The best samples in music… ever!

From A Tribe Called Quest to Madonna and Kanye West to Destiny's Child, these are the tracks that gave a new lease of life to the classics

What do Stevie Nicks‘ ‘Edge of Seventeen’, Lou Reed‘s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ and ABBA‘s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ all have in common?

All three songs received a new lease of life decades after their first release, when they were sampled in smash hit songs by other artists. Destiny’s Child turned the guitar riff ‘Edge of Seventeen’ into a R&B belter (‘Bootylicious’), while A Tribe Called Quest reworked Lou Reed’s lilting instrumentals creating the legendary call-and-response led ‘Can I Kick It?’. And Madonna embraced ABBA’s pure pop – using the opening of ‘Gimme!…’ for her disco floorfiller ‘Hung Up’.

Use of samples has influenced music across the spectrum – from pop to electronic and hip-hop – with these borrowed beats and melodies often becoming bigger than the songs they  sampled. Let’s hope the original artists aren’t mad, though – imitation is the highest form of flattery after all.

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Here we run through music’s best uses of samples… ever!

M.I.A. – ‘Paper Planes’ (2008)

What it samples: The Clash – ‘Straight to Hell’

M.I.A.‘s ‘Paper Planes’ was the British musician’s breakout smash. Produced and co-written with Diplo, it’s centred around an interpolation of The Clash‘s 1982 song ‘Straight to Hell’, borrowing the hulking opening melody and turning it into the distinctive, repetitive riff that’s heard throughout. The duo effortlessly blend the new-wave of The Clash’s sample with M.I.A.’s laidback hip-hop.

Best bit: The gunshot and cash register sound effect, of course. Click-click kerching!

Sugar Hill Gang – ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (1979)

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What it samples: Chic – ‘Good Times’

American hip-hop trio Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ interpolates the strutting bassline from Chic’s disco banger ‘Good Times’. Released in 1979, this was arguably the song that brought hip-hop to the mainstream, with ‘Rapper’s Delight’ climbing up the charts all over the world. After its release Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards tried to sue the group’s record label – Sugar Hill Records – for copyright, but eventually settled with a songwriting credit.

Best bit: The opening line – “I said a hip-hop, the hippie the hippie / To the hip, hip hop you don’t stop” – is hip-hop’s greatest tongue-twister.

A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Can I Kick It?’ (1990)

What it samples: Lou Reed – ‘Walk On The Wild Side’

Quiz time again: what links classical composer Sergei Prokofiev, Children’s TV series SuperTed and Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’? It’s A Tribe Called Quest’s stone-cold classic ‘Can I Kick It?’, which samples all three of them. Predominantly based around the lilting, acoustic Lou Reed clip, the laidback tune is arguably the American hip-hop group’s biggest hit, with the legendary call-and-response chorus remaining iconic 30 years since its release. This is all made even more impressive when you remember the band members were all only 19 when the song was released!

Best bit: The call-and-response chorus. Try and stop yourself answering “can I kick it?” with an almighty: “Yes you can!”

Beyoncé – ‘Crazy In Love’ (2003)

What it samples: The Chi-Lites – ‘Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)’

The opening brass riff of Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy In Love’ is iconic. Whether it conjures up images of her 2018 Coachella performance, where it was played by a massive marching band, or the music video where Bey struts down an abandoned road as husband Jay-Z raps, the punchy trumpet blasts have become something of a calling card for the singer. But what a lot of people don’t realise is they’re sampled from The Chi-Lites 1970 song ‘Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)’. When she began working with producer Rich Harrison on the tune, Beyoncé initially doubted using the retro brass fanfare. Thankfully, she warmed to it.

Best bit: The massive chorus – nothing unites a wedding dancefloor more than Beyonce singing: “Your love’s cot me looking so crazy right now”

The Notorious B.I.G. – ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ (1997)

Taken from: Diana Ross – ‘I’m Coming Out’

Diana Ross’ euphoric ‘I’m Coming Out’ is five-minutes of disco joy. Written by Chic members Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it was a massive success for the singer. 17 years later it also became a winner for Biggie, who meshed a sample of ‘I’m Coming Out’ with his distinctive East coast hip-hop for ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’. Released posthumously, it soared to the top of the Billboard 100 (in the process making him the only artist to have two posthumous Number One singles on the chart) and was nominated for a Grammy (for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group). Combining the jubilant hook with driving production and slick vocals, it’s a brilliant reworking of Ross’ classic tune.

Best bit: The opening couplet of B.I.G.’s verse, where he introduces himself and declares he’d never snitch in a brilliantly succinct way: “B-I-G P-O-P-P-A / No info for the DEA”

N.W.A. – ‘Express Yourself’ (1988)

Taken from: Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – ‘Express Yourself’

Taken from the group’s debut album ‘Straight Outta Compton’, ‘Express Yourself’ sees Dr. Dre. rap over the sample of American funk and soul band Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s song of the same name. He laments the constraints and censorship placed on rappers, mocking other artists for avoiding swearing just to get on radio. Ironically the lack of profanity on ‘Express Yourself’ and its catchy hook means it’s an ideal song to be played over the airwaves.

