Samples are a huge part of music, and it's a great way for the new generation of musicians to pay tribute to those that have come before them. Sometimes, as a result of a sample, a track takes on a new life.
We've taken a look at the story behind a few iconic samples of recent years, and the reaction to them by those involved. Samples can lead people down a rabbit hole of music discovery, and sometimes, you never know what knock-on effects samples will have.
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion - WAP
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's huge collab WAP opens with a repeated line from Frank Ski's 1993 Whores In This House, with the line "Whores in this house/There’s some whores in this house/There’s some whores in this house/There’s some whores in this house (Hold up)" ringing out before Cardi launches into her bars.
The track, which has previously been sampled by OutKast, Joe Budden and Lil Wayne, is a staple in Baltimore Club Music. The vocals aren't that of Ski's, but Al "T" McLaran, who Ski says came up with the track's military-style rhythm because of his military training.
Speaking about the sample, Ski told the Baltimore Sun that he hopes it'll lead to a resurgence of Baltimore club music. "Baltimore club music has been an historic genre that has been emulated and interpolated and copied for such a long time.
"Much of what you hear in [electronic dance music] and what not is really a lot of Baltimore drums and things that a lot of DJs, some who aren’t even alive anymore, did a lot of blood, sweat and tears in our small city of Baltimore. And I think Baltimore deserves a lot of credit for their intuitiveness in creating this genre. Hopefully, this song will re-emerge that genre again, and maybe a lot of other DJs in Baltimore will begin to get some of the credit that they so well deserve.”
Beyoncé - Crazy In Love
Released in 2003, it's hard to imagine Beyoncé's Crazy In Love without the sample of The Chi-Lites' Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So), but it nearly never came to fruition. Produced by Rich Harrison, both Bey and Rich recounted the story to MTV of when Bey first heard the beat.
Turning up to their meeting after a huge night partying, Rich played it for Bey, and he says she wasn't initially into it. He says, "From her face, she was kind of like, 'I don't know, but I'mma ride with you anyway.' I knew I was going to have to sell it a little bit, because when it comes on it doesn't sound like anything that was being done at the time."
However, she soon warmed to the track, and speaking about it once the track was done, Bey says the horn hook gives the song an old-school vibe. "It's the horn hook. It has this go-go feel to it, this old-school feel. I wasn't sure if people were going to get it."
Of course, Crazy In Love has gone on to be one of the most enduring pop songs of modern times - but it's crazy to imagine that it nearly never existed. We're just glad that Rich wasn't too hungover to meet with Bey.
Kanye West - Blood On The Leaves
Kanye West's 2013 track Blood On The Leaves samples Nina Simone's version of Strange Fruit, which was originally sung by Billie Holiday in 1939. It's a powerful track about lynching, and the track's jazz vibe is a stark contrast to Kanye's auto-tuned vocals.
The track, which was produced by TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke and Lunice) also features a sample of the duo's R U Ready. Speaking about the sample to Pitchfork, Hudson Mohawke says, "I think Kanye had wanted to use that Strange Fruit sample for a while, but it was like, "How in the hell are you going to get that to fit?" But it miraculously came together.
"Obviously, Strange Fruit carries so much political weight, and Blood On The Leaves is more about past relationships, but you can draw some parallels between the two. There's not an overtly political message in the final lyrics, but in some ways that would've been too easy."
Daft Punk - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster Stronger has a history of both sampling, and being sampled. The track samples Edwin Birdsong's Cola Bottle Baby, featuring a keyboard riff from the track. Kanye West would then go onto sample the track on his huge hit Stronger.
Speaking about the sample, Edwin says it came as a surprise to him. Speaking to Jazz Under The Bridge, Edwin says, "I recorded it 30 years ago, and here come some guys from France. I asked them, 'Where did you find the music?' And they said, 'I was going through bins and it popped out. And then Kanye West also sampled the same song, calling it Stronger. I'm blessed and I continue to be blessed by opening my arms to God every day."
