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The Top 5 Unexpected Samples in Hip-Hop

Posted on 26 Apr 11 Top 5s | 5 Comments
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When Jay-Z came out with “Hard-Knock Life,” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised that he’d sampled the musical Annie. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be doubly surprised that it worked.  Sometimes we can’t believe what we’re bobbing our head to—but it sounds so good we can’t stop. Below are just five hip-hop tracks with some unexpected samples. You’d think they shouldn’t go well together…and yet, they do.

A Tribe Called Quest – “Bonita Applebum” (samples Rotary Connection – “Memory Band”):
Rotary Connection is a little-known experimental psychedelic pop group from the late ‘60s. A Tribe Called Quest is a well-known hip-hop group who gained prominence in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s for their chill, jazz-looped sound. Wild psychedelia and mellow rap aren’t my first idea of a good pair, but they come together so smoothly and seamlessly on “Bonita Applebum” that I would never argue such a match again.

A Tribe Called Quest – “Bonita Applebum”
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Rotary Connection – “Memory Band”
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RJD2 – “Ghostwriter” (samples Elliot Smith – “I Didn’t Understand”):
A sad acapella song about lost love and the melancholy that ensues manages to find itself in an awesomely energetic , hopeful and funky track by the mix master RJD2. Elliot’s vocals mixed into the backdrop flow so well in RJ’s production that the first couple of times I listened to this song years ago, I didn’t notice the sample at first. I just find it amazing that RJD2 could take such a heartache-filled song and toss it into a track so enthusiastically lively…and have it work.

RJD2 – “Ghostwriter”


Elliot Smith – “I Didn’t Understand”

J Dilla – “Lightworks” (samples Raymond Scott – “Lightworks”); MF Doom – “Lightworks”:
American composer Raymond Scott creates a jingle that several decades later gets a makeover with a dope beat by the late and great J Dilla. MF Doom then raps over Jay Dee’s production in the track also entitled “Lightworks.” This old jingle did some traveling! And it works so well as a sample…or maybe it’s just J Dilla’s tight production that makes me realize this.

MF Doom – “Lightworks”
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J Dilla – “Lightworks”
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Raymond Scott – “Lightworks”

The Roots – “Atonement” (sample Radiohead – “You and Whose Army?”):
I remember when I first got the album Game Theory. I was bumping it while driving around town and almost forgot the basic principles of driving a vehicle when I heard Radiohead. Did my iPod just skip to the album Amnesiac? It was a delightful surprise. I think the soundscape that The Roots built up on the foundation of the Radiohead sample is just so fluid and majestic. The Roots crew never ceases to impress.

The Roots – “Atonement”


Radiohead – “You and Whose Army?”

Fugees – “Ready or Not” (samples Enya – “Boadicea”):
This takes the cake for the strangest musical lovechild yet. Who woulda thought that New Age music could slink its way into a hip-hop track? This sample to me is the most surprising; the idea of these two genres together is too weird to work—and yet it DOES. I think the Fugees did a good job in lifting the dark, creepy notes of Enya’s song and just running with ‘em in “Ready or Not.”

Fugees – “Ready or Not”
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Enya – “Boadicea”

BONUS! Blu – Untitled(LovedU)2  (samples Radhiohead – “You and Whose Army?”)
I didn’t want to be repetitive, but I just love this Blu track over Radiohead. Plus, it’s interesting to see what two different artists, The Roots and Blu, do with the same sample. Enjoy!

Awwwright, this is just the start. There are PLENTY more hip-hop tracks with unexpected samples. So, who’d we miss? Let us know!

5 Comments

  1. Brenton

    It isn’t exactly unexpected, but I loooove Q-Tips use of “You Made a Believer Out of Me” by Ruby Andrews in the track “Won’t Trade.”

  2. Imagine all those copyright suits… (shudders)

  3. chikorita

    Who the hell wrote this article? Easy Moe Bee should be on the list, Lord Finesse, Showbiz and Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind are notable mentions! Although i dont like Necro as an Mc, his production abilities are dope! Ohh and DJ Premier…RZA!!! blahhhhhh the list goes on. But rewrite this article and place Easy Moe Bee at the top, the flavor in ya ear track.

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