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My Five: Kanye's Best Samples

Joe DelloStritto
Rolling Stone

While everyone recognizes Kanye West as a hip-hop legend, his undeniable skill as a producer often gets pushed under the rug. Kanye got his big break in the early 2000s, when he began producing tracks for artists signed to Roc-A-Fella Records. Never losing his passion for producing, Kanye would go on to self-produce most of his songs as a recording artist. It’s true, Yeezy has always had a knack for flipping old tracks into new hits with clever sampling. Almost every Kanye beat is built from bits and pieces of different songs, to which Kanye pitches down, speeds up the tempo, changes the octave, or whatever he sees fit. Below are my five favorite Kanye West sampled tracks.

5. "All Falls Down" (Sample: "Mystery of Iniquity" - Ms. Lauryn Hill)

If you’re a fan of Kanye, then “All Falls Down” has it’s rightful place in your liked songs. The energetic track would be nothing, though, if Kanye never stripped the chorus from Ms. Lauryn Hill’s "Mystery of Iniquity." By capturing Ms. Lauryn Hill’s soulful vocals, Kanye was able to reimagine her song in a whole new fashion. Using similar guitar rifts and responding to her original lyrics: “When it all, all falls down,” with: “And when it falls down who you gon’ call now,” creates a perfect union of old and new. The thread of Ms. Lauryn Hill’s chorus appears in the background of the verses, and reappears several times in the singalong chorus that tends to spend full days in the head of whoever is listening. Perfectly done, “All Falls Down” comes in at #5.

"All Falls Down":

"Mystery of Iniquity":

4. "Through The Wire" (Sample: "Through the Fire" - Chaka Khan)

On the same album as “All Falls Down,” Kanye raps with his jaw wired shut in “Through The Wire” after a car accident almost left him killed in 2002. The Chicago native takes a sample from Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire,” and reimagines it to reflect his own near-death experience. By speeding the tempo of Chaka Khan’s soulful lyrics, and increasing the vocals’ octave, Kanye chops up the sample and sprinkles it throughout the song - making the lyrics “through the fire,” sound like “through the wire.” The sample is so sweet sounding that Kanye takes the time to depart from rapping to tell the story behind the track, as the sample plays gently in the background. Deservedly so, “Through The Wire” lands at Kanye's 4th best sample.

"Through The Wire":

"Through the Fire":

3. "Otis" (Sample: "Try a Little Tenderness" - Otis Redding)

Jay-Z and Kanye West created a masterpiece with “Otis.” Naming the song “Otis” is a display of respect for Otis Redding, as they sampled his song “Try a Little Tenderness.” Everyone knows how the song begins: with Otis Redding’s gravely vocals leading into a bouncy beat sprinkled with chopped vocal samples as the rappers pass verses back and fourth. Kanye takes a quick piano progression from “Try a Little Tenderness” and loops it a few times over, gaining the exact momentum he needed to execute the reimagined track. An absolute classic from two hip-hop hall-of-famers, Kanye’s “Otis” earns a bronze medal.

"Otis":

"Try a Little Tenderness":

2. "Stronger" (Sample: "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" - Daft Punk)

While the previous three winners consisted of samples from an older era of music, Kanye piggy-backs a modern dance track for his timeless hit, “Stronger.” Daft Punk released “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” in 2001, sampling from funk musician Edwin Birdsong’s “Cola Bottle Baby” in 1979. Kanye then released “Stronger” in 2007, using the electronic vocals from thes econd half of Daft Punks’ version, creating an all-together unique beat that will go down in history forever. Not only is “Stronger” a display of Kanye’s producing prowess, but it’s a beautiful example of how music is infinitely recyclable, with artists constantly finding ways to reconceptualize older creations. To this day, “Stronger” is Kanye’s most popular song on Spotify, nearing 1 billion streams.

"Stronger":

"Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger":

1. "Gold Digger" (Sample: "I’ve Got a Woman" - Ray Charles)

Kanye pays homage to the great Ray Charles in his timeless track “Gold Digger,” a sample which (in my humble opinion) comes in at the top spot. In Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman,” the soul singer croons, “I’ve got a woman, way over town, she’s good to me.” If you’re a fan of Kanye, you know that he flips the last line into: “That digs on me.” Ironically, Ray Charles sings about a woman who cares for him and will give him money when he’s in need, while Kanye takes this concept and turns it on it’s back, rapping about money-hungry women. He uses this vocal thread throughout the entirety of the beat, perfectly matching the energetic and groovy vibe of “Gold Digger.” Arguably one of Kanye’s best songs, it would be nothing without the beautiful sample of Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman.” Thus, it gets the gold medal.

"Gold Digger":

"I’ve Got a Woman":

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