Seth is the perfect embodiment of cultural contradictions that are possible in today's media world - an exceedingly gentle person who is great at working with kids, and also happens to be steeped in the often violent culture of rap - in his headphones, of course. He's put together not one, but two great playlists for us - which I've combined into one master playlist below. A pop culture savant, Scrabble fanatic, and great rapper in his own right (aka Mr. Bacon), Seth lives in Chicago.
So here's a bold statement: I love music. Specifically, I love rap music. Not a surprise for someone my age (30) from a big city (Chicago). I also love many other types of music, but I see almost all of it, with the exception of the punk I was obsessed with in my early to mid teens, through the lens of hip-hop. These are songs that I discovered because they are sampled - most are obvious, some not - in great rap songs.
Mtume – Juicy Fruit → The Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy This is kind of Sampling 101, but a great place to start because it’s so transparent and, well, great. I fell in love with Biggie's debut album, Ready to Die, in high school mainly for songs like "Gimme the Loot" and "Warning", which showcase his storytelling and characters - sometimes violent but always brilliant. "Juicy", the poppiest single off the album, is very different, celebrating his success with memorable lines like “now we sip champagne when we thirs-tay”. What I love about the track is the connection to his hip-hop-obsessed younger self. Mentions of the Rappin’ Duke’s “Da Ha” (a John Wayne parody rap) and lists of radio and party DJs of the era show how Biggie truly loved all the rap that came before him. He bridges his Word Up-magazine-reading childhood with his Source-magazine-appearing stardom in much the same way Puffy channels the 80s R&B/funk Mtume classic into a 90s Bad Boy hit record. It’s pretty impossible to not like either of these songs, even on the 100th listen.
Funkadelic – I'll Stay → Crucial Conflict – Hay A true Chicago classic, "Hay" should be met with a roar of approval at any local gathering of people who remember the 90s. Little-known/well-known secret: the Funkadelic original is just as good.
Eugene McDaniels – Freedom Death Dance → UGK – Pocket Full of Stones When I first heard the opening chords of this song it drove me crazy trying to place where I knew it from. It took me a while to connect the dots that it was from the original version of “Pocket Full of Stones”, the first big song from UGK. I guess the alternate version, found on the Menace II Society soundtrack, had made it’s way to more of my playlists than the original. Here’s a dangerous drinking game: take a shot every time I mention UGK.
The Police – Roxanne → Cam'ron – What Means the World to You - Remix I guess that this is the one song here that I knew already before the beat that samples it, but it took the original Cam’ron version for me to really appreciate it. The remix is even better, with a new verse from Cam (with a nod to Biggie’s verse on “Notorious Thugs”), and Ludacris & Bun B (one half of UGK along with Pimp C, who also appears here - take a shot) both in top early-2000’s feature-form. They subvert the message of the original pretty thoroughly; Roxanne would definitely have to put on the red light if she were taking cues from these gentlemen.
Hopeton Lewis – Tom Drunk → Reflection Eternal - “Fortified Live” This track is notable for a lot of reasons, one of which is it's the first Mos Def + Talib Kweli = Black Star collab as far as I can tell. It was also on the first of the Soundbombing compilations which were huge for that early Rawkus movement. As far as the sample is concerned, it's a cool intro that Hi-Tek flipped, with an off-kilter and almost discordant feel - but it's a real head-nodder. The sample is from a reggae track that has a few versions it could come from. I like the Stranger Cole "Crying Every Night" one, which has much more soulful vocals, but unfortunately isn't on Spotify. (Ed. note: I think it actually is, right here. Yeah?) I've included the U-Roy & Hopeton Lewis track "Tom Drunk", with exactly the same backing track and thus the entire sample. There has been a lot said about the connection of Jamaican sound systems to Bronx park jams in early hip hop years, but I'd love to explore the connection of reggae artists doing new songs over popular instrumentals (later codified as riddims) and rappers putting out “freestyles”/mixtape tracks over whatever beat is hot at the moment.
Bill Withers – Use Me - Single Version → UGK – Use Me Up Two of my favorite artists of all time here, Pimp C and Bill Withers, with the ultimate anti-pimping anthem (the ultimate anti-pimping ballad being "Me & Jesus the Pimp in a ‘69 Grenada Last Night" by The Coup). The UGK version, which is really just a Pimp C song, is a full tribute to the original, with the same title (almost), chorus, and music throughout (with some added drums). The sentiment is exactly the same, basically elaborating and expanding on the Bill Withers lyrics. Pimp C stays on topic and in the pocket and just rides that riff throughout. I can’t hear one of these without wanting to hear the other. Shot!
