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Story Behind The Sample: The origin of Warren G’s ‘Regulate’

Warren G was one of the integral producers in west coast hip hop and had so many hits to his name. Along with Dr Dre, Warren G was undoubtedly one of the pioneering brains behind G-funk, a sound which relies heavily on sampling old funk records. An age-old practice, sampling has always been a massive part of hip hop and is the starting point from which the genre developed. However, sometimes, you don’t even realise you are listening to a sample until a fellow listener points it out. 

One of Warren G’s most well-known productions is ‘Regulate’ featuring himself and Nate Dogg. However, did you know that it takes the majority of its structure from a track by Michael McDonald? In this article, we’re going to delve deeper and look into the origin of the sample and how it came to be in ‘Regulate’.

‘Regulate’ samples Michael McDonald’s 1982 single ‘I Keep Forgettin’ from his album If That’s What It Takes and is featured on the soundtrack of the film Above The Rim. Furthermore, the music video also features scenes from the movie.

In an interview with Billboard, the rapper and producer (real name Warren Griffin) revealed how he came across the record. According to Griffin, he purchased the vinyl from a dealer outside of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in L.A. and recognised the song immediately, disclosing, “I was like, ‘Wow, this is an incredible record—plus it’s a record my stepmom and my pops used to play,” Warren says. “It brought back feelings for me of living with my parents when we lived in North Long Beach. They used to jam with some good music, man.”

Still within L.A. county, but over a decade prior, in 1982, the sampled song was recorded in Warner Bros. Recording Studio in North Hollywood. Recorded as the lead single for McDonald’s album, the song was highly successful upon release and reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100. 

The most important part of the song, and indeed the most catchy part that is the bass riff, was, in fact, not played by McDonald but by the renowned bassist Louis Johnson. Johnson was considered the best funk bassist in the world during his tenure and was one of the leading session players used for the world’s best-selling album, Thriller, by Michael Jackson.

Although Johnson is credited as the song’s bass player, the song was released under McDonald’s name. In an interview years after the release of ‘Regulate, McDonald recalled that on one occasion, he was recognised and lauded by Griffin for his work, revealing, “The fact that he saw me on the street and recognised me, I thought, was kind of funny. I wouldn’t think of myself as a recording artist that, in his generation, you’d know what I look like.” 

Speaking to Billboard about McDonald, Griffin stated, “I’m a fan. I’m still a fan. I really love his work, man. I think he’s one of the greatest of all time. His voice is incredible.” McDonald was assisted by his sister Maureen McDonald with vocals for ‘I Keep Forgettin’.