Zoë Blade's notebook

A cappella

An a cappella is a song performed without backing, just the singer singing and nothing else. Releasing an a cappella B-side is as easy as soloing the singer on the mixing desk.

As you might imagine, this makes for ideal sample fodder, turning an otherwise static and quantised track into an expressive song. Samples of a cappellas are popular in house and big beat, often sourced via DJ battle tools (chiefly the Acapella Anonymous series) and other compilations.

If you hear a song from the turn of the millennium that relentlessly repeats a chorus, such as Fatboy Slim's "Praise You", Groove Armada's "At the River", or Moby's "Natural Blues", the chances are it's built around a few short samples taken from an old a cappella — most often, a white British man sampling a Black American woman. In effect, these are essentially unofficial remixes.

It's essentially a progression of earlier house music sampling short vocal snippets. Some of these songs only sample a few lines of the original vocal because it's not a true a cappella, and that's the extent of the momentarily isolated vocal. Others do so in order to cram the vocal into the sampler's limited RAM, making this another example of how the tools you use shape the art you make.

Notable examples

Sampling: A cappella | Breakbeat | DJ battle tool | Personal sample library | Pingpong loop | Sample CD