Drake is by no means a sample-dependent rapper. In fact, he and his right-hand producer, Noah "40" Shebib, are well-known for their signature sound, which is soaked in ambient, moody, and muted tones. When the duo does lean on sample-driven instrumentals, though, their preference has been R&B, particular from the '90s.
Drake's infatuation with employing classic R&B tunes can be traced back to his mixtape days, and notably to “Bria’s Interlude,” a deep cut off his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, which samples Missy Elliot and Ginuwine’s 1997 single “Friendly Skies.” Nine years on, Drake's work has included samples from a lengthy array of old-school R&B stars, including Whitney Houston (“Tuscan Leather”), Mariah Carey (“Emotionless”), Mary J. Blige (“Weston Road Flows”), Jodeci (“How Bout Now”), and Lauryn Hill (“Draft Day” and “Nice For What”).
Drake’s newly released fifth solo album, Scorpion, follows the trend, from the extensive use of Mariah Carey's 1990 smash hit "Emotions" on "Emotionless," to an interpolation of Aaliyah’s 2001 single “More Than a Woman” on "Is There More," to the somber closing of "March 14" with a sample of Boyz II Men’s 1994 interlude “Khalil,” and beyond.
In honor of the many R&B samples peppered throughout Drake’s catalog, here are the 10 best.
10. “Fire & Desire” (2016)
Producer: Noah “40” Shebib
Sample: Brandy “I Dedicate (Part I, II, & III)” (1994)
Brandy's “I Dedicate”—a three-part track buried on her 1994 self-titled debut album—appears on 2016's "Fire & Desire," a standout selection on Drake's fourth solo album, Views. Though the sample is relatively obscure, given the fact that Drake and 40 were, respectively, eight and eleven years old, in 1994, it clearly made an impression on the pair. Here, the sample slows down and then speeds up over the first minute of the track, serving as an unofficial intro for one of Drake’s most underrated 3 a.m. vibes.
9. “Draft Day” (2014)
Producer: Syk Sense, Ducko McFli, The Fam & Boi-1da
Sample: Lauryn Hill “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” (1998)
On April 2, 2014, six months after snatching rap's throne with Nothing Was the Same, Drake dropped “Draft Day.” Unattached to a larger body of work—likely because they couldn't clear the sample—the record served as a formal announcement that the King was returning to the kingdom he’d recently taken control of. Lauryn Hill’s classic “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” single served as the backdrop for one of his most casually arrogant displays of rapping.
8. “How Bout Now” (2014)
Album: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (Bonus Track)
Producer: Boi-1da & Jordan Evans
Sample: Jodeci “My Heart Belongs to U” (1993)
Drake first showcased his adolescent obsession with Jodeci by sampling the ’90s singing group on his appropriately-titled 2013 loosie “Jodeci (Freestyle).” One year later, in the fall of 2014, when anticipation surrounding his then-titled album Views From the 6 was reaching a fever pitch, “How Bout Now” leaked, leaving fans to speculate on if it would be included on the project. Built on a chipmunk sample of “My Heart Belongs to U,” Boi-1da blended the sounds of Take Care and NWTS to produce the pettiest song in Drake’s canon, which eventually found a home on commercial mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late as a physical bonus track.
7. “Weston Road Flows” (2016)
Producer: Stwo & Noah “40” Shebib
Sample: Mary J. Blige “Mary’s Joint” (1994)
The first five tracks on Views evoke an icy vibe, one that finds Drake bitter, bored, and lethargic. The sixth song, “Weston Road Flows,” a touching ode to his native Toronto, is the first sunny moment on the album. The handiwork of 40 and French electronic musician and DJ Stwo, the Mary J. Blige sample ("Mary's Joint") feels more like a feature, drifting in and out over the beat while distilling a nostalgic vibe for Drake to reminisce alongside.
6. “Nice For What” (2018)
Producer: Corey Litwin, Noah “40” Shebib, BlaqNmilD & Murda Beatz
Sample: Lauryn Hill “Ex-Factor” (1998)
If “God’s Plan” reaffirmed Drake’s chart dominance, then “Nice For What” grabbed our hearts and made us forget that his two latest projects (Views, More Life) were bloated and underwhelming. Here, Murda Beatz transforms Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” into an uptempo bop, which Drake uses to create arguably his most infectious single to date.
5. “Legend” (2015)
Album: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Sample: Ginuwine “So Anxious” (1999)
When the world pressed play on the opening track to IYRTITL, fans were expecting another room-shaking intro a la “Tuscan Leather.” Instead, we were treated to the opposite—a distorted, pulsating sample of Ginuwine’s “So Anxious,” paving the way for a stellar singing performance from The Boy. In hindsight, PND’s chop perfectly exemplifies what was to come: a slow but steady, moody project on which hip-hop’s newly-crowned King would come off paranoid yet unflappable, arrogant yet hungry.
4. “Emotionless” (2018)
Producer: The 25th Hr, Noah “40” Shebib & No I.D.
Sample: Mariah Carey “Emotions” (1991)
On the first three tracks on his newly-released album Scorpion, Drake serves up a stage-setting intro, a trunk-rattling banger, and a melodic flex. The fourth song, “Emotionless,” is the first moment of transparency. Gone is the confrontational 6 God, replaced by the man behind the musical mask, Aubrey Graham. Mariah Carey’s angelic vocals give Drake the perfect stage to finally respond to Pusha-T’s accusation that he has been hiding a kid. “Look at the way we live / I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world / I was hidin’ the world from my kid,” he claims. Alongside the heart-wrenching sample, it entire track feels surreal: Drake is, indeed, a father.
3. "Cameras / Good Ones Go Interlude" (2011)
Album: Take Care
Producer: Noah "40" Shebib, Drake
Sample: Jon B "Calling on You" (2001)
“Calling On You,” a then-unknown deep cut from the 2001 album Pleasures U Like by Jon B, an overlooked player in the late ‘90s R&B circuit who is best known for his 1995 duet with Babyface, "Someone to Love," sets the mood for the most underrated song on Take Care, “Cameras.” The weepy, nostalgic sample paves the way for a stereotypical Drake therapy session: he reassures the girl he’s chasing not to worry about the celebrity girlfriend the tabloids are linking him to; in a pre-Instagram world, TMZ was Drake’s biggest enemy.
2. “Tuscan Leather” (2013)
Album: Nothing Was the Same
Producer: Noah “40” Shebib
Sample: Whitney Houston “I Have Nothing” (1992)
In the early ’00s, chipmunk soul became the most popular sound in hip-hop by way of superproducers Bink!, Just Blaze, Kanye West, and The Heatmakerz. A full decade later, 40 resurrected (and perfected) this practice by injecting Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” with steroids, creating what instantly felt like, and in hindsight has become, a career-altering moment for Drake. Houston’s vocals are sped up and then, masterfully, flipped and played in reverse, providing an atmospheric vibe to match the rapper’s braggadocious rhymes.
1. “Look What You’ve Done” (2011)
Album: Take Care
Producer: Chase N. Cashe & Noah "40" Shebib
Sample: Static Major “If You Scared, Say You Scared” (2009)
The best R&B sample in Drake’s discography is built on an obscure YouTube video of the late Static Major playing the piano while signing a previously-unreleased song, which has since become known as “If You Scared, Say You Scared.” Nevertheless, Drake and 40 use the post-'90s creation to create a masterpiece, a touching tribute to the rapper’s mother, grandmother, and uncle. This is the spirit of '90s R&B reincarnated 11 years later.