“A vital part of our Nation’s proud heritage, African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known.”
—– Former President Barack Obama
Music, a cultural artifact that expresses a people’s story, challenges societal norms, and bridges the gap between groups from all colors, cultures, and creeds. Music can be celebratory in tone or a tool for lament. Ultimately, music touches the soul in ways that can have a wide-range affect on the world. Black music in particular has “compelled us to stand up, to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice” and so much more as Former President Barack Obama expressed in his Presidential Proclamation during last year’s celebration of Black Music Month.
There will always be a time and place—at any moment in the year—to celebrate the contributions of black musicians. However, the official commemoration was developed in 1979 by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams. On June 7th, 1979, then President Jimmy Carter declared the month of June as African-American Music Appreciation Month. Since then, every president has followed suit in making official Presidential Proclamations. In our current President Donald Trump’s address, he mentions that “[Black] creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, and rap.” Our DNA is embedded in almost every American music genre. We created rock & roll, blues, R&B, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and rap to house our narrative of oppression, pain, triumph, excellence, creativity, spirituality, intelligence, vices, and humanity.
For this particular post, I want to focus on the creative contributions of Hip-Hop and Rap, a subculture and genre of music created by black youth over 40 years ago in South Bronx. I won’t go into too much of the history—there are documentaries like Netflix’s Hip-Hop Evolution and Complex Magazine’s list of 25 Hip-Hop documentaries that you could watch. Instead, I want to focus on something so fundamental and deeply rooted in the musical veins of Hip-Hop. I want to focus on Hip-Hop’s art of sampling. Without sampling, Hip-Hop as music genre would not exist. During it’s inception, DJ’s in the late 70’s would use Disco and Funk records on turntables to create “breakbeats,” the isolated drum section of the record. These breakbeats were manipulated for B-Boys to dance and for the MC, or rapper, to spit rhymes. There was a science to effectively and continuously looping these breakbeats. As technology advanced, DJ’s and producers sampled melodies—piano, horn, vocal, and other sections from a plethora of genres. One thing is for certain, the art of sampling will never die. It will continue to be a staple of present and future expressions of Hip-Hop.
Some view sampling as lazy, prehistoric, irrelevant, or uncreative. I would venture to say that school of thought misunderstands why Hip-Hop continues to use this method. There are many Hip-Hop artists and groups that don’t necessarily need sampling. They’ve employed live instrumentation or electronic production to build colorful soundscapes. Sampling adds more texture or detail to those soundscapes but, for Hip-Hop, it’s deeper than that. It has less to do with compensating for musical deficiencies and more to do with paying homage to artists that came before. Sampling attempts to connect generations of black artists to one another. It’s an expression of the communal aspect of black culture. The sharing of sounds and ideas from one artist to the next creates a sense of interdependency. There is nothing new under the sun and we need each other to fuel our community’s creativity. Funk, Disco, Jazz, Soul, and Gospel artists will always be connected to Hip-Hop artists because we share a common narrative, a common heritage, a common soul, a common humanity. Chicago-based Soul singer Jamila Woods had this to say about sampling: “I think of music as creating a space. I like to put things in that are comforting to me and are nostalgic. To me, that’s what sampling does in songs; it’s making deeper layers for people who know where it comes from, but also referencing another part of my history and my memory or a memory that I have.”
With that being said, I want to share with y’all the 11 most sampled artists in Hip-Hop history. These artists range from Funk to Soul to Pop to one of Hip-Hop’s own. Below I’ve provided the list of those 11 artists and two playlists for your listening pleasure. The first playlist is packed with my favorite songs from those artists. The second playlist is filled with those same songs and their Hip-Hop counterparts underneath. I had a lot of fun researching and putting together these playlists. I found samples I never heard before. Not every rap song samples in the same way. Some producers flip a vocal, piano, horn, or drum sample in a way that isn’t obvious to the average ear. Feel free to peruse through the playlists and enjoy connecting to the shared history of African-American culture through this powerful art form!
Side-Note: I have Nas’ classic “N.Y. State of Mind” listed as one of the rap songs paired with a drum sample from Kool and The Gang’s song “N.T.” I tried finding the song of second sample—the piano sample DJ Premier looped to build the melodic backdrop of the beat. I couldn’t find it anywhere on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, or TIDAL. However, I did find it on Youtube, so for those who are interested check out Joe Chambers’ “Mind Rain.”
11 Most Sampled Artists in Hip-Hop:
- James Brown
- George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic
- Isaac Hayes
- Aretha Franklin
- Lyn Collins
- The Winston’s
- Kool and The Gang
- Marvin Gaye
- Michael Jackson
- Kurtis Blow
Original Songs & Hip-Hop Counterparts:
***Disclaimer some songs have explicit content***