Kanye West: A History of Sampling Genius

Sampling has been at the heart of hip hop since its origins in the Bronx, though it’s not always used today and often takes a backseat to beats. I think it’s possible to use samples poorly (see: “Whatcha Say” by Jason Derulo), but Kanye West tends to sample in memorable and really creative ways. I’m hoping that he finds some more innovative ways to use samples on the new album, but until then here’s some of the most interesting/infamous times Kanye sampled:

Side note: Sorry, it’s very obvious that I love Watch the Throne.

Otis” (Watch the Throne)
This is one of a few super obviously samples, as much of the Kanye and Jay-Z track just plays the original (it’s raw for the first 30 seconds). However, I think this song is used brilliantly. It’s so catchy while retaining the spirit and the music of the original, especially since they didn’t cover it with a ton of new instrumentals.

“Clique” (Cruel Summer)
Despite the fact that the best line in this song is actually Jay-Z’s (“I’m way too black to burn from sun rays”), this song uses a fairly unknown song in a brilliant way. “Zero-G” by African Voice 161 on the super generic album Zero G 1999 is used to create the distinct beat in this song. Even though it came from a generic African world music album, shout out to Yeezy (and his producers) for the effort to use non-Western aesthetics in a popular rap song. Thanks to the amazing website WhoSampled, you can hear the original and the sample here.

Blood on the Leaves” (Yeezus)
Much like “Otis”, this song samples “Strange Fruit” as covered by Nina Simone (it’s originally sung by Billie Holiday) in a very direct way. Even though this song isn’t political, I love how Kanye used the lyrics of the original song in such a direct way, as is clear in the title and in the symbolism of using fruit to reference female sexuality.

Gotta Have It” (Watch the Throne)
These James Brown samples are out of control. This song samples four songs from the Godfather of Soul: “My Thang”, “Don’t Tell a Lie About Me and I Won’t Tell the Truth on You”, “I’m a Greedy Man”, and “People Get Up and Drive Your Funky Soul”. James Brown marks an essential turning point in the popularity of music that embraced African musical aesthetics and performance, so I love seeing his music being recreated today.

Spaceship” (College Dropout)
Marvin Gaye is one of my all time favorite artists, which makes it even more impressive that I love the way this song uses his song. The “Heaven Knows” you hear repeatedly comes from Gaye’s song “Distant Lover”. I like the play of distance/heaven/space, plus the song is just silky smooth.

“Gold Digger” (Late Registration)
This track famously samples Ray Charles’ whole chorus from “I Got A Woman”. I just think it’s amazing how the chorus of one song can be known by new generations as only related to a different song. But then again, I’m a music nerd.