Sampling in hip hop and rap has been done over and over again, adding a layer of background vocals and richness to the beat. Samples come from a broad range of musical genres: DJ Khaled sampled Maria Maria by Carlos Santana for his hit song Wild Thoughts, and Drake sampled indie singer Snoh Aaelegra for his introspective number Do Not Disturb. But among all the famous rappers within the past two decades, the one that stands out as the most prolific and expert sampler of them all is Kanye West. He drew inspiration mainly from classic RnB hits of the 80s and 90s, and many of his songs, both new and old, are expertly produced with great sampling. Since Kanye actually started out in the music industry as a producer (here’s a list I found of 20 songs you didn’t know Kanye produced), he kept his talent for producing beats even when he went spinning off into his solo career. In the name of Nostalgia Week, here are some old throwback Kanye songs and the original song he created his samples from.
Song Sampled: A House is Not a Home, Luther Vandross
In this song, Kanye not only samples one of Luther Vandross’ top hits from the 80s, but gives him a shoutout in the lyrics as well, “She said she wants some Marvin Gaye, some Luther Vandross/A little Anita will definitely set the party off right.” Kanye’s fourth single on his first album College Dropout was also the first of his to chart at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and for good reason. Kanye’s verses and rhymes, Jamie Foxx’s vocals, and Twista’s verse all blend well together with the beat he made, sample included. The beat and sampling is uplifting, and blends a lot of elements of classic RnB and slow jams. It’s a song that makes you feel good and slightly nostalgic for the old Kanye.
Luther Vandross’ original song was actually a cover of an original by Dionne Warwick. Both versions are highly recommended for you to check out.
Another song inspired by 80s RnB, Kanye samples “Through the Fire” in his hit “Through the Wire”. The two titles are similar, but while Chaka croons about falling in love, Kanye is spitting lines through actual wires in his mouth: he recorded this single after a car accident that left his jaw shattered. In addition to sampling Chaka’s song in this nice single, there are other ties to hip hop legends too: Kanye was treated at the same hospital Biggie died in.
Kanye sampled this classic from the 70s to make a great saxophone beat that compliments his and Lupe’s then-budding style very well. A very underappreciated song, in my opinion, considering the next song on the tracklist outshines all the othersin the album. Regardless, this is a great song in itself, with a great jazzy undertone but a bombastic hip-hop vibe, courtesy of Kanye’s great sampling and producing skills.
This song comes right after “Touch the Sky”, so it’s no wonder the former song is less heard of now. If you listen to “I’ve Got a Woman” you’ll recognize vocals, melodies, and instrumentals that repeat themselves in “Gold Digger”. What’s really great about the song is how Kanye managed to flip the original tone of a Ray Charles classic and turn it into a club banger that to this day is still a rager. I miss the old Kanye.
Song Sampled: Kid Charlemagne, Steely Dan
This album takes a slight departure in Kanye’s producing and sampling. He starts to expand his influences, as seen in this song; he samples rock group Steely Dan with their 1976 hit “Kid Charlemagne”. While not a single, the song was good enough to breach the Billboard Hot 100. With an uplifting beat and an inspiring message, following “Good Morning” on the album, this song helps cement Kanye’s departure from “old-school” hip-hop to create a new flavor of hip hop that inspired many to follow in his lead. With this album, Kanye went head to head with 50 Cent and ultimately beat him. With Kanye now including elements of pop, electronica (EDM was not very popular in 2007), rock and jazz, his fusion of all these different genres while making his beats helped him own the rap game and change the course of hip hop.
Song Sampled: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (Daft Punk)
This is the most commonly known sample by Kanye, with Daft Punk themselves featured in Kanye’s music video (inspired, amazingly, by the 80s anime Akira). Continuing Kanye’s breaking off from the old school style, Kanye incorporates Daft Punk’s funk and techno with his hard hitting beats.
Song Sampled: Ammonia Avenue (The Alan Parsons Project)
The last entry I have on this list was something new I learned while going through Kanye’s old hits. “Heartless” actually contains samples as well, from “Ammonia Avenue” by the Alan Parsons Project. Taking a quick listen to the 80s and 90s band’s song, it’s pretty good, but definitely a very different song than “Heartless.”
“808s and Heartbreak” was controversial, with Kanye singing almost, if not all, his songs, and embracing a melodramatic tone, a quick turn from “Graduation” just a year ago. Not surprising, then, that Ammonia Avenue is very gloomy as well. Kanye utilized the background instrumentals throughout “Ammonia Avenue” for his song, and it goes perfectly with the vibe Kanye creates.
It was great going back through Kanye’s old songs, and listening to the even older songs he sampled. Clearly there were classics that I missed such as “Good Life ft. T Pain” or “All Falls Down ft. Syleena Johnson.” But if I really wanted to discuss every single Kanye song, I’d have to make a March Madness bracket like an insane Twitter fan.