Over the last few years, samples seem to be a steady factor in Billboard hits. This year looks no different: sample-heavy releases by the likes of Drake, Kanye West, J. Cole, DJ Khaled, Tyler The Creator and more, dominate the charts—and the Grammys.
Of all the songs featured on Billboard’s Hot 100 list during this year, 14% contained samples from previously released songs. This is a steady number, with last year’s total amounting to 13% and 2019's total amounting to 15%. This year also saw the highest number of samples in the last three years, with 111 samples spread out across the 89 charting hits that sampled from other songs.
54% of all new albums that were featured on Billboard’s Top 25 charts contained samples. That's an increase from last year (51%), and a rather consistent number throughout the last five years, never falling below 50%.
The most sample-dense release of this year is Drake’s divisive album Certified Lover Boy with 15 samples in 21 songs. It’s not only one of the most sample-heavy albums on this year's charts, but also one of the most sample-diverse albums: CLB features samples from Right Said Fred’s "I’m Too Sexy" to *NSYNC to 70s soul to Masego to R. Kelly to Notorious B.I.G...
48% of all songs on the five Grammy-nominated releases for Best Rap Album of 2021 include samples from other songs. This is a consistent trend: the last three years, every single hip-hop album nominated in this category contained samples and relied heavily on sample-based production. The high cost of sample clearance (outside of Tracklib) still seems to be worth it for hitmakers...
Justin Bieber’s album Justice contains the oldest—and perhaps most controversial—sample of the year: a sample from a 1963 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. for the album's opener. But that’s not the only controversial 'sampling' done on the album: French electronic duo Justice filed a cease-and-desist for the cover art and merchandise, claiming Justin Bieber infringed on their trademark Justice logo and branding.
The sample usage in this year’s Billboard Hot 100 hits shows how new trends continue to emerge, whilst old classics come back around, too. 2021 sees the oldest samples since 2013. And the decades of the 90s and 70s play an important role in this year's sound.
The average release year of all the songs sampled for Billboard Hot 100 hits throughout this year is 1992. An interesting number that indicates that there’s a trend to sample older songs this year: 1992 is the oldest average as far as our State of Sampling records go back.
Dissecting all sampled songs in 2021 hits shows us that the 70s, 90s, and 2010s are the most popular decades to sample. Contrary to popular belief: the 2010s continue to be the most popular source for samples for Billboard Hot 100 hits—which it has been for seven years straight!
Our analysis also shows that the 70s are back in fashion to sample. That decade is 122% more popular to sample compared to last year. The 90s also continue on an upwards trend, as it has been for the past three years. The 90s are 41% more popular to sample compared to last year—when it was already more popular to sample than ever before.
Hip-hop continues to dominate as the most-sampled genre, making up for 23% of all samples on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Sampling R&B also continues to grow: R&B samples make up for 14% of all samples, which is an increase of 25% compared to last year.
For the first time in a long while, rock has made its way into our annual report. 8% rock samples might not seem like a lot, but considering the previous three years the genre was close to 0%, it’s definitely on a slight upswing.
With producers born in the 80s and 90s dominating the charts these days, it’s no big surprise to see that 90s hip-hop was the most popular source for samples this year. Closely followed by 70s soul.
Sample clearance is no child’s play, as rapper YTK would find out after posting a song with an uncleared Mariah Carey sample on Twitter. He boldly added, "Mariah Carey has 24 hours to respond [before we release the song]." YTK didn’t have to wait long... Mariah Carey replied with a comeback the next day: "How about y'all have 24 hours to respond to my lawyers.” Ouch...
Which songs take the crown for 'The Best' flips of the year is open to debate. But these samples certainly belong to some of the biggest chart-climbing songs of 2021.
"Push The Feeling On" by Nightcrawlers is arguably one of the most remixed songs ever. Funnily enough, the official 1992 song everyone knows is also a remix: the original version of “Push The Feeling On” was actually acid-jazz-inspired R&B at a much lower BPM. This year’s re-edit by UK producer Riton uses the “original” music by Nightcrawlers to sample the viral Instagram video It’s Friday Then!!. The “Push The Feeling On” remix saga continues, by way of sampling…
Colombian singer/rapper J Balvin and dubstep retiree Skrillex sampled a piece of New York house history for their “In Da Getto” collaboration: the similarly titled “In De Ghetto” by house pioneer, David Morales. His mid-90s club hit together with a group of artists centered around Morales called The Bad Yard Club, provided the source for the synth melody and vocal hook to Skrillex & J Balvin’s 2021 reggaeton hit.
There’s quite a sampling chain behind the very first notes on Drake’s Certified Lover Boy. Here we go: back in 1965, The Beatles’ Paul McCartney was inspired by “Milord” by French icon Edith Piaf. That inspired him to write “Michelle” for The Beatles' Rubber Soul album—hence why the chorus is sung in French. The Singers Unlimited covered that classic in 1972 for their A Capella album. Over fourty years later, in 2017, producer J.L.L. sampled that for Masego's "Navajo." That’s the version you hear skillfully chopped up in the opening track of Certified Lover Boy. Halfway through the song, the high-pitched sample leads into another vocal bit: “Until I Found my Lord (My Soul Couldn't Rest)” by gospel group The Gabriel Hardeman Delegation.
