“I keep hearing footsteps, baby, in the dark…”
You might not know if you know it, but you know it. You’ve heard it a million times. You’ve bobbed your head up and down to it with or without even realizing you were doing it. Whether it was The Isley Brothers’ 1977 original or one of the countless transformations this song has undergone in its lifetime as one of the most popularly sampled grooves.
And that’s what we’re talking about this week on our podcast, Themes and Variation. You can listen to Episode 2 in its entirety right here, or click over to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts to subscribe.
Whether you think sampling is the highest form of creative flattery or something more akin to audio theft, you can’t deny how big of an impact this process has had on how we make music today. It has been a major tool in the producer’s arsenal in many genres, but is particularly woven into the legacy of hip-hop. No matter where you stand on sampling, we’d like to open your minds and ears to the creative possibilities available through the use of this powerful technique.
Today, I sit down with MC/lyricist, JSWISS, and bandleader/producer, Charles Burchell, to break down some of our favorite songs that sample The Isley Brothers’ mega hit, “Footsteps in the Dark.” And we talk about so, so much more, swapping stories, laying down praise for the master sampler J Dilla, etc. Check it out.
Want to dig a bit deeper? Check out the companion course.
If you’re enjoying this episode, and you’d like to learn more about some of the musical topics we touched on, go ahead and visit Soundfly’s free companion course for writing prompts and additional resources. From modes to melody-writing, we’ve curated some extra resources for listeners to put stuff from the episode into action.
Episode 2 Highlights
1. J Dilla was so much more than a legendary producer.
JSWISS: Let me just first off start by saying that James Yancey aka J Dilla, aka Jay Dee, Jay Detroit i to the l-l-a. I feel like he’s one of the like top five, ten if you wanna be more careful genius artists in any genre, in any period of time ever.
Carter: I’m glad you went beyond “producer” there too, ’cause it’s totally true.
JSWISS: Yeah just any artist, any genre, now, 1700s talking Beethoven, everybody in between.
2. “Footsteps in the Dark” gets sampled so often for a reason.
Charles: It’s just that feeling you know, its that swing, its that laid-back you know bounce, I think because it has the same kind of feeling as a lot of breakbeats but its played way slower. So I think especially for rappers, its like you can manipulate it, speed it up, slow it down but just the feeling of that groove is just do warm and good like its easy to write over its easy you know to kind of take your time with, where its not really aggressive. You can really take your time and tell a story.
3. Making sure you’re sampling something legally can be a little murky.
Carter: The idea of like the legality side of sampling and there not being any, like there’s no compulsory rate for sampling. For mechanical licenses I think its like nine cents a track under five minutes or something like that. But for sampling, I guess you’re technically supposed to negotiate a rate with the artist and obviously that varies greatly depending on the popularity of the song.
We’ve created a collaborative Spotify playlist in order to share every song talked about and mentioned on this episode. Feel free to add the tracks you love that use the Footsteps in the Dark sample or any tracks you know that both use the same sample!
We’ll see you in two weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a line at [email protected]!