Jay Z – A Great Example of Loops

In order to begin the process of developing a typology of loops for the conference me and Ben Challis are doing in March, I thought a good start would be analysing some of the tracks of Jay Z’s The Black Album.  Once you have read the post, I would be really interested in anyone’s thoughts on other pieces of music that fit into these categories, or just general points of view.

Anyway – here goes. It seems the main technique used on this album is that of using a single looped sample as a backing track for a composition.

Category 1: Single Looped Sample As Backing Track

When listening to “December 4th“ by Jay Z, it is obvious that the whole song is based on the instrumental introduction of “That’s How Long” by The Chi-Lites. Jay Z’s piece is in verse – chorus form, with both sections based on a pitch shifted sample of specific areas of the Chi-Lites earlier work, which essentially provides a background for additional percussion and of course the rap vocal line

A similar technique is used in Jay Z’s “What More Can I Say”, which uses “Something For Nothing” by MFSB as a backing track, using looping techniques to increase the size of specific sections of the original work, before adding rap and vocal lines.

As one would expect when using lengthy single samples, both of the above Jay Z pieces are very similar in style to the original compositions. So it seems logical that a development of this category would be the use of a single sample as backing track, but this time the ‘new’ composition changes in style.

Jay Z’s  “Encore” does this. Using a fragment of the introduction of John Holt’s “I Will” (originally by the Beatles) as a melodic riff, there is no similarity to the reggae style of the original.

This album also features a couple of original songs  (“Change Cloths” & “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”) that uses loop technology as the foundation of entire pieces, but as opposed to sampling other artists, incorporates the technology to loop original ideas.


It could be argued that this technique has a similar creative impetus to a rock band playing a riff. It is also arguably similar to the work that Robert Fripp done with his Fripptronics (see my earlier post)– often using a backing track made up from an improvised tape loop.

More next time with another catagory.

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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