There is perhaps no link between music genres as demonstrable as the one between 90s hip hop and the world of soul, funk, and jazz. With the eruption of sampling in the early 80s, artist were able to slice and dice elements of existing music in order to craft whole new genres and styles. By re-contexualising elements of soul, funk, jazz, and related drum breaks, hip hop artists of this era had an entire world of musical possibility at their fingertips.
In this article, I will introduce you to some of my all time favourite hip hop instrumentals, and will dissect them in order to find out which original tracks they sampled. I've always been drawn towards the more melodic end of the spectrum in hip hop, rather than the more stripped back, darker elements, and these warmer vintage sounds are almost always a result of sampling old jazz records that provide that soulful, kick-back attitude within a beat. If you recognise some of these tracks, then this article will give you an insight into the origins of their instrumentals, and where their core elements have been lifted from. If these are all new to you, then I hope you come away with a whole of new load of music, with tunes spanning over the last 50 years.
1. 93 'till Infinity- Souls of Mischief
Needing little introduction, this track is an undeniable staple in the world of 90s hiphop. Hailing from Oakland, California, Souls of Mischief were a 4 piece group composed of A-Plus, Opio, Phesto, and Tajai. Their debut album '93 till Infinity has been named amongst the top 100 rap albums of all time by Source magazine, and was their highest charting album to date. Whilst the charisma and complexity of the vocals are next to none, the iconic instrumental of this track has no doubt played an equally significant part in its success. In the words Suzann Vogel of Philadelphia Weekly: 'the genre-altering release possesses one undeniable truth: Reality's never sounded so good.'
Sample: Bill Cobham- Heather (1974)
This track is incredibly versatile when it comes to sampling, and has cropped up in a variety of genres from house (Infinity- Matthias Meyer) to liquid drum and bass (Solitary Native- Alix Perez & Sabre). This dark and atmospheric track is significantly slower that its hip hop incarnation. Billy Cobham, a Panamanian-American jazz drummer who came to prominence in the 60s and 70s, is 'generally acclaimed as fusion's greatest drummer'. Featured on his 1974 album Crosswinds, 'Heather' is an immersive stretch of soft introspective sounds that spans dreamy keys to luscious saxophone licks.
Track: 93 'Till Infinity- Souls of Mischief (1993)
When re-pitched and sped up, Cobham's track provides the perfect balance between the optimistic, implacable energy of the hip hop group, with a more sincere and elusive aura. The 4 bar phase at 4:18 is looped to create the melodic component of the main sections of the instrumental, with the short high key melody at 2:20 used during the hook.
2. Regulate- Royal Flush ft. Mic Geronimo
New York rappers Royal Flush and Mic Geronimo were close musical acquaintances who, on several occasions, came together to collaborate on records. Best known for his 1995 LP The Natural, Mic Geronimo has worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Ja Rule, DMX, the LOX and Puff Daddy, and has since released 4 studio albums.
Sample: Distracted- Al Jarreau (1980)
Soul and jazz singer Al Jarreau was a Wisconsin-based musician who, over his career, received a total of seven Grammy Awards and was nominated for over a dozen more. Known for his smooth masterful vocals, Al Jarreau's versatile and inventive style was iconic throughout the 70 and 80s. 'Distracted' is a track from his 1980 album This Time.
Track: Regulate- Royal Flush ft. Mic Geronimo (1997)
By looping a 2 bar section at 00:31 over the beat, the Royal Flush and Mic Geronimo's hiphop incarnation creates what is potentially my favourite hip hop instrumental of all time, with its warm lounge-y atmosphere and smooth shuffling bass line.
3. The Force - Aim ft Qnc
Aim is a British DJ and producer who specialises in hip hop between and other forms of funky electronic sounds. His 1999 album Cold Water Music consists of an eclectic selection of beats and instrumentals that span from dreamy cinematic interludes to funky driving bops. For some of these tracks, vocalists such as Kate Rogers, Qnc and YZ are featured, one of which being 'The Force' which samples Lyn Kellogg's 'Easy to be Hard.'
Sample: Easy to be Hard- Lynn Kellogg (1968)
Written by Galt MacDermot, James Rado, and Gerome Ragni, this track went on to be covered by Three Dog Night to reach number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. This track from the late 60s was originally written and performed for the musical 'Hair'. It was performed by actress and singer Lynn Kellogg, and the musical itself was an observation of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the late 1960s.
