The RZA Talks Sampling Versus Live Instrumentation

The Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah breaks down the ethics of sampling and live instrumentation.

Over the past decades, the Wu-Tang Clan's the RZA has proven to be one of the most versatile producers, using both samples and live instrumentation to his multitude of Hip Hop and film projects. Now, in a recent interview with MTV's Mixtape Daily, the RZArector talks about sampling versus playing a traditional instrument.

The multi-instrumental RZA related how a brief and somewhat critical encounter with a disgruntled musician pushed him to delve into the study of musical theory. He explained that some Hip Hop producers manage to skate by without a traditional understanding of music, and that his own instance of critique pushed him to face the music.

“Two things happened: the first thing was that I was at a music store buying equipment. I went platinum…I probably was feeling myself egotistically…and a regular musician stopped me, ‘cus people were giving me attention like, ‘That’s the RZA,’ and this guy said [to me], ‘You’re ruining music,’” the Abbot explained. “[I was like] ‘What’s this guy talking about?’ He was a musician, but because of sampling, he can’t get a job. Because of drum machines, his drummer can’t get no work. He said, ‘You’re not a real musician.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about I’m not a real musician? I’ve got a platinum album.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but you’re not a musician. You don’t know nothing about music.’ He was right; I couldn’t tell him what a C note was. So he challenged me, basically.”

He continued, “I didn’t say nothing to him, I just took it to myself. I came back a week later and bought some music theory books and started studying music theory so I c[ould] be a legitamite musician, just to respect the craft of music. He was right; it’s unfair sometimes to have success on things when we haven’t paid our dues. I had paid my dues to Hip Hop, but I didn’t pay my dues to music, so I went and started studying theory.”

The full interview can be seen below.

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RELATED: Yelawolf Joins U.K. Leg Of Wu-Tang Clan's Tour, RZA Reportedly Included



  • Dj Boogy

    Sampling is the shit , I agree with RZA on producer needs to learn the theory , for me it speeds up the process , I know Am from a Em , helps me play with the moods in the music and understand what I 'm doing on the MPC , take a listen to my stuff and let me know , at

  • David James Robinson

    Fuck that dude who told him something. RZA's best work was when he was sampling the shit out of everything. There was still music being made without drum machines, the dude probably couldn't get a job cuz he sucked.

    • Anonymous

      dude's beast, but he's above critique? that means your boss can't be criticized because he's done more than you to have you under him. who really is above criticism? think about what you're saying, fucking idiot.

  • Anonymous

    a lot of starving artist out here and alot of bunk ones still in there eat up this feed

  • Anonymous


  • Texas

    Sampling >> All the shit in the 90's was sample based you cant name any big hits from 88-96 the best era of hip hop from top cats back then like snoop,pac dr dre scarface biggie Nas jay z ice cube That weren't sample Based ALL of it was Every Track on the chronic has a sample so is it wack now ? my problem is niggas still sampling the same 70's soul shit fuck with that prog rock thats where its at

    • Anonymous



    Sampling in hip hop made me take a look at who the producer sampled from and what the rest of the artist music he sampled was about. Yeah we know James Brown and Al Green were HEAVILY sampled but little known artist like Sly Johnson, "Is it Becauce I'm Black" who he sampled for "Hollow Bones". If it wasn't hiphop....I would have never heard the song much less the artist.

    • bloody bastard

      Syl Johnson..... Good point tho. Sampling can def be a gateway to musical education as well. Read your liner notes and hit those crates, time-honored tradition in hiphop!





  • nigel

    Just to a make a point..Wu tang forever" is probably the best produced album in hip hop history...still way ahead of the competition today...When will they catch up to this magnificient peice of work

  • nigel

    Sampling did alot for the world of music back in the 80s, 90s and beyond. People like James Brown for example were able to revive their careers. And through hip hop get exposed to many generations coming after them an all round success story which hip hop created.

  • Skibo

    RZA showed humility and humbleness by taking advantage of learning music theory...hopefully this sets the bar and hip-hop producers study music

  • K-Dot

    ....but eventually, these trendy ass beats will wear off and most of these producers that aren't up on theory to advance their skills and beats will be out of a job....if they ever truly HAD one as a producer in the first place....

