The 10 most-used samples in hip hop history
Hip hop and sampling go hand in hand, with many of the genre’s most iconic tracks built on previously-recorded sounds and samples.
One of the most famous examples of sampling in hip hop – and arguably the track that set the template – is the groove behind Sugarhill Gang’s 1980 hit Rapper’s Delight, which was built around a sample of Chic‘s 1979 song Good Times. This sample was so influential that it helped to define the sound of early hip hop and set the stage for the widespread use of samples in the genre.
Another iconic sample is the breakbeat from James Brown‘s Funky Drummer, which has been used in countless hip hop tracks over the years. The breakbeat, which features the drumming of Clyde Stubblefield, has been sampled in tracks by artists such as Public Enemy,N.W.A., and Run-D.M.C., among many others – prompting its creator to tell the New York Times in 2011, “It didn’t bug me or disturb me, but I think it’s disrespectful not to pay people for what they use.”
Read More:“This is a journey into sound…” The sample that made hip hop history
With this in mind, 909originals delves into the annals of rap and hip hop history to explore ten of the most popular samples, and the influential tracks that introduced them to a new audience:
- Amen, Brother by The Winstons
The Winstons’ 1969 track Amen, Brother – released as a B-side to the single Color Him Father – has been widely sampled in hip hop music, with its iconic drum break providing the foundation for many classic hip hop tracks.
Performed by Gregory Coleman, the song’s drum break (about one minute and 26 seconds in), which has come to be known as the ‘Amen Break’, has been an iconic go-to for hip hop artists over the years.
While Salt & Pepa’s 1986 track I Desire was possibly the first use of the break in commercial hip hop, by the late 80s it was as close as the genre got to a syncopated standard, appearing in Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A, Keep It Going Now by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock and King of the Beats by Mantronix.
According to WhoSampled, the Amen Break is the most sampled riff in history, appearing in more than 5,000 officially-released tracks – although the real total is thought to be far higher than that.
As well as hip hop, it became an essential backing track for drum ‘n’ bass and jungle – a six-second sample (or thereabouts) that led to the creation of a whole genre.
- Think (About It) by Lyn Collins
Lyn Collins’ 1972 track Think (About It) has been widely sampled in hip hop music, with its infectious beat and powerful vocals providing the foundation for many classic hip hop tracks. Produced by James Brown, the song has been sampled by a wide range of hip hop artists over the years, utilised by everyone from De La Soul to Janet Jackson, and from Kanye West to Beyoncé.
Following its appearance on an edition of the Ultimate Breaks & Beats series in the late 80s, the Beatmasters sampled the riff for the 1987 hit by the Cookie Crew, Females (Get On Up), but it was Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s It Takes Two, a major hit in 1988, that set the sample into the stratosphere, and it would go on to be utilised by Heavy D & The Boyz (You Ain’t Heard Nuttin Yet), Boyz II Men (Motownphilly), EPMD (Gold Digger), NWA (Appetite for Destruction) and countless others over the coming years.
It has also become a mainstay of drum ‘n’ bass and hardcore, with its accelerated usage on Squarepusher’s Come On My Selector, released in 1997, an example of its versatility.
- Funky President (People It’s Bad) by James Brown
James Brown is no stranger to this list, and his 1974 track Funky President (People It’s Bad) formed the backdrop to countless hip hop classics – including Public Enemy’s iconic Fight the Power and N.W.A’s Fuck Tha Police.
Other tracks to feature the sample include DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s Summertime, Hip Hop Hooray by Naughty by Nature, Kris Kross’ I Missed the Bus, A Tribe Called Quest’s Oh My God, and more recently, Childish Gambino’s 3005 and Kanye West, Jay-Z & Big Sean’s Clique.
As to the ‘Funky President’ referred to in the title? According to Brown, it refers to Gerald Ford, who at the time of the track’s release had just succeeded Richard Nixon as US President.
- The Big Beat by Billy Squier
The Big Beat by rock star Billy Squier has been a staple of hip hop production since its release in 1980. The song’s distinctive drum beat, courtesy of drummer Bobby Chouinard, has been sampled countless times by a wide range of hip hop artists.