Isaac Hayes – Hung Up On My Baby → Geto Boys – Mind Playing Tricks on Me "My Mind's Playing Tricks On Me" is such a timeless classic that's hard to believe it's almost 25 years old. Penned by Scarface, one third of the Geto Boys and the cornerstone of Rap-A-Lot Records (home of UGK - shot), it evokes such an vivid paranoid fantasy while still having that catchy, melodic guitar line. Even being completely tone deaf I can bring those notes to mind anytime, anywhere. The sample is straight from the Isaac Hayes song, which illustrates a big similarity between 70s funk & soul and 90s hip hop - incredible, original music being recorded exclusively for soundtracks.
Honey Drippers - “Impeach the President” → Mc Shan – The Bridge This breakbeat is one of the fundamental building blocks of classic hip hop. I wonder if the Honey Drippers ever saw their full due. I doubt it, seeing as how this is foundation for literally hundreds of songs. Turns out they’re not making that sweet Spotify money, either. I don’t have enough space to talk about the MC Shan song, just google ‘the bridge wars’ and know that going into this battle, MC Shan was on top of the world and coming out of it, KRS was. Also it’s a great, stripped-down use of the "Impeach" break.
Jack Bruce – Born To Be Blue → Smif-N-Wessun – Bucktown There is a kind of parallax view thing that happens when I hear the same sample in two different songs and it makes me want to find the source. That's what happened when I heard Nice and Smooth's "Blunts" and Smif-N-Wessun's "Bucktown". The track they both use is a solid jazz song, Jack Bruce's "Born to Be Blue". It's a good song, but more than that I like that it shows how a few seconds can spawn multiple classics.
Junior Mance – I Believe To My Soul → Poor Righteous Teachers - “Miss Ghetto” This was a similar discovery process to "Born to be Blue" but much more exciting when I found the original. I knew and loved both the Poor Righteous Teachers' "Miss Ghetto" and Slick Rick & Nas' "Me & Nas Give It To You Hardest" for many years, but it wasn't until both parts were used together in Big K.R.I.T. & Yelawolf's "Happy Birthday Hip Hop" in 2011 that realized the connection. The common source turned out to be "I Believe To My Soul", a funky, jazzy, bluesy, almost gospel-y track I was immediately taken with. So good.
Charles Mingus – II B.S. - Edit → Gang Starr – I'm The Man - Feat. Jeru The Damaja And Lil Dap I remember the first all hip hop cassette mixtapes I made back in the day at my friend Tony’s house had this Gang Starr song on it. Well, not the whole song. Just two-thirds of the way in where the beat and rapper changes with that bassline. THAT BASSLINE. This is really three DJ Premier-backed songs in one and I like the Jeru one way more than the other two.
William DeVaughn – Be Thankful for What You Got → Ludacris – Diamond In The Back Perfect match-up: Ludacris over a smooth Curtis-sounding Three 6 Mafia sample flip. I wish they had produced a whole album like this for him ten years ago when he was still worth listening to. We’ll always have this one, though. “Play me some pimpin’, man”.
Willie Hutch – I Choose You → Project Pat – Choose U It’s funny that Juicy J is so huge right now as a rapper because I’ve always thought him as an incredible producer. I considered his brother Pat the real talent on the mic with such presence, delivery, and his own twist on every verse. Juicy J’s production work with DJ Paul as the core of Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia had a huge influence, directly or indirectly, on the guys whose beats Juicy raps over now. One of the Memphis legends that they returned to repeatedly for soulful loops was Willie Hutch. This beat was later recycled on the incredible UGK/Outkast team up (shot!) “International Players Anthem”, which was typical of Three 6’s practice of retaining all rights to all music and doing whatever they wanted with them. I picked this one because I’ve always been a Project Pat fanboy and it’s got the late Willie Hutch’s stamp of approval with a few words on the intro.
Elvis Presley – In the Ghetto → DA Smart – Ghetto This comeback single from Elvis was used on DA Smart’s incredible, totally slept-on album “Nation Business”. These two songs, and the relation between them, says so much about sampling and also about… the ghetto. Elvis, one of the most often-cited co-opters of Black music, gets the sample treatment here from DA, most known for "Walk Wit Me", his musical guide to Chicago gangs. Elvis’ on-point, bleeding heart take on the cycle of violence gets the insider’s perspective from a man who grew up in the now-leveled Robert Taylor Homes, once the largest housing project in the country. Lyric nerd note: every time Elvis says “in the ghetto” on DA’s song, the rhyme scheme changes.
The Beatles - “The End” → Beastie Boys – The Sounds Of Science The chords at the very crescendo of “The End”, where the groove really starts? Same chords layered in after the beat drops on Sounds of Science. Classic film nerds: this era for sampling in the late eighties was like the pre-Code era in Hollywood. No rules, and everything was awesome. Hence, the Beatles being used. First song I memorized all the lyrics to (Beastie Boys one, that is). The end!