Through the work of JAY-Z and Kanye West, Drake, and Young Thug, among countless others, young, naïve hip-hop fans across the globe have come to learn of the work of legendary artists such as Otis Redding (“Otis”), Lauryn Hill (“Nice For What”), and Elton John (“High”).
It’s through sampling that many essential and important pieces of music have entered, and will continue to enter, the ears of listeners who would have otherwise never heard them. That, my friends, is special.
Rapping over a soul sample is the equivalent of lacing up a pair of sneakers and stepping onto a city court; you better bring your A-game. But this pressure can be a good thing. Sometimes, it brings out the best an emcee has to offer, especially, one who rarely tackles soul beats.
Below are 10 artists who unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, yet expertly, have gone head to head with a soul sample and emerged victorious. We typically rank our lists, but this time around we did away with the numbers. Enjoy.
Rico Nasty, “Relative”
Project: Anger Management
Producer(s): Kenny Beats, Harry Fraud
Sample(s): “Can’t Be Wasting My Time” — Mona Lisa (feat. Lost Boyz)
Rico Nasty’s biggest hit to date is the aggressive, in-your-face (and aptly-titled) banger, “Smack A Bitch.” While the song’s unabashed, energetic performance is exactly what has helped to fuel the 21-year-old’s rise, we can say the same thing about “Relative,” the sixth track on 2019's Anger Management. Over the song’s brief runtime (1:20), Rico uses a biting-yet-reserved delivery, effortlessly flowing over a Harry Fraud and Kenny Beats co-produced beat comprising hard-hitting drums, jazzy backing chords, and a Mona Lisa soul sample. “Relative” features Rico veering from her accustomed approach, but in doing so, she shows her pure MCing ability. Respect.
Juice WRLD, “10 Feet”
Project: Death Race For Love
Producer(s): Camden Bench, Arin Ray
Sample(s): “Who Hurt You?” — Daniel Caesar
Don’t let Juice WRLD’s affinity for crafting lovelorn, melody-driven bangers confuse you; the 20-year-old Chicago native is a natural-born spitter. Tucked away on his latest release, the 22-track Death Race For Love, is “10 Feet,” an under-appreciated deep cut on which Juice, atop a beautiful flip of Daniel Caesar’s “Who Hurt You?” delivers a show-stopping performance. Juice has already found success. Could incorporating more soul help him gain respect and achieve staying power?
Trippie Redd, “Oomps Revenge”
Project: Life’s A Trip
Sample(s): “In Just a Matter of Time” — The Gene Dunlap Band
Trippie Redd knows hip-hop fans like to label him as just another SoundCloud mumble rapper. But here’s the thing: Trippie Redd can spit. On “Oomps Revenge,” off his 2018 debut Life’s A Trip, the Ohio native harnesses the prophetic properties of Gene Dunlap’s “In Just A Matter of Time,” crafting a tribute to his late older brother. Atop drums grainier than the black-and-white movies of generations past are Natalie Griffin’s soothing vocals, which allow the 19-year-old to showcase a soul aged well beyond his years on earth.
Jon Bellion, “Adult Swim”
Project: Glory Sound Prep
Sample(s): “My Purpose” — The Anointed Pace Sisters
Jon Bellion is a pop star on the rise. He’s also a Long Island-raised hip-hop head whose rapping talent has earned him the respect of Roc Marciano, the RZA, and 9th Wonder, among others. On his latest album, Glory Sound Prep, hiding between radio-friendly cuts sits “Adult Swim,” a song inspired by DJ Kay Slay-hosted mixtapes and Dilla beat-tapes. From the playful bars bouncing lightly over the initial drum-kick to the song’s explosive climactic point characterized by his increasingly aggressive delivery to the song’s final installment, featuring an angelic vocal sample from the mouth of Mother Mary, Bellion seamlessly adapts his flow to each of the song’s three instrumentals.
21 Savage, “a lot” feat. J. Cole
Project: i am > i was
Producer(s): DJ Dahi
Sample(s): “I Love You” — East of Underground
The J. Cole-assisted “a lot” perfectly encapsulates the incredible growth, both musical and personal, 21 Savage experienced in between 2017’s Issa Album to 2018’s i am > i was. Here, the rapper dwells on his life before and after success, showing newfound self-reflectiveness and impressive storytelling abilities. The sneeze-inducing dustiness of the East of Underground vocal sample (“I Love You”) is the knife to the Atlanta native’s sonic bread-and-butter—and serves as a shining example of 21’s artistic evolution. The 26-year-old continues to surprise, challenge, and excite listeners.