The first known commercial use of the iconic drum beat came in 1985, with the release of Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse) by Run DMC, but since then it has been used by everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Grandmaster Flash, to Ice Cube to Jay Z, who used the track as the backing for monster hit 99 Problems.
“Billy Squier was one of the rock stars who learned from Led Zeppelin that massive drums do a lot of the talking,” Rob Sheffield, writer for Rolling Stone told the New York Post a few years back “He was the first guy to really figure out their production trick — that isolated thunder.”
- Apache by The Incredible Bongo Band
Apache by The Incredible Bongo Band has been a go-to sample for hip hop producers since its release in 1973. The song’s distinctive drum break, played by session drummer Jim Gordon, has become a defining element of the genre.
While The Shadows originally released Apache back in 1960, it was The Incredible Bongo Band’s version, with additional percussion and a bongo introduction, that would go on to be sampled by artists such as Afrika Bambaataa, L.L. Cool J, The Roots, Beastie Boys and Nas, as well as The Sugarhill Gang, who put out their own version of the track in 1981.
Arguably the most famous use of Apache, however, is on Grandmaster Flash’s The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel, released in 1981, alongside tracks by Chic, Blondie, Queen and others – an early example of turntablism committed to wax.
- Impeach the President by The Honey Drippers
The song Impeach the President by The Honey Drippers is a funk classic that has been sampled extensively in hip hop music – particularly its iconic drum beat and bassline. The song was originally released in 1973 and was written by Roy C. Hammond.
Among the early artists to incorporate Impeach the President into their own tracks were MC Shan (on The Bridge) and Eric B & Rakim (on Eric B. Is President), both released in 1986, but by the time the 90s rolled around, it was evident on tracks by Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, EPMD and Bobby Brown – enjoying chart success as the backing beat for both Kris Kross’ Jump (released in 1993) and TLC’s Waterfalls (in 1995).
- I Know You Got Soul by Bobby Byrd
Bobby Byrd’s 1971 track I Know You Got Soul made a moderate dent in the charts upon its release, reaching 1971 in the Billboard R&B chart, but its position as the starting point for Eric B and Rakim’s 1987 track of the same name ensures its place in hip hop history.
It also provided the backing for Public Enemy’s legendary anthem Fight the Power (released in 1989), Ice Cube’s Jackin’ for Beats (1990) and artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel and The Pharcyde.
- The Payback by James Brown
Originally slated for blaxploitation film Hell Up in Harlem (it was reportedly rejected by producers), James Brown’s The Payback was released in 1974 as the second single from the album of the same name.
Artists including EPMD, Big Daddy Kane and Prince all sampled The Payback in the 1980s, but it was arguably its use by female R&B group En Vogue that catapulted it to sampling stardom – both 1990’s Hold On and 1992’s My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) were built on James Brown’s soulful grooves.
Hat tip to Massive Attack too for nicking the opening wah guitar riff for 1994’s dub masterpiece Protection.
- Funky Drummer by James Brown
There are those that would argue that hip hop wouldn’t be hip hop if it wasn’t for James Brown’s Funky Drummer – again featuring the jazz drum stylings of Clyde Stubblefield.
A wealth of artists have clearly adhered to Brown’s suggestion “ain’t it funky”, with the likes of Public Enemy (on 1987’s Rebel Without A Pause and Bring the Noise), NWA (on 1988’s Fuck Tha Police), Ultramagnetic MCs (on 1988’s Give The Drummer Some) and De La Soul (on 1989’s The Magic Number) among the early artists to sample its goodness.
Since then, it has been used on tracks both inside the hip hop canon and elsewhere, including by artists such as Sinead O’Connor, Ed Sheeran, Britney Spears and George Michael.
- I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown
James Brown’s 1966 hit I Got You (I Feel Good) has been widely sampled in hip hop, with its infectious horn riff and energetic vocals providing the perfect foundation for many hip hop tracks.
Arguably Brown’s best-known track, it has been sampled by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Public Enemy, Gang Starr, Rebel MC and Cypress Hill, as well as helping to soundtrack early hits by MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice.
More recently, the likes of Lil Wayne (on 2015’s I Feel Good), Kendrick Lamar (on Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe, feat. Jay Z) and Young Thug (on 2017’s Take Care) have dipped into its sonic box of tricks.
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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