The Story Behind The Sample: Biggie Smalls and The Isley Brothers
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The Story Behind The Sample: Biggie Smalls and The Isley Brothers

The 1990s was a turbulent decade in hip-hop. Not only did it see the horrific East Coast versus West Coast battle between Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, but it also saw the dissipation of many beloved 1980s groups. However, where the was negative, there was also positive, and, for its worth, the ’90s saw a wealth of talent break into the mainstream.

When we’re looking back at hip hop in the 1990s, for the most part, we’re looking at two feuding record labels, Death Row Records on the West Coast and Bad Boy Entertainment on the East Coast. Both companies had their stars, with Pac signed to Death Row and Biggie Smalls to Bad Boy. Respectively, these two artists, with their affiliates, i.e. Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre, Lil Kim and Diddy, were ruling the rap charts and selling unfathomable amounts of records with their feud fuelling sales.

Biggie Smalls, often referred to as The Notorious B.I.G., was the best-selling artist ’90s. His 1994 debut album, Ready To Die, is still considered one of the best hip-hop albums ever made. It spawned multiple hits, and one of those anthems was the legendary ‘Big Poppa’. Released in December 1994, ‘Big Poppa’ peaked at number six on Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum by the RIAA and the BPI the following year. As of 2023, it is six times platinum in the US. However, the track is most loved for its fantastic G-funk-inspired beat.

Produced by Chucky Thompson alongside Diddy, ‘Big Poppa’ heavily samples, ‘Between the Sheets’ by the Isley Brothers. The Ohio-based vocal group have been sampled repeatedly in hip-hop and was the same collective that helped spawn Ice Cube’s 1992 song, ‘It Was A Good Day’.

Recorded in Bearsville Studios, ‘Between The Sheets’ was released in 1983 and was the lead single for their album of the same name. Put out on their T-Neck label, founded in 1964, ‘Between The Sheets’, the song did not chart in the U.S. but landed in the UK Singles chart at number 52. In 1992, the legendary Jazz collective Fourplay covered the track with Chaka Khan acting as lead vocalist.

Other well-known hip-hop songs that sample ‘Between The Sheets’ include, A Tribe Called Quest’s, ‘Bonita Applebum (Hootie Mix)’, Big L’s ‘Fed Up Wit The Bullsh*t’ as well as ‘Ignorant Sh*t’ by Jay-Z plus many more. The lead vocals on the original track were provided by Ronald Isley, and the background vocals by Rudolph Isley, O’Kelly Isley, Jr. and Chris Jasper.

You can listen to the original tune below and ‘Big Poppa’ too.