  • K-Dot

    As an up and coming producer, I understand the need for live instrumentation. It gives your sound a feeling that software synths simply cannot emulate. However, that doesn't mean one NEEDS a background in theory and composition to make good music because they still are rhythmically manipulating and creating with samples. Anybody can do it, but not everybody can do it well. Sampling with live instrumentation or playing instrument parts atop the sample is where it's at.

  • crucial

    I think he is not trying to discredit the greatness of sampling either...he just realized there is an area where he could have more knowledge and could possibly experiment and add to his craft so he did the right thing and explored it

  • crucial

    At the end of the day this has nothing to do with how much you liked the new direction rza went or didn't. This was a personal choice and part of his journey and evolution as an artist and human being...don't think he cares if you liked it better when he just sampled.

  • Rub

    I feel sorry than RZA one of the best producer said that.The theory his learning now that is western music theory and not all music comes from the western is the most common used but not the only one. That drummer got into his head but the true is the you don't need theory to be a drumer. Anything can be use as music even silent Like the composition of jhon cage 4'33" and like somebody said before the producer is more a composer the a musician.Ironicly RZA should be listening people who he have worked it like Bjork who is a vanguand musician that can use noise or anything in the nature in her music, when you combined sampling,noise,african music western music that will be the best ever , so dont get stuck in one thing. I am a wu fan since day one i love RZA beats but you need to undestant music and evolution somebody instrument can be a guitar,a piano or an MPC.If you need to undentand that you have to see A brian Eno lecture he is the father of samplig and had worke with the best band from U2 to Coldplay.

  • Malik

    Uhh, what? Why are you guys acting like RZA doesn't use samples anymore. He had an entire album full of samples the same year 8 Diagrams came out (The Afro Samurai OST). And he used samples again on the movie and a couple of tracks in the game.


    Cannot wait for the new round of wu tang albums!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    the respect i have for RZA sometimes knows no bounds

  • Santiago Wu MugShot Irigoyen

    hi didnt rlly explain live insturmentation vs. sampling... lol, DX... he explained an encounter to face his dues, thats coo, but dont mix interpret the title.. sampling and live instrumentation have their positives and negatives, but i think both are exellent ways to make music.. hip hop involves more sampling, while rock, jazz, etc involves more live instrumentation. its just the way the genre is made. now a days though, MIDI and digital recording is excessively used. i like to sample, but i also use midi sounds and digital sounds, but i always try to keep it real

  • sixfourkidd

    Music is about stimulating emotions and the spirit through the manipulation of sounds, regardless how its done. But on one hand I understand what Rza is saying but both sampling and live instrumentation can be artforms in and of themselves. As such with both you can have good or bad usage or execution. Some sampling is just straight jacking and wack in my opinion, (Eg. much of the Bad Boy collection) while others are highly creative.(Bomb Squad) The same goes for live can be a so-call musician and understand music theory but still be trash (shit look at many grunge rock artist) But in the case of the RZA its funny but every since he become a "musician" and let others define what is music to him his production has been straight trash...lets be real 36 Chamber/Wutang Forever or 8 Diagrams??? You tell me??

  • Hannibal

    Hip-Hop started when the city shut down music and arts programs in schools because they didn't have the funds, such as they're doing now in NY. That's why after the 80's instrumental groups like Kool And The Gang and Earth Wind and Fire started to disappear and Hip Hop appeared, they did what they could with what they had. Plus the technology in the 80s in Europe that enabled guys who couldnt sing or do much to become music stars via the synthesizer and robotic tricks, caught on in the US and revolutionized the music world (why is that Sam Ash musician not confronting the companies and producers like Giorgio Moroder that were instrumental in robotics in music). Jazz great Herbie Hancock even caught on and won a grammy, riding the wave of the new sound. Sampling is an art form, completely different from instruments. You can combine the two but they are different. Rza says he was egotistical before but it appears that he is more elitist now and is trying to rationalize his move towards instrumentation, which seriously diluted his music and estranged a lot of clan members, although im sure its looked upon with more respect in his newfound circles. Knowing how Hip Hop started and that its a culture of doing with what you have, he should have championned sampling and being a self made man, rather than cowtowing to some Sam Ash clown who probably looks down on HipHop anyways and is just looking for a gig.

