Social Security Samples: Hip Hop Beats That Should Be Retired
This month (September 2010) saw the release of singer Jazmine Sullivan’s latest single, “Holding You Down (Goin’ In Circles).” This track is the lead-off single for her sophomore CD, Love Me Back, due November 2nd. Produced by Missy Elliot and L.A.M.B., the track has already reached the top 20 on Billboard’s R&B charts. I applaud the continuing success of Ms. Sullivan, however I must address a larger issue. The foundation of the track is the infamous “Impeach the President” drum loop, which has been sampled countless times. I read that almost 1 of 5 hip-hop singles since 1988 have sampled this drum break. To me, this dilutes what is otherwise a good song. Once I heard it, so many songs came to mind: “I Can,” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” “Spread My Wings,” “Around the Way Girl,” and so forth. My point is that producers need to let certain songs go. Please keep in mind, I am NOT condemming sampling as an artform. Done the right way, it is, indeed, art and innovative. Having said that, some samples are either used too many times or are used in a handful of iconic, memorable songs, in which case, listeners identify a sample with one or two songs. So, here’s my personal list of five songs that should be banned from sampling, for the good of music:
1) “Impeach the President” – The Honey Drippers: As I previously stated, it’s been used far too many times. So much so, that it gives the impression that producers and programmers are just being lazy.
2) “Heartbeat” – Taana Gardner: Here’s the rundown: “Buddy” by De La Soul, “Here Comes the Hotstepper,” by Ini Kamoze, “It’s All Good” by DMX, “B.U.D.D.Y.” by Musiq Soulchild. The bassline is excellent, but come on!
3) “Stay With Me” – DeBarge: I only have to mention are two songs: “One More Chance” and “Foolish.” This is a case when a song gets so big, when people hear the original, all they hear are Biggie and Ashanti.
4) “The Funky Drummer” – James Brown. I think Public Enemy only used it enough to get it retired. It’s been used so many times, there are artists who’ve used it more than once (LL Cool J, 5; Public Enemy, 8; Run-DMC, 4; DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, 5)! Maybe not used as often as “Impeach the President” over the past 10 years or so, but this drum break was a foundation of early hip hop.
5) The Message” – Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: Now, this hasn’t been used that much (“Fix” by Blackstreet, “Check Yo Self” by Ice Cube, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” by Puffy come to mind), but this is like when an iconic song gets covered by an inappropriate artist, in an inappropriate way (Imagine if Justin Bieber covered John Lennon’s “Imagine”). Some songs just need to be left alone.
Well, those are my five examples. I know there are many I’m leaving out, but I think I’ve made my point clear. If you’re going to sample, you need to work a little harder. Producers need to start digging the crates a little deeper. Jay-Z’s Blueprint III has a few examples of this, as No I.D. and Kanye West used a Greek rock song for “D.O.A.” I didn’t even know it was a sampled song as a result. It sounded fresh. And if you’re going to use familiar songs, be more imaginative with existing samples. For instance, Rick James is a heavily sampled artist, from “Super Freak,” “All Night Long,”and so on. But producer Jake One used a vocal sample of from “Mary Jane” on Freeway’s “She Makes Me Feel Alright,” fashioning Rick’s long notes into manufactured backing vocals. Or, follow the legendary J. Dilla, who (for this particular explaination) twisted the Jackson 5’s “Dancing Machine” into the musical rubic’s cube that is Q-Tip’s “Move,” rendering it completely unrecognizable in the process. Finally – and I know this is a stretch – write some original material. Q-Tip, Andre 3000 and Organized Noize hardly ever have to depend on samples to create an enduring hip hop record. (See “Ms. Jackson,” “We Fight/We Love,” and “Hey Ya.”)