“This is a journey into sound…” The sample that made hip hop history

Released in October 1987, Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full was arguably the hip hop duo’s biggest single, thanks chiefly to a sample-heavy remix of the track by seminal electronic music duo Coldcut.

The famed ‘Seven Minutes of Madness’ edit builds on the original by throwing a litany of samples into the mix, including the voice of Israeli singer Ofra Haza, a snippet of Humphrey Bogart from The Big Sleep (“Now wait a minute, you better talk to my mother”), and a cut or two from Eric B & Rakim’s I Know You Got Soul – the most famous of these, “Pump up the volume”, would of course gain infamy all of its own later that year.

According to writer Tony Herrington, Coldcut’s remix ‘laid the groundwork for hip hop’s entry into the UK mainstream’. Let’s not forget that it would be three more years before a rap track would top the British charts – and even then, that owed a lot to the movie it was tied in with (Partners in Kryme’s Turtle Power)

READ MORE: The 10 most-used samples in hip hop history

Erik B & Rakim, meanwhile, hated Coldcut’s rework.. at least initially. As they told Rolling Stone in a rare interview last year, while their first reaction was one of disgust – “Picasso did a painting and then all of a sudden somebody just came in with a brush and tightened it up. No man, you crazy?,” as Eric B put it – the mood changed as the track progressed, and the crossover potential dawned.

“We started listening and before we started realising, like, this shit is like specially made for London, like, we kind of big over here, bro,” as Rakim put it.

However, it was the opening vocal snippet, of a refined English voice uttering the phrase “This is a journey into sound…”, that was arguably Coldcut’s most unusual addition to the track, with the line seemingly plucked out of obscurity.

Following its use in Paid in Full, the same sample would crop up in Bomb The Bass’ Beat Dis, Public Enemy’s Welcome to the Terrordome and Potter’s Field by rockers Anthrax. It also re-appeared in 2016, in the track Magic by EDM favourites Jauz and Marshmello.

[READ MORE…: “If hip hop ever got to a position where it could hear other kinds of beats, one of the first people it would have to hear is Christy Moore…” Irish hip hop in the mid-90s]

The voice behind the snippet is one Geoffrey Sumner, a Devon-born actor and radio announcer, who passed away in 1989.

The infamous ‘journey into sound’ snippet forms part of Train Sequence, the opening ‘track’ of A Journey Into Stereo Sound, a compilation released by Decca Records in 1958 to showcase the label’s innovative stereo recording processes.

A Journey Into Stereo Sound is quite the varied collection, combining an excerpt from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Vera Lynn, a dash of Mozart and the sound of motorcars speeding round the track at Goodwood.

Sumner, the album’s narrator, pops up time and again, to usher the listener into the theatre – “mind the steps!” – muse over the parallels between stereo sound and table tennis, and salute the “incomparable voice of Kristen Flagstad”.

As Coldcut’s Jonathan More told Sound on Sound recently, “actually the music on [A Journey Into Stereo Sound is] really boring. But there’s this guy introducing it. I took it home and put it on and that was the first thing that came up on it and it was like, Yes!

“It’s like gold mining basically, y’know. You sift through it. Most of it’s crap, but then every so often you find a nugget. We used that as an introduction to the record. It’s a good signature sample.”

Sumner was a quite well-known figure to British cinemagoers of the 1940s, 50s and 60s with roles in films such as Those People Next Door, Always a Bride and I Only Arsked!, as well as psychological thriller Cul-de-Sac, written and directed by Roman Polanski.

He also had a role in a short-lived BBC sitcom about a north of England funeral director, That’s Your Funeral.

Before getting into acting, Sumner worked for British Pathé and Movietone News as an announcer, including during the Second World War, where one of his tasks was to imitate the infamous Nazi propagandist Lord Haw Haw (aka William Joyce), as seen in the below clip [Keep an eye out for ‘Hitler’ fiddling with the Lie Straightener machine].

An unlikely hip hop hero, in other words, but one with perfect diction.

READ MORE… “Ahhh… this stuff is really fresh!” But who was the voice behind one of hip hop’s most-used samples?


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