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Who Flipped It Better? Cam’ron vs. Young Thug

The Sample: Buffy Sainte-Marie – ‘Lazarus’ (1965)

Kanye West vs. 808 Mafia. This might offend some folks, word to Obama.

First off, this Buffy chick. Sainte-Marie. What is she, West Indian? It’d make some sense if Marie was from a place that was once under colonial rule, as ‘Lazarus’ is a traditional song that invokes the blues. The blues were born directly from slave songs sung in the fields, and while it’s hard to track down the first time ‘Lazarus’ was sung or recorded (1940 is the earliest date I could find), it’s also been said to have been a popular chain gang and prison song. Read the research some internet nerds did on the song’s history right here. Also, thank God for nerds.

But ol’ Buffy is actually a Canadian-American Cree (Native American), and when anybody besides black people sing the blues, it ain’t called “blues” — it’s called “folk.” Duh. [Editor's note: Not really, Black Keys anyone?]

The song itself has a couple interpretations, but the gist is this: Lazarus gets fed up in prison after finding some worms in his food, so he hops up on the table, stomps on everybody’s plates, grabs two pistols, steals all the cash from the pay window, and makes a get-away. He might be the first rapper ever documented.

We begin the song with the deputy looking for “po Laza’us.” Eventually, the 5-0 track him down and shoot him. As he lays dying, he asks for water, but no one heeds his request. There are only his grief-stricken family members left to mourn for the remainder of the song.

Flip 1: Cam’ron – ‘Dead Or Alive’ (Feat. Jim Jones) [Prod by Kanye West] (2002)

Someone should ask Kanye how he found this sample. Sainte-Marie is well-known on the folk sector, but what kind of Roc-A-Fella producer samples a ’60s folk song for Killa Cam?

‘Ye puts his spin of genius on everything he touches, though, and here he replays the melody of Sainte-Marie singing “bring him dead or alive” from the beginning of ‘Lazarus’ while also throwing her vocals on the hook. The sped-up vocal loop, which characterizes the chipmunk soul that RZA Kanye made popular, is the DNA in Cam’s music from the ‘Come Home With Me’ era.

Flip 2: Young Thug – ‘Why Order’ (Prod. by 808 Mafia) [2013]

808 Mafia takes a different approach. They use the same “dead or alive” jingle that Kanye extracts at the start of ‘Why Order,’ but what pops up on the chorus is a meticulous chop of Sainte-Marie’s voice that makes it sound like she’s #actually saying “why order.” It’s hard to tell what syllables 808 Mafia are sampling to give the illusion that Buffy is singing Young Thug’s hook, and if you find the exact parts sampled, please let us know, but it’s too hot for all that sh*t, so just know that somewhere in ‘Lazarus’ is the basis of a Young Thug song.

In terms of content, both Kanye and 808 Mafia’s use of the sample is subtly clever. Lazarus is on the run from the establishment — as Cam was, donning pink minks, in the early-to-mid 2000s (before the historically revised, nostalgia-driven fandom that he enjoys today), and as Young Thug is today, wearing dresses and painting his fingernails all types of non-heteronormative colors. Lazarus, Cam’ron, and Young Thug – all taking their piece of the fugitive myth pie.

Aesthetically … f-ck. Kanye layers the sample so perfectly, it’s hard to deny how he flipped it into a vintage Roc-A-Fella beat, but 808 Mafia cut those syllables to perfection, and when you can make an old singer sound like they’re mimicking an extraterrestrial Atlanta rapper, you’ve won. 808 Mafia edges out Yeezus this week, and Young Thug has been edging out Cam’ron since last year, but where’s my Lipton?

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