Written by 8:01 pm Electronic, Hip Hop, Sampling

Sampleface Five: SP-303 Albums


An underrated sampler has been used on some great albums. Here are five of them, made using the SP-303.

Akai and their line of MPC’s have ruled the roost for the past couple of decades, with the SP-1200 the only real competition in that department. Now that we have the Maschine, things are a little different but back in 2001, Roland Corporation fused and improved upon the qualities of their Roland MS-1 Digital Sampler together with the Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample to create the Boss Dr. Sample SP-303. In today’s standards, the capabilities were pretty limited and to be fair, they weren’t that advanced back in 2001 but with 192 seconds of sampling (expandable with the use of SmartMedia cards), you could stretch the possibilities. One of the main issues with the 303 was its strict polyphony. If you hit a pad, hitting another would play over it. That’s cool if you want to layer sounds but many users prefer a note off trigger. This meant you had to time your hits with accuracy. But it came with 26 effects, including a vinyl simulator which you’ll hear more about later.

Below are a selection of five albums where the SP-303 was used to great effect (pardon the pun). Some you should have heard of, others quite obscure unless you’re a Bandcamp fiend like myself.

1. J Dilla – Donuts

It’s fair to say we “go nuts for Donuts” at Sampleface not least because it’s a hip hop and sampling classic in our eyes. The story of its creation is known to most – Dilla was laid up in hospital and his friends from Stones Throw gave him a stack of 45s and an SP-303. The rest, of course, is hip hop legend and Donuts is/was the final soundtrack to a genius’ life (until all these unreleased tracks were unearthed and continue to emerge from the annals of time and storage). The heavy compressor and dustiness of the records remained in tact thanks to the SP-303, leaving you with the rawest possible sound.

2. Madvillain – Madvillainy

Madlib was a strong advocate for the 303, particularly in his RBMA appearance in Sao Paulo 2002. In 2004, he released Madvillainy as part of the duo Madvillain (Madlib and DOOM aka The Supervillain) and at least two of the tracks were made using the SP-303 – “Strange Ways” and “Rhinestone Cowboy”. It wouldn’t surprise me if more were made using it as the crackling and heavy compression, much like on Donuts, were retained in much the same way.

3. Kei Kurono – Bedroom Music

Now, here’s something more obscure. Half Mexican half Cuban producer Kei Kurono (named after an anime character) put together Bedroom Music last June using his 303 and its younger more improved cousin, the SP-555 and what he came up with was sonically expansive. When it comes to effects, the 303 in tandem with the 555 can produce some really otherworldly sounds and Kei achieved that with class.

4. Fuse City – For You EP

Not an album, but go along with me on this one. Similar to Donuts, UK producer Fuse City relied on looping and funk, disco and jazz breaks to create his tracks. Fuse pieces them all together with ease, as if they were made for each other (maybe that’s why they call him Fuse City) . Free download too, if you’re interested.

5. Anything from the SPS – Static Preservation Society

You probably haven’t heard of the Static Preservation Society. That may make them more secret than the Secret Service but not nearly as potent (in the game of espionage at least) but amongst their fellow electronic musicians, their appreciation of sampling and Roland/Boss SP samplers can make some killer beats. It’s unfortunate they haven’t made any new volumes since July 2011 but the fact that a whole collective was brought together in the name of the SP-303 and its relatives is a testament to how good these samplers actually were.