Aesop Rock Admits That Copying Others Is How He Makes Music

from the good-for-him dept

We’ve discussed many times how creators copy all the time, and mentioned the T.S. Eliot quote:

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.

This is often shortened to something along the lines of “good artists copy, great artists steal” (and attributed to Picasso). Even so, outside of pure mashup artists, it’s rare to see artists admit that they copy others for inspiration. However, Jon Lawrence points us to a cool “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session at Reddit by the famed hip hop artist Aesop Rock (who, I never realized until now, attended high school at the same time I did, just one town over). At one point, someone asks him “what inspires your beats,” and Aesop gives him a straightforward answer:

i just listen to old music til i hear a sound i like – then i steal it. rinse, repeat.

The thing is, assuming he means “copy” and not “steal” (sorry, sticking point around here), that’s true of tons of creators, though just as Aesop does, they then do something cool and amazing with it. Still it’s nice to see an artist of Aesop’s stature willing to admit it up front. It’s just too bad that those who don’t understand how art works keep wanting to make this illegal.

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Comments on “Aesop Rock Admits That Copying Others Is How He Makes Music”

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bob (profile) says:

But he didn't say "share",did he?

Because everyone knows that folks on P2P networks or people using Big Search’s happy pointers to torrents aren’t actually stealing. Nope. Only artists like this use that word.

” It’s just too bad that those who don’t understand how art works keep wanting to make this illegal.”

Nope. It’s too bad that those who don’t understand how artists get paid want to argue that any file sharing couch potato is just as artistic as Mozart just because Mozart was influenced by Haydn a bit.

We’ve argued these topics for years and we’ve built a perfectly usable definition of fair use, but that’s not good enough for the plagiarists and the cheap couch potatoes. Nope. They want to pretend that downloading some song should be treated the same way as an artist who is creating something truly new.

And no. Most of the remixes that take the hard work of photographers and put them alongside the hard work of musicians is not sufficiently new or original. Sorry. It’s just a scheme so Big Search can sell more ads without sharing ad revenues with the photographer or the musician.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

..because, like it or not, he is using someone else’s work, and they get to choose.

Why? Because an artificial legal construct says so?

You make it sound like it’s just naturally that way – but it’s not natural at all. And in fact, not very long ago, samples of under 8 seconds were considered fair use – then suddenly they weren’t.

Oppose sampling if you must, but please don’t act like copyright is a fundamental law of the universe. It is a human creation, its limits change constantly, and there is plenty of room to debate what it should and should not cover.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 But he didn't say "share",did he?

Marcus, what happened is that people got greedy, took too much, pushed the envelope and… as it always does, the pendulum swung the other way.

Haha… that’s one of the most amusing things I’ve ever heard you say.

Yes – that is absolutely what happened. Over the course of decades of constant copyright expansion.

To claim that hip-hop producers are the ones who “took too much” is beyond idiotic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

Easy, very easy, now explain how is that hard work 🙂
Want hard?
Try going to Afghanistan and shooting someone.
I don’t see soldiers getting royalties for the country they protect do you?

Will any soldier get royalties from all the ships they are protecting out of the coast of Somalia?

They should get paid for their hard work and that is hard now, is nothing like pushing a fraking button to make music or take a photograph now is it?

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

This is totally ridiculous. I’m a firmware developer, and I have to say that every time I write a piece of code, I create it from whole cloth. Absolutely whole. I push aside all the code I’ve written before, all the code written by people I’ve worked with, all the examples I’ve been given; I discard everything I was taught in school about programming, all the documentation that comes with the products I use, and all the libraries that come with them. Because, you know, to re-use any of that prior art in any fashion would be stealing.

The really tough part is inventing a new processor each time, without using any of the techniques ever used previously. Do you know how hard it is to invent working computer processors without using flip-flops? Because, you know. That would be stealing.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your creation is yours until you release it to the world, then it belongs to the world. That’s the natural law.

Yes yes yes! This.

Now obviously society, almost by definition, is based on the creation of laws that go beyond the “natural law” – natural law is a lot bloodier than we’d like, for one thing. And by extension there is a reasonable argument to be made that some amount of copyright protection is a good societal decision – but any reasonable debate on the details of that protection must come from a baseline of what you said here.

So when a copyright maximalist’s only argument is “because you own it” or “because you have the rights to say what happens to your work”, they actually have no argument at all, because what they are saying is plainly false. You only own copiable art inasmuch as society agrees to let you own it. Society did agree, with many limitations, but those have been slowly eroded for generations. The spread of “piracy” is really just society revoking a right that they granted, and that a bunch of corporations abused.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Too bad they aren’t releasing it to the world, just releasing limited rights.