    • TiiDo

      Hip hop as a culture was built on sampling, not many of the greatest producers can actually play all the instrumentation you hear in their music. Other than Madlib, J Dilla, or a few others, not many of them can actually play live instruments. I'm not sure if Pete Rock, DJ Premier, or Dr. Dre can play drums. Sampling has been with hip hop from the beginning, from that joint by the Sugerhill Gang. The golden era was littered with chops & chops of samples. Sampling should be hip hop's 5th element. I respect The RZA for going out & learning more about music, & i'd encourage producers to follow his example, but sampling is such a mainstay in hip hop. I can't imagine hip hop without it. That's just not hip hop (See mainstream hip hop)...

    • Mr Flamboyant

      And not a realer statement was spoken until brother Hannibal let us hear his thoughts on this day. I agree to the fullest.

    • Santiago Wu MugShot Irigoyen

      truth is... sampling is part of hip hop.. its not just saying words fast.. its instrumentation is based on grabbing sounds and alterng them.. simple as that. its part of the genre. now hip hop has become more digitl sounding due to copywright laws , thats have ruined hip hop in my opinion. wu keeps it real till this day and the newbies that come into the game, the ones tha will succeed, will b the ones that make their instruemntals sound real and original, everything sounds too robotic now.

    • Mu

      Good brotha, I agree with you that we as a culture shouldn't have to apologize for sampling. However, I do think as time goes on and the culture tries to evolve, real knowledge of music theory will help that evolution happen. Look at what Kanye was able to accomplish on Late Registration with sampling AND instrumentation. RZAs not elitist because he chose to study theory though.. he's just a more well-rounded producer

    • T.O.T.

      I concur 100%!

  • Mu

    Why all the arguing? Both sides have valid points. If you're like me and would read the album credits as soon as you ripped open a CD (when we used to buy CDs) you'd see that maybe 70-80% of songs have samples. Samples are used in many of the albums and songs we consider classics today. BUT, I do believe that you are somewhat limited as a producer if you don't know ANY music theory. I make beats and I have an ear for music, but once I learn theory, my workflow will be much faster. Old musicians are bitter as fuck though, LMAO! I was talking to an old jazz musician in Philly a few months ago, and I asked him how he feels about sampling. This nigga said "I hate it, its not real music, they're stealing" blah, blah, blah. He then went on to say "Maybe I'd feel better about it if someone would've sampled MY stuff so I could've got some money" FIGURES.. you old bitter fuck! RZA and SAMPLES FOREVER!!

  • Assassin221

    Interesting article but I'm not sure I agree with RZA on this one. Playing an instrument is just a totally different art form from sampling, you don't need to "pay dues" in one to do the other. At the end of the day it's the quality of the beat I care about, not how they did it or whether they knew music or not. You could argue that sample-based producers are more composers than musicians because they're putting shit together more than actually playing something, but either way they're doing their thing that not anyone can do.

  • Onaje Jordan

    yeah early rza couldn't be touched.

  • Onaje Jordan

    All the classic hip hop albums are mostly sample based. It is what it is.

    • Santiago Wu MugShot Irigoyen

      true, its just part of the genre. its like saying, why does rock use electric guitars so much.. its just the genre. hip hop has more sample based equalized drum sounds. tighter and sharper, while rock has more live, real sound. i like the sound of hip hop, but its just based on the genre

  • Anonymous

    RZA is a sucker for lettin some dude in a store get in his head like RZA Sampling >>>>>>>Hippy 8 Diagrams RZA

  • Anonymous

    That musician is a sad sap too the reason he an his friend cant get jobs is because hes not in a band, or their not good enough. You cant really expect to survive just playing guitar or drums alone unless you write your own music. You have to change as music changes if some dude thought he could make a living singing like elvis he'd be gravely mistaken but you gotta keep up with the changes in music, like in all art.

  • Anonymous

    Man RZA once again proves how much of a real nigga he is. If there were 100 black people in the world i could designate as real niggas, RZA would be one of them.

