When Grandmaster Flash took What Hi-Fi? back to his teenage years with tales of stitching hooks, riffs, or other scraps of tracks into big quilts of music, it got us thinking: most of our favourite hip-hop tracks – and hits from other genres – wouldn’t exist without the innovative technique.
Many of the tracks used became more famous as samples than in their full, original form, so we decided to trace some of them back for you here and give them their dues. Many are classics that artists simply cannot resist, while others are more obscure works that only found mainstream recognition when a crafty artist or producer pulled them from obscurity and granted them a new lease of life in a whole new musical context. New or old, obscure or familiar, we hope you find something to enjoy from our rundown.
Incredible Bongo Band - Apache
“When Kool Herc found Apache, he was under heavy guard,” Flash told What Hi-Fi?. “You would never see the album cover of where it came from.” Such was the competition between hip-hop’s early DJs to find that special break.
The Incredible Bongo Band track has since sired perhaps more tracks than any other piece of contemporary music, and in 2012 its influence was documented in the film Sample This.
Bob James - Take Me To The Mardi Gras
Finding Bob James's Take Me To The Mardi Gras was Flash's own 'Apache' moment.
"I too was under heavy guard, so you wouldn't know what that was", he told us. "It's an extremely joyful thing, especially when you find a few and you are like the Don for a couple of weeks because all your competition doesn't know what it is that you have."
Roy Ayers - The Boogie Back
N.W.A’s F**k Tha Police wasn’t just censored upon its release in the late 1980s, it also led to communication between the group’s record company and the FBI for its perceived misrepresentation of and incitement of violence towards the police.
The seminal track, which protests police brutality and racial profiling, was built on a sample of Roy Ayers’ The Boogie Back.
Michael McDonald - I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)
Though the former Doobie Brothers singer's original achieved its own success, peaking at No4 in the Billboard charts, Regulate – which also samples Bob James's Sign of The Times and Let Me Ride by Dr Dre – actually beat it by two places.
George Clinton - Atomic Dog
Another track that has lent itself to multiple samplings, George Clinton's Atomic Dog is most famously referenced in Snoop Dogg's Who Am I (What's My Name)?
The song is sampled throughout, with the chorus re-imagined to become "Snoop Doggy Dogg", but it isn't the only Clinton track present: Parliament's Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) and P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up), and Funkadelic's (Not Just) Knee Deep all stamp their mark.
ABBA - Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
Sometimes a song becomes famous as a sample because of its repeated use. And sometimes, it gains notoriety for quite the opposite reason. According to Lucy O’Brien’s 2009 book Madonna: Like an Icon, in 2004 Madonna told producer Stuart Price she wanted him to concentrate on creating songs that sound like "ABBA on drugs". The problem is that as a rule, ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus don’t like that.
Hung Up was one of the first songs written for Madonna’s 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor. ABBA’s 1979 hit always formed the basis of the track, but getting the go ahead to sample it was anything but a gimme – even for the queen of pop.
Hung Up marks only the second time ABBA’s songwriters permitted anyone to use one of their tracks (the first time being Fugees, who sampled The Name of the Game in their single Rumble in the Jungle). The story goes that in order to gain the rights to use Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Madge had to personally send a letter to Stockholm begging the pair for the privilege and also explaining how much she loved their music. She later told the BBC: “Thank God they didn't say no… They had to think about it, Benny and Björn. They didn't say yes straight away."
Andersson has since quipped that Hung Up is his favourite Madonna song thus far. The royalty cheques probably help.
Mtume - Juicy Fruit
The Notorious B.I.G.’s first single from his debut album Ready To Die – Biggie’s story of growing up through poverty, to dealing drugs before artistic recognition and financial success – sits on a bed of Mtume’s Juicy Fruit.
Produced by Poke of Trackmasters and Sean Combs, Juicy actually uses the instrumental version of the track, with girl group Total singing an alternative version of the original chorus.
Ponderosa Twins Plus One - Bound
In an interview with Rolling Stone, executive producer Rick Rubin described how this Ponderosa Twins Plus One track almost didn't make it onto Kanye West's Bound 2.
"The whole song was written without that main sample, it was a last-minute thing," he said. "The song had kind of a lot of R&B music in it. And Kanye gave marching orders of, 'take out anything you want, but don't add. Just take away.'
"Before that, we listened to the sample together and thought, 'Hmm, maybe there's a way to integrate this into the song.' And the lyrics he wrote were so good and funny. It just turned into a really good record. The sample is so good."
Leon Haywood - I Want'a Do Something Freaky To You
Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's Nuthin' But a G Thang was one of the 500 greatest songs of all time, according to Rolling Stone's December 2004 cover story. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list was topped by Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone followed by (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones.)
Reaching No2 in the Billboard charts, it was the first single from Dre's solo debut, The Chronic, the sleeve notes of which wrongly credited an L. Hayward with the main sample.
Labi Siffre - I Got The...
Dr Dre’s use of this track on Eminem’s 1999 hit My Name Is was originally vetoed. “Attacking two of the usual scapegoats, women and gays, is lazy writing,” said Labi Siffre, who is openly gay. “If you want to do battle, attack the aggressors not the victims.”
The London-born singer finally approved after Eminem made changes to his original lyrics.
Billy Squier - The Big Beat
Perhaps the best-known uses are by Dizzee Rascal, who sampled it heavily in 2003 for Fix Up, Look Sharp, and in Jay Z’s Rick Rubin-produced 99 Problems the following year. Former Beggars & Thieves drummer Bobby Chouinard plays the famous beat itself.
The Clash - Straight To Hell
It was producer Diplo who decided upon Straight To Hell as the sample for M.I.A.'s Paper Planes, with all members of The Clash creditted as songwriters on the track.
A year later, Paper Planes itself was sampled by Kanye West on a track named Swagger Like Us, which he produced for T.I.'s album Paper Trail.
The Knack - My Sharona
Run-D.M.C.'s use of The Knack's My Sharona for their 1987 hit It's Tricky landed the group in some legal hot water after it was found – almost 20 years later – that they'd sampled the track without permission.
The case was settled out of court in 2006, by which time My Sharona had returned to school discos across Britain thanks to its use in Girls Aloud's No Good Advice.
James Brown - Funky Drummer
Funky Drummer is a track just calling out to be sampled, which it has more than 1000 times – and more than once by Public Enemy.
Likely its most famous use provides the drum track for Fight the Power, one of the greatest songs of all time in any genre, which even references the "sound of the funky drummer".
Joe Simon - Before the Night Is Over
While Ms. Jackson undeniably drove the success of Outkast's fourth studio album, Stankonia, by our reckoning that record's finest cut has to be So Fresh, So Clean.
It samples Joe Simon's Before the Night Is Over, with Sleepy Brown singing altered lyrics of, "Ain't nobody dope as me, I'm dressed so fresh, so clean".
Jeremy Steig - Howlin' For Judy
Played by jazz flautist Jeremy Steig (who, we’re reliably informed, also played The Pied Piper in the film Shrek Forever After) Howlin’ For Judy is an infectious piece of musicianship that lent itself perfectly as the sample that formed the crux of Beastie Boys’ Sure Shot in 1994.
It opened the group’s second number-one album, Ill Communication, which also included Sabotage.