Second Spin: Puff Daddy’s David Bowie-Sampling “Been Around The World”
Second Spin is our look back at our favorite pop gems that may not have gotten their due. They may be gone, but we’re here to make sure they’re not forgotten.
To illustrate the vast reach of David Bowie‘s impact, you could look at the sheer diversity of music talents who’ve shared tributes or memories via social media following news of his death. Or, you could look at a 1997 Puff Daddy song.
“Been Around The World” featured Notorious B.I.G. and Ma$e and was built on a prominent sample from Bowie’s 1983 song “Let’s Dance,” off his album of the same name. “Let’s Dance” was one of the most successful singles of Bowie’s career, and it marked yet another reinvention for him. That’s probably the Bowie era Diddy first experienced and thus it makes sense that that’s the era he mined for one of his own hit singles. And in turn, Puff’s song got the TRL generation interested in exploring Bowie further, just as Kurt Cobain did for Gen X-ers with Nirvana‘s cover of “The Man Who Sold The World” a few years earlier.
Diddy’s Bowie-sampling hit was also significant in the bigger picture because as Puff rose, it sparked a public debate about his sampling techniques. The sproingy keyboard line, echoing guitars and woodblock percussion of “Let’s Dance” show up virtually unchanged on “Been Around The World,” save for the slower tempo. And Puffy similarly employed lengthy, recognizable samples in “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and “I’ll Be Missing You.” At this time we were still in the throes of the rock authenticity mindset, so a popular conclusion was that Diddy was just capitalizing on other people’s work. Making jokes about Puff’s penchant for “recycling” old hits was popular late night fodder at the time.
It was polarizing, but it was also revolutionary, and today, sampling like this is standard practice. Modern listeners are more enlightened about the musical skill behind pop and hip-hop, and most realize it is not lazy to take a well-known snippet and re-purpose it to achieve something different. Nobody now would look down on Amy Winehouse‘s “Tears Dry On Their Own” because of its “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” foundation. Pulling off a flip like that is genius — perhaps not as genius as coming up with the source material, but still, it’s a form of artistic genius, like Quentin Tarantino applying spaghetti Western film tropes to a samurai revenge movie. It takes a certain type of post-modern visionary to distort someone else’s vision so that it fits your own.
We realize that now, and David Bowie no doubt realized it in 1997 — keep in mind, “Let’s Dance” interpolates the harmonized buildup from The Beatles‘ “Twist & Shout.” Nearly every major pop artist of the past 40 years has, in one way or another, used David Bowie’s musical legacy as a springboard. Diddy just happened to be literal about it on “Been Around The World.”