(Credit: Hip Hop Hero)

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The Story Behind The Sample: How Bob James impacted hip hop

Bob James is a legendary keyboardist in the genre of Jazz and, as the founder of renowned band Fourplay, crafted some of the best keyboard jazz melodies and jazz-funk instrumentals of all time. With that being said, it is no surprise that James was taken aback when he found out that he had also had a profound impact on hip hop with his instrumental, ‘Nautilus’, off his 1974 debut solo album One.

With hip hop producers always digging through the crates to find classic music to sample, in 1987, Eric B ran across Bob James’ debut album and stumbled across what turned out to be sampling gold, ‘Nautilus’. In an interview about his album, Bob James, himself admitted that he simply recorded the track as “filler”, not thinking much of it. 

Describing it as “sketchy”, for James, it was simply an amalgamation of ideas and melodies he had created that made a bit of sense but couldn’t act as a single. With a hook from singer Roberta Flack, James knew that his ‘Feel like Making Love’ track was far more compatible with the mainstream, so ‘Nautilus’ was a complete write-off in his eyes. However, Eric B had different plans when he picked up the 12-inch vinyl in 1987.

‘Nautilus’ was relegated to the lowest slot possible and was the last track on the B-Side of James’ debut album, so when made aware that a multitude of hip hop producers had sampled him, James was perplexed as to what had drawn them to sample what he had always considered a throwaway track.  When asked, he suggested it may have been the “atmospheric orchestration” and the fact that the track had a “simple groove that was easy to loop.”

The original track was released in 1974, but its two hip hop counterparts would not be released until 14 years later when Eric B and Rakim released their single ‘Follow The Leader’ followed by Run DMC’s ‘Beats To The Rhyme’. ‘Follow The Leader’ is a melange of different samples and (as well as the Bob James sample) contains samples from ‘Listen to Me’ by funk musician Baby Huey and ‘I Wouldn’t Change a Thing’ by percussionist Coke Escovedo.

Run DMC’s ‘Beats To The Rhyme’ similarly contains a plethora of samples aside from ‘Nautilus’, including ‘Talkin Loud’ & Sayin’ Nothing’ by James Brown as well as ‘It’s My Thing’ by Marva Whitney. However, ‘Nautilus’ is one of the most sampled tracks in hip hop and can be found in over 300 songs.

Listen to all three songs below.