Black Music Month: 11 Most Sampled Artists in Hip-Hop

This story was originally written on June 4th, 2017.

“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. 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 2016’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 n’Roll, the Blues, R&B, Jazz, and Rap to house our narratives of oppression, pain, triumph, excellence, creativity, spirituality, intelligence, and vices. The various expressions of Black humanity rest in our music.

Photo by Allen Beaulieu for NPR

For this story, we’ll 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, the focus will be on something so fundamental and deeply rooted in the musical veins of Hip-Hop — the genre’s art of sampling. Without sampling, Hip-Hop as music genre would not exist. During its 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. In my opinion, 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. 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. 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.”

Getty Images for Time Magazine

With that being said, here are the eleven most sampled artists in Hip-Hop history. These artists range from Funk to Soul to Pop to one of Hip-Hop’s own. Below is a list of those eleven artists and a link to two playlists for your listening pleasure.

The first playlist is a collection of personal favorites from the eleven artists. The second playlist is filled with those same songs and their Hip-Hop counterparts underneath. I enjoyed researching and putting together these playlists. I found samples I haven’t 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.

11 Most Sampled Artists in Hip-Hop:

  1. James Brown
  2. George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic
  3. Isaac Hayes
  4. Aretha Franklin
  5. Lyn Collins
  6. The Winston’s
  7. Kool and The Gang
  8. Marvin Gaye
  9. Michael Jackson
  10. Prince
  11. Kurtis Blow

Sampled Artists Playlist

Hip-Hop Counterpart Playlist

Side-Note: Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” is listed as one of the rap songs paired with a drum sample from Kool and The Gang’s song “N.T.”

The second sample — the piano sample DJ Premier looped to build the melodic backdrop of the beat — couldn’t be found anywhere on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, or TIDAL. However, it is on Youtube, so for those who are interested check out Joe Chambers’ “Mind Rain.”

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Writer | Poet | Justice Advocate "Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." —Cesar A. Cruz