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Name That Tune: Songs Notorious for Their Use of Sampling

Once controversial, the practice of sampling is now generally regarded as a viable artistic method of production and a mostly legitimate commercial endeavor. Good public reception of a sample-use often depends on a combination of factors including what is sampled, who is sampled, and how that sample is used to create something new. Thus artists of today generally sample for three fundamental reasons which are often combined. Many samplers are interested solely in the sounds themselves. There are countless sonically unique moments that’ve already been etched to recording, and these sounds have become highly desirable for various reasons. Artists may often adopt a sound for its sonic properties or use a sample primarily for its cultural content. And while there is also a rich tradition of sampling to produce full on thematic remakes, this distinction often goes undeclared. Another interesting category suggests that sounds having already been sampled by many artists have become, for this very reason, more desirable to many producers of today. Still, sampling has always been about the joy of music and culture. So, whether you’re interested in sampling or just looking to be entertained, I highly encourage you to check out these songs behind these songs.

Jay-Z
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) (1998) Samples Annie and Orphans’ It’s the Hard Knock Life (1982)

Originally produced by DJ Mark The 45 King, Hard Knock Life was Jay-Z’s most successful single at the time of its release. Based on the song, It’s the Hard Knock Life from Annie the Broadway Musical, this beat interestingly makes liberal use of the child-sung chorus amidst various types of accompanying instrumentation provided in the background. Though the source material seems unexpected for a hip-hop beat, The 45 King has produced another ingenious beat which also contains its own lyrical content suitable for directing a proper thematic remake. Thus the beat seems an automatic hit to its purchaser, and the Annie sample clearly chosen for its content which begs to be reappropriated.

MC Hammer’s
U Can’t Touch This (1990) Samples Rick James’ Super Freak (1981)

U Can’t Touch This
uses Super Freak so prominently that younger generations of today may be more likely to associate the backing with Hammertime circa 1990. Super Freak, however, was a phenomenal hit in its own time. Nearly ten years earlier it had topped the American dance charts at #1 for three weeks. While it is possible for the unaware to assume that the Super Freak beat was Hammer’s own creation, it wasn’t. Thus Hammer was shrewd to credit James as a co-writer in order to avoid controversy and share some royalty dough with the sound’s originator. It seems that part of the success of the entire album, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, is likely attributed to this type of high profile citationality, as many songs contain sources from legendary artists including the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, and Prince to name a few. Still, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, remains one of the best selling hip-hop albums of all time. This perhaps speaks as a testament to the power of sampling’s referentiality.

Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
It Takes Two (1988) Samples Lyn Collins’ Think (About it) (1972)

Famous for containing the ‘Woo Yeah‘ sample, a clip capable of providing a song with its own audience, Think (About it) has been sampled by artists including Kool Mo Dee, Janet Jackson, Heavy D & the Boyz, N.W.A., DJ Shadow, Kid 606, and many others. Because the E-Z Rock version of It Takes Two samples so heavily from the original, it’s possible to consider the song a remake particularly in light of the fact that it samples significantly more content than most. Represented here are several different riffs, the Woo Yeah, and select verses of Collins’ own voice which inspires the new title of this classic remake.

Missy Elliott
The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) (1997) Samples Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain (1973)

Missy Elliott seems more often than not to embrace the citational aspect of sampling. Thus, she often acknowledges the origin of her samples, and on occasion even goes so far as to pen lyrics meant to clearly riff on, or dialogue with, the original content of her sampled songs. This is evidenced by The Rain and other album tracks such as Pass That Dutch, a song that extends itself from Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie (1982). While there are, perhaps unavoidably, many moments in The Rain that focus on Missy’s exploits and materialistic tendencies, both her incarnation and the original share a thematic element that largely pertains to coping with and not being able to tolerate the rain.

Eminem
My Name Is (1999) Samples Labi Siffre’s I Got The (1975)

This sample (heard at points 2:10 and 2:33) played a large role in launching Eminem’s career; the original recording seems such obvious material for a great beat, and Dr. Dre was a producer looking to take advantage. However, Siffre initially did not co-operate in clearing the sample to Dre. Known as an openly gay man, Siffre was dissatisfied with some of Eminem’s blatantly homophobic content that was originally written for My Name Is. Needing the sample so much to secure a hit, Eminem opted this time to tone down some of his more disrespectful lyrics.

