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Sample Breakdowns of Kanye West, DJ Premier, Nujabes, J.Dilla, 9th Wonder & more

Sample Breakdowns of Kanye West, DJ Premier, Nujabes, J.Dilla, 9th Wonder & more

Our 'Sample Breakdown' video series dissects tracks to visualize the art of sampling. Get a glimpse behind the boards, discover original samples, and learn from the greats.

By DannyVeekens

Nujabes - Reflection Eternal

Nujabes never ceased to amaze with his music. With an unparalleled ear for emotion and feeling in samples, his modal soul became a prototype for what we now know as lo-fi and chillhop. ‘Reflection Eternal’ is arguably his most beautiful track. All he took was a contemporary piece from 2000 by Japanese pianist Kose Noriko, and two vocal bits off ‘Marie’ by American singer Kenny Rankin. Legendary jazz saxophonist Stan Getz once described Rankin as “a horn with a heartbeat.” The same could be said about the late great Japanese producer: every single hit on his MPC 2500, every selected sample, and every melody and groove was full of heart and soul.

Jay-Z & Kanye West - No Church In The Wild

Producers 88-Keys, Mike Dean and Kanye himself tied together a prog-rock riff by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera with a heavy drum from 60s/70s UK rock band Spooky Tooth. The story goes that 88-Keys found Manzanera’s K-Scope record in a bargain bin, and presented it as part of a selection of 10 ideas to ‘Ye and Jay. It made the cut, and ‘No Church In The Wild’ even landed the throne-watchers a Grammy. Phil Manzanera, on his turn, covered ‘No Church In The Wild’ for his The Sound of Blue album four years later, completing the sample’s cycle.

Nas - Nas Is Like

In an old interview, DJ Premier shared that the day he made the beat for ‘Nas Is Like’, he wanted to toss the original classical music record in the garbage. “But something told me, ‘before you throw it away, put it on the turntable to see if you can find something on it,’” he said in his 14 Deadly Secrets radio show back in 2008. “And I found that sample of ‘Nas Is Like,’ I broke it into three parts, scratched it live to the drumbeat that I already had (...) and from there, ‘Nas Is Like’ was born.” Sounds like an easy job done, but it still took people nearly a decade to officially unearth 'What Child Is This?' by John V. Rydgren & Bob R. Way as the song’s original sample.

Britney Spears - Toxic

‘Toxic’ is an international affair. And no, we’re not talking about the Mile High Club airline shenanigans by Britney in the video. Swedish production duo Bloodshy & Avant sampled an Indian song for the eerie pop melody. And there's more: other tracks by Indian singers Lata Mangeshkar and S P Balasubramaniam are actually available on Tracklib. The two acclaimed Bollywood singers have been previously sampled by Madlib (numerous times, including with Madvillain and Jaylib), Childish Gambino, M.I.A., Flying Lotus & Four Tet.

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Mobb Deep - Survival of the Fittest

It took diggers and hip-hop heads alike over a decade and a half to figure out the sample on Mobb Deep’s ‘Shook Ones (Part II)’: an ingeniously slowed-down and pitch-changing piano sample of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Jessica.’ However, another track from their 1995 The Infamous album wins the crate-digging crown: it took another three and a half years (till 2014, to be exact) before YouTube user SaintsIV solved the secret: in a similar manner as on 'Shook Ones (Part II),' Havoc isolated and slowed down a piano riff off 'Skylark' by The Barry Harris Trio & Al Cohn.

Also interesting to know: the original version of ‘Survival Of The Fittest’ sampled James Brown for the chorus, of him going “Gotta get over before we get under!’ off ‘Funky President.’ That got scrapped due to the high rate the publishers wanted for it. If only Tracklib was around in 1995...

Kendrick Lamar - Duckworth

"This is what actually goes on in my head,” expressed ‘Duckworth’ producer 9th Wonder about our Sample Breakdown. This is what I see, hear, and feel. I see shapes and colors. Thank you, @Tracklib. This is brilliant." So now you know: that’s how he visualizes the loop of that Climax Blues Band drum break, combined with the Ted Taylor vocal chop. As part of the beat switch-up bonanza called ‘Duckworth.’

Moby - Porcelain

For his biggest hit to date, Moby reversed the order of four chords of the epic battle cry “Fight For Survival” from the 1960 film Exodus. At first, the producer/singer didn’t really think the outcome of ‘Porcelain’ was quite, well, epic, at all… “I actually had to be talked into including it,” he told Rolling Stone 10 years after its release. “When I first recorded it, I thought it was average. I didn’t like the way I produced it, I thought it sounded mushy, I thought my vocals sounded really weak. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to it. When the tour for Play started, ‘Porcelain’ was the song during the set where most people would get a drink.”

Kendrick Lamar - Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst

The 12-minute, Like-produced storytelling opus ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’ was built around pieces off ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ by jazz guitarist and composer Grant Green. As well as a drum break off ‘Use Me’ by recently departed soul legend, Bill Withers. A year prior to releasing the groundbreaking Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick released a song called ‘Don’t Understand’ for XXL's 2011 Freshman Class: The Mixtape. That track sampled the same Grant Green song, and tells the original story about his friend Dave’s brother, continued in ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.’

J Dilla - Don’t Cry

Not a single note in J Dilla’s productions is wasted. Every unquantized drum, any loop, every fill, and every melody is placed with intent. His flip of “I Can’t Stand (To See You Cry)” by The Escorts (originally a track by The Whatnauts from 1973) is a perfect example. Dilla deconstructs the song and remodels it into a new structure. Even creating a new bassline while he’s at it.

Daft Punk - One More Time

For years, there were rumors that French production duo Daft Punk sampled music from disco artist Eddie Johns without approval. There wasn’t a mention of 1979’s “More Spell On You” in the liner notes of Daft Punk’s Discovery album, while all other samples were in fact mentioned. But it took till seven years after the release, before VIBE Magazine revealed the fact it was actually all cleared and legal.

J. Cole - Wet Dreamz

On top of the legendary Impeach the President break, J. Cole gave the chipmunk treatment to Family Circle’s “Mariya.” The song from 1973 was previously also sampled for tracks by The Game & Cappadonna. “Wet Dreamz” was part of J. Cole’s third studio album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive. The self-produced track was originally planned to appear on J. Cole’s debut album, but didn’t make the final cut. Half a decade later, soul music still seems to be a go-to genre for Cole, as the Tracklib sample he used together with producer T-Minus also shows.

Fatboy Slim - Praise You

One of the beauties of sampling is that any type of source material is fair game. “Praise You” by Fatboy Slim is a classic example of that. The track brings together spoken word, a cartoon theme, a piano riff from an audio demonstration record by JBL, and the into from a Disneyland album called Mickey Mouse Disco. All from the 70s, so bonus points to Fatboy Slim for the decade-correct combination of samples.

Little Brother - Lovin’ It

EPMD, J Dilla, Jay-Z, Nas, Big Daddy Kane, and countless of others found their way to sample the iconic Philadelphia soul of The Stylistics. And so did producer 9th Wonder for Little Brother’s “Lovin’ It.” The slowed-down sample of “One Night Affair” soulfully layered with thumping bass and drums makes for a perfect case of that mid-noughties Little Brother sound. “What’s that joint 9th sampling / Pooh and ‘Te on the mic, them bastards them…” Lovin’ it? The vast catalog of Philly Groove on Tracklib boasts the same taste of soul as The Stylistics.

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