Sampling: In the best cases, it reworks a musical element in a creative way. In the worst cases, it’s a cheap gimmick meant to garner more streams. A great sample can effortlessly blend with the original content of a track, making for a novel creative work that pushes the boundaries of sonic expectation. A mediocre sample usually comes across as lazy, out of place, or just plain disrespectful to the original artists’ work. 

In this article, Ink’s music writers catalog their favorite instances of sampling in recent musical history, as well as some tracks that missed the mark when incorporating the increasingly popular technique. 

Listen to this article’s companion playlist on Spotify:

“Bando” is an unreleased song by Playboi Carti that samples “Amore Mio Aiutami” by Piero Piccioni. Maybe I’m just biased because I love Piero Piccioni, but this is one of the most successful samples I’ve ever heard. The song seamlessly blended into the song, and the beat and rap flow are a perfect match. Carti’s melancholy lyrics meld perfectly with the track. Overall, it’s an impressive piece that deserves to be heard.

If you ever want to hear “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper but worse, “Pink Friday Girls” by Nicki Minaj is the song for you. This sample is not bad on its own, but it takes up so much of Nicki’s song that it’s basically just a mashup. The sample and the song are fighting for the spotlight, which ruins the overall piece.

-Marian Dress

“Gas Drawls” by MF DOOM is one of the villain’s earliest tracks, and it samples “Black Cow” by Steely Dan. DOOM has always been a very highly regarded producer and rapper, but this sample in particular stands out to me. Not only is he successfully sampling drum breaks and sax solos in “Gas Drawls”, but he’s able to sample the first few lyrics of the song into his own work, and that’s no easy feat.

If you want to hear two songs playing at pretty much the exact same time, while one drowns out the other with obnoxious ad libs and just the perfect amount of bass to compete with the average subwoofer in Richmond, check out “off the wall!” By XXXTENTACION. “Off the Wall!” Samples the slipknot song “Spit It Out,” but instead of doing anything tasteful with the sample (chopping, pitching, etc.) the song just starts playing, then eventually the instrumental is looped. Not only that, but “Spit It Out” itself samples an old song called “Papa Lover” by General Degree, yet the XXXTENTACION song does not include this sample.

-Walker Cosby

“Surround Sound” by JID Featuring 21 Savage and Baby Tate is one of the most memorable tracks on “The Forever Story,” his 2022 album which still remains one of my favorite rap projects of all time. The song samples “One Step Ahead,” an Aretha Franklin record from 1965. Its dreamy nature highlighted by her bright voice doesn’t scream JID’s style, but he transformed it. With a beat that’s impossible to sit still to, and a flow that leaves even the most begrudging rap fans in awe, it manages to pair beautifully with the romantic sounds of Aretha Franklin. Along with 21 Savage’s addicting verse and Baby Tate’s intoxicating bridge, “Surround Sound” is more than a crowd pleaser, it’s perfection.

“High” by Young Thug Featuring Elton John is an absolute mess. It samples “Rocketman,” arguably Elton John’s most iconic song, in a disappointingly tragic way. The song opens jarringly, Rocketman’s distorted, haunting chorus ringing in your ears as you wait entirely too long for the beat to drop, and wonder what went wrong in your day for you to decide that Young Thug and Elton John was a respectable decision to make. Not a single part of it works, and it makes us more aware than ever of clickbaiting in the music industry. Putting two famous artists’ names next to each other on a track doesn’t make a good song, it makes money. 

-Zoya Durrani Javaid

I’m temporarily exposing myself as a closet Radiohead fan to gush about their innovative use of sampling in the song “Idioteque.” The track is from “Kid A,” a record that marked a sharp turn in the band’s sound as they traded guitar driven alt rock for a more eclectic electronic bend. To me, Radiohead’s expert utilization of a four chord synthesizer loop from Paul Lanksy’s 1973 computer piece “Mild und leise” proves that this shift wasn’t a cheap gimmick; it came from a genuine passion for the genre. “Idioteque” pitches down the ambient tones to create a lush yet unsettling backdrop for the phrenetic rhythms and lyrics peppering the track.

Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” soundtracked many of my elementary school bus rides, and for that reason it will always have a place in my heart. In my adult years, it seems a bit strange to me that an artist would so heavily rely on a sample for the hook of their debut single. Imogen Heap’s 2005 song “Hide And Seek” is a haunting vocoder ballad featuring a breakthrough bridge section in which the narrator bitingly pleads with someone to be honest about their intentions. In “Whatcha Say,” this bridge is sanded down, sprinkled with glitter, and turned up to eleven to spare Derulo and his producers the hassle of writing a chorus. The song is a catchy, shiny little ditty, but after hearing “Hide and Seek” I can’t help but see it as a cheap reworking of a more meaningful track.

-Julianne Lane

“Plunderphonics,” like “bling rap” and “post-grunge,” is a genre that glowed brightly and burnt out fast in the early 2000s. The kind of curious genre that describes a production style instead of a uniform sound, artists like The Avalanches and DJ Shadow created lush, heavy soundscapes built entirely from sampling. A late bloomer to the scene who got swept up with the “New Rave/Dance-Punk” movement, The Go! Team’s debut record “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” is a dense amalgam of 80s hip-hop turntablism, funk bass lines, and dance beats. The entire album is a masterclass in how to fuse genres, but specifically “Huddle Formation” eschews a singer entirely, substituting the role with a blend of Black Panther speeches and cheerleader chants. Which is baller.

I hate children’s choirs in rap songs. Every time a rapper samples a children’s choir it’s basically like lighting up a neon sign saying “I’m washed.” “Hard Knock LIfe (Ghetto Anthem)” may not have started the epidemic, but it’s by far the most annoying one to my ears. Sampling Annie’s “It’s a Hard Knock Life” is the kind of idea that The Boondocks would make fun of, and The 45 King decided to do it anyways, and it sucks. I don’t even have the energy to elaborate.

-Mason Rowley

A pioneer for Atlanta trap music, I would have never thought 21 Savage would use a Brazilian music sample. The jaw-dropping track “Redrum, which was released on 21’s new album “American Dream,” was the highlight of this album. I definitely underestimated 21 Savage, especially since it was his third solo album. Since his last albums were so popular I thought, how would he upstage that? We usually get a couple good samples used by rappers every now and then, sometimes not really that impressive. “Serenata do Adeus,” sung by Elza Laranjeira, completely captured the vibe of the whole album. I felt completely transported back in time. The contrast of the sinister beat with the soft violins makes it irresistible not to sway side to side as you listen. Laranjeira’s soothing voice transports you back in time to a 60’s Brazilian movie soundtrack.  “Redrum” definitely kicked off this year with a good start for music sampling. 

The use of samples in songs can definitely make or break the song, while looking back at 2018’s music releases, where songs like “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott, “Nobody” by Mitstki, “God’s Plan” by Drake, and “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. Looking back, I felt like the mainstream music artists were kinda all over the place. With the uprising of alternative genres, there was definitely a struggle with the originality of music in 2018. With a track-record for sampling songs and successfully making hits, it was definitely hard to listen to “Lift Yourself” by Kanye West after six years of hiding the song in the back of my mind. The sample used was “Liberty” by Amnesty, a soul/R&B band. I was left waiting for a chorus, maybe a few bars but unfortunately, all I got was “Poopy-di scoop, Scoop-diddy-whoop.” If this song was made ironically or intentionally, my thought still stands that this was the worst way to use the song Liberty as a sample. I think what made me even more frustrated was the amount of potential he had with this sample.

-Claudia Andrade

Graphics by Lesly Melendez