The Sample: Brenda Russell – ‘A Little Bit Of Love’ (1979)

Among the legends of the '80s (Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie), Brenda Russell is an unsung hero. She began on Elton John's Rocket label in the '70s, releasing two albums with her then-husband Bryan Russell before they divorced and she moved to L.A. to pursue a solo career. Her eponymous 1979 debut LP spawned hits like ‘So Good, So Right’ and ‘If Only For One Night,’ the latter of which Luther Vandross would later make his own hit out of, but her career wouldn't explode until her fourth solo album in 1988, when 'Piano In The Dark' was released. That single hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and would go on to be sampled by Tupac and Nice & Smooth.

Her first self-titled album goes down like a milkshake thanks to her silky vocals, but she also played piano (acoustic and electric) on all but three songs. She not only sings 'Little Bit Of Love,' but she's the one playing that timeless riff on the keys.

Flip 1: The Outsidaz – ‘Rain Or Shine’ (Prod. by Kobie) [1998]

Believe it or not, Detroit’s own Eminem first started rapping with a group from Newark, New Jersey called The Outsidaz. He shouts them out a couple times on ‘The Slim Shady LP’ and together they opened for Wu-Tang in the Park Hill Projects of Staten Island during the '90s. (In his biography ‘The Way I Am,’ Em shares a story of travelling to perform in Newark and being told by The Outsidaz not to get off the bus until he saw them – or else risk getting robbed.)

The Outsidaz included Pace Won, Rah Digga, Young Zee, Yah Lova (a.k.a. Yah Yah, Young Zee’s ill little brother), Az Izz, Denazy, Dee You, Loon One, Slang Ton (RIP), DJ Muhammad, and a host of others. They released two official projects, both somewhat underwhelming – ‘Night Life’ in 2000 and ‘The Bricks’ in 2001 – but seek out their demo with ‘Brick City’ and ‘Murderah,’ the singles they intended to push in the late '90s.

Their very first single, however, was ‘Rain Or Shine,’ and according to Company Flow's Mr. Len, it came out before Pun’s single. The beat was done by Kobie Brown, who ran with the group before going on to produce for R&B acts like Ideal and Allure. The track is sluggish and Kobie’s flip is mellow, adding little more than drums to the sample that’s slowed by a hair.

It might seem like Eminem did his boys kinda dirty (most Em fans only know Young Zee from Invasion mixtapes and a D12 interlude, if at all), but Zee claims that he and Pace Won were supposed to be on ‘Amityville.’ Em called Pace and asked him to change a small part of his verse, but Pace wouldn’t do it and after lobbing disses at Marshall, it was a wrap on the relationship. One day I’ll interview Eminem and ask him about it, and he’ll smack me with the coach’s clipboard he now writes his rhymes on.

Flip 2: Big Pun – ‘Still Not A Player’ (Prod. by Knobody) [1998]

Everyone should know this one. Pun’s biggest single was a “remix” of the vastly underrated ‘I’m Not A Player’ that appears later on ‘Capital Punishment.’ It was produced by Knobody, who might sound like a nobody until you realize he’s done classics like ‘Can’t Knock The Hustle’ and ‘Keep It Gangsta.’ His style can’t be categorized, making him flexible to the point of having no idiosyncratic, well-known sound to match to his name. Ultimately, that means he’ll be known for his work before his work is known for him, and that’ll be better for his reputation in the long run, despite the obfuscation of that fact in today’s image-driven industry.

‘Still Not A Player’ is Pun’s most ubiquitous hit, and while it could be the hook that makes it so, it’s really the way Knobody makes those keys stab next to the knocking percussion. The chords are chopped to tease you in the intro, and while the Outsidaz track rolls in like a dead wind, Pun’s song jumps up at you. That’s in part thanks to the energy of the beat, and that energy feeds off the way Knobody sped that piano up.  It just makes you feel good.

Kobie looped it first, so while credit is due for understanding the right beat to lay under energetic MCs, Knobody knocks him out with a quickstep infusion of ass-shaking perfection.