This article originally appeared on VICE UK
Last week, along with many others, I had the misfortune of coming across an ad for everyone’s 3rd favourite crisp – Doritos. This ad featured Chance the Rapper spitting some bars over a sample of The Backstreet Boys’ seminal hit “I Want It That Way”, with the boy band also making an appearance at the end of the ad. While the sampled track holds a special place in my heart, the combination with Chance the Rapper was kinda unsavoury. So, after taking a long shower to cleanse myself of the nacho-cheese stench of the experience, I got thinking about sampling in hip-hop.
Historically, hip-hop has always been about sampling. From the Sugarhill Gang taking on Chic for “Rapper’s Delight” to essentially every component of Kanye West’s discography, sampling is an art form in itself. With every Champion wearing softboy swearing blind that their parents raised them on Dilla and nothing else, there’s a certain street cred that comes with having an encyclopedic knowledge of beats and samples. However, not every sample is born equal; for every hard-dug-crate-classic there’s a selection of something that you might recognise from a TV show.
With this in mind, I put together a list of rap tracks that use some rather leftfield (read: questionable) samples and have scored each according to how much of a banger the sample itself is, how much street cred the sampled act has, how absurd the collaboration is and the quality of the rap itself.
Immortal Technique – "Freedom of Speech"
East Coast rapper Immortal Technique is known for his heavily political work – just look at “Bin Laden” which, in a similar fashion to all the heavy weed-smokers out there, claims George Bush orchestrated 9/11. Or how about “Beef and Broccoli”, effectively an anti-veganism anthem (and maybe also another reference to weed). And, despite the fact it samples the jolly “I’ve Got No Strings” from classic Disney film Pinocchio, don’t let this track fool you. Immortal Technique spits truths from start to finish.
Does the sample bang? While I doubt “I’ve Got No Strings” is anyone’s favourite Disney song – (the heaven opening crescendo of a “Circle Of Life”, that one from the Jungle Book, all the Randy Newman stuff in Toy Story etc) – you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that despises it. 3/5
Does Pinocchio have street cred? Well, he is a pathological liar with a carefree attitude. If you cross him in the streets, you’re almost certain to get checked. Mess with Pinocchio and he’ll beat you senseless with his wooden hooter. 4/5
Is it absurd? “I’ve Got No Strings” is undeniably whimsical, yet the subject matter – freedom of speech in the face of right wing America, is exactly the opposite. It’s kinda hard to imagine Disney cartoon characters getting all effy jeffy towards authority figures. Also, by virtue of his ever-growing snozz caused by his lies, Pinocchio certainly doesn’t have freedom of speech. 4/5
Is the rap decent? It goes pretty hard against the right wing, particularly human wet wipe Bill O’Reilly (“O'Reilly you think that you a patriot?/ You ain't nothing but a motherfuckin racist bitch”), however, points have to be deducted for the Peruvian rapper’s frequent use of the N word. 0.5/5
Dizzy Wright (feat SwizZz) - “The Flavor”
A fine example of delving deep to find a sample, Dizzy Wright and SwizZz flipped this cut off the Naruto soundtrack to create a track that’s actually pretty decent. You’d expect something that bases itself off anime to be a bit of a joke, but this is surprisingly catchy, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the sample.
Does the sample bang? There’s nothing wrong with “Loneliness”. It’s a perfectly calming and melancholic track, however it’s better suited to an A-Level revision playlist as opposed to soundtracking pre-drinks. 2/5
Does Naruto have street cred? He’s a badass teen ninja, though he was shunned by his village. He works hard to earn everyone’s respect, which is basically street cred personified, however, he’s a bit over-emotional. Real thugs don’t cry. 3/5
Is it absurd? In theory, yes, but they just work so well together. 3/5
Is the rap decent? SwizZz’s flow in undeniable and definitely the most enjoyable part of the track. Smooth and fiery, he’s essentially a musical vindaloo – simply delicious. Previously compared to Wiz Khalifa, you can really see this slick style of rapping reflected in popular acts today such as BROCKHAMPTON and, uh, Logic. Considering he’s released music quite sporadically in recent years, here’s hoping he from the underground scene with some fresh stuff. 4/5
Da Backwudz - “I Don't Like The Look of It”
This video and track alike are a musical time capsule. They transport you to a simpler time in rap when everything was a little bit bonkers and no one took themselves too seriously. Y’know like when it was okay to rap ad nauseum about sweat dripping down your balls or getting so high that you’ve forgotten all responsibilities, then achieve a chart hit out of it.