Vanilla Ice
Ice Ice Baby (1990) Samples Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure (1981)

Originally released as a B-side, Ice Ice Baby was the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard charts in a #1 position. It very obviously samples the bassline from Under Pressure though it initially attributed no credit to Queen or Bowie until after the song became a hit. This fact sparked a decent amount of criticism largely attributing to the fact that Ice initially denied sampling the original source altogether. Thus, Ice Ice Baby was a song of many firsts in that it was a hip-hop chart topper, thrust into the popular market, sung by a white rapper, and over a famously sampled backing which launched controversy. This dispute not only implicated the sampler but it also seemed to call into question the legitimacy of sampling itself as it pertained to such highly commercial contexts.

The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy and Mase
Mo Money Mo Problems (1997) Samples Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out (1980)

Given Sean Combs’ propensity for high profile sampling, it’s hard to say whether the sample was chosen for the quality of its sound or for its citational content; certainly the new seems not to dialogue with the original’s content so as to create an homage or remake. Nonetheless, the construction is very artfully arranged and particularly with regard to the handling of Ross’ most prominent sample. Notice that as the original clip ends, Ross’ first syllable is retained and seamlessly blended with a new female voice who sings this sort of new chorus constructed out of the old.

Ciara feat. Missy Elliott
1, 2 Step (2004) Samples Afrika Bambataa and Soulsonic Force’s Planet Rock (1982)

Planet Rock
has canonical sampling material that has been used by many other artists including Public Enemy, 2 Live Crew, Coldcut, and Girl Talk, who’s artform appears to be inextricably based on sampling everything. Planet Rock is also notable for being among the first to sample other artists as the song itself samples from Kraftwerk on at least two separate instances including cuts from the songs Numbers and Trans-Europe Express.

Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg
Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang (1992) Samples Leon Haywood’s I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You (1975)

This prominently featured sample arguably makes most of Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang. Clearly chosen for its sound quality rather than as a reference, Haywood’s I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You beat is emblematic of many samples pursued throughout the entire West Coast G-Funk era. Thus, Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang became a chart topping classic that has both promoted further use of the original sample and spawned many derivative works of its own.

Will Smith feat. Coko
Men in Black (1997) Samples Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots (1982)

Also not exactly a remake, Smith’s producers sampled Forget Me Nots to make a popular song associated with the Men in Black movie. The glamorous beat was retained and the chorus was re-sung to provide more Men in Black related lyrical content. Patrice Rushen is listed as co-writer. Forget Me Nots has also been sampled by several others including George Michael, The Beatnuts, and the french rapper MC Solaar.

The Notorious B.I.G.
Hypnotize (1997) Samples Herb Alpert’s Rise (1979)

Though the recordings from his Tijuana Brass years have proven relatively difficult to sample, Herb Alpert’s Rise sounds much more of popular success. Hypnotize borrows from many instances throughout the recording including the bassline and several other sounds that are highly recognizable.

M.I.A.
Paper Planes (2007) Samples The Clash’s Straight to Hell (1982)

This fairly recent song was popular with the charts and still seems a staple soundtrack item. Produced by M.I.A., Diplo, and Switch, it was Diplo’s idea to use the sample from the beginning of The Clash’s Straight to Hell. It sounds both new and recognizable in comparison to the old.

Puff Daddy feat. Jimmy Page
Come With Me (1998) Samples Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (1975)

The first track in the Come With Me music video is actually Between the Sheets by The Isley Brothers (1983) a piece which was later used in 2004 by Gwen Stefani for Luxurious featuring Slim Thug. But then enter Godzilla, and ‘Diddy’ pulls out this famous guitar line as seemingly a mere prop. At this point in his career Combs began receiving substantial criticism for sampling too many high profile songs, the beats of which changed very little and did not attempt to create direct remakes of the original works. Leechingly, many such songs are so direct that they seem practically like covers, albeit covers with changed lyrics that are still nearly identical to the original. By this time Combs had already changed The Police’s Every Breath You Take to ‘every step you take’ while obviously sampling the original guitar melody in I’ll Be Missing You (1997); however, at the time this was publicly excused out of sympathy for the fact that the song was dedicated to Biggie’s memory. Many fans and critics stopped making excuses for Diddy after Come With Me.

MC Lyte feat. Missy Elliott and Puff Daddy
Cold Rock A Party (Bad Boy Remix) (1996) Samples Diana Ross’ Upside Down (1980)

One of my favorite examples, Cold Rock A Party is another clear instance where a resourceful producer has fashioned a beat out of a former #1 dance hit. At first, Upside Down seems more than likely un-useble as a sample source. It needed to be slowed down and sliced in a very particular way. In the end you can hear striking differences and pleasant similarities between the new and the old. As a result of its transition, this new hip-hop beat sounds amply de-tuned and modified to specifications suitable for its genre.

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