Our post earlier this month about songs that should never be covered again got us thinking about the other great source of musical clichédom — overused samples. Unlike some old-school curmudgeonly types, we have nothing against sampling per se; indeed, the rise of sample-based music has arguably been the most important musical development of the past three decades or so. But here’s the thing — the inherently creative thing about using a sample is how you use it. If you’d been the first person to spot the potential of the Amen break or the synth melody from “Trans-Europe Express,” and the first to use it in an interesting and creative manner, then you’d have deserved all the acclaim that came your way. If, however, you’re the 57835532th producer to use the same “idea,” then there’s a problem. With that in mind, ten samples we’re sick of hearing are after the jump.
George Clinton – “Atomic Dog”
Pretty much all of Parliament/Funkadelic’s output has been sampled to death, but perhaps none so much as George Clinton’s 1982 track “Atomic Dog.” You’ll know it best as the underpinning for Snoop Dogg’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” – Snoop basically lifted the bass line and the entire chorus for his breakthrough solo single – but “Atomic Dog” also turns up in tracks by everyone from Herbie Hancock to Insane Clown Posse. And Ice Cube seems particularly fond of it, having borrowed sections for at least three of his tracks.
Kraftwerk – “Trans Europe Express”
The 20-minute go-to sample treasure trove for anyone who wants to add a little icy electro futurism to their track. The problem is that the very first track to sample this song — namely, Afrika Bambaata’s stone-cold classic “Planet Rock” — absolutely nailed it, lifting the chilly synth melody and setting it to a hip-hop beat to create an unlikely floor filler. It was an inspired and creative piece of sampling in 1982, but the fact that songs like Dr Dre and Jay-Z’s “Under Pressure” are still “paying tribute” by using the same idea nearly 30 years later is kind of depressing.
Fab 5 Freddie – “Change the Beat”
This track was famously sampled by Herbie Hancock’s hugely influential scratch collage “Rockit” in 1983. The problem was that about a million other producers heard “Rockit” and decided that if Hancock was going to be Coke, they wouldn’t mind being Pepsi. The result was a deluge of tracks that aped both “Rockit’s” styling and its scratch-driven re-use of the “Ah, this stuff is really fresh!” line that comes right at the end of this track. Nearly 30 years on, it’s still being used to demonstrate scratching chops, making it the DJing equivalent of grinding out “Smoke on the Water” at the local guitar shop.
Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”
One of the Great Unanswered Questions in music is this one: why do hip-hop producers like ’80s-era solo Phil Collins so much? (And, for that matter, why does anyone with ears like ’80s-era solo Phil Collins at all?) In fairness, the uncharacteristically dramatic “In the Air Tonight” is the one vaguely decent piece of music he was responsible for after leaving Genesis, and it also contains the best example of his trademark gated snare drum sound, which turned up pretty much everywhere in the ’80s — but even so, it’s Phil Collins, people! The man responsible for “Sussudio”! Stop giving him royalties!
Zapp & Roger – “More Bounce to the Ounce”
On a similar note, this strangely cheesy track — built around a squelching beat and Roger Troutman’s use of the eternally corny talk box effect (cf. Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart,” etc) — got sampled to death throughout the late ’80s and 1990s, making it another decidedly lame mainstream song beloved of otherwise menacing hip-hop producers. The fact that it appears in five separate Kriss Kross songs kind of undermines its underground cred, mind you.
Isaac Hayes – “Ike’s Rap II”
It’s one of those weird historical coincidences that both Portishead’s “Glory Box” and Tricky’s “Hell is Round the Corner” lifted the exact same four-bar loop from this relatively obscure Isaac Hayes song, and did so at almost exactly the same time. The two tracks weren’t exactly the same — Portishead also used the bassline from Wallace Collection’s “Daydream,” which Hayes obviously “borrowed” back in the day — but to a casual listener they were identical, and they remain the only two songs to sample “Ike’s Rap II.” That’s probably the way it should stay. You’d be hard-pressed to use this loop in a track without everyone immediately assuming you’d put on your copy of Maxinquaye.
Lyn Collins – “Think (About It)”
Curiously, it’s not really Collins’s voice that’s been overused — it’s the little break at about 1:20 with the drums and James Brown’s grunt in the background. Honestly, the fact that Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock basically made an entire song out of this sample in the late ’80s should have been enough. If we hear anyone else use this sample we’re going to scream.
Yes, all right, you’re a gangsta, we get it. Now get on with the damn song already.
James Brown – “The Funky Drummer”
There’s an argument to be made that the history of hip hop can be traced back to a handful of breakbeat loops: The Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President,” The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache,” Bob James’s “Nautilus,” Melvin Bliss’s “Synthetic Substitution”… and this one. It’s one of the curiosities of the fact that sample-based music has been around for decades now that there are kids growing up today who will have no idea who any of the acts listed here are, and yet have heard their music a bazillion times. In fact, there’s probably only one drum loop that you’ve heard more often than “The Funky Drummer”…
GC Coleman – “Amen, Brother”
You mightn’t know the song, but you know at least six seconds of it. Wait until 1:27 — yep, that’s the Amen Break, as sampled by basically every drum ‘n’ bass producer ever (and hip-hop producer, and rave producer, etc). The fact that a six-second drum loop could form the basis for several musical subcultures is fascinating — there’s a great documentary about it here — but enough, people. Enough.