Breaking Beats: Ten of Hip Hop’s Most Inventive Samples

When music seems to move at a thousand songs a second, it can be hard to remember the past. Now more then ever, there are new artists, albums, and singles of all genres that pop up everywhere, with hundreds of new releases a day across major platforms like Apple Music and Spotify and user-curated sites like Bandcamp and Soundcloud.

Despite this steady increase in choice and style of new music, there is one genre that continuously prides itself on its roots: Hip-Hop. For the past 30 years, Hip-Hop has educated listeners through the subtle yet consistent use of samples. Most Hip-Hop beats are built off samples from songs that span the history of music; some of the most prominent producers and artists will dig through endless crates of records to find those unique snippets of songs to be re-purposed for new tracks. By recycling jazz, soul, rock and R&B‎ into chart-topping records, Hip-Hop reminds us that age is just a number. Below I’ve gone through some of my favorite samples that have spawned equally impressive records over the years.

10. Lyn Collins  – “Think (About it)”

First and foremost, this is one of the most sampled tracks in the history of Hip–Hop with about 1423 known records that rework “Think (About it)”.

Of course the godfather of soul James Brown had a hand in the production and writing of this track when it released in 1972 under his own label, People’s Records.  Brown did all of the instrumentation for the track while Collins powers forward with infectiously funky vocals.

Sampled In: Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock – “It Takes Two”

“I like the Whopper/Fuck the Big Mac!”

After decades of being sampled, one track in particular stands above all others: the 80s classic “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock.  Many critics consider it to be the greatest hip-hop single of all time; it’s the perfect party jam when everyone is itching to dance.

9. Nina Simone – “Sinnerman”

Sampled In: Talib Kweli – “Get By”

Props to Kanye for using this sample for the beat. Check out this mini doc on the creation of “Get By” if you have the chance.

8. Willie Hutch – “I Choose You”

This 1973 track by Willie Hutch also made it onto Anthony Fantano’s Valentines Day mix this year on Spotify, a great mix with a lot of soul.

Sampled In: UGK – “International Players Anthem (I Choose You)”

7. O’Donel Levy – “We’ve Only Just Begun”

Breeding of the Mind is a fantastic jazz album, reimagining the songs of artists such as The Jackson 5 to Al Green, but Levy’s cover of The Carpenters’s “We’ve Only Just Begun” stands out on its own.

Sampled In: Craig Mack “Flava In Ya Ear”

Kick that old robotic, futuristic, George Jetson, crazy joint!”

6. Isaac Hayes – “Walk On By”

Sampled In: The Notorious B.I.G – “Warning”

5. Steely Dan – “Black Cow”

Sampled In: MF Doom – “Gas Drawls”

4. Eugene McDaniels – “Jagger the Dagger”

Sampled In: A Tribe Called QuestPeople’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

Okay, so this doesn’t apply to one song in particular, but McDaniels’s bluesy 1971 track “Jagger the Dagger” is sampled throughout ATCQ’s first album on five separate tracks, including “Bonita Applebum” and “Push It Along”.

3. The Meters  – “Oh Calcutta”

Look-Ka Py Py is a quintessential funk album from the heavily sampled Meters, and “Oh Calcutta’s” drum fills are priceless.

Sampled In: Amerie – “1 Thing”

Grammy award winning producer Rich Harrison found this groovy sample for the ’00s classic almost a minute and a half into “Oh Calcutta”. Harrison also produced Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” (allegedly in 20 minutes), and sampled The Chi-Lites’s “Are You My Woman” for that now iconic horn hook.

2. Curtis Mayfield – “The Makings of You”

Sampled In: Jay-Z and Kanye West – “The Joy”

Pete Rock is a certified rap legend, with mega hits like “T.R.O.Y.” and “The World is Yours” under his belt, but when Kanye dropped “The Joy” one fateful Friday morning back in September of 2010, the beat marked a real change in Rock’s production. The Curtis Mayfield sample is rough around the edges with hammering drums and loud grunts, incredibly antithetical to the smooth jazzy tracks in Pete Rock’s discography. Though a marked change from Rock’s past work, the beat is ludicrously contagious and a refreshing surprise in the G.O.O.D. Friday series.

1. Bobby Caldwell – “Open Your Eyes”

Sampled In: Common – “The Light”

To me, “The Light” is utterly timeless. With J-Dilla on production, Common raps about his budding relationship with a young Erykah Badu way back in ’99. The track was eventually nominated for a Grammy and is still a sweet listen today. Listen, and watch the solid mini-doc from Complex that explains the creation process behind the work.

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