Track: The Force- Aim ft. Qnc (1999)
In order to create the beat for 'The Force', Aim takes the first 2 bars of Kellogg's song, and loops them over a drum pattern, crafting a simple but effective instrumental over which hip hop duo Qnc lay down the vocals.
4. What They Do- The Roots
The Roots are renowned for their jazzy, varied approach to hip-hop. Using live musical instruments, and the group are very highly regarded in their work. The group currently serve as the house band for NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and alongside their own discography, have been know to perform and produce for a variety of other artists. (Check out their track with Eryka Badu: 'You Got Me') Their 1996 track 'What They Do' samples Barry White's 'Your Love'.
Sample: Your Love- So Good I Can Taste It- Barry White (1976)
Soul, funk, and disco legend Barry White was a singer-songwriter, musician, record producer and composer who has achieved 112 gold albums worldwide. In the following track, his distinctive bass-baritone voice and laid-back summery instrumentation fuse to create 12 minutes of pure bliss.
Track: What They Do- The Roots (1996)
As White's track thins out to the gliding keys at 2:24, The Roots spot a perfectly opportunity for a sample. This short section provides the perfect foundation for 'What They Do'; a track that laments against the emphasis upon the financial element of the hip hop industry.
5. I Juswanna Chill- Large Professor
Large Professor started out by making his earliest beats with two turntables and a Casio SK-1 sampler. After joining hip hop group 'Main Source', he then went on to produce for the likes of Eric B. and Rakim, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest and Mobb Deep. 'I Juswanna Chill' was released in 2009. (Checkout out one of his collaborations with Nas: One Plus One).
Sample: Enchanted Lady- Milt Jackson and Ray Brown
Bassist Ray Brown and vibraphonist Milt Jackson were frequent collaborators throughout the 1960s. 'Enchanted Lady' is a slow and steady jazzy number that incorporates sounds from sax, vibraphone, drums, bass and guitar.
Track: I Juswanna Chill- Large Professor (2009)
In order to create the instrumental for 'I Juswanna Chill', Large Professor took the intro section of this jazz track, re pitching and speeding it up. The rise and fall of the soft guitar strums and vibraphone chords in a loop, combined with a repeated saxophone sample that echoes in and out of the mix throughout, merge behind the punchy snare in this iconic and deceptively recent (2009) old school style hip hop track.
6. Masta Ace - Da Grind Feat. Apocalypse
Brooklyn rapper and record producer Masta Ace has been in the industry for almost 30 years. First appearing on 'The Symphony' in 1988, he went on to secure a deal with the then highly acclaimed Cold Chillin' Records.
Sample: How Long Will it Last- Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eager (1972)
Singer-songwriter, producer, and ex politician Jerry Butler is no stranger to the world of American soul, with over 55 Billboard Pop and R&B Chart hits in his solo career. On this record, he teams up with singer, songwriter and musical theatre performer Brenda Lee Eager to create slow soulful number.
Track: Masta Ace - Da Grind Feat. Apocalypse (2004)
By extracting this slow melancholic introduction and re-housing it in the context of 2000s hip hop, what was previously a peaceful and haunting musical passage becomes a high energy hip hop track that details the economic struggles that comes with the profession.
7. Radio- Keith Murray
Hailing from Long Island, New York, Keith Murray is perhaps best known for his role in hip hop trio Def Squad alongside fellow members Redman and Erik Sermon. His complex, multi-syllable rhyming style was first debuted on Erik Sermon first solo album 'No Pressure' in 1993. After the release of his own single of Jive records the following year, Keith put out his first album The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World.
Sample: I Like It- DeBarge (1982)
This sample used in this particular track is from DeBarge's 1982 track 'I Like it'. This family soul band achieved acclaim in the 1980s, and 'I Like it' peaked at number two on the R&B singles chart helping to make their All This Love album go gold. This track is highly regarded as a 'Motown classic' by fans of their label.
Track: Radio- Keith Murray (1998)
The repeated high-pitched vocal sample you hear throughout 'Radio' can be found at 3:35 in the original. However, this is not the only element that is used and whilst it is not a direct sample, 'Radio' adopts the same chord sequence and a slightly modified bass line to create a subtle homage to the original. This instrumental is the epitome of the warm lounge-y sound of the 90s.
