From Dr. Dre to A$AP Rocky, the Sample History of Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out”
Sampling in hip-hop has always been a target for criticism. “It’s become a parasitic culture that glorifies picking over others’ remains, indulging in the sonic equivalent of sloppy seconds, and finishing off in a bukkake over the souls of our great ancestors,” GRAMMY-winning jazz musician Nicholas Payton wrote in 2013.
Speaking as a fan (read: not a jaded music legend or entertainment lawyer), sampling is a beautiful thing that’s opened my ears up to decades-old music that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise heard. “Takeover” introduced me to The Doors, “Through the Wire” put me onto Chaka Khan, and “My Way Home” lead me to the powerful words and sounds of Gil Scott-Heron.
But there’s one artist—specifically, one song—that’s instantly recognizable, irresistibly soothing and has been sampled countless times in hip-hop over the last three decades. I’m talking about Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.”
Taken from his soundtrack to the 1973 blaxploitation film The Mack , starring Richard Pryor and Max Julien, “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” was Hutch’s first solo Billboard hit in a decorated career as one of soul music’s finest writers, producers and voices (before The Mack, Hutch wrote and arranged songs for The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and many more).
While the bulk of the song is Hutch calling for black unity over lush orchestration, it’s the opening dialogue—a debate between The Mack characters Olinga and Goldie about revolution versus capitalism, bucking the system versus infiltrating it—and that gorgeous flute-and-guitar combo that’s been such a sample favorite for everyone from Dr. Dre and 2Pac to Chance The Rapper and A$AP Rocky.
Here’s a complete history of rap songs flipping Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” arguably one of the greatest samples of all time.
The Chosen Ones—“I’m a Star” (1989)
The Chosen Ones was a short-lived group comprised of rapper Lord Shafiyq (best known for “My Mic Is On Fire”) and producer DJ Doc (best known for his work with Eric B. & Rakim, Boogie Down Productions and EPMD, as well as his sampling technique) that spawned just one album, 1989's Enter the Lord, but at least they’ll be remembered as the first group to sample Willie Hutch's “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.” Unlike his future counterparts, however, Doc zeroed in on the song’s harp-laced climax and “work it out!” refrain, using it as the foundation for a celebration of black success.
MC Duke—“Organised Rhyme” (1989)
Another forgotten name from the late ’80s and early ’90s, MC Duke was a rapper from London who somehow dressed more British yet sounded more American than Slick Rick (British DJ Overlord X once clowned him for “looking like a farmer”). “Organised Rhyme” was released in the same year as The Chosen Ones’ “I’m a Star,” only Duke’s song can claim to be the first rap song to borrow the famous opening portion of “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.” Even coming from the other side of the pond, the dialogue set the tone for a powerful black power anthem in the spirit of Public Enemy (fun fact: “Organised Rhyme” also samples the same Jesse Jackson speech that kickstarts “Rebel Without a Pause”).
LL Cool J—“Farmers Blvd. (Our Anthem)” ft. Big Money Grip, Bomb & HIC (1990)
LL Cool J clearly wasn’t the first artist to sample Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” but “Farmers Blvd.” was the first (and certainly not last) song to sample it for no reason whatsoever. Marley Marl borrowed almost exactly the same piece of dialogue as MC Duke’s “Organised Rhyme” did, only Todd Smith and his homies went on to rap about their old Queens stomping ground rather than pushing the pimps and prostitutes out. Although the “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” sample ended within the first few seconds, Marley Marl did turn to another Willie Hutch song—“Mack Man (Got to Get Over)”—for the main beat itself.
Dr. Dre—“Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” ft. RBX, Snoop Dogg & BJ (1992)
Dr. Dre didn’t just piss off residential neighborhoods on The Chronic; on “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat,” Dre flipped this Willie Hutch classic and, in turn, flipped off the song’s positive message. “Hey man, don’t you realize in order for us to make this thing work, we’ve got to get rid of the pimps and the pushas and the prostitutes?” Olinga urges. To which RBX swiftly replies, “N*gga, is you crazy?!” Enter Dr. Dre riding around in a ‘64 looking for a ho. He always was more Goldie than Olinga.
Jazzie Redd—“Misery Loves Company” (1992)
Looking up samples is amazing because it puts you onto all kinds of old music. Looking up songs that use samples is also amazing because it puts you onto all kinds of old rappers you’ve never heard of—like this guy, Jazzie Redd. “Misery Loves Company” was actually the first song to really build a beat around Willie Hutch’s flute and guitar section, speeding it up and looping it over some drums. My man Jazzie didn’t even need the “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” dialogue, though, as he shed his own light on social issues in the hood. These days, Jazzie plies his trade as a radio and television personality.
2Pac—“Definition of a Thug Nigga” (1993)
If any rapper best captures the conflicting attitudes of Goldie and Olinga, it’s ‘Pac. So it’s only right that Warren G laced him with a funky sample of Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” on 1993’s “Definition of a Thug Nigga.” The sample—a tiny section of Hutch’s bassline that almost sounds like it’s stuttering—isn’t immediately obvious (unless, like me, you’ve scoured the pages of whosampled.com), but the way such a subtle sample drives an entire song makes this flip so genius.
