Sampling and hip-hop music were formed out of the creation of the other. The roots of sampling songs into other tracks dates back to the very origins of hip-hop itself: 1970s New York City. Legendary hip-hop innovator, Kool Herc, is credited as being the first DJ to adapt the technique developed by disco DJs of “mixing” into hip-hop culture. Instead of using two turntables to eliminate pauses between songs, he used them to mix two different songs together. While DJing at block parties and dances, Herc realized that the crowd responded best to the “breaks” in the funk records he played – the moments where the melody stopped and only the rhythm section was heard. Kool Herc began mixing the breaks of popular songs into others and the hip-hop technique of sampling was born. Herc is also credited as the innovator of another key characteristic of hip-hop music that would become essential to the art of sampling: the backspin. Using two copies of the same record on two separate turntables, he would spin one record backward while the other played in order to seamlessly replay the break over and over again. The ability to isolate, manipulate and reuse sections of songs quickly became a technique that was used in not only hip-hop, but across popular music genres.
As technology progressed, the emergence of digital sampling allowed producers and MCs to sample songs into their own tracks with more ease, accuracy and creative flexibility. Equipping MCs and producers with a rhythm or melody to rap over, funk, soul and R&B songs of the ’70s became favourite sources for hip-hop samples and remain some of the most commonly sampled genres today. Whether as a method of paying homage to musical influences or championing a long overlooked gem of a groove, sampling can bring the appreciation of songs, artists and even entire musical genres to new generations.
Explore the original songs behind some of the biggest hip-hop and R&B hits from the last 25 years with our list of 10 Retro Samples from the ‘70s:
“Mystic Brew” – Ronnie Foster (1972)
Released in 1972 on organist/producer Ronnie Foster’s debut album, “Mystic Brew” is all about the jazz-funk groove. After the emergence of acid jazz in the mid-80s, Fosters’ albums began collecting a cult following. “Mystic Brew” floats along with soulful organ and a mellow base line that’s irresistible for rhymes. Sampled a total of 22 times, the standouts are unquestionably “Electric Relaxation” (1993) by A Tribe Called Quest and the J.Cole/Kendrick Lamar collaboration released ten years later, “Forbidden Fruit”. The “Mystic Brew” bass line and organ sample can first be heard in “Electric Relaxation” at 0:15 and is present throughout “Forbidden Fruit”.
“Electric Relaxation” – A Tribe Called Quest
“Forbidden Fruit” – J. Cole ft. Kendrick Lamar
“Why Can’t We Live Together” – Timmy Thomas (1972)
When Timmy Thomas’s “Why Can’t We Live Together” was first released in 1972, it sold over two million copies. By 1973 it had reached #1 on the R&B chart and #3 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. 43 years later, Drake used a sped-up sample of the original in his 2015 smash single “Hotline Bling” and also reached #1 on the R&B chart. “Why Can’t We Live Together” has been sampled 13 times and covered by 17 different artists.
“Hotline Bling” – Drake
“I Got The…” – Labi Siffre (1975)
“I Got The…” by Labi Siffre has been sampled over 20 times. The most notable samples are Jay Z’s “The Streets Is Watching” (1997), Eminem’s “My Name Is” (1999) and Miguel’s “Kaleidoscope Dream” (2012). The strings of “I Got The…” that occur at 0:24 can be heard throughout Jay Z’s track. The bass line, tambourine and guitar groove that come in at 2:09 in the original is unmistakably recognizable from the opening bars of Eminem’s “My Name Is”, while the bass line of “I Got The…” serves as the backbone of Miguel’s “Kaleidoscope Dream”. Originally recorded by Labi Siffre in 1975, “I Got The…” was finally released as a single in 2006 after the popularity and success of Eminem’s single, “My Name Is”.
“Streets Is Watching” – Jay Z
“My Name Is” – Eminem
“Kaleidoscope Dream” – Miguel
“The Payback” – James Brown (1973)
James Brown’s 1973 single “The Payback” has been sampled an incredible 324 times. It’s cyclical and funky groove has made it a favourite sample for both producers and artists. In 2015, Kendrick Lamar sampled the vocals of “The Payback” in the third single from his multi Grammy-winning album To Pimp A Butterfly. Throughout “King Kunta” the female backing vocals and Brown’s lyrics “I can dig rappin’ ” and “I’m mad!” are sampled. In 1992, En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” sampled the guitar riff from “The Payback” and nabbed the #1 spot on the R&B chart and held the #2 spot for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. “The Payback” would be James Brown’s last single to be certified Gold.
