Samplers To The Masses: A look at sampling keyboards and their impact

Questlove of The Roots was on The Daily Show recently. In his interview he says that the most influential moment in the history of Hip Hop came courtesy of a Cosby Show episode. Specifically, the episode where Stevie Wonder appears and gives the family a tour of his studio. Even more specifically, the sampler keyboard. That part of the interview is at 1:55 on this clip:

Here’s The Cosby Show episode he is referring to:

Here’s the commercial for product Questlove was referring to. It’s for the Casio SK-1 and it ran constantly between episodes of G.I. Joe & Voltron. It’s a tiny little sample keyboard with a unique feature: a sampler. To this day I’m not sure if it used analog or digital technology. Please someone, explain it to me. For $100 you could make a 3 second sample of anything, your voice, a fart, whatever, and it will play back on the keyboard. You couldn’t keep more than one 3 second recording at a time, but to teenagers at the time like me, it was a wonder to behold. As Questlove said in his interview, kids who bought the SK-1 mostly inserted curse words. The favorite among my mates was, “Butt cheese”. For some reason that phrase just fit the keyboard perfectly.

In the mid-80’s all the cool rich kids I knew had a sampler. Wealthier parents couldn’t get away with buying their sons a Casio SK-1. No, they had to go for the full keyboard and spend thousands of dollars. As you can see from this clip fromĀ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (no one seems to remember what a rich bunch of Chicago suburbanites Ferris and his friends were), Ferris is playing disgusting noises on an Emulator 2:

Today the technology of the SK-1 appears rightfully outdated. It was more of a toy than anything else. But if Questlove said it started the Hip Hop revolution to some degree, I say “bark on” Rufus The Dog, “bark on”. And for those sampler music historians out there, check this out: You can now buy an Apple App to recreate the first sampler, the Fairway CMI, on your iPhone or iPad.

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