Who Flipped It Better? Mary J. Blige vs. The-Dream
The Sample: Roy Ayers Ubiquity – ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ (1976)
If you’ve never heard the Roy Ayers Ubiquity album ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine,’ stop reading this and spin it. Now. If the song above is any indication to you, classic can’t even begin to describe Roy Ayers’s music. His impact on soul, jazz, and most importantly, hip-hop, is deeper than a loop here or an album cover there. His music has been sampled by everyone from Dr. Dre to Madlib, Tim Dog to Common, and it continues to echo in modern rap and R&B today. The grooves, the slow-burning rain of his rhythms, the build-up and decay of instruments and voices, all contribute to the twinkling beauty of a song like ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine,’ the most ubiquitous (no pun intended) song of his career.
Flip 1: Mary J. Blige – ‘My Life’ (Prod. by Chucky Thompson & Puff Daddy) 
The 22nd anniversary of Mary J. Blige’s debut album ‘What’s The 411?’ just passed, but while that album coasted on a balance of rap, R&B, and new jack swing, it was her sophomore album, ‘My Life,’ that made her a soul legend. She was clinically depressed at the time and in a scandalous relationship with K-Ci of Jodeci, the group that Puffy first helped blow up with Andre Harrell on Uptown Records. Allegations of domestic violence and substance abuse hovered over the relationship and seemed to seep into the emotion that Mary expresses on the LP — hence the heart-stopping ‘My Life.’
The bass, synths and keys from ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ are there from the get-go, although the added strings lend an extra sense of drama to Mary’s song. The track, and others on the album that sample the likes of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, served as a continuation of Puffy’s soul-sampling strategy – taking (jacking?) vintage classics and reshaping them for his own artists. Hate it or love it, it worked like a charm for Bad Boy artists like Big and Ma$e throughout the ’90s.
Flip 2: The-Dream – ‘Outkast’ (2014)
The-Dream has never really been about that s–t. It’s a discussion for another day, but Terius Nash could be the most important R&B artist of the 2000s. A laundry list of hits – ‘I Luv Your Girl,’ ‘Rockin’ That Thang,’ ‘Shawty Is The Sh**!’ – and a slew of songwriting credits for Beyonce, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber, to name a few, help boost that argument, but the best reason why The-Dream is so influential is his originality. Together with Tricky Stewart, who he reunited with for his latest project, ‘Royalty: The Prequel,’ The-Dream has been the go-to hit-maker for a large portion of the industry, and none of that has to do with sampling soul classics.
But for ‘Outkast,’ he strays from his formula, harmonizing the melody from ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ while sampling parts for the production. Roy Ayers’s bass and synth run through the song as Dream riffs about the feeling of love that reminds him of “the first time that Outkast hit.” Considering the sample choice, it’s a clever reference. Love feels like hearing Outkast for the first time, and perhaps he wants ‘Outkast’ to conjure memories of hearing ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ for the first time, too.
Still, Puff, Mary and Chuck take the cake. An Outkast reference is strategic, if not effective, but consider the juxtaposition of ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ with the mood of ‘My Life.’ Mary’s song is somber, damn near depressing, and Roy’s song is uplifting, like an actual walk in the sun. Mary’s second album is drenched in sadness, but the simple fact that the album exists in the form it does is a landmark of resilience on Blige’s part. Her whole image ever since that classic LP has been of a damaged woman who turned her pain into beautiful music and a hugely successful career. That succinct snapshot is encapsulated in the song ‘My Life’ – a record that drips with melancholy as joy melts it’s core. Her triumph propels her vocals. Light can only be born from darkness.
If you’ve never heard Mary’s first two albums, sit down with them, especially as we inch towards summer’s inevitable wane. She holds the polar extremes of the human condition in the palm of her hand and always comes out on top. The-Dream’s new project is a promising sign of what’s to come of his newfound freedom from Def Jam, but be real — Mary will always own this sample.