When I discussed sampling on this site in March, I hinted at the frequency with which it pops up in the legal stages that accompany modern music. Sampling, copying a portion of one musical piece into another, is a widespread infraction, but when handled the right way, it can actually highlight artistic creativity, rather than diminish it.
The volume of existing copyrighted songs poses a challenge for artists. Apple advertises that it has 43 million recorded tracks in the iTunes Store. When you’re trying to navigate around that much copyrighted work, it can be difficult to find wiggle room for something truly original. And with different courts interpreting different degrees of sampling as infringement, it can be a tense process to publish original music.
Beyoncé’s new album, “Lemonade,” recognizes that problem. The artist, who was already known for employing songwriters, brought together the brilliance of a wide variety of her predecessors and contemporaries, including Led Zepellin, Father John Misty, Vampire Weekend, Kendrick Lamar, and many others. The result is an album that not only pays tribute to the artistic masterpieces that have preceded it, but also weaves those works into a musical mosaic that is itself being hailed as a masterpiece. Beyoncé is showing her creativity not by creating an original work that is uniquely hers, but by harnessing the brilliance of her fellow musicians in creating something new.
The album’s long, star-studded credits acknowledge that brilliance that she harnessed. She openly used sampling to enhance her work, and gave credit where credit was due. The magnificent reception that the album has received may establish it as a precedent for other artists to follow suit, and reduce the legal burden that widespread, uncredited sampling has placed on the musical world.