Hip-hop likely isn’t what you think about when you hear “Led Zeppelin” but the legendary rockers played a massive role in the genre, which owes a special debt of gratitude to drummer John Bonham.
His hard drumming, with sticks that he called “trees,” resulted in beat-making gold. “When The Levee Breaks” is textbook hip-hop. The combination of Bonham’s pure muzzle blast, Jimmy Page’s iconic riffs and John Paul Jones’ throbbing bass made them heroes to generations of young musicians, sample thefts and plenty of lawsuit threats.
Here are five classic tracks that reimagined the creative workings of those four English blokes.
Beastie Boys — “Rhymin’ and Stealin'”
Beastie Boys inked their admiration for Led Zeppelin onto their sleeves, sampling many cuts over their career including “When the Levee Breaks.” One of the most monstrous two-bar breaks in rock drumming ever recorded, it is also one of the most sampled pieces that ranges from Eminem to Ice-T, Dr. Dre to Bjork. Although nobody was able to utilize that sample quite like DJ Double R (a.k.a. Rick Rubin).
Schooly D — “Signifying Rapper”
Bonham’s thunderfood and that string-heavy Kashmir is best known for Diddy’s Godzilla soundtrack reworking. Several years earlier, proto-gangsta rapper Schooly D used it as the backbone for a song that explicitly (note: explicitly) connected hip-hop with its African folk tradition. Its influence reached, resulted in a successful lawsuit by Led Zeppelin due to the undeclared sample and David Foster Wallace copped the title to write a very strange hip-hop book.
Salt-N-Pepa — “A Salt With a Deadly Pepa”
Known for their crossover mega-hits, “Shoop,” “Whatta Man” and “Push It,” Cheryl James and Sandra Denton brought the intensity early on with this title track for their 1988 album. Stealing a sample from John Bonham’s prog-funk in “The Crunge,” it’s pure fire. Bonzo’s thud-like technical consistency is the standard for a hip-hop drum loop.
2Pac — “Life’s So Hard”
This track was recorded for Tupac Shakur’s last film performance in Gang Related, when he worked under the stage name Makaveli. It samples Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti ballad “Ten Years Gone.” It’s a song that Rick Rubin described as “a deep, reflective piece with hypnotic, interweaving riffs. Light and dark, shadow and glare. It sounds like nature coming through the speakers.” Come to think of it, perhaps hip-hop’s biggest debt is owed to Rick Rubin, the shepherd that introduced Led Zeppelin to another generation and so on. That’s for another list.