R. Kelly—“Back to the Hood of Things” (1993)
R. Kelly’s 12 Play was a massive album that spawned the timeless slow jam known as “Bump n’ Grind,” which is probably the reason your ass is here right now. But when was the last time you delved into the 12 Play deep cuts? I‘m asking because that sure as hell isn’t Kellz rapping on “Back to the Hood of Things.” And whoever it is, why did they think saying, “people call me Campbell because they think I’m suit” was anything but a terrible idea? Anyway, R. Kelly sprinkling a lil’ ’90s gangsta swing on Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” could have been special, but was ultimately forgettable and confusing.
Public Enemy—“Whole Lotta Love Goin on in the Middle of Hell” (1994)
By the time Public Enemy’s fifth album, Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, arrived in 1994, the West Coast’s G-funk sound was hypnotising hip-hop fans while the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and Nas were leading the charge back east. Kickstarting the album by borrowing the dialogue from Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” Chuck D and co. made it perfectly clear they were still fighting the power—even if most rap fans weren’t in the fighting mood anymore.
(Sidebar: Though it never sampled Willie Hutch, Public Enemy released their own song called “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” in 1990).
Brandy—“As Long as You’re Here” (1994)
Solange once suggested that music critics should be measured by their knowledge of Brandy deep cuts. In which case, momma I made it! To the untrained ear, “As Long as You’re Here” might sound like just another delightfully chintzy early ’90s R&B jam, but listen closely and you’ll find Willie Hutch’s guitar work hiding at the bottom of it all.
Ron C—“I Don’t Really Wanna” (1994)
Maybe it’s his Dallas upbringing, but Willie Hutch’s music has always been such perfect sample material for Southern rap. Having relocated to Dallas as a kid himself, it’s no surprise that Ron C—not to be confused with OG Ron C, the DJ and fellow Texas native famous for his “chopped not slopped” mixes—flipped “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” on his 1994 The C Theory album cut, “I Don’t Really Wanna.” He’s not exactly the biggest artist to sample Willie Hutch, but Ron C has an interesting story nevertheless: he was a drug dealer-turned-rapper who signed to Profile Records, the home of Run-D.M.C., but got locked up for drug possession just weeks before his debut album dropped. Ron C might be the original Bobby Shmurda.
Kausion—“Land of the Skanless” (1995)
Much of Ice Cube’s best music was built on samples (“Who’s the Mack,” “It Was a Good Day”), a similar approach taken by his Lench Mob Records signees, Kausion. The short-lived group’s one and only album, South Central Los Skanless, was best know for the Parliament-sampling “What You Wanna Do?,” but the project also contained one of the more sinister flips of “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.” On “Land of the Skanless,” Willie Hutch’s guitar loop was given a dark, chintzy makeover that soundtracked Kausion’s hellish reality.
2Pac—“Secretz of War” ft. Outlawz & Kurupt (1996)
A quick search of “Secretz of War” will most likely lead you to the remix version that was included on the 1999 2Pac and Outlawz album, Still I Rise, but real ones know the original version—built around a loop of Willie Hutch’s guitar melody—is where it’s at. Sure, the production sounds dated as hell in 2017, but as far as unreleased ‘Pac material goes, this one ranks high.
One of the best and most famous flips of “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” Canibus deployed Willie Hutch’s guitar and flute melody as the backdrop to his lecture in “Niggonometry.” As soothing as that loop is, however, Mr. Williams’ class was anything but a breeze: “If you remove every living animal out of the sea / Then wouldn’t the world’s ocean water level decrease? / This means the planet wasn’t three-quarters water.” Tomorrow’s lesson: why the Earth is flat.
Donell Jones—“Think About It (Don’t Call My Crib)” (1999)
Unlike most songs on this list, Donell Jones’ “Think About It (“Don’t Call My Crib)” featured a sample “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” towards the end of the song. It was essentially four-and-a-half minutes of save-a-hoe seduction (“You should know I wanna take you from your misery / So you can be treated like a queen”), before Willie Hutch’s guitar melody soundtracked a hilarious closing skit in which a guy barks on his sidechick for calling his crib. Talk about mixed signals.
Jaheim—“Looking For Love” (2001)
Speaking of R&B stars from the turn of the millennium, Jaheim flipped “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” on his own slow jam two years later. “Looking For Love” leaned heavily on a loop of Willie Hutch’s guitar, which added sincerity to Jaheim’s romantic rhymes. That weird snipped sample of Hutch’s flute, on the other hand, didn’t quite work as well. Not that it hurt Jaheim’s chances, though.
Black Child—“O.G.” (2002)
Like the junkyard dog of Murder Inc., Black Child was best known for his raspy and rugged guest verses on Ja Rule songs like “We Here Now,” “The INC.” and the “Holla Holla” remix. Put him on a song by himself, however, and the results were less memorable. One of the many forgotten tracks from Murder Inc.’s 2002 compilation, Irv Gotti Presents: The Inc., “O.G.” featured a rather uninspired sample of Willie Hutch’s guitar melody that was made even less likeable by that annoying “O.G.” vocal sample. Maybe there’s a reason why Black Child never released a solo album on Murder Inc.
