There was a new Twigs video this week, and School of Seven Bells’ lovely new LP is streaming on NPR. But if we’re being honest, we spent much of the week absorbed in the latest “album” from Kanye West, The Life of Pablo.
There are plenty of questionable moments on Kanye’s new record, but few of them are related to its production, which is anchored by his impeccable taste and elegant use of sampling. Kanye’s not El-P, chopping up obscure deep cuts beyond recognition — he wants you to know exactly what he’s sampled, and he can afford it. Nor is he Puff Daddy, transparently flipping tacky decades-old pop jams into radio-friendly hip-pop hits — he’d likely consider that to be gauche. Kanye cut his teeth making massaged soul samples into fresh-sounding boom-bap, but with each album, he’s expanded his palate, reaching across genres, styles, and even oceans for inspiration.
The list of credits on The Life of Pablo is long and distinguished, and worth a closer look for the fan interested in sonic threads that tie the record together. With more than two dozen audio sources credited, it’s a fun peek into Kanye’s crate. For this week’s column, we picked five of our favorites: a reggae classic (and veteran sample); a “Hit” from Manchester’s Factory; a Little Louie Vega side project with a cute name; and some elegant funk from a seminal Iranian pop star. But first, some majestic Italian symphonic rock:
Il Rovescio Della Medaglia – “Mi Sono Svegliato E…Ho Chiuso Gli Occhi”
We had never heard of this Italian five piece before Kanye flipped this track from Contaminazione — the band’s best-known LP from 1973 — but its cosmonaut spaghetti western vibe sounds eerily similar to Giorgio Moroder’s end credits from Scarface. Kanye uses the organs for atmospherics on “Famous,” which, despite its lyrical abhorrence, is impressive enough musically to make this list twice.
Sister Nancy – “Bam Bam”
The other “Famous” sample is actually a bit more famous; This classic from dancehall legend Sister Nancy has been sampled several dozen times since the birth of hip-hop. Some of our favorites include Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “The Basement.” When it comes in on “Famous,” the track takes a dramatic turn that’s only jolting the first time you hear it. This is a technique Kanye often wields expertly, on tracks such as the transcendent “Bound 2,” built on a jaw-dropping sample from Ponderosa Twins Plus One. But one need look no further than the end of TLOP track “FML” for evidence…
Section 25 – “Hit”
Section 25 is one of the lesser-known bands to come out out of Manchester’s Factory records — the home of post-punk heroes Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays — but they’re still kicking. “Hit” is from their Martin Hannett-produced 1981 debut LP Always Now, the 45th release on the label. 2:54 into TLOP‘s “FML,” Kanye drops into a scuzzy version of the song’s first verse, and has The Weeknd-bot duet with the manipulated sample to take it on home.
Hardrive – “Deep Inside”
Around the time that Little Louie Vega was running shit in the early 90s Manhattan club scene, he dropped this gem under the name Hardrive. Kanye only lifts the anthemic vocal of “Deep Inside” for his Post Malone/Ty Dolla $ign collaboration “Fade.” The snippet sounds repetitively hypnotic atop the original track’s driving four-on-the-floor beat, and married to the pulsing bassline from Mr. Fingers’ “Mystery of Love” and the reverbed vocal intro to Rare Earth’s “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” it’s nothing less than a stroke of genius.
Googoosh – “Talagh”
If you’ve got any friends or family that spent time in Iran, they’ve probably heard of Googoosh, film and music star of pre-revolution Iran. After 1979, female singers were declared illegal, so she was unable to perform for more than 20 years. Kanye lifted some bars from this jam, “Talagh,” for TLOP‘s “Feedback,” but the original track itself samples “Heaven on Our Minds,” from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s 70s messianic rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Do yourself a favor and Google some Googoosh, you won’t regret it.
Shoutout to Whosampled.com for their completist Youtube playlist of the samples of The Life of Pablo, which you can check out here.