June 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

How To Explore Music’s Memetic DNA with WhoSampled

WhoSampled stands alone among music apps, because it is entirely focused on tracing samples as they wend their way from wherever they originally appeared into sample-oriented music including Hip-Hop, EDM, and other genres. It helps fans of those genres delve deeper into music they thought they already knew.

Paying homage to music that came before by creating something new out of it isn’t a novel idea, and in fact, musicians were borrowing riffs and lyrics from each other before the advent of recorded music, but this ability to trace samples through a simple app is. Back in the day, you had to read through a CD’s pamphlet to find out where the group had cleared its samples, and then seek out the original recording — and even then, you’d miss all the unofficial samples.

With WhoSampled, which was released for iOS last summer, you no longer have to own the source material to hear it. The app tells you about all of the samples in each song you aim it at, and even lets you listen to the originals directly. It’s fun, educational, and did you mention fun? Our ears never get tired of hearing a bit of music recontextualized… even back to the original context.

Here’s what this looks like with Kanye West’s new song “On Sight” from the recently released album Yeezus. Where did Kanye and his crew find those sonds? WhoSampled has the answer. Let’s load up the track:

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Kanye West's "On Sight" Sample Page

Taken from iPhone App

Clicking on “contains samples of” tells us which samples were used — in this case, “Holy Name of Mary Choral Family”:

Sample from Kanye West's "On Sight"

Taken from iPhone App

Scrolling down, we can do a bunch of stuff with this sample: add it to favorites, discuss it with other fans, rate the sample, or even browse through similar samples:

"On Sight" Sample Page continued

Taken from iPhone App

WhoSampled can be used from multiple angles — including seeing who has sampled a particular band. A search for Radiohead instead of an individual track returns these results, including that Radiohead’s music has spawned 76 samples, 170 covers, and 25 remixes tracked by WhoSampled. Who knew?

WhoSampled Radiohead Band Page

Taken from iPhone App

Not only can you figure out what samples were used to create a song, but you can see it was sampled in other people’s work. Take, for instance, Radiohead’s “15 Step”.

"15 Step" Song Page

Taken from iPhone App

Clicking on “Was sampled in” brings you to a page with songs known to contain a sample from “15 Step” which includes big names like Girl Talk.

"15 Step" was sampled in page

Taken from iPhone App

It doesn’t stop there. you can also select individual band members and see if they have been sampled, independently of their band. In this case you can see that Thom Yorke does much more work outside Radiohead than other members of the band like Jonny Greenwood — or at least work that is covered and sampled.

Radiohead individual band members page

Taken from iPhone App

WhoSampled also tracks the charts — samples, covers, and remixes — so you can see what’s heating up where. These include “Hot” (popular), “Top Rated” (by the WhoSampled community), and “Latest Additions.”

WhoSampled Chart page

Taken from iPhone App

WhoSampled also has the ability to scan your library of music and analyze it for samples:

WhoSampled library scanner

Taken from iPhone App

It’s addictive. I found myself typing in the names of songs I’ve heard hundreds of times, just to find out if there were samples in there I had never noticed, and then to see where they came from. Overall, WhoSampled provides a great way to learn more about your own music and who influenced your favorite artists. You’ll never hear these songs the same way again.