Hip-hop producers aren’t shy when it comes to experimenting with rock samples. Whether it’s Kanye West channeling King Krimson on “POWER” or A Tribe Called Quest dipping into Lou Reed’s back catalog for “Can I Kick It?”, guitar music has long proved a fertile hunting ground for beatsmiths. Back in the ’70s, it was MCs such as Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa who first brought hip-hop to the hood, mixing in bands like The Rolling Stones and Thin Lizzy with more traditional R&B at block parties. By the time 1985 rolled around, Rick Rubin — his influence impossible to overstate — would take the experimentation to another level, bringing hip-hop to mainstream audiences by melding Run-DMC with Aerosmith on the all-conquering “Walk This Way”. That same year, Rubin would oversee Beastie Boys’ classic debut Licensed to Ill, featuring sample credits for Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and The Clash, to name but a few.
Coming back to the current day, “indie” bands like Arcade Fire, Purity Ring, Animal Collective, and even Sufjan Stevens have wound their way onto hip-hop tunes, while Vampire Weekend and James Blake have also looked in the other direction, channeling M.I.A and Aaliyah, respectively. The two genres have always enjoyed a beneficial rapport, albeit one slightly skewed in the former’s favor.
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Beach House is a Sub Pop-signed band whose music has been plundered by the hip-hop cognoscenti with increasing regularity in recent times. Comprising singer and keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally, the pair is known for their vast soundscapes and hypnotic melodies — a bit like My Bloody Valentine on downers. “Dream Pop” is the label that has stuck with the group, albeit it’s not one they’re fully on board with. “Whenever I heard the ‘dream’ word, my response is to say ‘violent’. That’s what our music represents to me. Some words are just lazy,” said LeGrand in a past interview. “I’ve been doing this for a few years now and it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
But how, and why, did Beach House come to be loved by some of the biggest rappers and producers in the world?
The first instance came back in 2011 when The Weeknd co-opted tracks from Beach House’s self-titled debut album “Master of None” and “Gila” on his House of Balloons album, mutating them into ambient slow burners “The Party & the After Party” and “Loft Music.”
Unlikely bedfellows on the face of it, Beach House’s ethereal, woozy projections sit perfectly in Abel Tesfaye’s hallucinatory, drug-addled world of loneliness. Incidentally, they aren’t the only band to be featured on the record: Elsewhere there are samples from Siouxsie and the Banshees (“House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls”) and Cocteau Twins (“The Knowing”). As Pitchfork previously wrote, “What Kanye did to introduce heavy metal iconography into hip-hop, the Weeknd did to bring goth aesthetics to R&B.”
One year later, Beach House would come into even sharper focus for hip-hop fans when DJ Dahi sampled them on Kendrick Lamar’s critically-acclaimed Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. For the track “Money Trees”, Dahi looped LeGrand’s plaintive harmonies and Scally’s evocative slide guitar from “Silver Soul” off their breakthrough 2010 LP Teen Dream. With its classic Kendrick hook (“ya bish!”) and an exceptional guest verse from Jay Rock, the track became a near-instant classic, spending seven weeks on the US charts and peaking at number 19 on the US Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart — this despite the fact it wasn’t even officially released.
Further down the food chain, younger rappers have voiced their appreciation of the band too. In a Reddit AMA, Danny Brown said he “likes every Beach House record,” while the recently deceased Lil Peep appeared on a joint which also sampled “Silver Soul”. Tyler, The Creator is another who counts them among his personal favorites, and it’s not hard to see how Beach House’s achingly pretty arpeggios and crystalline chord progressions have fed into the dreamy, pastel-hued sonics that are widespread in his recent work.
Sandurz, the brains behind YouTube channel Beat Breakdown, has become something of a legend in Reddit sub /r/hiphopheadz in recent times, picking apart beats from names like Kanye West and explaining the intricacies behind them. For him, it comes as no surprise that Beach House should be lionized by producers.
“When you’re looking for samples, you want something that sounds interesting on its own, but has a lot of room to build on top of sonically,” he says. “Beach House tracks tend to have a lot going on but the way they choose their textures and mix their songs, you end up with these dense, rich tracks that have this round, soft, mellow sound to them. And that makes a great starting point because none of it gets in the way of all the drums and bass you’ll want to start adding as a producer.
“Guitar music has always been a big part of sampling, but it’s just been classically older funk/soul tracks. And there’s a timeless element to those sorts of samples that works in all kinds of beats so people still do it, but you look at someone like Lil Peep who has tracks sampling artists like Three Days Grace and Brand New – bands I would have never imagined would end up in pretty big hip-hop tracks… just really embracing what he grew up with even if it’s not the total opposite of what’s ‘normally’ sampled.”
Modern day hip-hop’s unabashed approach to sampling could be read as a reflection of the current zeitgeist; artists refuse to align with the genre’s historically machismo image and instead concern themselves solely with what they like instead. This is true in the music, right down to the clothes. In fact, the “weirder,” the better. Sometimes, it feels as if certain rappers are trying to one-up each other when it comes to who can sight inspiration from the most left-field sources. That it should take so long for hip-hop to break the taboo of looking to pop and indie/emo rock is something of a shame (especially when you consider pop, in particular, has never been shy in looking the other way). Hip-hop is getting weirder every day, and the best thing is, people seem to love it.
“As listeners get more and more aware of how sampling and the recording process works, you can really push the limits of what would be a ‘normal’ sample and not lose anybody,” says Sandurz.
“Ski Mask the Slump God did a track sampling the damn Boy Meets World theme song – not even the normal guitar song later one — but the really old annoying synth one! And people love it! That’s insane to me. One of my favorites in the last few years was the original version of “Cha Cha” by DRAM that had the Mario sample. It was like ten times better than the remade version where they had to drop the sample entirely. That was dope because sometimes when you sample something ‘unlikely,’ the novelty of it has to carry the track but with that one, it was some NES video game music but it reaallllllly worked and made the whole track.”
If it’s easy for Sandurz to highlight some of his favorite tracks in recent years, trying to pinpoint a single producer responsible for the explosion of tracks in recent years is an altogether more difficult task. “With the explosion of Internet producers over the past ten years and stuff like WhoSampled, and being able to find millions of old records on Youtube, there’s been a huge democratization in “sound” where one person comes out with a track that samples X genre and it blows up a little, so then everyone makes beats for the next month sampling X genre, and then while looking for X genre samples, someone finds something in some other genre and makes the next track that blows up, and it just goes from there.”
In 2018, the dam for sampling has well and truly burst. Anything goes and, like high-fashion and streetwear, the lines between genres are more blurred than ever. For Beach House, then, it was a case of arriving at the right place and the right time with the right sound. This week, the band’s latest album, 7, drops. Don’t rule out hearing sounds off it in the club at some point in the future.
For more like this, read our take on why the media has to stop exploiting young rappers right here.