As shown in her directorial debut Dark City Beneath the Beat on Netflix, rapper/director TT the Artist explains she wants Baltimore Club to get its due. That certainly worked out with “Girls Off The Chain.” Even more so when rising star Chlöe (of Beyoncé-mentored sister duo Chloe x Halle) sampled the song for her Murda Beatz-produced debut solo single, "Have Mercy." The song took on a life of its own on TikTok, with the sampled snippet becoming a lip-challenge meme template (yes, you read that right; a lip challenge meme template), amassing well over a billion views.
70s jazz fusion, electro from the 2000s, 90s hip-hop gems, leftfield percussion… The samples on Tyler, the Creator’s CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST are as genre-defying as the album itself. For the 90s R&B-inspired “WUSYANAME,” he sampled the silky slow jam "Back Seats (With No Sheets)" by Houston-based group H-Town. “WUSYANAME” was the highest-charting song off of CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST. That says something, as part of an Album Of The Year contender...
1982’s "No One Like You" by German pop-metal band Scorpions was originally released in German. But the song was big enough of a hit to be re-recorded for a global release. The song was produced by Dieter Dierks, whose studio Dierks Studio became home to the first-generation wave of Krautrock artists between 1969 and 1975. Producer TayTayMadeIt dug up the Scorpions original for “4 Da Gang” by Detroit rapper 42 Dugg and Compton’s Roddy Ricch.
Highlights of this year’s news headlines involve writing credit chaos, clashing generations, and questionable sample clearance morality.
Was Olivia Rodrigo’s megahit “good 4 u” inspired by Paramore’s “Misery Business,” or was it straight-up plagiarism? Numerous mash-ups on TikTok claimed to prove the latter. But don’t get fooled by the similarities: this is actually a complex case of chord progressions, pop structures, interpolation, and lyrical themes. Music theory aside: Olivia Rodrigo ended up giving writing credits to Paramore for "good 4 u," with royalties worth millions. Similarly to 2018's Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams vs. Marvin Gaye Estate, this case certainly blurs the lines for copyright, fair use, and interpolation even more...
There was a wave of outrage among young people when they found out that—hold tight—Timbaland sampled other people’s music for his productions(!). After radio DJ/presenter Nooriyah shared an Arabic original in a Twitter video, youngins completely lost their minds on social media about “that [Timbaland] claimed it’s his own music,” with TikTok comparison videos going viral. Timbaland already had to fight a decade-long drawn-out legal case around his (cleared!) sample of Abdel Halim Hafez on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin”. This time he had to battle a cancel culture witch-hunt. Let’s hope this doesn’t get drawn out over a decade as well.
Influential duo and sampling legends Daft Punk announced a breakup after 30 years. Shortly after the news, views, and shares of our Sample Breakdown of their hit "One More Time" sky-rocketed across social media. Shortly after, a new story by the Los Angeles Times on now-homeless L.A. musician Eddie Johns caused a lot of debate on the rightfulness of Daft Punk’s sampling of his 1979 disco song “More Spell On You”. Vibe Magazine reported in 2014 that the sample was officially cleared—however, to this day, Eddie Johns hasn’t seen a single dime. But as Questlove noted on Twitter: “I wanna know what circumstances occurred that caused the writer of the song to no longer have his publishing. THAT is the story.”
A co-writing credit for R. Kelly on “TSU” off Drake’s Certified Lover Boy album caught fans off guard. Did Drake really work with R. Kelly despite his trials for sex trafficking and racketeering? Luckily, that wasn’t the case. Producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib spoke out on Instagram because "to think we would stand beside that guy or write with him is just incredibly disgusting." In order to license a sample for "TSU," they had to credit an R. Kelly song which is playing in the background of the sample of veteran Houston DJ and label owner OG Ron C talking. The R. Kelly song in question—which is barely audible—is 1998’s “Half On A Baby.” An important lesson for the general public on music publishing and how sample clearance works.
We only found two clear drum break samples in all songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts during 2021. Both sampled by Tyler, The Creator for his album CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST. Seems like Tyler is the last break-sampling man standing in the charts...
What’s next for sampling? Time will tell. But these trends clearly show that there are exciting times ahead...
History repeats: for young hip-hop producers, it’s not old jazz, soul, and funk records they grew up on. Instead, it's most notably 90s and early-2000s hip-hop and R&B hits. No wonder you hear many classics from that era in the music by today’s producers. After all, a new generation means a new definition of ‘nostalgia.’ Think of Mark Morrison’s 1996 number-one hit “Return of the Mack” on G-Eazy's "Provide." Ne-Yo’s breakthrough hit “So Sick” on the chart-topping “Woo Baby” by Pop Smoke. Cash Money's Juvenile on both Capella Grey's "GYALIS" and EST Gee's "5500 Degrees". The New Nostalgia for this era's generation of producers.
