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How a Song About Impeachment Snuck Into Your Favorite Pop Hits

Roy C's 1973 funk track about Nixon didn't get much traction till the hip-hop crowd got a hold of it, and now it's everywhere.

by Dexter Thomas
Dec 20 2019, 4:08pm

ALLENDALE, S.C. — If you want to hear a song about impeaching a president, you have a lot of options: Flo Rida, Mick Jagger, Freddie Gibbs, Eazy-E, Alanis Morissette. Or you could just go to the source that all those artists have sampled, the obscure funk song that started it all back in 1973, called “Impeach the President.”

During the height of the Watergate scandal, a soul singer named Roy C had an idea for a song. He gathered a band of black high school kids called The Honey Drippers, and after some rehearsing, put together a funk track about impeaching President Nixon.

He was signed to a major label at the time, but they refused to put it out. He says he understands why. “If they offended some of the white people out there, they could lose all that support,” he said in an interview with VICE News. “But I had nothing to lose.”

So he released it on his own label. But it never quite caught on – until the hip-hop crowd got a hold of it.

Over a decade later, a producer named Marley Marl used his copy of “Impeach the President” as a source for “The Bridge.” Then Audio Two used the same drums for “Top Billin’.” Pretty soon, those unmistakable drums were all over the radio. There was something about that lazy open high-hat on the sixth beat snapping over into a brash, angry snare that was irresistible for producers, and it became a hip-hop and R&B staple – then bled out into the rest of pop music.

Even today, it’s almost impossible to turn on the radio without hearing a song containing an “Impeach” sample.

Roy himself didn’t even realize it had been sampled until around 25 years later, in the late 1990s, after hearing Janet Jackson singing over a beat he recognized.

Ironically, the most famous part of the song, the drumbeat, was his least favorite part – at least, at first. “The drummer was not that great,” he said in an interview with VICE News. “It took me a long time to get him straight. I worked many hours with him.”

VICE News met up with Roy C in his old record store in Allendale, South Carolina, to find out how he feels about the legacy of his song, and how he’s hoping that Trump will provide an opportunity for a comeback.

Tagged:
Music
Politics
Hip-Hop
POP CULTURE
Donald Trump
nixon