  • G

    Wu Tang forever has got to be the most underated album ever from a production point of view. Rza used a lot of live instrumentation and sampling on that album and it worked perfectly, not to mention the ridiculously good engineering.


    cash rules everything around me CREAM get the money dolla dolla bill yall greatest song of all time in any genre RZARECTOR

  • Crystal

    Black Milk often uses live instruments, and that dude is making banging beats. You know, many recreate samples with live instruments. 8 Diagrams is ahead of its time, it's perfectly executed, but people don't see it.

    • sixfourkidd

      On one hand I understand what Rza ia saying but at the end of the music is about stimulating emotions and the spirit through the manipulation of sounds, regardless how its done. I can appreciate both sampling as a artform as well as live instrumentation. And with bout you can have good or bad usage. Some sampling is just straight jacking and wack in my opinion, (Eg. much of the Bad Boy collection) while others are highly creative.(Bomb Squad) The same goes for live can be a so-call musician and understand music theory but still be trash (shit look at many grunge rock artist) But in the case of the RZA its funny but every since he become a "musician" and let others define what is music to him his production has been straight trash...lets be real 36 Chamber/Wutang Forever or 8 Diagrams??? You tell me??

    • macman

      8 Diagrams may be "perfectly executed" but the songs are not that good. Simple as that. People don't have to see it, they have to hear it. Music is guttural, regardless of how insiders try to play it. As we get more and more into music, we talk about engineering and mixing and how they're mastered, but you go into the subway and some guy is singing for change and he's great. Bottom line are the songs good? on 8 Diagrams, they were not. And this is coming from a Wu fan since 93.

  • NJ just got owned kid.

  • Synthetic

    Should I go into the bank to withdrawal money instead of the ATM so the teller can keep their job too. I don't buy it. But kudos to the drummer who shamed the RZA into employing a Questlove...

  • Curt McGirt

    Also remember formal music classes were cut from a majority of public school curriculum's in the late 70's up until now. Furthermore sample based hip hop has given music from the past an open lane to explore for those who wish to. The main muthafuckas that complain about sampling are the ones that either don't own the music because of lack of copyrighting and publishing knowledge or they were a session musician who played the phenomenal break but didn't write (own) the song. I understand were RZA is coming from and more so, his challenger but sampling, & chopping up records is not easy to do. If the real complaint is regarding money then I wish that first and foremost these musicians owned (not the publishing companies that robbed them)their own music and second, made it cheaper to clear samples.

  • Eddy.

    Sampling is one of the foundations of Hip Hop, I would love to have seen that "musician" make a beat like Pete Rock or Premo because he's making it sound very easy, heck I think I might try and make some dope beats, try and get them on Nas next album. I mean can you imagine Enter The Wu Tang without samples? Instruments don't = = music. I'm all up for RZA wanting to learn more so he can feel good about himslef when he walks into a store full of lowlifes who live in their mom's basements but as a HUGE Wu fan, I don't want to hear anything but the insane sampling he used to provide.

    • mike p

      anonymous was dismissed as soon as he started on some eddy long shit. go in and try to make a beat on a sampling machine that sounds like they reminisce over you, or the world is yours. being a mechanic doesnt take as long as being a doctor but its a craft that has its own merits too. either way you're wrong and hip hop wasnt built for conservatories. as ras kass said..remain anonymous

    • Anonymous

      @Eddy Long obviously you cannot read between the lines you dumb dumb ! i never insinuated i was a potential "big name producer" ! i just said it does not take that much to learn bout the technique of sampling and i gave you a valid argument : you wont find a school of sampling in the world while you will find many conservatoires of music where live instruments are taught ! i let you use your brain on this one to foresee what i mean .. and as far as the contradictory stuff you charge me with like "I saying shit about you shittin on other peoples views while Im doin exactly the same" is too fuckin easy, you're missin the point ! i saw a few comments of yours where you just bashing at people freely for their opinions, so i just pointed at you, simple as that ! then tryin to twist what i said is makin you "a child"

    • Anonymous

      ahah Eddy and Cortez are the same people



    • Cortez

      Co-sign with Eddy 100%, anonymous youre sayingshit about shittin on other peoples views when all you're doin is insultin eddy for what he believes, hypocrite. How old are you? 5?