An increase of 122% of 70s soul samples in Billboard’s Hot 100 charts shows another trend: the cherished spirit of the 70s keeps coming in and out of fashion. Cases in point: Motown classics found their way into new hits like Nicki Minaj’s “Fractions” and DJ Khaled’s “Sorry Not Sorry” featuring Nas, Jay-Z, and James Fauntleroy. For J. Cole’s The Off Season album*,* even 57% of all songs feature 70s soul samples.
This year saw a clear trend of hits not only sampling music but also repurposing the original song titles. Rod Wave’s “OMDB” salutes Drake’s Take Care original, “Over My Dead Body.” Drake, on his turn, named “Papi’s Home” after “Daddy’s Home” by Montell Jordan. Or the Lootpack echoes on the Swizz Beatz-produced "Hood Blues" by Griselda which references Lee Mason's "Shady Blues." And on "Girl from Rio," Brazilian singer Anitta proudly represents her own heritage by building off a bossa nova classic: "The Girl From Ipanema." This trend perhaps indicates that samples not only played a role in music production this year. But that in many cases the samples even were the main inspiration for the hit.
Horn stabs have been a long-running staple of hip-hop production. This year, however, sees producers turning to vocal stabs rather than chopping up brass samples. A stab is a staccato note or chord to add punctuation to a composition. Kanye West’s “God Breathed” is a great example to illustrate this: three bits of vocal taken from 1981 no-wave cult classic “Bell Head” by Liquid Liquid used by 'Ye as one-bar accents*.* Just like horn stabs, vocal stabs are manipulated with effects like delay. Of all samples in Billboard’s Hot 100-charting songs, a total of 13% are either vocal stabs or a few bars longer vocal riffs, so to speak. Perhaps we could call it the WAP effect?
The Weirdest Sample Of The Year award goes to Kanye West who sampled the Globglogabgalab worm character from the animation movie Strawinsky and the Mysterious House. He sampled the character (who was allegedly inspired by Danny DeVito) for his Grammy-nominated album, Donda.
Think about it: viral-video platform TikTok embodies sampling. From the creation of new works by recontextualizing music, to the way viral videos revitalize old songs. TikTok is sampling. Let’s illustrate that statement with three parallels between good-ol’ crate-digging and all-new TikTok-ing.
This report is mainly based on Billboard-charting hits. To diversify, we've gathered some of the chart-toppers and showstoppers on Tracklib. This section gives you an exclusive insight into the sampling usage of producers of all professional levels—all around the world.
In 2020, UK singer Jorja Smith released the Black Lives Matter supporting single “By Any Means” with the comment “what can I do to keep this conversation going?” DJ Mustard and The Kid Laroi took that comment to heart, heavily sampling the single for their 2021 banger “Still Chose You.” This was also the most recent sample in all of the Billboard-charting hits. Considering that theme is in line with the oldest sample of this year (Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 speech on equality and justice), makes it even more evident that sadly, racial inequality is still ongoing after all those years...
We lost far too many great (and heavily sampled) artists this year. Their music will forever live on, and continue to take new shapes through the art of sampling. Gone but not forgotten.
There's an increase of 10% more samples on popular albums and a steady number of samples in 14% of the songs in Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. That makes it safe to say that samples are still very present in the sound of today’s popular music. Most notably in hip-hop: 48% of all the songs on the Grammy-nominated releases for Best Rap Album include samples. Throughout 2021, songs by DJ Khaled, J. Cole, Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator, Pop Smoke, and Drake have dominated the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
This year clearly established 'The New Nostalgia,' an emerging trend spearheaded by a new generation of producers who sample sounds from the 90s and early noughties—particularly classic hip-hop and R&B hits. But as shown by our research, sampling 70s soul continues to keep coming in and out of fashion as well.
However, one of this year’s most intriguing trends takes place outside of the charts: there seems to be a much higher sense of awareness around sampling. Even among a new, younger generation. Millennials and Gen Z get schooled on sampling through popular videos on TikTok (which, according to our research, account for well over 500 million views). People’s reactions to news surrounding Timbaland’s sample usage, Olivia Rodrigo vs. Paramore, Daft Punk’s sampling of Eddie Johns on “One More Time,” among other examples, show deep engagement and involvement when it comes to sampling. For the good and the bad: from viral praise for old originals to cancel culture-fueled backlash.
The current state of sampling is a steady one, but newly-fueled awareness indicates that there’s also a generational shift in sampling happening.
For this report, we’ve mainly analyzed and dissected songs featured on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts from January until late November. We defined samples and interpolations from previously released music as ‘samples.’ However, references to lyrics have not been included in any way. Also worth noting is that since we only examined the biggest hits of the year, this State of Sampling doesn’t necessarily represent the statistics of sampling as a whole. It’s also worth mentioning that we only used samples we were able to discover; there are definitely some we missed. Besides Billboard’s charts, other sources include (but are not limited to) Chartmetric, ASCAP, BMI, WhoSampled, Sample Spotters, Spotify’s credits system, and our own Tracklib data and user surveys.
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