“King Kunta” – Kendrick Lamar
“My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” – En Vogue
“Suzie Thundertussy” – Junie Morrison (1976)
The groovy funk hook of Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy” lays the foundation for “No More Parties in L.A.” by Kanye West featuring Kendrick Lamar. Opening with a sample of the 1977 track “Give Me My Love” by Johnny Guitar Watson, Kanye’s track is straight outta 1970s funk with some Ghostface Killah interpolation sprinkled in. While “No More Parties in L.A.” samples a total of six songs, Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy” is the most prominent throughout the entire track once it kicks in at 0:15. Leave it to Kanye to sample a hidden gem from the ’70s with “Thundertussy” in the title.
“No More Parties In L.A.” – Kanye West feat. Kendrick Lamar
“Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” – Parliament (1975)
Parliament’s “Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” was released on their 1975 album Mothership Connection and became their highest-charting single from the album. Their first single to sell a million copies, “Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” is one of Parliament’s biggest hits and has been sampled 42 times. This iconic funk song was sampled for Snoop Dogg’s solo debut single, “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)”. Producer by Dr. Dre sampled eight songs in “What’s My Name” including two different songs by Parliament. Vocals from “Tear the Roof Off” that are first heard at 0:56 occur at 1:05 in the Snoop Dogg version. “Who Am I (What’s My Name?)” held the #1 spot on the Billboard Rap chart for three weeks and was certified Gold by the RIAA.
“Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” – Snoop Doggy Dogg
“Joe Bell” – Isaac Hayes (1974)
“Joe Bell” was written by Isaac Hayes for the 1974 movie soundtrack to Three Tough Guys. In addition to starring in the film, Isaac Hayes also composed, conducted and performed the soundtrack. The bongo drum beat heard at the beginning of “Joe Bell” was sampled in Outkast’s “Crumblin’ Erb” 20 years later on their debut album. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik became a seminal album in the mainstream emergence of Southern hip hop with its funk and soul influences. “Crumblin’ Erb” is currently the only song that contains a sample of Isaac Hayes’s “Joe Bell”.
“Crumblin’ Erb” – Outkast
“Footsteps In The Dark” – The Isley Brothers (1977)
By the time their 1977 album Go For Your Guns was released, The Isley Brothers were in the midst of their popularity. While “Footsteps in the Dark” never became a hit single, its mellow groove has been sampled 56 times by a wide array of artists including Justin Bieber, K-OS, Redman, and Usher. But no artist championed nor profited from “Footsteps in the Dark” as much as Ice Cube. Sampling the track in his hit single “It Was a Good Day” (originally known as “Today Was a Good Day” from his third album The Predator) Ice Cube had his widest-reaching hit thanks to the soulful Isley Brothers melody. The Predator became the first album in history to debut at #1 on both the pop and R&B charts simultaneously and remains his best-selling album.
“Today Was A Good Day” – Ice Cube
“Grandma’s Hands” – Bill Withers (1971)
Released as a single from his 1971 debut album Just As I Am, “Grandma’s Hands” has become one of Bill Withers’ most beloved songs. Produced by R&B legend Booker T. Jones,”Grandma’s Hands” has a soulful mix of funk and blues elements with its moderate tempo and emphatic vocals. Sampling the guitar and humming vocals of the original, Blackstreet had the biggest hit of their career with their 1996 single, “No Diggity” featuring Dr. Dre and Queen Pen. Reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and winning the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, “No Diggity” is unquestionably the most successful song out of the eight that have sampled “Grandma’s Hands” to date.
“No Diggity” – Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen
“I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You” – Leon Haywood (1975)
Despite the fact that it has been sampled in 41 different songs, the infectious drums, bass and keys of Leon Haywood’s “I Want’a Do Something Freaky To You” is now instantaneously associated with Snoop Dogg’s lyrics, “1, 2, 3 and to the 4 / Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door”. While the 1975 original was a moderate hit for Haywood, it was a huge success as the debut single from Dr. Dre’s first solo album, 1992’s The Chronic. Reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and receiving a Grammy Award nomination, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” utilized the smooth and seductive groove of Haywood’s original to create a West Coast hip hop anthem. “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” has itself been sampled 79 times.
“Nuthin’ But A G’ Thang” – Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg