Sampling in Hip-Hop: A Brief History (and Favorites)

Rap music is unique in the fact that without the generations of musicians before it, it would most certainly not exist. Now, I'm not entirely sure that that statement is actually fact, but it makes sense because hip-hop was founded on the grounds of turning preexisting records into something totally different by introducing scratching and original verses.

Now, I'm not going to open the argument about who invented what and when this became that; that's for another day and for someone much more patient than I am. This is about sampling, the backbone of hip-hop (and most music in general).

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I am of the school of thought, that nothing is truly original in music. This isn't to say that new and inventive ways of producing music don't exist in this present time, I just don't think anyone can truly revolutionize the industry, regardless of genre at this time. Chords are recycled an endless amount of times, same goes for any range of melodies and arrangements.

What attracted me to hip-hop in the first place was the ability to find music inside of... uh... the music. It sounds redundant, but hear me out. When producers find a sample to use on a beat, it's more than just a vehicle to transport a few verses and a hook, it's the basis for which they believe an artist can tell a story while repurposing a song in a new manner. At least that's how I tend to romanticize the whole thing.

I'll start the mini-history lesson by sharing the most noticeable, influential sample ever: Apache by the Incredible Bongo Band. This is the magnum opus of breakbeats, which is weird because this song is a cover of a tune from the 60s by a band called The Shadows. "Apache" has been redone dozens of times, and those versions have also been sampled again and again, but the Incredible Bongo Band has the distinction of making it most popular in the hip-hop venue. It's most widely recognized rendition is by The Sugarhill Gang (and Sir Mix A Lot, I guess, but I prefer the OG disco-rap).

Then we have James Brown's Funky Drummer. The break on this song might just be the most sampled piece of music in the history of hip-hop. It can be heard in some of the biggest hits of the late 80s and early 90s. Like this. Or this. And this. You get the idea. Impeach the President by The Honeydrippers is in the same vein, in that the drum intro to the song has been featured in an insane amount of rap songs over the last 25 years.

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In more recent years, sampling has delved into more than just samples of drum breaks. Now, we see producers interpolating lyrics and melodies from older songs, often times in the same genre, into new ones (an example off the top of my head would be Kanye West's All Falls Down, which uses some samples of Lauryn Hill).

Sampling is one of those things that isn't necessarily loved on all fronts. More often than not, artists who are sampled must clear their music legally for another artist to use on a different project. When a lack of funds are transferred from one party to the next, samples can lead to lawsuits and those suits can lead to tracks and albums never getting off the ground.

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With all that said, I now present to you some of the samples I have come to love while listening to hip-hop:

Das Racist - You Oughta Know (Sample: Billy Joel - Movin' Out [Anthony's Song])

Kendrick Lamar - Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst (Sample: Grant Green - Maybe Tomorrow)

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Action Bronson - Shiraz (Sample: Brother Jack McDuff - The Shadow of Your Smile)

Big KRIT - Multi Til the Sun Die (Sample: M83 - Wait)

Danny Brown & Black Milk - Wake Up (Sample: Uriah Heep - Wake Up, Set Your Sights)

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Common - Chi City (Sample: Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose - Since I Found My Baby)

Heems - It's The Drug I'm Needing (Sample: PJ Harvey - The Slow Drug)

Jay-Z - (Ain't No Love) Heart of the City - (Sample: Bobby Blue Bland - Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City)

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Kanye West feat. Cam'ron and Consequence - Gone (Sample: Otis Redding - It's Too Late)

Scarface - My Block (Sample: Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway - Be Real Black for Me)

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