Years ago now, when "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" first exploded into our collective ears and I was happily (and obsessively) listening to it note by note, I noticed Kanye using a vocal "hey!" sample on "Runaway." I didn't pay much attention, it was only a fraction of a second in an album flooded with samples, but for some reason, it stuck in the recesses of my rap nerd brain.
Since then, "that one time Kanye used that 'hey!' sample" lay dormant in my hip-hop synapses, until I was doing some research and came across Pete Rock's "Skinz." Oh shit! There was that same sample again, except two decades earlier. Suddenly, those dormant synapses went off like a M-80 in a trash can.
How did I not see-hear this before? Duh, Kanye used that sample again on "Clique," and on "New God Flow," which also sampled "Mighty Healthy," which also uses that "hey" sample, and now that I think about it Childish Gambino just used it and so does that old school Lord Finesse joint and AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH.
Suddenly, it was like I had swallowed the red pill. I started seeing all these connections spanning almost the entire history of hip-hop. If that "hey!" sample was being used by the game's top producers 20 years apart, and I could name six or seven recent examples off the top of my head, there was a pretty good chance it had a much deeper history than I could possibly imagine. But tracking down more examples by myself would have been a Herculean task*.
I only had one choice, I had to call in the big guns, I had to call the good folks at WhoSampled. They were kind enough to dig through their database for me, first identifying the sample as coming from James Brown's "Funky President," and then pulling up a crap ton nearly 200 other examples.
The drum break on "Funky President" has already been widely established as one of rap's most popular, but the extent to which "hey!" has also permeated hip-hop is incredible, and I haven't seen written about as much. It has to literally be one of the most used samples in hip-hop history, and Kanye obviously went through a period where we was obsessed with using it.
Kanye Really Likes the "Hey!" Sample
Kanye West "Clique" (:41)
Kanye West "Runaway" (2:12)
Rick Ross "Live Fast, Die Young" (:07 and 47 million other times)
Pusha T "New God Flow" (:19)
Big Sean "Ashley" (:40)
Interestingly, "Ashley" wasn't produced by Kanye, it was crafted by No I.D. Could Kanye have gotten his love for "hey!" from his mentor? It couldn't be a coincidence that Big Sean's a G.O.O.D Music artist and this same sample shows up. Or is it? I'm entering internet conspiracy guy territory here.
But whether it was from No I.D. or not, it seems clear Kanye must have gotten his love for the "hey!" from some of his production heroes, most obviously RZA and Mathematics' work on "Mightly Healthy," which he sampled more broadly for "New God Flow."
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Ghostface Killah "Mighty Healthy" (:24)
And that seems like a great transition into some more old school material, including another one of Kanye's heroes, Pete Rock, who similarly wasn't shy about using the sample repeatedly.
Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth "Anger in the Nation" (:30)
Pete Rock "It's About the Time" (1:44)
And as long as we're digging back into the crates a little bit....
Public Enemy "Black Is Back" (:38)
Gang Starr "Gotta Get Over (Taking Loot)" (1:03)
Naughty by Nature "Hip Hop Hooray" (:13)
Eric B & Rakim "As the Rhyme Goes On" (3:17)
10 Honorable Mentions
You know what's really insane? As far as we're already come, we're still just scratching the surface of the surface when it comes to these samples. For variety's sake, here's ten more from across the years:
Logic - We Get High
Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies
Eric B. & Rakim - As the Rhyme Goes On
Big L - School Days
Pete Rock - It's About That Time
Del the Funky Homosapien - If You Must
Big Daddy Kane - Give It to Me
Talib Kweli - Waitin' for the DJ
Run The Jewles- Get It
10 You Wouldn't Expect
Ok, you get it now, great hip-hop producers love them some "hey!" But the popularity of "Funky President" doesn't stop there. Here's a few more I was surprised to see land on the list (fancy meeting you here, Offspring):
The Offspring - Original Prankster
Everlast - What It's Like
Jamiroquai - God Made Me Funky
Calvin Harris - C.U.B.A
Shaquille O'Neal - Let Me In, Let Me In
Kris Kross - We're in Da House
Childish Gambino - 3005
Black Eyed Peas - Like That
Bell Biv DeVoe - Lovely
DC Talk - Nu Thang
As soon as I wrote it, "conclusion" seemed like the wrong word. Really, I'm just getting started. As is so often the case in something worth really looking at, the closer I looked, the more questions I had. Who was the first producer to use that "hey!"? Is that literally the most used vocal sample of all-time? It would certainly seem like it's in the running. And maybe most intriguingly, who's the woman on "Funky President" who's had her voice sampled so much? Can you imagine how surreal it would be to hear your voice constantly pop up on songs? Who owns the publishing on "Funky President"? Whoever it is, they have to be sitting pretty.
I've got far more questions than answers, so for now I'll just have to be satisfied with having my instincts about the prevalence of that sample confirmed. A gargantuan thank you to WhoSampled for doing the research on this - they put together a crazy talk list of 199 SONGS for us. Go to WhoSampled right now. Just go.
Now if you'll excuse me, the investigation continues...
Nathan S. is the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
* By "Herculean task," I clearly meant "sitting behind a computer for several hours eating kettle chips."