    • Eddy

      Oh so you're a big name producer then? Because if anyone can do it then why don't you? Love the way you have to try and attack me as a person instead of bringing a valid argument, I neveer ONCE said that sampling is better than insrtuments but it is one of the foundations of Hip Hop, your comment about reading what other people actually write seems a bit contradictory now eh? Child.

    • Anonymous

      @Eddy Long listen, i know you like sniffin little boys booty hole in your churches and shit but dont try to preach your shit up in this mothafucka even Dr. Dre - who is considered by most hip-hop heads as one of the greatest hip-hop producers if not the greatest - said it in a interview he gave back in 1999 : "hip-hop become so popular because ANYBODY can go into a booth a write some lyrics down, also ANYBODY can by himself a machine and starts makin beat. and with practice ANYONE can be good" beside even Dre is learnin how to play instruments like fuckin guitar and piano to summerize, you can learn how to sample by yourself with a drum machine and shit in your bedroom while you cannot do it with live instrumentals because it takes more studies! so when you come here tryin to brainwash people with your pedophile mind sayin how sample is better than live instruments you sound more freaky than you already are ! biatch!

  • Anonymous

    everytime i see a RZA's interview i can tell he is a beautiful people i mean this dude is all about progress ! sampling is good, but there it comes one point where it does not satisfy you anymore, it aint challenging you anymore. and that's when the spark of maturity starts. you need something more sophisticated, some real instruments in the booth, like a fuckin orchestra ! people criticizing RZA are morons ! he did not fail off, he just seeking for another form of art yall snotty noses cant understand ! it's like exchanging your mcdonald meal for some real cooked food made by a chef

    • Eddy

      Wu-Tang forever was brilliantly produced, it was just too long, 8 diagrams was lazy and boring, any Wu memeber will tell you that RZA ruined that album, even RZA himself.

    • Anonymous

      i actually think 36 chambers is the only sampled wu album worth the listening ! and 8 diagrams was their second album to me worth the listening ! as far as "the clan not really needing him on their records anymore" i think it's more like they cant feel themselves anymore ! when rae make a record with bieber and got some productions from fuckin scram jones, meth praising odd future etc they clearly cannot give lessons to the Abbot

    • Eddy

      Wow, what a bad analargy. You think 8 Diagrams had a better level of production than Enter The Wu Tang or Wu-Tang Forever? Don't be so dumb, since about 2001/2002 RZA has been extremely volotile as a producer, 99% of his best beats since then have used the same formula as his old shit, why do you think the clan don't really need him on their records anymore? He may well have made them what they are but he has been letting the side down for nearly a decade. This ain't me hating or anything but sometimes criticism is the only way people improve.

  • AJ, Shorty Rock

    It's a about growth.... Hip Hop started with sampling, but, as a soundsmith myself, I have to say making music with instruments feels more rewarding. Although emcees rarely give a fuck...... Some people(fans and mc's) just want simple shit, nothing complex and elaborate. The "sample" most producers' take probably was C&E. But then again, they don't make it they just take it.

    • Hannibal

      just chiming in but eddy is right on this. a lot of producers I know like to use live instrumentation but its really just for their self satisfaction, sometimes it messes the song up but they do it and tell the emcee they just can't see it. Producers are the most egotistical man. And as far as complexity, as a guitar player myself, the blues usually has just a few chords. When I say the blues, every body knows the classic notes every blues player uses, think Nas song with his dad. That ain't complex.Basically instruments may be rewarding to the one playing them but not to the customer's ear. Shadowboxing, one of Rza's best creations, is a loop

    • Eddy.

      He was quite clearly criticising people who sample and was dubbing it "simple", wow your comprehension skills are bad.

    • Anonymous

      @Eddie Long nobody is body rottin on the sampling shit, some people are just appreciating evolution into live instruments so read properly the next time before you shit on some others people view

    • Eddy

      Haha good one, i'd love to hear you try and make a good beat using a sample. Why are you even here on a Hip Hop site? Saying you like Hip Hop but not sampling is like saying you like Rock without guitar or Country without inbreeding. Take that played out, hippy argument to some pompus indie blog.

