Chance The Rapper's "All Night" will be the cause of many a summer hangover and "Angels" makes me feel like a new man, but truthfully, a song that didn’t even make it onto Coloring Book is my favorite.
That title belongs to “Grown Ass Kid,” an outstanding, Cam O'bi-produced effort featuring Mick Jenkins and Alex Wiley, which has received multiple spins on the daily since it leaked on the eve of the release of Coloring Book. It's bittersweet that the same thing I love about the song—the sample of Roberta Flack’s "If Only for One Night"—is also the reason why it wasn't included on the final draft.
Though “Grown Ass Kid” is the latest example of a song that didn't make it onto an album due to sampling clearance it’s certainly not the first. In light of “Grown Ass Kid” and my conversation with Deborah Mannis-Gardner, one of the premiere sample clearance agents in music, I've been obsessed with sample clearance lately, and that obsession has now turned into me compiling a collection of songs that were forced off albums and into orphanages because someone didn't sign off on the sample.
When Nathan and I were discussing this idea, “Control” was one of the first sample casualties that came to mind.
Considering the political origins of the sampled chant—"¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!" ("The people united will never be defeated")—was written in support of Salvador Allende, a 1970’s Socialist Chilean politician, it's not at all surprising that it was a tough clear for a rapper who once said he had a “hundred inch dick.”
If Sean had been more patient, however, the No I.D.-produced effort could have had a home on Hall Of Fame.
“I wanted it to be a part of the album, but unfortunately weak shit happens all the time. It happened on my first album and this is one of the songs I really made an effort to make good and I wanted to have a snapping ass song, eight-minute song on my album...they was like ‘Yo, basically it came down to you either gonna have to push your shit back to have this song or we gonna try and figure the sample out.’ Or you know I was like ‘Fuck it, I’ll hold it.’ But then I was like I can’t hold this song. It’s something special, so I just dropped it…I knew what it was for the culture of Hip Hop.” - (via HipHopDX)
Sometimes samples are straight up denied (see Prince) but in this instance, it was a matter of timing. It’s interesting, given the significance of the song, and that Sean chose not to wait...maybe this was his out? Releasing "Control" early allowed him to unleash the song without having the best verse on his own album not be his. Regardless, while “Control” is without question one of the most recent, well-known examples of a song not making an album due to a sample, it is far from alone.
Though tens of rappers tried their hand at a "Control" response, it was Big K.R.I.T.'s non-response, “Mt. Olympus,” that really turned heads. I love how K.R.I.T. called the Control beat “an ugly bitch that everybody done fucked raw” and, instead of rapping over it, made his own beat. Unfortunately, the original rendition of “Mt. Olympus” didn’t make Cadillactica—peculiar because it was given a visual treatment—but a Dahi-ized version made for a nice consolation prize. Crazy that the two bookends on the “Control” narrative both didn’t make albums due to the sample clearance snags.
Dahi redid the beat. I couldn’t clear the sample. Ya’ll know how this shit is. I gave it for free, I couldn’t clear that sample though.”- K.R.I.T. (CRWN interview)
Speaking of amazing, acclaimed and landmark songs that failed to find a home on an album, are you familiar with “Cartoon & Cereal?” Kendrick Lamar's major label debut Good Kid M.a.a.D. City is a damn-near flawless body of work, and to think one of the best songs of his career could have also been on it? Damn. The absence of “Cartoon & Cereal” from GKMC is often attributed to the fact that it leaked early, but in an interview with ComplexTDE's co-president Punch said it was due to sample clearance.
“[It didn’t make the album because of] basic sample issues. It’s simple as that. If we were to try and re-do the sample, it would take away the original feeling of it. We didn’t want to risk it. That’s just one of those records. That’s one of those b-sides that’s going to be around and ain’t really attached to nothing. If it wasn’t for [the sample issue], it would’ve been on there.”
On the one hand I wish “C&C” would have made GKMC, but on the other hand, I think the song has done more for Kendrick as a mysterious loosie. Had it appeared on the album, the record would have lost the power of the "What If?" and it certainly wouldn't have made a cameo in the "Alright" video. Very simply, I doubt it would have the reputation, attached with the lore, that it does today. I’m still holding out hope Kendrick has bigger plans for the song, but only time will tell.
Kendrick isn’t the only TDE member to have a song stifled by sample clearance issues. In what would have surely been the greatest trilogy since The Mighty Ducks, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul’s “Druggys Wit Hoes” series (here are part one and two) was cut short when “Part Three” was nowhere to be found on Oxymoron. What makes “Druggys Wit Hoes Part 3” so interesting though is not the fact it was left off the album, but the sinuous saga behind it. Back in March of 2013, almost a year before Oxymoron’s release, Q gave XXL some insigHt into the albums features. Naturally, Soulo’s name came up:
Ab-Soul did his verse already – that’s one [thing] I can tell you, everybody knows that. We’ve got a ‘Druggys Wit Hoes Part 3′ – ‘Druggys Wit Hoes Trois.’ I’ma make one of them [records] forever, as long as I’m rapping.”
In a Reddit AMA in January of 2014, however, Q rapped a different tune. When a fan asked if “Part Trois” was on the album he responded with, “Nope sample smH” and sure enough when Oxymoron dropped it was left off. Later that month, however, Q said it would be released in March, but then, in April, when his Oxymoron tour hit LA, he prefaced a live performance of the song (and the only version we have) by saying, “I don’t think we are ever going to drop it.”
Though the saga pretty much ended there, in October of 2014, Ab-Soul confirmed with GoodFellas Media that there is a CDQ recording and that didn't make the album due to sample issues. He also said it was now up to TDE’s brass to pull the trigger. Maybe it actually isn’t over yet? ScHoolboy does have an album coming out this year and considering TDE has significantly deeper pockets than they did two years ago, maybe they can afford to clear that sample now? Or maybe it isn’t an issue of money, but rather an approval? Or maybe they can't track down the rights holder at all?
The frustrating thing about sample clearance issues is that nobody seems to know, or is willing to confirm, why a sample wasn’t cleared. Regardless of if the collaboration ever sees the light of day, it’s a doozy of a story which shows you just how tumultuous, exhausting, and confusing the world of sample clearances can be.
There are hundreds of thousands of these huge songs that never made the album— J.Cole has a whole EP of 'em that is arguably better than any album he has released—and you're probably pretty bummed out about all these could’ve-should've’s, but stay with me for one more. This one is different, I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard it, but it is just as important as any "Control" sample for what it represents.
The song is Ghostface's “The Watch.” It’s an amazing conceptual track, featuring some vintage Ghostface storytelling where he converses with his personified wrist watch. Though the song appeared on wax alongside “Flowers,” it did not make the final version of 2001's Bulletproof Wallets. In his book, The Wu-Tang Clan and RZA: A Trip through Hip Hop's 36 Chambers, author Alvin Blanco reveals that it was left off because of the Barry White flip, which screams Ghostface, was just too expensive to clear. In 2005, however, the track did see the light of day when it landed on Ghostface’s collaborative album with Trife Da God, Put It On The Line.
Records like “The Watch” are important to highlight because it’s great songs that have been largely lost to history that show how deep and powerful the business of sample clearing is, and how much of an impact it has on damn near every record. As I learned from my conversation with Mannis-Gardner, 20 years ago it was much easier to clear a sample, but as hip-hop has evolved it's been commodified and really changed the art. Now it’s harder for artists to have their final product mirror their true vision, which makes sample clearance one of music's most powerful, but largely unseen forces.
All these songs might have been left off albums but put them together and you'd have an undisputed hip-hop classic.