Still Sampling: Upholding Hip-Hop Production’s Cornerstone
Produced by Metro Boomin and G Koop, the hypnotic beat from Migos’ hit “Bad and Boujee” is constructed as follows: stark drums with an emphasis on the hi-hat; a bass pattern so minimal it hardly qualifies as a “line”; and some skeletal keyboard work that instantly lodges itself in your brain. It’s a compelling piece of music — “Bad and Boujee” reached No. 1 in 2017 — as well as a familiar one. The formula for “Bad and Boujee” is also the blueprint, more or less, for any number of big hip-hop songs from the last four years: Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3,” Drake’s “God’s Plan,” Post Malone’s “Congratulations.” You wouldn’t say these songs sound alike, but they do mine a consistent aesthetic and follow similarly careful instructions to the top.
These directions are, for the most part, new. Hip-hop history has largely been about the sample. Think the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” sampling Chic’s “Good Times”; Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” sampling the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark”; Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” sampling Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain”; the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” sampling Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” In 2020, we’re a long way from A Tribe Called Quest sampling jazz LPs and Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique tossing out what felt like a new sample every second. Things are different now, thanks to new creative paradigms and the logistics of copyright law.
And yet, samples from funk, soul and other genres continue to creep into songs from some of the most important artists in hip-hop. Below are five examples from the past decade, from Chance the Rapper jamming with soul legend Betty Wright (pictured) — a brilliant singer and mentor we lost to cancer on May 10 — to Hot Girl Meg partying with funk-bass virtuoso Bootsy Collins. Rap may have moved in the direction of original beats, but the foundational influences of hip-hop live on.
Chance the Rapper Featuring Childish Gambino
Acid Rap (2013)
Chance the Rapper, Nate Fox, producers
Recognize the spry, staccato rhythm guitar anchoring Chance and Gambino’s “Favorite Song”? It’s from vocalist Betty Wright’s 1971 smash “Clean Up Woman,” one of the most exhilarating soul songs of all time. (You might also recognize the riff from the classic Mary J. Blige/B.I.G. remix of “Real Love.”) Wright, who cut her first album as a teenager in the ’60s and later worked with Erykah Badu, the Roots and DJ Khaled, among so many others, was also known as a guru of sorts, for everyone from J. Lo to KC from KC and the Sunshine Band. And as long as artists like Chance — and Beyoncé and DJ Quik — are sampling her music, her soulful vision isn’t going anywhere.
“Take Yo Man”
Bigg D, Lamb, producers
The slinky guitar and impossibly deep bass heard in City Girls’ 2018 ode to boyfriend-stealing hail from Parliament’s late-’70s hit “Flash Light.” A showcase for keyboardist Bernie Worrell, who penned the tune with bassist Bootsy Collins and Parliament head honcho George Clinton, “Flash Light” rode its signature future-funk bass line all the way to the Top 20 in 1978. “Take Yo Man” was released four decades after “Flash Light,” but when Yung Miami spits, “I get it from my mammy, and I know how to handle it” over the classic Parliament groove, there’s nothing separating the artists.
Warm electric bass chords. Funky, minimalistic drums. And the sound of someone approximating sub-Saharan African music with a beer bottle. That’s the beat from Rapsody’s “Whoopi,” but it’s also the foundation of “Watermelon Man,” off Herbie Hancock’s 1973 album Head Hunters. That Rapsody would be interested in mixing jazz with hip-hop should come as no surprise; just four years earlier, she had appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” off his landmark To Pimp a Butterfly. And her repeated line “get a bag, get a bag, get a bag” takes on new meaning when you consider that Head Hunters was once the best-selling jazz record of all time.
Jon Brion, Guy Lawrence, producers
“Blue World” is built from chopping up the voices of 1950s group the Four Freshmen. The new sounds, sourced from 1952’s “It’s a Blue World,” are exuberant. But the opening sample — “It’s a blue world without you, it’s a blue world alone” — brings us back down to earth. Circles is a posthumous album; Miller died from an overdose in 2018. But his casually magnetic rapping remains: “Cool as fall weather/Fuck the bullshit, I’m here to make it all better/With a little music for you.”
Megan Thee Stallion
The story of Megan Thee Stallion’s “B.I.T.C.H.” begins in 1976 — that’s the year Bootsy Collins dropped his psychedelic funk ballad “I’d Rather Be With You.” The song went on to be covered or sampled by various artists including 2Pac, in his “Ratha Be Ya N—a.” Earlier this year, the sounds of that track popped up in the ferocious “B.I.T.C.H.” So Bootsy is in the DNA of “B.I.T.C.H.,” right next to Pac. And Pac and Megan aren’t the only ones down with “I’d Rather Be With You” — Beyoncé interpolates the track on her 2003 song “Be With You,” as did Adina Howard on her 1995 hit “Freak Like Me.”
Brad Farberman is a musician and writer based in Brooklyn. He has recorded for the Ropeadope label and contributed to Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, Billboard, JazzTimes and other outlets.
Image: Betty Wright performs in Chicago in 1979. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty.
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