Before the Internet, I can imagine that the art of sampling was much more arcane. I wish I could speak from experience in this case, but I am a child of the Digital Age. My venture into hip-hop began well after global interconnectivity was established. We now live in a world where it is nearly impossible to not know the samples behind one’s favorite hip-hop or R&B record. With sites like WhoSampled.com and The-Breaks.com, one can look up a track and immediately find where all the track’s chops came from. This all comes complete with YouTube videos and Spotify links, and the exact time where one can find a sampled portion in an original track.
However, even when information can be shared freely in massive online communities like WhoSampled, there remain a few cuts plucked out of obscurity that still have yet to be explained or found. Here are five such samples:
5. “Down Syndrome,” De La Soul (from Stakes is High)
The drums are from Jeff Beck’s “Come Dancing,” a popular break that has been sampled countless times in hip-hop. The vocal sample is clearly James Brown, from “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing,” which has also been sampled extensively. But where is the piano from? One of the best aspects of the track is the tension between the bass and piano samples (for the music nerds out there, it’s because the piano is playing minor 6th chords, which are already tense, while the bass cycles between the root and the 6th of the chord).
4. “Dynamite,” The Roots (from Things Fall Apart)
I must admit – the inclusion of “Dynamite” in this list is a stretch, because the sample has already been identified. “Dynamite” appeared on The Roots’ classic 1999 album Things Fall Apart, and the beat was cooked up by none other than the late J Dilla. Jay Dee truly dug the main guitar progression out of the crates because the sample is from a 1960s jazz group called Nirvana. It is indeed apparent that Kurt Cobain was not the first to use the Sanskrit term as a band name. However, the Nirvana of the 1960s must have faded into obscurity because there is no information to find on the group. The sample was found on a 2005 Questlove mix called “The Lesson.”
3. “Bring Da Ruckus,” Wu-Tang Clan (from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers))
One can guess that the RZA discovered all this track’s samples in old kung fu flicks– except for the drums. Many of 36 Chambers‘ other kung fu samples have been tracked down. However, “Bring Da Ruckus” and “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” are yet to be explained.
2. “Thieves in the Night,” Black Star (from Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star)
This track is one of my favorites from Mos and Kweli. It is a lyrical masterpiece, delving into a quote from Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” at a depth that Ms. Morrison would surely appreciate. 88-Keys, who produced the track, used a piano sample that remains undiscovered. Judging by the voicings and the touch, it sounds as if it could be Bill Evans.
1. “ALL CAPS,” Madvillain (from Madvillainy)
No list of obscure samples would be complete without a Madlib track. The drum sample has already been identified as “Bumpin’ Bus Stop” by Thunder & Lightning (hip-hop heads may recognize the “Step Up!” vocal sample in this track that Tupac and InI, among many others, made famous). Based on a tip from a Wikipedia article, I tracked down the “car chase” outro sample to an episode of the 70s detective show Ironside, entitled “Up, Down and Even.” Anyone who wants to check it out may find the episode on NBC’s Hulu streaming service.
The confusion in this track lies in the time-shifted piano sample and the horn/string samples that cycle through the beat and provide the backbone for the entire song. My best guess is that these samples were found in other 70s detective and police shows like Ironside.
Words by Cale Hawkins