The Story Behind The Sample: ‘Famous’ by Kanye West
(Credit: Wikimedia)


The Story Behind The Sample: 'Famous' by Kanye West

Although Kanye West is no longer on Instagram, he remains an iconic musician. Despite his wrongdoings, he is widely considered the best hip-hop producer of all time. Having advanced the culture in so many ways, from fashion to sonics, he has undeniably impacted the landscape of hip-hop and continues to be a relevant figure within the scene.

West is an artist, and often, his art shocks people. Whether it’s his creepy music videos or explicit lyrics, his experimentation and daring creativity have landed the Chicago native in trouble over the years. In 2017 for his album The Life Of Pablo, Kanye released a song and music video that shocked the world and sent social media into a frenzy. Entitled ‘Famous’, the track was heavily scrutinised for its controversial lyrics referencing the famed Taylor Swift. At the 2009 VMAs, West interrupted the vocalist’s award acceptance speech, telling the audience Swift did not deserve the accolade for ‘Best Female Music Video’.

After jumping on stage, West snatched the microphone from Swift and declared, “I’m really happy for you, and I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” According to multiple sources and video footage Kanye had been glugging cognac on the red carpet and was intoxicated during the ceremony. However, although West was criticised, it didn’t slow down his career in any significant way, as a year later, he would go on to release the critically acclaimed, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In 2017, West addressed his actions in the song ‘Famous’. Kanye professes during the hook that he made Swift “famous” and even labels her a “b*tch.”

The 2017 track, reignited the ‘Stronger’ rapper’s strange and long-running feud with Taylor Swift and it’s video was extremely contentious. The track’s visuals see life-like wax models of various celebrities lying in a large bed completely naked. The video includes the likes of, Amber Rose, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Taylor Swift and Bill Cosby. the latter highly provocative. For this track, Kanye West made use of the 1982 Sister Nancy dancehall song, ‘Bam Bam,’ which is among one of the most sampled pieces of music in the world. Recorded in 1982 at Channel One Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, ‘Bam Bam’ was produced by the iconic Winston Riley, one of Jamaica’s most prolific reggae producers. The track’s chorus was inspired by a 1966 song of the same name, by The Maytals and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, a renowned ska band. ‘Bam Bam’ also incorporates ‘Stalag 17’ by Ansell Collins.

‘Bam Bam’ was famous in the Caribbean and popular in countries with large Caribbean immigrant communities, such as the UK and the US. In an interview with VIBE magazine, Sister Nancy (real name Ophlin Russell) spoke on the success of her 1982 track revealing, “To be frank and be truth, living in Jamaica, I never heard ‘Bam Bam’ play there. When I migrated here [USA] in 1996, that’s when I realised how big it was! It was a surprise. It was a shock to me!” During the interview, Russell spoke on how she freestyled the original track while in the studio with dancehall legend Yellowman.

Elaborating on the day it was made, Russell unveiled, “It was just an ordinary day. I was at the studio with Yellowman because I was working with Yellowman at the time, and I was at Harry J Studio, and Yellowman did a ‘Bam Bam’, and I had to complete the One, Two album. I had nine tracks laid already and only had one left, but I couldn’t find a song to finish the album. Yellowman did a ‘Bam Bam’ so I called Mr Riley and told him ‘, I have an idea to finish the album!’ He came and took me to Channel One, and I just freestyle!”

You can hear the sample and ‘Famous’ in the videos below.