2 Chainz, “Threat 2 Society”
Project: Rap or Go to the League
Producer(s): 9th Wonder
Sample(s): “So Good to Be Alive” — The Truthettes
2 Chainz opens up his latest album, Rap or Go to the League, with a trio of soulful tracks, sandwiching the exceptional “Threat 2 Society” between the emotionally heavy album-opener and the highly energetic, “Money in the Way.” The radiating warmth of a 9th Wonder-produced Truthettes flip sinks between the therapeutic thudding of the drums and the emotionally charged wailing of guitar riffs, all of which invites Chainz to reflect on past lives lost, his journey from dope-dealer to family man, and his perceived standing as an under-celebrated hip-hop legend.
Vince Staples, “Nate”
Project: Shyne Coldchain II
Producer(s): Scoop Deville
Sample(s): “Malinda” — Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers
Hip-hop fans have grown to expect the unexpected from Vince Staples, especially with his album soundscapes; from the bleak melancholiness of 2015’s Summertime ‘06 to 2017’s experimental, EDM-influenced Big Fish Theory, to 2018’s FM! and its unexpected pivot to modern, West-Coast production. You’d have to go back to Staples’ last official mixtape, 2014’s Shyne Coldchain II, to hear what Vince sounds like when he replaces manipulated synths, intricate drum pockets, and slowed down tempos with more traditional hip-hop production. On project standout, “Nate,” Scoop Deville chops up Bobby Taylor vocals to move in unison with the track’s driving drum loop, providing the then-20-year-old with an irresistible, head-banging pocket wherein he sleekly raps about a childhood shaped by an often incarcerated father.
A$AP Rocky, “Jukebox Joints”
Producer(s): Kanye West
Sample(s): “Much Better Off” - Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, “Doa Untuk Kekasih” - Rasela, “Who Cares” — Tony Aiken & Future 2000
A$AP Rocky is a man of many talents, interests, and passions, but sometimes his talents, interests, and passions overwhelm the listener and result in a half-baked and ambitious-yet-poorly executed final product (cough, cough, TESTING). On “Jukebox Joints,” an enthusiastic, five-and-a-half minute cut from his 2015 debut AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP, Rocky displays his penchant for classic hip-hop braggadocio as he skillfully scales a mountainous Kanye West instrumental, featuring several beat switches and three different samples, with the confidence of a savvy veteran.
GoldLink, “Hip-Hop (Interlude)”
Project: The God Complex
Sample(s): “Call Me” — Ahmad Jamal, “Passin’ Me By” — The Pharcyde
Five years ago, The God Complex introduced the hip-hop world to Maryland rapper GoldLink’s acrobatic, double-time flows and his preference for unorthodox instrumentals. On the appropriately titled “Hip Hop (Interlude),” however, Link leans into his true hip-hop roots. Producer Tek.lun samples Ahmad Jamal’s uptempo piano riffs, pairing them with a drum loop that the NFL would ban for causing too many concussions. Together, these elements create a sonic playground fit for GoldLink’s signature mix of charismatic bars and flexible flows.
Migos, “Made Men”
Project: Culture II
Producer(s): Cassius Jay, Nonstop Da Hitman
Sample(s): “Schweet” — Cornell Wheeler, Jr.
Migos’ Culture II is full of filler but buried within the monster track list is “Made Men,” co-produced by Cassius Jay and Nonstop Da Hitman. Together, the two behind-the-boards creatives provide the three-headed collective with an instrumental smoother than Pharrell’s forehead. Each member’s individual strengths shine across the soulful yet obscure Cornell Wheeler, Jr. sample, providing a great contrast to the group’s usual style; Takeoff’s deep delivery on the hook compliments the beat’s jazzy quality, Quavo’s melodic prowess is clear off the rip when he kick starts his verse interloping Ice Cube, and Offset uses his signature double-time flow while rapping about absurd topics like dressing up his kids in Dior.