Hip-hop is one of the world’s most intriguing and compelling genres, and its sampling tradition is one of its most exciting facets. The repurposing of classics from bygone eras to make new hits is a unique way that hip-hop has separated itself from other genres, which compose, write and record tracks from scratch.
Figures such as Kanye West and Dr Dre are considered true innovators for their ability to identify the potential of older songs and apply their genius to create music that becomes just as, or even more classic than, the original. The vision some hip-hop beatmakers have and the ease with which they integrate elements from other compositions into their own is truly astonishing.
Many feel that sampling is a dying art in the digital age, with computers able to emulate every instrument known to man. However, many new artists still practice it. However, there are specific individuals, such as J Dilla and DJ Premier, whose talent will never be matched.
That said, concerning samples, some compositions get sampled more than others, and one specific track has become a staple within hip-hop. It can be heard in rap music from the 1980s and is still used today. Moreover, it has transcended rap and is utilised in genres such as drum and bass, grime, reggaeton and more.
The snippet of audio being referenced comes from a song by a British music collective named The Mohawks entitled ‘The Champ’. Comprised of Alan Hawkshaw, Les Hurdle, Harry Palmer, Hesketh Graham and Sidney Rodgers, the track is the most sampled British song in history.
In an interview with WhoSampled.com, Alan Hawkshaw and Les Hurdle explained its making. Recalling the studio session, Hawkshaw recounted, “It was done in one take, and what that means is although we play together a lot, on different sessions, usually the producers accept third or fourth takes, but sometimes you can get it in one take.”
He continued, “Sometimes, on the second and third take, the oxygen disappears from it, whereas in the first run-through, you’ve got nothing to lose. So you’re all just messing around, so I was just kidding around there. I mean, all that solo stuff [was] no big deal. But that’s the one that was accepted”
The off-the-cuff version of ‘The Champ’ was released in 1968. However, it would grow to become a beast in hip-hop production and has been sampled over 700 times. In an interview with The Guardian, the late Hawkshaw spoke about how he knew nothing about rap music and had to consult his daughter, revealing, “I remember getting an email asking for clearance for a piece. And I rang my daughter asking who ‘Jay Zed’ was.” Who turned out to be, of course, Jay-Z.
The 1968 single has been featured in songs from Snoop Dogg and Slick Rick to Cardi B and Frank Ocean; the list goes on. You can hear the original and its extensive use over the years in the videos below.