Does the sample bang? “Oompa Loompa” is undeniably iconic, though wouldn’t be my top pick from Willy Wonka (more on this later). 3/5
Do the Oompa Loompas have street cred? While Willy Wonka is the figurehead, everyone knows the Oompa Loompas are the real ones running the show. Tbh, they’re essentially child killers (do you read any lie?) 4.5/5
Is it absurd? Not really that absurd when you think about it, as the steady beat of “Oompa Loompa” lends itself to hip-hop pretty well. Considering the backing dancers are dressed as Oompa Loompas as well, I’d say this is a pretty good pairing. 1/5
Is the rap decent? The lyrics are nonsensical to say the least. Any rap with lines like ‘dots lookin' like chicken pox’ are dubious at best and comparable with Jay Z’s chat about ‘breastesses’ on “Drunk In Love”. 0/5
Lil Wayne - “Office Musik”
Some hip hop aficionados will wrongfully claim that Lil Wayne is one of the greatest rappers of all time. Yes, Tha Carter III has been listed as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Yes, his early mixtapes are hip-hop folklore and later hits “6 Foot 7 Foot” and “A Milli” are still permanent fixtures at student hip-hop nights. Yes, his position as creator of Young Money helped spawn the careers of Drake and Nicki Minaj. And yes, he inspired the artwork for Zayn Malik’s debut album, which, whatever, lol. But still, let’s remind everyone of this little ditty of his:
Does the sample bang? I’ve attempted to skank to the US Office theme song, so that says it all really. 5/5
Does the US Office have street cred? Critically acclaimed, beloved by millions and endlessly quoteworthy. It’s definitely got loads of cred, though whether this is street enough is debatable. 2/5
Is it absurd? Lil Wayne has always showcased himself as one of the hardest rappers so aligning himself with the gang from Dunder Mifflin is pretty peculiar. 5/5
Is the rap decent? Meh, it’ll do. 1/5
Charles Hamilton - “Windows Media Player"
Charles Hamilton is the King of the wacky sample, taking on source material such as the theme songs for Sonic the Hedgehog and 90s kids TV show, Clarissa Explains It All. In fact, there were far too many to choose from, but if we had to pick one, it had to be this – the noise that happens when an old Windows computer starts up.
Does the sample bang? Quite possibly one of the most iconic sounds of the 90s. I challenge you to find anyone who doesn’t recognise this sound. 5/5
Does Windows Media Player have street cred? It died a bit of a death in the past 10 years but my oh my – that visualiser was the stuff of legends. 3/5
Is it absurd? If this isn’t absurd, I don’t know what is. 5/5
Is the rap decent? Anyone who can rap over the Windows start-up sound is a winner in my book. 5/5
Richie Cunning - “Pure Imagination"
I previously mentioned that ‘Oompa Loompa’ wasn’t my favourite sample from Willy Wonka. Instead, it’s this.
Does the sample bang? Bang is an understatement. 5/5
Does Willy Wonka have street cred? When you think about it, Willy Wonka is a bit of a fraud. He basically set up the Golden Ticket prizes as an excuse to orchestrate the tortures of bad kids just to give Charlie – who was always his number one choice as a successor – the chance to live in his factory. Whilst the Oompa Loompas committed the tortures, Willy Wonka was the mastermind. 5/5
Is it absurd? Willy Wonka doesn’t automatically lend himself to the world of hip-hop, so this is definitely a weird collaboration. 4/5
Is the rap decent? Probably the best rap in terms of quality on this list. 5/5
Jay Z - “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
The Citizen Kane of shit samples, this track is simply horrific. Referring to this as an earworm is an understatement. Long before he proclaimed his love for ‘breastesses’ or barked on about gargoyles and ghouls on “Monster”, Jay-Z unleashed this behemoth onto an unsuspecting public and we’ve been suffering ever since. The sample is already high pitched enough, so why on earth did The 45 King, who produced the track, have to pitch it even higher?! It was even nominated for a Grammy, but when you remember that the Baha Men were not only nominated for a Grammy, but won, you can at least excuse the committee for having a cheeky tipple when nominating some work. Even the Dr Evil cover from Austin Powers couldn’t save this monstrosity.
Nails on a chalkboard, loud chewing, your grandparents doing the nasty – none of these sounds compare to the misfortune of listening to this musical cowpat. We know Jay-Z went through a real struggle to make it in the rap game, but did he really need to make us suffer too?! I’m sorry, rap nerds.
Does the sample bang? I don’t think I’ve ever willingly listened to this song and I have my own musicals playlist on Spotify. 0/5
Does Annie have street cred? She’s an orphan, so by default, she needed to be tough. With a rags to riches story that is hip-hop by nature, she’s fiercely independent and knows how to navigate the mean streets of New York at the age of 11. 4/5
Is it absurd? Basically served as the catalyst for terrible samples. 5/5
Is the rap decent? This steaming turd of a track turned Jay-Z into a joke in my eyes. Only giving it a 1 on the principle that at least he’s not a Peruvian screaming the N word. 1/5
Based on my highly scientific criteria, “Windows Media Player” by Charles Hamilton is the quintessential leftfield hip-hop sample track.
So, what should aspiring rappers do if they want to create a successful quirky track?
Firstly, use source material that we all know and love. Keep it recognisable yet obscure in the world of hip-hop. Secondly, make sure the act you’ve sampled is credible. If you’re going to be a gangster rapper, it’s no good aligning yourself with someone with a squeaky clean image. They don’t need to be murderous by any means, just a few undesirable traits. Finally, if you’re a political Peruvian rapper, please don’t use the N word.
You can find Jumi on Twitter.