Drake’s “Hotling Bling” is topping many “Best Song of the Year” lists despite only reaching number 2 on the Hot Billboard 100 Charts earlier this year. Several covers of the song have been released by fellow artists including Justin Bieber, Erykah Badu and Sam Smith & Disclosure. With its catchy hook, “I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing,” and bouncy beats it was deemed an instant classic around the world.
What few people know, however, is that the song is itself is a sample of a top five hit by R&B artist Timmy Thomas. In 1973 his surprise hit “Why Can’t We Live Together,” reached number 3 on the pop charts and number 1 on the R&B charts. The message of universal peace was much different than Drake’s getting a booty call from an ex. Thomas’ song was covered by other artists before the Canadian rapper got hold of it, including: Sade, Steve Winwood, Santana and even MC Hammer on his Too Legit to Quit album. The success of “Hotline Bling” is now inspiring Thomas to get back on the road and re-launch as a one-man band.
In today’s rewind, reuse, recycle world, music is no different, especially in the crate-digging, trainspotting mentality of music production. There is nothing new in art however, that hasn’t already come or been inspired by something before. The Bible says so: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) The poet T.S. Eliot reiterated: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something better.” From Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” to Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” it seems the future of today is something we’ve heard before. This list was taken from a compilation of “Best of” lists and doesn’t represent the complete, definite and last word on what’s sure to remain a hot topic of debate.
10. “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” – Run-D.M.C. (1983)
These iconic eighties rappers were known for their Adidas track suits and sneakers, as well as their genre-defining music in what was essentially the beginnings of commercial hip-hop. Run-D.M.C‘s 1983 hit “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” was itself made up of four other tracks but according to who sampled, was sampled in at least 588 songs, including: M/A/R/R/S 1987 breakout hit “Pump Up The Volume,” J. Dilla, L.M.F.A.O., Nero and Prodigy, among others.
9. “Impeach the President” – Honey Drippers (1973)
The song’s laid-back breakbeat, heavy bass, and guitar riffs can be heard in several of music’s iconic songs including: Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shake Yo Thang,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Impeach The President,” and Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids.” The song, written by Georgia-native Roy C., was created as a response to the politics of the day, U.S. president Richard Nixon’s controversial Watergate scandal which lead to his downfall. What was his loss is music’s gain.
8. “La Di Da Di” – Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick (1985)
The track features no real instruments at all, just Slick Rick rhyming over Doug E. Fresh’s beatboxing rhythms. The scene was in its relative infancy when this song came out and was itself a sample of two songs, one of which was Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie in 1937. The two paved the way for other rap acts to follow in their footsteps. “La Di Da Di” has been sampled by some of today’s biggest artists including: Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg.
7. “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” – James Brown (1974) Cheech
“The Godfather of Soul’s” contribution to music is immeasurable as so many of his tracks were sampled time and again by later artists. James Brown is the most sampled artist of all-time and choosing between his songs is like choosing between your favorite children. The song contains a treasure trove of sounds including the woman’s voice saying “hey listen to the man” found in Cheech and Chong’s iconic Eighties movie Up in Smoke. Others who paid tribute to this song include: Kanye West, Rick Ross, Childish Gambino and Pusha T.
6. “The Big Beat” – Billy Squier (1980)
Ironically this song by Massachusetts-born Billy Squier was a dud when it came out in 1980, according to VH1, but it proved to be a winner for rappers including Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” A$AP Rocky’s “Out of this World,” and Kanye West’s “Looking for Trouble.” The music channel says it was sampled in 225 songs, and there’s sure to be more in the future. The song was also the basis to British rapper Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp” hit, which secured him the prestigious Mercury Prize in the UK, given to the year’s best album as selected by music journalists around Britain.
5. “Funky Drummer” – James Brown (1970)
British music magazine New Music Express calls this “THE most sampled record of all time.” It’s been used by: Grandmaster Flash, NWA, Run DMC, LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”, Beastie Boys, TLC’s “What About Your Friends”, and Nicki Minaj, among 1153 times, according to website whosampled.com. With its funky horns, Brown’s signature grunts and rhythmic keyboards, it’s no wonder it was a sampling hotbed for future artists including Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power.”
4. “Think (About It)” – Lyn Collins (1972)
The song’s lyrics “It takes two to make a thing go right” and “Woo! Yeah” was featured in one of the biggest hip-hop songs ever – “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock. The song was produced by James Brown after he heard her sing while touring Texas and became one of the most iconic sounds in all of music. Her powerful voice lead Brown, “The Godfather of Soul” to name her “The Female Preacher.” The song has also been sampled by: Ludacris, Destiny’s Child, Jamie xx, Nicki Minaj with Will.i.am., Janet Jackson, and the theme song to seemingly every NBA game; 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready For This.”
3. “Long Red” – Mountain (1972)
This song, which gave rise to “99 Problems” by Jay-Z, “The Glory” by Kanye West and “Chain Smoker” from Chance the Rapper, wasn’t even one of Mountain’s own songs, it came from their ace lead guitarist Leslie West, according to VH1. He recorded the song but called it Mountain and somehow hip-hop hungry fans got hold of it and have sampled it at least 526 times. Perhaps the most recent famous song it’s showed up on is Lana Del Rey’s 2011 hit “Born to Die,” featuring a sample of the band singing it in concert.
2. “Change the Beat (Female Version)” – Beside/Fab 5 Freddy (1982)
Arguably the most sampled song of all-time, the original song features a the vocals of a woman rapping in French and the remixed version is that of the hip-hop pioneer. The track was created by a French producer Jean Caracas who visited New York City to meet Fab 5 Freddy and the result was this iconic “experimental electropop record,” according to the BBC. It has since been used in Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” and sampled by Linkin Park, Justin Bieber, Herbie Hancock and at least 1200 songs.
1. “Amen, Brother” – The Winstons (1969)
A fundraising campaign was started in the UK to get royalties back to this band who, according to whosampled.com, is the most sampled song of all time. Unfortunately, the band’s drummer died penniless in 2006 but the campaign raised £24,000 or $40,000 USD after asking for an initial £1000 or $1600 USD. After a re-interest in the campaign, more people continue to contribute to what gave way to some of hip-hop’s greatest hits by more than 1900 artists: Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, and Skrillex. N.W.A. used the song’s drums on repeat in their debut single “Straight Outta Compton”, now a feature film starring none other than Ice Cube’s son, released earlier this year.