Wu-Tang Clan's (semi) Historic Beatles Song
Oct. 3, 2007
And the difference between a sample and an interpolation No Beatles song has ever legally been sampled, so it was huge news when Wu-Tang Clan's RZA—who is apparently friends with George Harrison's son, Dhani—claimed to have used his connection to clear a sample for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." This week we learned, however, via a message on Wu-Tang's Myspace account, that the song hasn't actually been sampled; it's been interpolated. What's the difference between a sample and an interpolation? A sample is a snippet of audio that has literally been copied from one song and pasted into another. Sampling is what rappers did in the wild west days of the '80s, before a pair of landmark lawsuits against Biz Markie and De La Soul required rappers to pay for the recordings they were lifting. An interpolation, on the other hand, is when the composition of a song—the melody, the rhythm or the chorus—is rerecorded. Some are crying foul that Wu-Tang Clan didn't actually sample the Beatles, but I don't see what the fuss is about. Interpolations usually sound cleaner and less tacky than samples, which are static, repetitive, and when they come from such a familiar song, distracting. It was only when samples became too costly to use that rap hit its creative peak, as producers like Dr. Dre and, later, Kanye West began to record grand new songs built from borrowed arrangements. Early beat- and sample-based rap records had their charm, but they often sounded primitive. Interpolations made rap sound fuller and (I don't mean this term to be condescending) more musical. So the new Wu-Tang Track, "The Heart Gently Weeps," may not be as historical as it was initially hyped, but judging from a leaked version that may or may not be final (you can hear it here), it's stunning nonetheless. Erykah Badu coos the chorus while Dhani Harrison and John Frusciante lay down some squeaky, ever-changing guitar. The combination of Badu and the subdued live keyboard and bass makes the track recall The Root's late-'90s hit "You Got Me," but Ghostface and Method Man's gritty, unrelenting verses will satisfy Wu-Tang purists. Wu-Tang's new album, 8 Diagrams, is scheduled to come out Dec. 4. This track should have everyone waiting with baited breath.