Daz Dillinger—“Boyz N Tha Hood” ft. Nate Dogg (2004)
I couldn’t tell you what album or mixtape this song is from, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was scooped up from the cutting room floor. A Daz Dillinger and Nate Dogg song called “Boyz N Tha Hood” should have been a recipe for an underground West Coast classic, but unfortunately the final dish felt rushed and undercooked. It’s like they turned Willie Hutch's "Brother's Gonna Work It Out" into a G-funk jam and thought, you know what would be a great idea? If we crank this shit up to 160bpm! Everyone loves it when Nate Dogg sings at light speed! Maybe someone sprinkled angel dust in the blunt.
La Chat—“Big Girl Thang” (2004)
Having made her debut on Three 6 Mafia’s Mystic Stylez album, it was only right that La Chat put her spin on a Willie Hutch classic. “Big Girl Thang” found the Queen of Memphis bringing a sister’s perspective to “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” but the cheap, dated production ultimately let it down. “Big Girl Thang” sounded like it came out in 1994, not in 2004.
Lloyd—“Feel So Right” (2004)
After Black Child, Lloyd was the second Murder Inc. artist to flip Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.” On 2004’s “Feel So Right,” producer Wally Morris slowed down the sample to a steamy tempo, but the overly chintzy production left Murder Inc. zero-for-two when it came to sampling Willie Hutch. Maybe they were just better off leaving this classic alone.
Project Pat—“This What Money Do” (2006)
On “What Money Do,” you can literally hear DJ Paul thumbing through Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” fishing for that perfect sample to chop up. He soon lands on the harp-laced climax of Hutch’s original, which gets a crunk makeover complete with a classic motivational speech from DJ Paul. “Money Do” sounds disjointed at first, but by the time Project Pat slides into pocket over the soulful vocal sample, the result is nothing less than hypnotizing (no pun intended).
Hot Rod—“Work It Out” ft. Lloyd Banks (2008)
G-Unit is forever synonymous with 50, Banks, Yayo and Buck, but it’s easy to forget how weird their roster was at one point: Spider Loc, 40 Glocc, Lil Scrappy. Let’s not forget Phoenix rapper Hot Rod, either, whose spectacularly forgettable time on 50’s label included a 2008 collaboration with Lloyd Banks called “Work It Out.” The song was original in the way it sampled Hutch’s vocals, as opposed to his widely-borrowed production. However, the beat that Hot Rod and Banks found themselves rapping over sounded like a leftover from The Hunger For More. Hot Rod left G-Unit in 2010, never to be heard from again.
Wale—“Freedom of Speech” (2012)
“Freedom of Speech,” just one of many underrated loosies in Wale’s catalog, is unique in the way it samples two different sections of “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out.” The song opens with the familiar flute-and-guitar melody and The Mack dialogue, before bursting into life by flipping Willie Hutch’s orchestral beat change. It even samples Willie’s vocals, which serves as the soulful backdrop to Wale’s powerful PSA. Who knows why “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” was left unsampled for four years, but shouts to Wale for bringing it back in style.
Chance The Rapper—“Lost” ft. Noname (2013)
Not only one of the most well-known songs to sample “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out,” Chance’s “Lost” might just be the best. The Nate Fox-produced track leans heavily on Willie Hutch’s mellow flute-and-guitar melody, which captures the yearning for escapism perfectly. While Willie was calling his brothers and sisters into action, however, Chance and Noname want nothing more than to get lost in the endless abyss known as love.
Chief Keef—“Nobody” ft. Kanye West (2014)
Remember that video of Chief Keef in his car playing a new song with Kanye West? Remember how amazing it sounded? And how excited everybody was? Unfortunately, the end result wasn’t quite as spectacular. Maybe it was because the beat just didn’t quite hit as it should have. Or maybe it was the fact that Kanye, in classic Kanye pump fake fashion, didn’t actually have a verse on the song. But at least we can thank Willie Hutch for bringing out two vulnerable, heartfelt verses from the usually cold-blooded Chief Keef.
Ro James—“Permission” (2015)
You know how “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” is such a great sample? Because someone can loop it over some 808s and kicks, and turn it into a hit single. That’s what singer Ro James did in 2015 with “Permission,” which cracked the Billboard R&B charts and racked up over 25 million plays on YouTube. Simple, but effective.
A$AP Rocky—“Put That On My Set” ft. Skepta (2016)
Producer Lil Awree is best known for his work with Juicy J and Project Pat, but you didn’t have to look his name up on discogs.com to know that. Sounding like a vintage Three 6 Mafia flip of Willie Hutch (which they’ve been known to do from time to time), “Put That On My Set” was soaked in dirty Sprite, leaving you so sedated that Hutch’s flute felt like it’s coming from within a dream. The promethazine pace suited A$AP Rocky perfectly, but it also brought out a snarling verse from Skepta, who continued to prove he rap on more than just 140bpm grime beats. From Harlem to Tottenham, Willie Hutch’s “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” is a universal language.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credits: Tumblr