Halsey - Ashley
Halsey's opening track off her 2020 album Manic samples a monologue from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and it sets the tone for the album. Kate Winslet's character Clementine closes the track, saying, "Too many guys think I'm a concept, or I complete them, or I'm gonna make them alive. But I'm just a fucked-up girl who's lookin' for my own peace of mind; don't assign me yours.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2019, Halsey says that she's always loved the film, and that it gave her a lot of confidence to be herself. Halsey says, "I basically built my whole personality off of Clementine.
"It was really exciting for me to see a woman on film who was proud and liberated in her own weirdness and in her own non-polite, non-political, non-conformative, inconvenient self.”
M.I.A - Paper Planes
M.I.A's career-defining track Paper Planes features a sample that's a little bit out of left-field. The track features a sample of The Clash's 1982 track Straight To Hell, which was the idea of the track's producer Diplo. Speaking to Complex, Diplo says that he knew the sample would be perfect for the track, and it's endured ever since.
Diplo says, "I just love the sound. I actually love that… I knew that was guitar, like a harmonics kinda sound. I really liked the way that that loop sounds. I just had the intro of that song on loop for a while and it never got old for me. That’s when you know it’s a good sample. So I just built a song around that."
The Clash loved the sample when they first heard it, saying they were a big fan of M.I.A's voice. "I thought it was fantastic. The attitude, the vocal, everything. I though it was really good. And she’s from South London as well, Southhall—no, West London." The two artists are from similar areas, so the band felt an affinity with M.I.A.
Lil Nas X - Old Town Road
Lil Nas X's Old Town Road has an interesting history. He originally bought the beat for $30 off a 19-year-old producer from the Netherlands, YoungKio. At the time, it wasn't an issue that the track featured a sample from Nine Inch Nails, sampling their track 34 Ghosts IV, but that would soon change.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, Nine Inch Nails' lead singer Trent Reznor recounted the first time he found out about the sample. He says, “The way it was presented to me originally is I got a call from my management saying, ‘We got a call from a panicked manager saying they had used the sample of something off Ghosts,'” Reznor recalls. “‘They should have cleared it, but it didn’t get cleared. It’s picking up some steam on the viral Spotify charts. What do you think about that?’
"And I said, ‘Look, I’m fine with it. I get how stuff goes. They’re not saying they didn’t sample it. Just work it out, but don’t be a roadblock to this.’ I hadn’t heard it yet. Then a few weeks later, I was like, ‘Holy shit.'”
After seeing the song's success, Trent wanted to make sure the spotlight was on Lil Nas, not him or his band. He added, “The reason I haven’t stepped in to comment anything about it is, I don’t feel it’s my place to play any kind of social critic to that,” he says. “It was a material that was used in a significant way and it turned into something that became something else, and those guys should be the ones the spotlight is on…. They asked if I wanted to do a cameo in the video, and it was flattering, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t feel like it’s my place to shine a light on me for that. I say that with complete respect.”
Lil Uzi Vert - That Way
Lil Uzi Vert takes influence from all genres of music, but even he took people by surprise when he sampled the Backstreet Boys on his track That Way, off his 2020 album Eternal Atake. The hook samples BSB's hit I Want It That Way, as Uzi sings, "I want it that way/I want it that way/I want it that way/woah I want it that way."
However, Uzi always has a trick up his sleeve. According to Genius, it's not actually the vocals from the boy band's original song. Instead, it's the KIDZ BOP's version of the track (though this hasn't been confirmed). Truly, Uzi is on another level.
Speaking about the sample to Splice, the track's producer Supah says it was Uzi's idea. “I don’t know how the Backstreet Boys got involved in this song. I really don’t. I think that was all Uzi – but it was a game changer [laughs]. Once I heard it, which was literally a day before it came out – this is the first time I’m actually hearing lyrics on this beat – I was like, ‘Oh, this might be a hit. This might be a hit.'”
The band's a big fan of the sample, too. Member Nick Carter invited Uzi to feature on BSB's next album - so hopefully that's something we can see come to fruition in the near future.
OMG ! Freaking LOVE @LILUZIVERT now you’re gonna have to be featured on our next album bud. #LilUziVert #backstreetboys #liluzibackstreetboys #ThatWay #iwantitthatway #newuzi #uzibackstreet #backstreetboysuzi https://t.co/e2u0CFnnfT
— Nick Carter (@nickcarter) March 1, 2020