  • SutterKane

    I dont think its any coincidence thats when the Wu Tangs Buzz started to wear off You should never let some asshole affect the way you express yourself as an artist People liked the Wu Tang albums when they were sample based, they were critically acclaimed and sold well Where has Wu Tang been since RZA allowed this idiot to shake his confidence?? Albums that have consistently sold less, consistently gotten mixed reviews and overall hurt the brand I always wanted to know who was at fault for the RZA's sound Changing so much, and now I do........ Some Guy in Sam Ash who had no respect for hip hop

    • tony

      dont forget Rza lost a lot of his tracks in a fire or flood and started picking up instruments around this time. I think its a mix of both factors as far as this and what john doe mentionned

    • john doe

      wu-tang forever was by far the clan's most successful campain,and was a blend of sampling with keyboard play,and live instrumentation. Once RZA became a musician it only took there careers to the next plateau. Songs like "Reunited" which is all live instrument,is one of there more memorable tracks,and is a perfect example of his personal expansion. Wu tang not selling had more to do with the groups internal conflict,and a shift in the culture to a more commercial sound.

  • Shawn Perry

    RZA usually drops some jewels. This is just a lesson to me in the times changing if people want and like sampling you supply it to them. If people want live music you give that to them. I don't here business owners telling the creator of Face book you are taking away jobs they just adapt and create something better

  • Caucasian Rockwell

    Grouch said it best... "you ain't fuckin' bizarre cause you pluck a guitar" i would like the "musician" that discredits sampling to dig for a record, chop it, make a dope beat, write to it, record it, mix it & put it out... see what the true hip hop community honestly thinks of the track.

    • TWIST

      What are you talking about. Sampling requires NO music theory knowledge. NONE!!! The man, who happens to be a certified credible hip hop producer, just explained that to you!!! Do you even know what music theory IS?!

    • Dub_Es

      100% truth. i even understand what rza's saying, but sampling takes a certain level of understanding of music theory and straight up ingenuity that ALL musicians need. letting an ill break play for 8 bars and repeating is one thing, but chopping that shit to the point of it becoming original is a whole different ball park

  • Anonymous

    Good music is music regardless of how music music theory knowledge you have. I guarantee that drummer dude can't recreate the 36 diagrams beats.

  • Anonymous

    ..... And thats when the RZA fell off I understand the musicians guys point but RZA was at his best when he was sampling Everything before Wu Forever >>>> Everything After Wu Forever

    • Anonymous

      GTFOH! 8 Diagrams is way ahead of its time even now! (instrumental wise)

    • Dub_Es

      and tracks like "run" and "our dreams". rza killed those samples, no question. he's a legend that really doesn't get enough credit for what he brought to the game. even when he's on his hippie with a guitar shit he's at least trying something that most other producers wouldn't (ahem, premo)

    • Anonymous

      Pretty much true... but don't forget Supreme Clientele and The W

  • Anonymous

    I want Justin Bieber naked on my bed while I plow hiz tight virgin ass.

  • Fatty Girl

    New Album : Sprite



  • insanemacbeth

    the musician...and THE RZA...are both correct. i merge live musicianship...with sampling, myself.

  • Patrick

    Always nice to hear RZA's thoughts, but correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that he kinda fell off since a couple of years... I can't remember him doing an ILL beat since like... Presidential MC's from Method Man in 2007. 8 Diagrams was very average beatwise and I'm not too fond of his soundtrack work he tends to be doing nowadays. Anyway, he still did Enter The 36 Chambers so I'll forever owe respect to this man.

    • Powerphi

      If you listen to 8 Diagrams you will see his craft as a musician. The arrangments are delicate and well crafted, completely different from the well crafted ill beats that he has made. The level of superior talent is there, it just comes in a different form. I'm sure it was far more challenging to orchestrate 8 Diagrams, then it is to kick samples. In my opinion, 8 Diagrams is brilliant work.

  • illmatic88

    Man RZA is so legit, any other ignorant punk would tell that guy in the Music store to STFU before he could even tell his story about how he is a musician and all. RZA just takes the guys experience and words of wisdom with a grain of salt and goes back to researcg music composition. Hip hop needs a lot more of that respect for the artform of music

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