To quote a recent Grimes tweet, “Sampling [is] so preferable to blatant immitation [sic] because ur [sic] inherently giving credit where due rather than just stealing an idea.” Effective sampling is always predicated by the ability of an artist to create or extrapolate something new from its source, or to use said source in such a way that its meaning or connotations are presented in a new light. As a footwork producer, sampling is imperative to DJ Roc’s trade, and his skill at contorting samples—largely R&B vocals—into new and unlikely spaces is perhaps his greatest asset.
Roc’s footwork spans the danceable and uplifting to the psychotic and brutal, and with the slightest of chops and changes he dramatically changes the emotional texture of the tracks on Practice What U Preach. Perhaps the best example is the title track, ‘Practice What U Preach,’ which opens with a swinging Barry White sample of the same name. By pitch shifting the vocal and adding another, darker vocal, he contorts White’s joyfulness into a cry of pain. The two vocals clash, compete for space and make the song feel frantic, to the extent that White’s voice appears to drown in the mix. But as the sample sinks, Roc quickly shifts the pitch to its original R&B stylings and pulls the listener back to the surface. Just like that, the track becomes romantic again, and the artifice of Roc’s dramatic power is revealed.
Roc has a habit of clashing samples until one ‘wins,’ and this lends a sense of linearity to the record. ‘It Takes Two’ starts with a cluttered mash of Miami bass, Space Jam-like sounds, and then descends into a synth-bass hole. This is perhaps the most erratic, least danceable moment of the record—or rather, the most difficult part to dance to. But just as he does on the title track, Roc reverts the track to its original sound a few bars before the song ends.
On other tracks, there is no return to the surface. ‘The Worst’ forgoes Roc’s usual intensity in favour of a more contemporary ‘remix’ sound, retaining the pianos and female vocal from Jhené Aiko’s R&B original. Yet Roc quickly introduces a noxious synth and some unsettling, high-pitched twinkles, and by the track’s end, the vocal and pianos are long gone and only the darker elements remain. It’s another example of Roc’s ability to clash the romance of R&B with a darker twist, and this time, the dark side comes up trumps.
Nevertheless, Roc often shirks this sense of linearity for the more upfront, cinematic intensity typical of his back catalogue. ‘Destruction’ is like a speed-boosted interpretation of the Imperial March; ‘Ready Or Not’ is similarly urgent, complete with slamming horns and pounding bass; and closing track ‘Got No Crack’ transcends its cluttered vocals with overpowering orchestral horns, in the lineage of Roc’s grander tracks like ‘Phantom Call‘. These cuts are perhaps the most traditionally danceable, but like much of Practice What U Preach, their unpredictability demands attention. For a record that lulls you in with the incredibly smooth ‘Lowend Unity’—something you could hear in a café—Practice What U Preach is a challenging, self-aware collection of tracks that cleverly exposes Roc’s masterful use of samples.