Best bit: Where the beat cuts out as Dre’s rapping “Even if Yella, makes it a cappella / I still express…”

Kanye West – ‘Blood on the Leaves’ (2013)

Taken from: Nina Simone’s 1965 version of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’

Imagine your song being so good that David Lynch wants to direct a music video for it. That was the case with Kanye‘s Nina Simone-sampling ‘Blood on the Leaves’. The blistering six-minutes see Kanye rapping about how fame can cause toxic relationships over icy production that goes from eerie, stripped back introductions to an earth-shaking, bass-heavy climax. Given the original song’s subject matter – it’s a vivid protest against against racism and the lynching of black Americans – the use of the sample was highly controversial. But then Kanye West is no stranger to controversy.

Best bit: About a minute in, where the hulking bassline first stomps in as an auto-tuned Kanye says: “So let’s get on with it”.

Black Box – ‘Ride On Time’ (1989)

Taken from: Loleatta Holloway – ‘Love Sensation’

Aspiring producers – if you take one thing away from Black Box’s late ‘80s slice of pumping eurodance ‘Ride On Time’ let, it be this: clear your samples. The original version of the song used an uncleared sample of Loleatta Holloway’s ‘Love Sensation’, and after the song’s owners started to take legal action, the band panicked and had to re-record it with a session vocalist. Luckily the replacement singer was a star-in waiting – as the new vocals were provided by a pre-fame Heather Small of M People, who hopped on the track as a favour.

Best bit: The wild, growling vocals that declare, “you’re such a Hot temptation” in the build up to the chorus.

Madonna – ‘Hung Up’ (2005)

Taken from: ABBA – ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’

Madonna’s 10th album, ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’, saw the musical chameleon go disco – standout single ‘Hung Up’ became one of the biggest dance songs of the decade. Borrowing the instrumental introduction from ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’, Madonna personally asked its songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus if she could use the sample. Thankfully, they said yes.

Best bit: THe neat blend of ABBA’s iconic instrumentals with trendy house beats – get us to a dancefloor ASAP!

Beastie Boys – ‘Rhymin & Stealin’ (1986)

Taken from: Led Zeppelin – ‘When the Levee Breaks’; Black Sabbath – ‘Sweet Leaf’; The Clash ­­– ‘I Fought the Law’

There are tons of Beastie Boys songs that could have been included here, but there’s something special about the opening track on their debut ‘Licensed to Ill’. The sheer creativity demonstrated by the New York group across their career is summarised on ‘Rhymin & Stealin’, where they combine John Bonham’s iconic drum lines from ‘When the Levee Breaks’ with Black Sabbath’s volcanic heavy metal and their own brand of wild hip-hop.

Best bit: when Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi’s guitar solo from ‘Sweet Leaf’ first plays over the thudding drums in the song’s introduction.

Jay-Z and Kanye West – ‘Otis’ (2011)

Taken from: Otis Redding – ‘Try A Little Tenderness’

Back when Jay-Z and Kanye were still best mates, they put out their outstanding collaborative album ‘Watch the Throne’. Filled with high-profile guests, it won four Grammy Awards and spawned countless radio-dominating singles, including ‘Otis’. Sampling Otis Redding’s version of soul song ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, the two legendary rappers trade bars over the distinctive hook. it’s one of their best collaborations. We can only hope they two will make up and release ‘Watch the Throne II’ during lockdown.

Best bit: The opening of Jay-Z’s verse where he postures: “Uh, I invented swag / Poppin’ bottles, puttin’ supermodels in the cab”. Who are we to disagree?

Destiny’s Child – ‘Bootylicious’ (2001)

Taken from: Stevie Nicks – ‘Edge of Seventeen’

Whilst us normal folk spend long-haul flights binge watching TV series we’ve already seen and accidentally falling asleep with our head on a stranger’s shoulder, Beyoncé uses her time in the sky to write pop anthems. It was on a long-haul flight that Beyoncé allegedly had the first ideas for her girl group Destiny’s Child’s funk-fueled hit ‘Bootylicious’. Listening to Stevie Nicks’ song ‘Edge of Seventeen’, the vocalist thought it.s guitar riff sounded like a “voluptuous woman”, and decided to write a song based around a sample of it. As well as climbing the charts around the world, it also popularised the slang word “bootylicious” so much it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Best bit: “Kelly, can you handle this? / Michelle, can you handle this? / Beyoncé, can you handle this?”. need we say more?

