In the "hard-core" sub-genre of hip-hop, one sees a much clearer emphasis on street and urban authenticity -- rather than on sampling. For N.W.A., hip-hop is an expression of lived life -- a kind of militant message passed down to urban blacks from men like Malcolm X
But not all hip-hop comes from such types. The Beastie Boys are an example of hip-hop artists who thrive on a different message. Much of their music is centered on adolescent/teenage angst -- white suburban kids enraged by suburban living, but moved by urban beats. They inter-mingle their own white perspective with samplings from an assortment of other artists -- thus making their mark on the hip-hop scene. Their aggression appears to be real, like 50 Cent's -- even if it is different in its source. The Beastie Boys are, of course, legends in hip-hop -- but Mickey Hess denies that their authenticity comes from their own perspective as white suburbanites. Hess states that "hip-hop's imperatives of authenticity are tied to its representations of African-American identity, and white rap artists negotiate their place within hip-hop culture by responding to this African-American model of the authentic" (Hess 2005:372). Of course, Hess' argument makes sense on one level because just as sampling is a major part of hip-hop so too is its black identity.
This identity, however, is in a way sampled as much by whites. There was Vanilla Ice in the 1990s, whose "fabricated biography" allowed him to seem like a black rapper who had "lived the life" even though he was nothing more than a pre-packaged faux-rapper (Hess 2005:372). Today, there is the opposite of Vanilla Ice in Eminem -- a hip-hop artist whose life story is magnified by "his whiteness… [and] his struggle to succeed as a hip-hop artist" because of race (Hess 2005:372). In Eminem, one finds a hip-hop artist who samples not just music (his sampling of Dido was very popular) but also of the traditional hip-hop identity narrative.
Indeed, Hess observes that "the reaction against Vanilla Ice changed the way white rap artists confront their whiteness, such that newer artists have developed a more critical awareness of the problem of constructing white hip-hop as 'real'" (Hess 2005:373). In other words, 50 Cent is right in way: what makes hip-hop authentic is the narrative behind it -- the author, the artist. Even if the art of hip-hop looks and sounds like hip-hop, it does not necessarily make it real authentic hip-hop. Its authenticity comes not from its samples -- whether of music or of narrative -- but from the authenticity of the hip-hop artist himself. Hip-hop's authenticity, according to Hess and 50 Cent, resides in the artist: if he is real, so too then is his hip-hop.
In this sense, hip-hop exists not in the sampling, but in the man and the story behind the words put to the sample. The problem with Vanilla Ice was that he not only sampled music ("Ice, Ice, Baby" was set to the tune of "Under Pressure") but that he also sampled an identity. Had Vanilla Ice been authentic in his own person, it is possible that he may have been seen as a credible and authentic hip-hop artist. In the final analysis, however, he was viewed as a fraud. Eminem, on the other hand, has succeeded in establishing himself as an authentic hip-hop artist not merely because he adheres to the sampling principle of hip-hop but because the identity he professes is authenticated by his story.
But, of course, what has always been part of hip-hop is the art of sampling music -- and, as has already been stated, sampling is part of all musical endeavors. But "because of copyright-infringement litigation, some of these artists…have had to give up" (Marshall 2006:1). The problem is that because of copyrights, that which has made hip-hop artistically unique is now being rethought: "De La Soul's unauthorized use of twelve seconds from the Turtles' 1969 single, "You Showed Me," ended in a $1.7 million settlement in 1989…Biz Markie's unauthorized use of twenty secons from Gilbert O'Sullivan's 1972 ballad…was ruled a criminal theft" (Marshall 2006:1). None of this boded well for hip-hop -- and, yet, even the biggest names in hip-hop still continue to use samples in their work, whether they are Kanye or P. Diddy: working for a major label allows them the ability to pay the licensing fee of whatever sample they choose to use. Even "underground producers such as DJ Premier base their very style and voice on a commitment to keeping hip-hop…alive" through the use of artistic sampling (Marshall 2006:2).
Yet, one voice -- that of Questlove -- rises to assure hip-hop critics that authenticity does not reside in the art of sampling, but rather in the desire to make authentic hip-hop: Questlove "suggest that for 'traditional' musicians like himself, sampling is not worth the trouble when 'original' material, performed within certain stylistic bounds and properly recorded, can be just as authentic" (Marshall 2006:2). Of course, Questlove is a hip-hop artist who desires to be seen as one who thinks outside the box -- as one who embraces originality in an artistic way. He is not out to prove his authenticity through identity or narrative -- but through the very music he makes. If new laws mean that he cannot sample in the traditional way, at least he can still manufacture hip-hop rhythms that reflect traditional hip-hop style.
Questlove's approach is to "critically reconstruct hip-hop's established storyline, debunking too circumscribed an idea of hip-hop's boundaries and recovering significant, overlooked practices" (Marshall 2006:2). Questlove does not deny the fact that sampling has always held a central role in the art of making hip-hop -- but he also reminds the hip-hop community that "traditional instrumentalists" have also been an important factor in "hip-hop's history" (Marshall 2006:2).
Of course, not all hip-hop artists embrace Questlove's perspective. To those who fail to appreciate his sense of authenticity, Questlove states: "For those who speak out against live instruments in hip-hop is plain ignorant to me. That spits in the face of the work that I've put in for the last decade. Not to mention that must mean that [Doctor] Dre's work is underestimated and unappreciated (you think Dre is using samples? Nope)" (Marshall 2006:2). Indeed, Questlove goes on to call out a number of influential hip-hop artists who used instruments as opposed to samples. The point is that hip-hop's authenticity cannot be established by adherence to form: the authenticity of hip-hop comes from the substance of the artist and his art as well as from his identity and his narrative. Authentic hip-hop is hip-hop that is real because the passion and struggle and pain and love behind it are real. Hip-hop that is inauthentic is hip-hop that is manufactured -- artists like Vanilla Ice, artists pretending to be something they are not. In the end, "hip-hop's fascination with authenticity is unique to the genre and is the function of its roots as the cultural expression of socially and economically marginalized African-Americans" (Williams 2007:3).
Whether that authenticity comes from the real-life experiences of street warfare (such as belong to 50 Cent), or from the real-life painstaking hours that went into devising and composing something original (like Questlove) or from the traditional sampling of music and the artistic application of those samples to the hip-hop narrative -- hip-hop will always be hip-hop so long as it unites itself to the "real." The "real" is that which is not constructed -- that which says to the listener a specific message. The message of hip-hop transcends the formalistic style of the genre -- it transcends the background narratives so that both blacks and whites can assume a share in it; it transcends the genre itself and reaches back to social rights leaders like Malcolm X Hip-hop is the artistic expression of identity -- of real, authentic identity -- and when the identity is real, the hip-hop is authentic, whether it includes samples or not (and whether those samples are of music or identity). What matters most is that hip-hop has heart. As John D. Williams asserts, "One definition of hip-hop authenticity is staying true to oneself. This definition is quite popular within the music because, not only does it include rappers of all socio-economic backgrounds, but also because it can be compatible with all other definitions of authenticity" (Williams 2007:4). Sampling is only one way of establishing authenticity -- not the only way.
In conclusion, hip-hop artists and critics have shown that hip-hop can be authentic in different ways -- whether through the use of samplings and adherence to genre traditions, or through the use of original compositions (like those of Questlove), or through the message of real urban street-life (like that of 50 Cent). Hip-hop is authentic if and when its artist is authentic in…