Hip Hop Sampling: Theft or Tribute?

From Copyright Criminals collection, lesson plan 3 of 4

(90-120 min + assignments)

Purpose of Lesson: The course of sampled music has created a cycle in which sampled artists can gain an audience in a new generation of listeners. This lesson takes into account the attention that artists can and have received by being sampled. Students will look into musical legacies that have been created with sampling and create their own versions of oft-sampled records.


Students will:

  • Identify samples in popular songs.
  • Investigate the far-reaching effects of certain artists and records that have been sampled again and again.
  • Reflect on how some artists’ careers have been revived from being sampled.
  • Create their own musical composition using a sampled break.


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussions and in writing; analytical reading and viewing; note taking; interpreting information and drawing conclusions; critical thinking; identifying cause and effect; identifying relationships and patterns; creating various forms of media


  • Computers with Internet LCD projector or DVD player
  • Copyright Criminals Discussion Guide
  • Copyright Criminals Film Module 3 “Hip Hop Sampling: Theft or Tribute?”
  • whiteboard/markers, or chalkboard/chalk
  • Teacher Handout A: Assignment Rubric
  • Student Handout A: Module 3 Note Taking Guide
  • Student Handout B: Quotes

Recommended National Standards

The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations
Music: Grades 9-12
Standard 4: Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines
Standard 6: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music

Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning Standards
Career and Business Education
Standard 34. Understands the role of ethics in the business world

National Council for the Social Studies
V. Individuals, groups, & institutions
V.a. Apply concepts such as role, status, and social class in describing the connections and interactions of individuals, groups, and institutions in society;
VII. Production, distribution, & consumption
VII.b. Analyze the role that supply and demand, prices, incentives, and profits play in determining what is produced and distributed in a competitive market system;

Curricula Writer

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher. He is also a DJ and a writer.

Previewing Activity:

  1. Bring that Beat Back: Play three examples of songs that were noticeably sampled by popular contemporary artists. For example, “Straight to Hell” by The Clash, sampled in M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”; “Move on Up” by Curtis Mayfield, sampled in Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky”; “Love on a Two-Way Street” by The Moments, sampled in Jay-Z & Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” (Note: Teachers can use websites such as Who Sampled?, Grooveshark, Last FM, Pandora Radio, Myspace Music, and YouTube to search for and stream music online for classroom use).

    Call on students to respond:

    • What is the more recent song that samples this original? Describe how much of the song they sampled and how they used it.
    • After listening to the original, how do you like it? How does it compare to the song that samples it? Did the sampler take the best part of the song?
    • Are you curious who the original artist is? Would you want to listen to more music by the original artist?
    • How and why do you think the producer chose to sample that particular artist and song?
  2. How Far Can a Sample Go? Have students listen to “Can I Get An Amen?”, the audio installation by Nate Harrison about the Amen break, the infamous four bar drum break taken from obscure 1960s funk/soul band The Winstons’ song “Amen, Brother.” The Amen break has been credited in dozens—if not hundreds—of hip-hop recordings and later became the foundation for the jungle/drum-and-bass musical genre.

    Discuss the following with the class:

    • Why was this particular drum break so “usable” and ultimately so ubiquitous?
    • How did producers use digital samplers to creatively use the Amen break? Which use do you like the best and why?
    • Can it be argued that hip-hop, sampling, and the era digital music rescued The Winstons from obscurity? Why or why not?
    • Should The Winstons have been credited and compensated for the many uses of their record? How do you think they feel about the mileage that producers and music as a whole has gotten out of their break?
  3. Provide Background Information on Copyright Criminals: Briefly introduce the film Copyright Criminals. Note how the film module will focus on artists who have been famously sampled in hip-hop, such as JB’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield, Parliament/Funkadelic front man George Clinton, and The Beatles. Have students read page 4 of the Copyright Criminals Discussion Guide, specifically “Copyright Ownership and Fees” and “Creative Commons.”

    Viewing the Film:

  4. Viewing the Film Module: Instruct students to take notes on Student Handout A: Module Note Taking Guide as they view the Copyright Criminals Film Module, making note of the artists who were sampled and the hip-hop songs that sampled them.

    Reflecting on the Film:

  5. Review and Discuss: Debrief the module and notes by discussing them together as a class. Have students review the Student Handout B: Quotes before the discussion. Use the following guide questions:

    • What impact(s) does sampling have on the original artists? Is the effect generally good or bad for the sampled artist? In what ways?
    • Clyde Stubblefield, the most sampled drummer in hip-hop, worked as a session musician on James Brown’s records, and never received publishing or composing credit for music on which he was prominently featured. Is this fair? Why or why not? Should he be compensated for the use of his drum hits and patterns in sampled music?
    • Do you agree with Shock G’s painter/photographer analogy? Why or why not?
    • George Clinton’s career was arguably revitalized by hip-hop’s sampling of his music. However, he argues that the hip-hop artists should pay. Do you agree or disagree?
    • If you wanted to make a song, should you have the right to be able to sample? Should you have to pay the artist you sample? Why or why not?
    • How would you feel if someone else sampled your song? Does money affect the way you feel about it? Does it make a difference if the person who sampled your song is making money from his/her music? Does it make a difference if you are being compensated financially for it? What would you want someone sampling to do in return?
    • What other examples are there of sampling bringing attention to the music of the sampled artist in a positive way?
    • What is Creative Commons, how does it work, and is it an effective way to mediate between the rights of the artist and the creativity of the samplers?
  6. Assignment: Funky Drummer: Assign students in small groups to take a previously sampled piece of music such as “Funky Drummer,” “Amen, Brother,” or another one from the beginning of the lesson and create their own piece. Have them create a “sample script” similar to the one by Public Enemy shown in Module 1. They could also search for their own sound sources (Freesounds.org is a great Creative Commons site with tons of sounds — including drum loops and breaks) to compose an audio collage with. Using a free audio editing and recording tool such as Audacity or more involved production software such as GarageBand or Pro Tools (especially for music production classes), students can re-arrange the break, add or subtract elements, record their own lyrics or vocals, or even layer and collage speeches or other “found sound” sources to create their own composition. Direct groups to upload finished compositions to a blog or class website and have groups listen to and comment/critique each other’s works. Have them also attribute their sample sources in some way, such as including a recognition on their web post, or adding links to the original artist’s website or to a place where their music can be purchased.

    Note to teacher: Depending on availability of computers, internet access and other technology constraints, it may be more practical and have just as much impact to have students create recordings using a tape recorder or even the voice recorder on most cell phone/smartphone devices.


    Use Teacher Handout A: Assignment Rubric to assess groups’ media productions. Students should receive the rubric in advance to guide their work.

  1. Research the music and backgrounds of artists who were sampled. Explore the genre and era of the music that the sampled artist comes from.

  2. Trace the musical DNA of a series of songs using the Who Sampled? website. For example, students can see how songs that use samples have themselves been sampled, and so on. They can have a contest to find the series of songs with the most “generations” of sampling.

  3. Research the different types of copyrights involved in music in a deeper way, looking at publishing, songwriting, recording, etc. Develop a presentation for the class.

  4. View the DJ Shadow scene from the film Scratch. Reflect on how digging for records and sampling is a form of preservation of those artists’ legacies. Research other artists who have preserved or paid tribute to forgotten/unsung forbears in their own work.

  • Film module:
    Hip Hop Sampling: Theft or Tribute?

Download lesson materials