. And I am positive that Trouble T Roy and Heavy D’s spirits will be lifted up when kids who have never heard “T.R.O.Y.” before seek it out due to its reappearance in the mainstream.
As lovers of hip hop, we are passionate about the music that we love (and equally passionate about the music we dislike). Our music is dear to us, and we are emotionally invested in the genre. This is the reason for blind elitism and separation amongst lovers (and sometimes, the makers) of hip hop. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, and we don’t have to like everything that we hear. However, when our opinion starts to stumble into the realm of narrow-mindedness, it becomes a detriment to the craft. There is nothing to be lost by letting new artists be creative and take the genre in a new direction. Even if their music is trash, it doesn’t make the classics we love any less great. Real damage lies in putting limitations on today’s artists and telling them what they “cannot” do. Not only do we stifle their growth, but we put a cap on hip hop’s evolution. And if hip hop is not allowed to evolve, nobody wins!