Who Flipped It Better? Kanye West vs. Big Mike
This week’s sample flip is Al Green’s ‘What A Wonderful Thing Life Is,’ a track so full of emotion that it’s odd more producers haven’t plucked those strings for their own beats.
Naturally, Kanye is the kind of visionary to touch all kinds of Al Green joints. He sampled ‘Simply Beautiful’ for Talib Kweli’s ‘Good To You’ and freaked ‘I Wish You Were Here’ for ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,’ a ‘College Dropout‘era cut that didn’t make the album and was later proliferated on the Internet via bootleg compilations. Consequence was able to get on that and ‘Out The Game,’ another early track that highlights Kanye’s stunning ability to strip down a song to it’s most touching elements.
To be fair, Kanye didn’t do much manipulation to Al Green’s song ... or so it seems. You hear the noodling bassline, the blossoming strings, the vintage drums. Everything is sped up to provide the right rapping pace, yet everything seems pretty par for the course. As the verse goes on, however, you can hear him extend the sample. He starts with an 8 bar loop that constitutes the very beginning of the Al Green track, but as the song progresses, he brings in the 4-bar loop of recurring chords before he lays out the initial 8 bar sample again. Hear that? It doesn’t sound complicated at first, but when you start to hear the complexities, it ends up being pretty impressive.
Exactly ten years prior, N.O. Joe, the notorious go-to Rap-A-Lot producer, approached it a little differently. He starts the sample from the 12 second mark on 'What A Wonderful Thing…' and sticks to the 4-bar loop that Kanye laces in and out of ‘Out The Game.’ He keeps the funky bassline but adds crisper drums and a twanging guitar that ups the Southern ante. The product is less emphasis on the core sample and more focus on what N.O. Joe does over it, which was probably the intention.
Kno of The Cunninlynguists once read a fan who said a producer hadn’t “flipped it enough” (regarding a sample) and retorted, “Flip it enough? Flip these. Flip off. Go flip some f--king burgers.” At some point you have to decide whether the creativity around the sample flip is what you’re looking for, or if you just want to hear some good music, regardless of the acrobatics. It seems like N.O. Joe did less with the sample itself and more with original instrumentation, so if you’re looking for artistic liberties, Big Mike has got ‘em.
If, however, you’re of Kno’s ilk, and a dope beat is a dope beat no matter who did what, then Kanye has to win out here. Maybe it’s nostalgia playing into our bias, but ‘Out The Game’ was a seminal track that established not only Kanye’s impeccable ear and taste in the hearts of fans, but also cemented his ability to bring just the right amount of manipulation to the hearts of the masses. You can hear in the intro an old man describing why he messes with Kanye’s music – because of the soul samples that he chooses. That prime sample selection, mixed with Ye’s subtle weaving of both loops, would come to define that first period of Kanye West’s sound.