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One in a Million: The Greatest Aaliyah Samples

In honor of the late singer-songwriter's birthday, we take an in-depth look at Aaliyah's sample history.

Last Saturday, I awoke in a Makers Mark-induced fog and before I even checked for my wallet or got a glass of water, I turned to music to purify my soul. That perfect song is more refusing and reinvigorating than even some high-quality h2o. The perfect song changes depending on the situation, but they all serve the same soul-lifting purpose. Although I hadn't listened to it or thought about it for a hot minute, Kendrick's "Blow My High" came to mind immediately.

For all of that morning, I truly believe it was "Blow My High" that kept me going. As I sat there, staring at the ceiling, unable to move, my thoughts went from an emphasis on shame and dehydration to "Man this beat is nice" and "I wonder if this is the best Aaliyah sample ever?" it? There's only one way to find out. So today, in honor of Aaliyah's recent birthday, her hangover cure powers and her just being generally the greatest, let's take a long, in-depth look at Aaliyah's sample history.

The Numbers (via WhoSampled):

  • Total number of samples: 182
  • Samples of Aaliyah: 124
  • Samples Used by Aaliyah: 58
  • First Sample: 1995
  • Covers of Aaliyah: 16
  • Most Popular: "Rock The Boat" (sampled 23 times)

The Samples:

First, it only seems right to start with "Blow My High," since it inspired this whole shebangabang.

Man, a million gillion points to Tommy Black for producing this gem. I never in a million years would expect Aaliyah and "Big Pimpin" to fit together so perfectly but he made it work. Now, the obvious sample is the "4 Page Letter" crooning section, but to me what gives this song its groove is how Tommy Black interpolates the beat. He keeps that same bounce of the original, but it has a richer, more gooey feel to it. To me, this is perfect. It's original and unique but manages to still keep the essence of Aaliyah's track. RIP Aaliyah, RIP. 

Tommy Black's flip becomes even more impressive when you listen to Jeremih's "Wake Up / DJ Khaled Speaks," which features a subtle flip of "4 Page Letter" combined with some good old-fashioned DJ Khaled talk-yelling. If you want to die a little bit inside press play, but if not I'll summarize it for you: Pimp C > DJ Khaled.

Still, I much prefer that to this next one on Drizzy's "Messages From You." Now it might be hard to hear since it sounds like it's playing from inside a conch shell, but around the 48-second mark, you can hear it if you listen close.

As horrible as "Messages From You" is, it didn't stop Drake from using Aaliyah again on "Unforgettable." Take a listen to how he spit over Boi-1da and 40's flip of "At Your Best (You Are Love)."

Drake may be the king of Aaliyah flips (he also appeared on Wayne's "Love Me" which features a flip of "Are You That Somebody") in terms of volume, but the quality is weak. I much prefer AZ's "At Your Best" flip. Granted the song overall may not be as good, but sample-wise I think it's a lot more interesting. 

Believe it or not, though, the best flip comes on a Gucci Maine cut. Keep in mind, it sounds like Frank The Tank with a dart in his neck rapping, but in terms of the sample alone, this one takes the cake. There is really something to this slowed-down, leaned-out flip that really does the trick.

Jesus, I had no idea "At Your Best (You Are Love)" had a sample history that runs that deep. I mean, obviously, songs like "4 Page Letter" and I don't know, maybe a little song called "Are You That Somebody," are goldmines. In fact, the latter has been flipped 14 times!

What do all those have in common? They feature the "Are You That Somebody" line. Now, I know it's technically a sample, but I much prefer a sample of, you know, the actual song instead of just a line. Case in point, the way DZA uses the little baby laugh on "JFK."



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If you are a fan of GoldLink than I don't need to tell you that Sango is a genius. If you aren't, allow me to prove it with "Baile Somebody," hands down the best flip of "Are You That Somebody" I've heard.

Now, going into this I thought "Are You That Somebody" would be the most popular song to flip. I was wrong. Though it's without a doubt Aaliyah's most well-known song, it pales in comparison to "Rock The Boat" which has been sampled 26 times! Here are a few standouts:

This biggest surprise in all of this is the fact that Lil B boasts a pretty damn effective "Rock The Boat" flip on his resume.

Man, I had no idea Lil B could pull something like that off! Who the fuck knew that he could actually, you know, sound half-way decent?

Maybe it's something about Aaliyah being just too damn incredible to really capture in a flip. Except for "Blow My High," none of these feel quite right. Truthfully, as much as I love her and 9th, even Rapsody's offering feels just a little bit off. From Gucci to The Weeknd all of this is fascinating, but I'm still missing that "holy shit that's a sample!?!?" feeling I usually get. In fact, in this whole investigation, the only time that really got the rap nerd in me going was "Fucking Problems."

I've heard that song more times than I've eaten Chipotle and never once did I even stop to think about the little "ohhh" sample—now I find out that it's from a rare Aaliyah song?! That's what I'm talking about! That's the shit I needed to find all along! God, I wish I had the ear of a producer so I could know how 40 picked that sample out. Out of all the shit in the world, all the incredible Aaliyah moments to sample, how did he pick this one? How about that, huh? Looks like we are coming full circle; 40 may have goofed up on that first Drake cut, but here he redeems himself totally. That flip always made the song for me. I guess that's just the magic of producing. 

And speaking of flips that make a song, how about a sly little sample of "One In A Million" brought to you by Premo and the good folks at Roc-A-Fella records?

What an incredible beat. It's so...pure. Every time I hear that first flip I fall in love with this beat all over again. It's clear after all those flips, DJ Premier knows his way around a sample. To me, these beats, the ones that are so simple but so undeniable, hit the hardest. There really isn't a feeling that rivals the feeling of a smooth sample enveloping you in its warmth; it's like a Snuggie for your soul. Also, I know it was Jay's song first, but I couldn't very well talk about this beat without mention how Kanye bodied it like a morgue. I guess I should also mention that Cookin' Soul flipped "One In A Million" for Nipsey Hussle, but with all due respect, it's kind of an afterthought after that Premo guy did his thing. Enjoy "A Million." I hear that's what Nipsey's next album will cost....

Fun fact: Iggy rapped over "One In A Million" if you are into that sort of thing. Is it actually... not terrible?

Oh sorry, one more "One In A Million" tidbit. More daring than a sample, doing a straight cover is like hopping over Mr. Mertle's fence and testing the beast; you just don't do it because the repercussions are too severe. Well, If The Jet can do it, so can BJ The Chicago Kid.

Other Notable Samples:

Songs Aaliyah Sampled:

Man. How cool is that?! Outkast sampled "Age Nothing But A Number," which has a sample of "What You Won't Do for Love," which for the record was also sampled on my favorite Tupac song, so it's like Outkast sampled Bobby Caldwell. You know how they say if you sleep with someone you are sleeping with everyone they slept with, it's kind of the same thing with samples. Also, A$AP Ferg? Who woulda thunk it?! It's crazy how deep this shit goes. Looking at the vast array of artists who sampled Ms. Haughton (and the samples she utilized) really speaks to her influence and power. This is going to sound super Hallmarky, but in a way, the art of sampling helps us keep her alive. So long as people are finding new ways to flip her music we will always get to hear Aaliyah in brand new ways.

Sampling is the greatest.

Also:Watch Rahzel's beatbox rendition of "If Your Girl Only Knew."



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