Daft Punk – ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ (2007)

Taken from: Edwin Birdsong – ‘Cola Bottle Baby’

Daft Punk sampled the late funk musician Edwin Birdsong’s ‘Cola Bottle Baby’ on their buoyant slice of electronic house ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’. Birdsong, who sadly died last year, explained in 2017: “I recorded it 30 years ago and here comes 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.'” Kanye later continued the chain, sampling the Daft Punk song on ‘Stronger’.

Best bit: the robotic vocals – go on, admit it: you’ve tried to imitate them.

Eminem – ‘Stan’ (2000)

Taken from: Dido – ‘Thank You’

Who’d have thought Dido’s downtempo folktronica and Eminem’s provocative rap would be a match made in heaven? The polar opposite artists teamed up for Em’s 2000 release ‘Stan’, which might just be one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time. With the chorus drawn from a sample from Dido’s tune ‘Thank You’, the verses see Eminem paint the gut-wrenching story of Stanley “Stan” Mitchell, an obsessive fan who writes to Eminem and gradually becomes more and more obsessive and unstable when the rapper doesn’t respond. The song has had such an impact that its title has now become a slang word for somebody who’s an obsessive fan of something.

Best bit: Eminem’s powerful storytelling – it might just be the rapper’s best work.

The Chemical Brothers ­– ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ (1997)

Taken from: Bernard Purdie – ‘Changes’; Schoolly D – ‘Gucci Again’; The Crusaders – ‘The Well’s Gone Dry’

‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ uses a ton of samples, but the most distinctive are Bernard Purdie’s galloping drums, the repetition of “Back with another one of those block rockin’ beats” from rapper Schoolly D and the slinky bassline courtesy of The Crusaders. With these samples The Chemical Brothers created a raucous, genre-splicing five minutes of electronic madness.

Best bit: The wild bassline – it’s remained one of the most distinctive in British dance music.

Fatboy Slim – ‘Praise You’ (1999)

Taken from: Camille Yarbrough – ‘Take Yo’ Praise’

The iconic hook of “We’ve come a long, long way together / Through the hard times and the good / I have to celebrate you, baby / I have to praise you like I should” is now synonymous with euphoric moments at club nights or festivals. It’s originally a sample taken from the beginning of American singer Camille Yarbrough’s ‘Take Yo’ Praise’. It’s not the only sample on the track, though, as ‘Praise You’ also uses a piano sample from ‘Balance & Rehearsal’ by Hoyt Axton and James B. Lansing Sound Inc., as well as guitars from the Disney song ‘It’s a Small World’ – although it’d be a very different song had it opened with the hook from the Disney song…

Best bit: The way the song gradually builds up before the beats kick in about a minute in.

Kendrick Lamar – ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ (2012)

Taken from: Boom Clap Bachelors – ‘Tiden Flyver’

Taken from Lamar’s major-label debut, ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ samples a song by Danish electronic group Boom Clap Bachelors, with their ethereal instrumentals appearing throughout the entire song. Interestingly, it was initially meant to be a collaboration with Lady Gaga, but her contributions were then cut from the final version due to timing issues.

Best bit: Lamar’s quietly powerful vocals.

Rihanna – ‘Work’ (2016)

Taken from: Alexander O’Neal – ‘If You Were Here Tonight’

The distinctive beat from Rihanna’s ‘Work’ is recognisable from the first few seconds of the song, but is actually worked around a sample. Producer of ‘Work’ Boi-1da wanted to use a dancehall rhythm in the song, so sampled 1998 Jamaican ‘Sail Away’ by Richie Stephens and Mikey 2000, which itself interpolates ’80s soul song ‘If You Were Here Tonight’ by Alexander O’Neal.

Best bit: the banging chorus – it’s catchier than a rash, only much less painful.

Stardust – ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ (1998)

Taken from: Chaka Khan – ‘Fate’

Never heard of French house group Stardust? Well, you might not know their name but you’ll definitely recognise their 1998 floor filler ‘Music Sounds Better With You’. Sampling Chaka Khan, the dance anthem has remained a staple in DJ sets since it was first dropped, but it was the only song that Stardust ever released. Despite selling over two million copies world wide, receiving critical acclaim and charting in countries around the globe, they never dropped a follow up. But we guess if you release a song this good, you don’t really need to.

Best bit: The jangling synths – they’re basically the epitome of ‘90s dance music.

2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman – ‘California Love’ (1996)

Taken from: Joe Cocker – ‘Woman to Woman’

After 2pac was released from prison in 1995 he released ‘California Love’ as his comeback single. Produced by Dr. Dre (who also offers guest vocals), it sampled instrumentals from Joe Cocker’s funk-flecked ‘Woman to Woman’, fusing them with bouncing G-funk and punchy hip-hop. The sun-drenched song is basically the perfect soundtrack to driving around LA in a sleek convertible, top down – but thankfully it sounds just as good blasted in your second-hand Fiat 500.

Best bit: The opening when Roger Troutman robotically sings ,“California knows how to party”. Get down!

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