Digging for diamonds: Five immense tracks that caught the eyes and ears of the sampling masters

The art of sampling: extracting and manipulating elements of recorded material to create new musical arrangements, is a phenomenon that has shaped over thirty years worth of music history. It began with inner city artists, armed with the record collections of their parents and peers, but has since developed into a key element of a rich and varied music production process, drawing from a pool of sounds far beyond the record collection. The roots of sampling lie in the soul, funk and fusion records of the sixties and seventies; the records that budding producers and hip-hop influencers heard at home, on the radio and in the record store. As You Dig? Prepare to celebrate those era-defining records with SAMPLED at Band on the Wall on 15th September, we dip into the archives to explore five key, famously sampled tracks, alongside five tunes that made incredible use of their source material.

The Honey Drippers – Impeach the President (sampled by DJ Premier)

For reasons not unclear, this track has been the subject of renewed interest during the past twelve months. Initial interest however stemmed from it containing one of the finest drum beats of all time. A crisp, funky and warmly distorted looping break, that producers instantly knew could provide the spine for a strong hip-hop instrumental. Rather than drawing a four bar loop from the track, DJ Premier cleverly took two shorter excerpts from either side of the raised hi-hat strike. What that gave him was both a double and single kick drum pattern, and a consistent closed hat groove, differentiating his sample from those that had been used before. Eric B, Jungle Brothers and countless others have used the “Impeachment break” and it takes pride of place atop this list. Hearing Premier and Biggy weave their magic over it, is a pure delight.

Al Green – I Wish You Were Here (sampled by Madlib)

Madlib is known as one of the most creative beatmakers in the world, casting his sample net far and wide. He loves from South American music, jazz and Blaxploitation soundtracks, but is best known as one of the masters of sampling soulful strings. His late nineties Lootpack beat Wanna Test is the perfect example. Following a short intro which samples Leon Thomas’ breathy baritone hum, he cuts into some smooth Al Green strings, the beginning and end of his loop perfectly sliced. The sample is fragmented and sped up, the character of the string playing all that really hints at its origin.

Tarika Blue – Dreamflower (sampled by J Dilla)

J Dilla was renowned for his meticulous nature and remains the favourite producer of many hip-hop fans and artists. He worked with Slum Village prior to joining forces with Erykah Badu and samples the gorgeous, lowkey R&B instrumental Dreamflower for he 2000 smash, Didn’t Cha Know. Few people knew that the track was constructed around samples, prior to hearing the original, which speaks volumes about Dilla’s ability to select and subtly layer source material.

Marvin Gaye – Distant Lover (sampled by Kanye West)

Kanye West treats samples like no other producer. His arrangements can be brash and brutal, beautiful and ugly, but he always manages to do something truly unexpected with the loops he uncovers. The chief loop he cuts from Marvin Gaye’s Distant Lover cycles around Marvin’s falsetto cry, aligning a funky guitar stab with each snare strike. It could’ve sounded so wrong, but sounds so right!

Skull Snaps – It’s A New Day (sampled by Q-Tip)

Like Impeach the President, It’s A New Day contains one of the most distinctive drum sounds of all time. But that wasn’t Q-Tip’s main interest when cutting this track for Mobb Deep. Instead the took the briefest vocal sample “Just step” from midway through the first verse of the original, using it sparingly but allowing it make all the difference. Tip takes from three classic funk cuts on this 1995 production, with tracks by Esther Phillips and If also making their way into the classic track.