8. Electric Relaxation- A Tribe Called Quest
Needing little introduction are A Tribe Called Quest; a New York hip hop group formed in 1985. Consisting of producer Q-Tip, rapper Phife Dawg, DJ and co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and rapper Jarobi White, the group are popularly renowned as being pioneers of alternative hip hop. The political and philosophical content of the group's music is known for paying close attention to social issues, and is delivered with smooth effortlessness. 'Electric Relaxation' is the second single their third album Midnight Marauders.
Sample: Mystic Brew- Ronnie Foster (1972)
Ronnie Foster is a soul- jazz and funk organist and record producer from New York. In the 1970s, his records gained something of a cult following during the rise of acid-jazz, and has performed a side man from a multitude of musicians over the year. 'Mystic Brew' has released in 1972.
Track: Electric Relaxation- Tribe Called Quest (1993)
An indisputably iconic beat to say the least. The guitar chord pattern provides the perfect dreamy melodic backdrop, with the isolated bass line offering a great switch-up for the more stripped back verses. Phife Dawg describes the moment that Q-Tip created this beat in his grandmother's basement:
"I came home from some type of trip and I walked in the kitchen, and you know, he's in the basement and you could hear the music coming up, and all I heard was that. I didn't even say hello to my grandmother or whoever was in the house, I was just like, "Hold on!" and went downstairs. "Yo, what the hell is that?!" He was like, "Yo, that shit is crazy, right?" And it just became what it is now."
9. Give Up The Goods (Just Step)- Mobb Deep ft. Big Noyd
Hardcore east coast hip hop duo Mobb Deep were known for their dark visceral lyrics detailing the struggles of urban life in Queensbridge, New York. With top hits including "Shook Ones, Pt. II", "Survival of the Fittest" and "Hell on Earth", the duo have sold over 3 million records, and left an indelible mark upon hip hop history.
Sample: That's All Right With Me- Esther Phillips (1971)
Much to the contrast of the raw and hard-hitting style of Mobb Deep is Esther Phillips. Following a rise to fame in the 70s, this jazz and blues performer charted for the final time in 1983 with "Turn Me Out', landing her at 85 on the R&B charts. The following track was released in 71 on her album From a Whisper to a Scream.
Track: Give Up The Goods (Just Step)- Mobb Deep ft. Big Noyd (1995)
This instrumental takes the woodwind introduction on Esther's track and trims it down to a loop, creating a 4/4 time signature from a 3/4 original. The snare sample used on this track is potentially my favourite of all time, due to its piercing pop that gives the track such a driving rhythm that's impossible to not bop a head to.
10. Poppa Was a Playa- Nas
Last on the list we have indisputable hip hop heavyweight Nas. His debut album Illmatic is held up as being one of the most influential hip hop albums ever, and was recorded at the staggeringly young age of 20 years old.
Discussing the album, Nas had the following to say:
'When my rap generation started, it was about bringing you inside my apartment. It wasn't about being a rap star; it was about anything other than. I want you to know who I am: what the streets taste like, feel like, smell like. What the cops talk like, walk like, think like. What crackheads do — I wanted you to smell it, feel it. It was important to me that I told the story that way because I thought that it wouldn't be told if I didn't tell it. I thought this was a great point in time in the 1990s in [New York City] that needed to be documented and my life needed to be told.'
Nas continued to release a further 10 studio albums, and 'Poppa Was Playa' was released on a 2002 compilation album 'The Lost Tapes'.
Sample: The Newness is Gone- Eddie Kendricks (1976)
Co-founder of the Motown group The Temptations, Eddie Kendricks was an R&B, soul, and disco singer from Alabama. 'The Newness is Gone' is the second track on his 1976 album Goin' Up In Smoke.
Track: Poppa Was a Playa- Nas (2002)
The instrumental for this track has a slightly more contemporary feel that other tracks on this list, with skippy hi- hat rhythms and more refined and processed-sounding snare. The deeply emotional lyrical content discusses troubling times from his youth stemming from the actions of his father.
I hope you enjoyed this list, and took some tunes away from it. Now that we have all the time in the world, take some time to research into the origins of some of your favourite tracks. You can find all of these tracks in this order in our Spotify playlist .