In the intricate tapestry of Hip Hop, no thread is more essential than the art of sampling. Providing the foundation for countless hits, sampling is the process of reusing a portion, or “sample,” of a sound recording in another recording.
This practice, an integral part of Hip Hop since its inception, allows artists to pay homage to their influences and build on their legacies, creating something new and exciting from existing pieces of music.
In this post, we’ll dive into some of the most sampled songs in Hip Hop, exploring their origins, how they’ve been utilized, and the impact they’ve had on the genre. Whether you’re a seasoned Hip Hop head, an aspiring producer, or simply curious, there’s a story in each sample waiting to be heard.
1. “Impeach the President” by The Honey Drippers (1973)
Few breakbeats have enjoyed as much popularity in Hip Hop as “Impeach the President.” Released in 1973 by the short-lived group, The Honey Drippers, the song’s infectious drum loop has been sampled in over 750 songs, making it one of the most sampled tracks in Hip Hop history.
From Audio Two’s “Top Billin'” to Nas’ “I Can,” the impact of “Impeach the President” is widespread, transcending generations and subgenres within Hip Hop. The track’s timeless appeal lies in its simplicity, with a clean, groove-laden beat that provides the perfect canvas for a rapper’s verses.
2. “Funky Drummer” by James Brown (1970)
James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” is another staple in the world of Hip Hop sampling. The breakbeat, laid down by Clyde Stubblefield, is arguably the most famous drum break of all time. The break’s tight rhythm and Stubblefield’s explosive fills have formed the backbone of countless Hip Hop tracks.
From Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” to Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride,” “Funky Drummer” has been repurposed in a myriad of ways, demonstrating the break’s versatility and enduring appeal. In many ways, the widespread use of this sample embodies the essence of Hip Hop: the ability to reinvent, reimagine, and create fresh meaning from existing works.
3. “La Di Da Di” by Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick (1985)
Not all samples are about the beat. “La Di Da Di,” a seminal piece of Hip Hop history by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, is a testament to this. The song is entirely a cappella, featuring Slick Rick’s storytelling prowess over Doug E. Fresh’s beatboxing.
The lyrics of “La Di Da Di” have been extensively sampled and interpolated in Hip Hop. The Notorious B.I.G. used a line from the song in his hit “Hypnotize,” and Snoop Dogg borrowed from the track for his own “Lodi Dodi.” The pervasive use of this sample showcases the importance of lyrical borrowing in Hip Hop, further expanding our understanding of what a “sample” can be.
4. “Think (About It)” by Lyn Collins (1972)
Produced by James Brown and featuring his backing band, The J.B.’s, Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)” is a cornerstone of Hip Hop sampling. Its raw, funky groove and catchy vocal hooks have provided sample fodder for hundreds of tracks.
The 5-bar break in the middle of the song, known as the “Yeah! Woo!” loop, is the most frequently sampled part. This loop appears in tracks spanning several decades, from Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” to Janet Jackson’s “Alright.”
This sample’s appeal is universal, crossing boundaries within Hip Hop and branching out to other genres such as pop, house, and electronic music.
5. “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons (1969)
“Amen, Brother,” a B-side instrumental by the American soul group The Winstons, houses the “Amen Break” — a six-second drum solo that has become one of the most ubiquitous samples in music history. While it’s had a significant impact on genres like drum and bass and jungle, the “Amen Break” has also left its mark on Hip Hop.
From N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” to Tyler, The Creator’s “Pigs,” the “Amen Break” has provided a hard-hitting rhythmic backbone to many Hip Hop classics. Its use underscores the genre’s innovative spirit — taking a brief, overlooked drum break and transforming it into a critical element of modern music.
6. “Nautilus” by Bob James (1974)
Bob James’ “Nautilus” may seem an unlikely candidate for Hip Hop’s most sampled list. It’s a smooth, somewhat ethereal instrumental track from the jazz musician’s sophomore album. However, its layers of lush keys, eerie synthesizers, and a hypnotic bassline have made it a treasure trove for Hip Hop producers.
“Nautilus” has been sampled by everyone from Ghostface Killah on “Daytona 500” to Run-DMC on “Beats to the Rhyme,” each time bringing something different to the table. It’s a testament to the diversity of Hip Hop’s sonic influences, revealing the genre’s deep roots in jazz and soul.
7. “Change the Beat (Female Version)” by Beside & Fab 5 Freddy (1982)
A surprising entry in the list of most sampled songs in Hip Hop is “Change the Beat (Female Version).” The song itself is a blend of electro, hip hop, and world music, but what really makes it a popular choice for sampling is the “Ahh, this stuff is really fresh!” scratch sound at the end of the track.
This snippet is arguably the most sampled of all time and has appeared in a multitude of tracks across various genres.
8. “Ashley’s Roachclip” by The Soul Searchers (1974)
“Ashley’s Roachclip” by The Soul Searchers is another heavily sampled song, particularly for its drum break. This infectious rhythm has been used in tracks like “Paid In Full” by Eric B. & Rakim and “Unfinished Sympathy” by Massive Attack, demonstrating its versatility across different styles of music.
9. “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier (1980)
Billy Squier’s rock track “The Big Beat” is another unexpected gem in the world of Hip Hop sampling. The song’s opening drum beat has been used in over 200 songs, making it one of the most sampled drum beats in Hip Hop. Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” Kanye West’s “The Power,” and Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp” are just a few examples of tracks that have utilized this iconic beat.
10. “Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss (1973)
“Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss is best known for its drum break, a sound that has made the track a popular choice for Hip Hop producers. From Ultramagnetic MCs’ “Ego Trippin'” to Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy,” this sample has found its way into a variety of tracks, contributing to its status as one of Hip Hop’s most sampled songs.
11. “Long Red” by Mountain (1972)
The live version of “Long Red” by Mountain is notable for its drum break and the shouted phrases during the audience interaction section, both of which have been frequently sampled. Kanye West’s “The Glory,” Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Blow My High (Members Only)” are just a few tracks that have made use of these samples.
Sampling is more than just a production technique in Hip Hop; it’s a fundamental part of the genre’s DNA. By reusing and recontextualizing sounds from the past, Hip Hop artists have been able to create something entirely new while still paying respect to their musical predecessors.
Having the right tools, such as a high-quality digital audio workstation, can significantly enhance the process of sampling, allowing artists to manipulate and incorporate these iconic sounds more effectively.
The songs we’ve explored in this post are just a few of the most sampled tracks in Hip Hop, but they’re indicative of the broad range of music that has influenced the genre. From soul and funk to jazz and rock, Hip Hop has always been a melting pot of sounds, styles, and ideas — and that’s a big part of what makes it so exciting and dynamic.
The next time you listen to a Hip Hop track, pay attention to the beat. There might be a whole history lesson waiting to be discovered in those sampled sounds. After all, to quote the legendary producer DJ Premier: “Sampling is an art form… It’s about taking different sounds from different places and putting them together in a way that’s unique to you.”