They don’t give it away, they give you the right to enjoy it, nothing more.

Can you possibly be that stupid?

The commenter was talking about what is NATURAL law. And by the natural rules of the natural world, the moment you release a song or a piece of art in any way (to even a single person) there is no way to ever wholly reclaim it. You can’t pull things back out of people’s heads.

The “limited rights” you speak of are not natural – they are an artificial construct. In some ways they might be a GOOD artificial construct – and you should make that argument if that’s what you believe. But attempting to claim it’s in any way natural is utterly ridiculous.

Please, explain to me how an artist could naturally release something in a “limited” sense, without relying on society’s agreement to a set of rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

According to US courts 3 chords is enough even if they sound nothing like the original, is just stupid but that is how American courts rule.

The basics under current doctrine is that it doesn’t matter how many notes, the judge must opine on how similar the works are if he finds it is similar even if it is one note he can find it copyright infringement.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Axis of Awesome: 4 Chords (2011) Official Music Video

SONGS in 4 CHORDS (the same 4 chords)
Journey — “Don’t Stop Believing”
James Blunt — “You’re Beautiful”
Black Eyed Peas — “Where Is the Love”
Alphaville — “Forever Young”
Jason Mraz — “I’m Yours”
Train — “Hey Soul Sister”
The Calling — “Wherever You Will Go”
Elton John — “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” (from The Lion King)
Akon — “Don’t Matter”
John Denver — “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
Lady Gaga — “Paparazzi”
U2 — “With Or Without You”
The Last Goodnight — “Pictures of You”
Maroon Five — “She Will Be Loved”
The Beatles — “Let It Be”
Bob Marley — “No Woman No Cry”
Marcy Playground — “Sex and Candy”
Men At Work — “Land Down Under”
Theme from America’s Funniest Home Videos
Jack Johnson — “Taylor”
Spice Girls — “Two Become One”
A Ha — “Take On Me”
Green Day — “When I Come Around”
Eagle Eye Cherry — “Save Tonight”
Toto — “Africa”
Beyonce — “If I Were A Boy”
Kelly Clarkson — “Behind These Hazel Eyes”
Jason DeRulo — “In My Head”
The Smashing Pumpkins — “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
Joan Osborne — “One Of Us”
Avril Lavigne — “Complicated”
The Offspring — “Self Esteem”
The Offspring — “You’re Gonna Go Far Kid”
Akon — “Beautiful”
Timberland featuring OneRepublic — “Apologize”
Eminem featuring Rihanna — “Love the Way You Lie”
Bon Jovi — “It’s My Life”
Lady Gaga — “Pokerface”
Aqua — “Barbie Girl”
Red Hot Chili Peppers — “Otherside”
The Gregory Brothers — “Double Rainbow”
MGMT — “Kids”
Andrea Bocelli — “Time To Say Goodbye”
Robert Burns — “Auld Lang Syne”
Five for fighting — “Superman”
The Axis of Awesome — “Birdplane”
Missy Higgins — “Scar”

pastanoodle says:

All art is derivative

I’d like to see a real artist come here and deny all art is derivative.

Here is Jim Jarmusch golden rule no. 5

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery?celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from?it’s where you take them to.”

And btw, Picasso might actually have said “good artists copy, geniuses steal” (that’s how they say in Spain) and T S Eliot simply wrote about it. They had common friends who discussed these matters. Maybe they even met. I’m not sure. My point is it’s very hard to find the truth. Yes, there’s a writing by Eliot, but of course Picasso was not writing his thoughts. Eliot was. I’ve heard a Spanish friend say how typical for Americans to claim such a brilliant comment was made by one of their own. Eliot stole that view from Picasso… then pause and say, but of course Eliot was a genius and isn’t that what geniuses do?

Whether Picasso said it or not, he did “copy” others.

Just compare Picasso’s accordionist

with Braque’s portuguese

And look at the copies Van Gogh made from other paintings. He probably did it because artists used to copy to study and master the technique or to give their own personal view of the work. I have the feeling since he was not an important painter while he was alive; he was probably having fun copying. He copied Rembrandt, who always had a high reputation as a painter, so maybe he was trying to emulate the masters too. Whatever the case, he was free to copy, emulate and create a new vision. He didn’t have to worry about the shackles of copyright. And he is among the greatest of all time.

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