By Dave S
We hate to break it to you, but there’s no secret recipe when it comes to crafting the ultimate hit. There’s no secret chord, syncopation or melody that is certain to make people get up and dance or sing along. But if you need inspiration of where to start, why not listen to the most celebrated songs of all time.
One of the fundamental reasons for Hip Hop’s success if the way that artists and producers borrow from each other. We’re not talking about ripping off songs from one another, but borrowing and improving upon. That’s why sampling has always been a pivotal part of the genre.
What you may or may not know, is that you might have been listening to the same group of songs sampled over and over again, but had no idea due to how they are inserted into a song. For that reason, we’ve put together a list of great tracks that continue to inspire and entertain new generations of hip hop artists and fans.
1. The Winston’s – “Amen Brother”
Let’s start with the most famous hip hop sample of all time. Will it blow your mind to hear that to this date “Amen Brother” has been sampled over 2700 times. Produced by Don Carroll and performed by 1960s funk group The Winton’s, the song’s most famous section is a roughly 6 second long, 4-bar drum solo that starts at 1:26 in the song. The solo, performed by drummer Gregory Sylvester (G.C.) Coleman, has become so famous it’s since been referred to as the “Amen Break”
Originally the Amen Break has an upbeat tempo, but you’ve probably heard it slowed down
Most likely you’ve heard the sample slowed down and sampled on N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton”, and more recently Tyler, The Creator’s “Pigs”. Both Jay-Z (Can’t Knock the Hustle (Desired State Remix) and Lupe Fiasco (“Streets On Fire”) have used the beat in their songs, plus U.K. rock group found a way to sample the Amen Break in their ___ track “D’You Know What I Mean?”. For fans of the animated TV show Futurama or reality series Survivor, you might even be able to catch it in their theme songs and background music.
2. Led Zeppelin – “When the Levee Breaks”
You know the song, but do you know where it came from (and where it’s been)? Originally written in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie in reaction to the mayhem caused by the great Mississippi flood of 1927, the blues track wasn’t popularized until Led Zeppelin reworded it in 1971.
Aside from being covered countless times following Led Zeppelin’s initial offering from their Led Zeppelin IV album, it’s John Bonham’s heavy rock performance on the blues song that has seen it’s fair share of sampling over the years. Rolling back to the 80s, the Beastie Boys were early adopters of the drum track, using it mostly untouched for “Rhymin & Stealin” from their critically acclaimed album Licensed To Ill. Similarly, and most recently, Bonham’s drums covered in deep reverb and all can be heard in Beyonce’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself” featuring Jack White.
Other great examples in Hip Hop include Eminem’s “Kim”, Dr. Dre’s “Lyrical Gangbang” and on the other end of the spectrum, experimental folk artist Björk sampled “When The Levee Breaks” in her 1995 hit “Army of Me”.
3. The Honey Drippers – “Impeach The President”
The Honey Drippers weren’t beating around the bush when they wrote the infamous “Impeach The President” in 1973 at the height of the Nixon Watergate Scandal.
Lauded as one of the most influential breaks in hip hop history, The Honey Dripper’s sly drum beat has found it’s way into hundreds of songs over the past 40+ years. Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., De La Soul, 2Pac and J.Cole have sampled the famous drum loop to name a few.
4. James Brown – “Funky Drummer”
You really can’t ask for a more perfect breakbeat, and it’s no big surprise that this one comes from the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Without going into too much depth, Brown and his legendary band are responsible for many of the most popular samples in heard throughout hip hop in the last 40 years of history. “Funky Drummer” is one example of that, being sample over 1400 times.
Brown had a mastery at directing his group of talented band members, and this was certainly no exception. On his directions, Brown instructs “funky drummer” Clyde Stubblefield to take an 8 bar solo, but similarly to “Cold Sweat” instructing him to staying on the beat rather than moving around the drum kit. “You don’t have to do no soloing, brother,” he says. ”Just keep what you got… Don’t turn it loose, ’cause it’s a mother.”
The propulsive breakbeat most notable was sampled by Dr. Dre in his 1992 track “Let Me Ride” feat. Snoop Dogg, Jewell and RC, and Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”.
5. Incredible Bongo Band – “Apache”
The history of this unmistakable song has a long history of samples and covers. Originally written in 1960 by Jerry Lordan, the song was first performed by Bert Weedon, before being covered a month later by British rock group The Shadows and topping the UK singles chart for five weeks.
Fast forward 13 years, when recording artist Michael Viner was asked to record instrumental covers for a b-film The Thing With Two Heads. For the project, he took The Shadow’s interpretation of the “Apache” and made it his own, adding in his own funky flare using bongo and rock drums.
Since then the track has been made popular by Sugarhill Gang’s cover by the same name, and sampled by huge hip hop artists such as Nas (“Made You Look”) and Jay-Z / Kanye West’s (“That’s My Bitch”).