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On The Range’s New Album, Every Sample Tells A Story

For Potential, producer James Hinton culled material by YouTube artists from all over the world. We spoke with three of them.

March 25, 2016

On the songs he makes as The Range, producer James Hinton uses an eclectic palette of sounds to create vibrant electronic vignettes. To gather these materials, he habitually scours unknown recesses of the internet. He then dreams up sonic environments in which these overlooked sounds can live and transform, whether he’s layering dancehall a capellas over blown-out breakbeats or incorporating sonar-like pings into a piano-driven production.

Although it may feel like common sense in 2016 to give credit where it's due, it’s sadly not that rare for artists to discover that their work has been sampled without permission or acknowledgment. For his latest full-length, Potential, Hinton wanted to make sure the stories behind the album's far-flung samples were heard.

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With the album serving as a sound-map, documentary director Daniel Kaufman trekked the globe to visit the individuals Hinton sampled. The resulting non-fiction film, called Superimpose, will be released this summer (UPDATE: You can now watch the film in full below.) We spoke with three musicians featured in the doc and on the album—UK grime artists Ophqi and Superior Thought, plus Jamaican singer Damian Gordon—about their involvement in the project and the tricky politics of YouTube sampling.

Damian Gordon

Location: Kingston, Jamaica
Occupation: Correctional officer/dancehall singer
Video Sampled: “1000 Blessings” (on The Range’s “1804”)

How does it feel to be a part of this project?

I’m very honored. I like the whole premise of it—the way in which James and Daniel came up with this plan to tell the story, to give recording artists that opportunity to showcase their talent. To tell the world, “Hey look, here’s stuff that you’re missing!”

What do you think of YouTube as a platform for artists?

It’s one of my major platforms, but I’m not gonna lie, YouTube doesn’t really give independent artists as much promotion. YouTube chopped up their search engine [algorithm] and their system in a particular way, so if you’re not getting hits, people really don't see your stuff that often. You have to be on there everyday, trying to network with people, trying to share your stuff around.

Ninety percent of the time, stuff you hear on the radio is not better than stuff you hear on YouTube from independent artists. It’s just that the independent artists don’t have the monetary power and the industry power to push their stuff to the wider audience, so they get left in the shadows. With reggae and dancehall music, you have to pay for radio play, you have to pay for interviews, you have to pay to have your video shown on on television. That’s how it is, because everybody is in it to make money. They’re not in it to make a difference and to make music for the love of music.

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What is “1000 Blessings” about?

When James reached out to me, he sent me a message on my Facebook fan page saying that he liked my video that I posted with a song by the name of “1000 Blessings.” It was [part of] a series that I did on YouTube out of my songbook. I did about six or seven posts where I perform a lot of songs written in books. I said to myself, “You know what, I’m going to go in front of the camera and pick up the book and do a song right there, no rehearsal, just do it from the book.”

That song is about motivation. When you’re going through hardships in life, when you’re facing any problems, you just look to the heavens and just ask for as much blessings, and as much guidance, as possible. That’s what “1000 Blessings” is about: when you’re you’re in a hard place in your life instead of giving up, you just look to the sky and just ask for blessings, guidance and protection.

Ophqi

Location: South London, England
Occupation: Charity worker/member of SMRG collective
Video Sampled: “SMRG (Ophqi and ST) Freestyle - Acapella” (on The Range’s “Five Four”)

How does it feel to be part of this project?

I'm all for it. The whole concept for the album can only be beneficial to artist like myself and Kris [Superior Thought] who are basically in the fruition stages of our musical journeys. It's creative. I'm all for creativity.

What do you think of Hinton’s music?

I'd never heard of The Range before. When he contacted me, I checked out his music. I like it. It's interesting to hear how he's got a completely different ear than us, and how he's used the vocals in a completely different way. It’s nice to hear myself over music that I wouldn't normally be involved with. My background is just straightforward hip-hop and grime, so to hear him put the raps over electronic music was just a completely different playing field.

What are your future plans for your music?

In London, at the time that the original video was made, was when we first made an attempt to take music seriously. And then certain life events happened. I had a daughter, Kris had family events. We couldn't focus on music. We've been preparing to do things properly and take it a bit more seriously again, to take it to the next level. When all of this happened last summer, it was like a happy coincidence. We're starting the next rollout of our next material. I'm working on a compilation album that's half-done. I've got a collaborative album that I've done with a well-known artist. This coincided nicely.

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Superior Thought

Location: South London, England
Occupation: IT worker/member of SMRG collective
Video Sampled: “SMRG (Ophqi and ST) Freestyle - Acapella” (on The Range’s “Five Four”)

What role does music have in your life?

I grew up with a lot of music around me. I got to a point where I realized that among all the multiple things that I tried—sports, various other things—that music was just the one thing I really gravitated to, and seemed to have a natural talent for. I'm at a point in my life where I want to really pursue the musical element and try to turn it into a profession rather than just a hobby.

What is the importance of crediting and compensating an artist when sampling their work?

I believe the acknowledgement should be the minimum. Just like, "Yeah, I'd like to do this. Or is it okay? Or given that it's already out there, is it cool?" That's the least you could do. Just put the person's name, so people know the talent behind what's going on. If you're in a position to [compensate], or if the person that's being sampled is requesting that, then fair enough. But I do believe that at least, just the acknowledgement! That's all it is. If I stumble across my work on the internet and you haven't got in contact with me, if you know whose track it is, just put the name there.

How does it feel to be a part of this project?

I really like the concept behind it and I think it's more apropos for the time because we're in this social, digital age. YouTube is the biggest online repository for anything. It's the biggest record shop. So the fact that this guy went digging through YouTube and found these artists, I think it's brilliant. I wouldn’t think like that. I'd just say, "Ok, let me grab some vinyls, let me sample, or let me try and lift vocals from here." I wouldn't go out with that mindset to create a project.

What do you think of “Five Four”?

I think what he's done is so different that it's simply refreshing. It's like looking on something with new eyes. I would have never thought to use the vocals like that, or to arrange it like that. It's not so much of “did it do justice to the original work?” As something that is completely unique, I applaud him for sampling it, because he didn't just add something extra, he did something totally left, and I can respect that.

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Potential is out now via Domino Records. Watch the full Superimpose documentary below:
On The Range’s New Album, Every Sample Tells A Story