The art of sampling is a revolutionary one that has helped define hip hop and beyond. It’s provided countless songs with an unexpected second lease of life, making you fall in love with a song that you’d never have heard of otherwise.
Sampling has single-handedly breathed new life into songs from yesteryear, and, in turn, those songs enjoy an Indian summer after being refigured by another artist. For example, ‘Amen Brother’ by The Winstons is the most sampled track of all time, with its six-second drum break being repurposed on a staggering 5,377 different songs. Everyone from NWA to British indie band Oasis have all incorporated the break in their work and made it one of the most familiar sounds in music.
English engineer Harry Chamberlin developed the first sampler back in the ’40s, and the significance of the invention has grown with each decade. Chamberlain’s secret was it contained a keyboard that could trigger a series of tape decks with the capacity to hold eight seconds of recorded sound, sowing the seed for the future of music.
Further development came in 1969 when English engineer Peter Zinovieff masterminded the first digital sampler, the EMS Musys, and nowadays, anybody can sample with technology.
David Bowie is an artist that’s been given the sample treatment more than most, and below we’ve taken a look at five of the finest.
The five best David Bowie samples
El-P – ‘Innocent Leader’
El-P, better known as one half of supergroup, Run The Jewels alongside Killer Mike, is one of hip hop’s most incandescent minds. As well as being more than capable on the mic, production is where he truly comes into his own, and his 2002 track ‘Innocent Leader’ sees him reimagine Bowie’s ‘Soul Love’ with devastating effect.
He uses the track as the bed to plant an instrumental around and transforms the classic into a barely recognisable entity. Following Bowie’s death in 2016, El took to Twitter to write, “Was in a session when the news about Bowie broke. We watched ‘Black Star’. The session was over. No point.”
Public Enemy – ‘Night Of The Living Baseheads’
Public Enemy are masters at the art of sampling and knew how to coax magic out of a grain of existing work, with Bowie’s ‘Fame’ forming the base for their anthem, ‘Night Of The Living Baseheads’.
They speed it up and transform it while keeping the same funky energy that Bowie poured into the original alive. “David Bowie..daring as all hell.- Rock…..punk….theatre…..funk..disco ….EDM-dude wasn’t afraid to wrestle any music or lyric ever,” Chuck D said in 2016.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard – ‘Dirty Run’
The late Wu-Tang Clan founder Ol’ Dirty Bastard is one of the most enigmatic figures that hip hop has ever produced. ODB was another rapper who took inspiration from Bowie and his posthumous album, Osirus sampled ‘Starman’.
The album was released just a handful of months after his death, and the track, ‘Dirty Run’, incorporates the iconic ‘Fame’ guitar while also featuring a Run DMC sample.
J Dilla – ‘Take Notice’
Another pioneering brain that elevated hip hop is J Dilla. He produced records for The Pharcyde, De La Soul, Common, and the late artist had a hand in shaping the sound of hip hop as we know it.
His sample of Bowie’s ‘Soul Love’ on ‘Take Notice’ came just a year after El-P used the same track from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, which shows how easy it is for a domino effect to take place. However, Dilla crafts the song into his mould to such a degree that you’ll struggle to realise it exists.
Jay-Z – ‘Takeover’
Jay-Z is no stranger to sampling luminaries from the world of rock music. After all, he made The Grey Album which interspersed his record, The Black Album with The Beatles’ The White Album, and David Bowie is another artist he’s brought into his world.
The Kanye West-produced ‘Takeover’ which appeared on 2001’s The Blueprint, marks the final appearance of ‘Fame’ in this list, and it’s a lesson in how to sample. Not only does the aforementioned Bowie track feature, but West also squeezes in ‘Five To One’ by The Doors and ‘Sound of da Police’ by KRS-One.