The Story Behind the Sample: Kanye West and a classic Curtis Mayfield tune makes ‘Touch the Sky’ fly
(Credit: Hip Hop Hero)


The Story Behind the Sample: Kanye West and a classic Curtis Mayfield tune makes 'Touch the Sky' fly

Without sampling, so many of our favourite hip hop songs wouldn’t exist, and Curtis Mayfield has been a vital component in so many. Perhaps one of his most vital contributions came when Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco borrowed a track of his for the quite brilliant ‘Touch the Sky’.

The invention of sampling is nothing entirely new, and in fact, it was created by English engineer Harry Chamberlin who developed the first sampler back in the 1940s. As each decade passes, sampling has only become more important, and hip-hop especially has benefited from the tool.

Chamberlain discovered that within a keyboard, he 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 the technology at hand.

Since then, it’s impossible to imagine music without sampling, and thanks to it, Mayfield’s voice has continued to be a gift to audiences long after his passing. But, while artists such as Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar have both taken some of Mayfield’s songs into a new era of music, Kanye’s use is perhaps the one we all think of.

In 2005, Kanye West was the hottest artist on the planet. Not only was he taking hip-hop into new territory with his mercurial approach, but he also made most of his own beats and knew exactly how to maximise the potential of a sample like on ‘Touch The Sky’.

The track, which appeared on Late Registration, included a sample of Mayfield’s 1971 single ‘Move On Up’, and Ye worked his magic to bring it into the 21st Century. It was his collaborator Just Blaze who thought about bringing a healthy portion of Mayfield into the track, and immediately, West was convinced. From that moment, ‘Touch The Sky’ clicked into place, and it was soon completed.

Much like the video would suggest, the track would go on to signify a huge change in Kanye West’s life. It was at this moment that he transcended being a hyped hip hop producer and rapper into being a superstar. His effortlessness in transposing this classic song into a modern hit proved he was a genius.

Watch the iconic video below.