FEATURE: King of the Crate Diggers: Twelve Awesome, Sample-Rich Records



King of the Crate Diggers

PHOTO CREDIT: @lensinkmitchel  

Twelve Awesome, Sample-Rich Records


ANYONE who knows my work will realise...

IN THIS PHOTO: Beastie Boys/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am a bit obsessed when it comes to sampling in music. I will not go into this now because there is a lot to unpick regarding sampling and how it has changed through the years. I think there is a problem regarding permissions and how hard it is for artists to get clearance. Can we see a sample-packed classic in this decade? I think there is potential to have a few samples in a record but, compare them to the greats, and there is a definite division. I do think that, by restricting access and making it harder to use samples, we are depriving future generations of discovering music that they might not otherwise hear. I think there is a lot of potential to take music to new horizons and rival the best sample-heavy albums ever. Maybe we do need to address samples and whether publishers/labels are too strict giving permission to ambitious artists. This year has already seen one sample-rich album turn thirty: the majestic and epic 3 Feet High and Rising. That is De La Soul’s debut and, later this year, we mark thirty years of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. To mark the brilliance of sample-based records, here are a dozen brilliant albums that every curious mind...

IN THIS PHOTO: Public Enemy/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

NEEDS to own.

ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Spotify


Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - Planet Rock: The Album

Release Date: 1st December, 1986

Labels: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records 01007

Producers: Various

Key Cuts: Looking for the Perfect Beat/Renegades of Funk/Who You Funkin’ With?

Standout Track: Planet Rock


Planet Rock: The Album, a collection of singles that came out four years later, captures Bambaataa's energy and innovation. This is his work with Soulsonic Force, which means his collaborations with James Brown ("Unity") and John Lydon ("World Destruction") are missing, but it's a good collection, the equally interesting "Renegades of Funk" (in remix form) and "Searching for the Perfect Beat" also present. There are also three previously unreleased tracks, which although not quite having the impact of the first half of the record, are much more than filler, and include guest appearances from famed Furious Five rapper Melle Mel on "Who You Funkin' With?" and D.C.'s Trouble Funk, appropriately, on "Go Go Pop." The original 12" version of the title track is enough to make Planet Rock: The Album a worthwhile purchase, but the inclusion of the other material pushes that to necessary” – AllMusic

J Dilla - Donuts


Release Date: 7th February, 2006

Label: Stones Throw

Producer: J Dilla

Key Cuts: People/Artworks/Don’t Cry

Standout Track: Gobstopper


‘Donuts’ is a joy, from start to finish – amazing given the circumstances of its creation, with the vast majority of tracks laid down from Dilla’s hospital bed. It’s entirely instrumental, sampled snatches of vocals aside, and yet feels like a really personal statement, a beyond-satisfying epilogue of sorts coming after the great production work Dilla had put into tracks by The Roots, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, D’Angelo and so many more. Those relationships, between producer and vocalists, helped to shape Dilla’s career – but it’s ‘Donuts’ that caps it, and exploring every one of its details is as magnificent as scaling the tallest peak.

Its legacy is undeniable, too. Listen to a host of producers today and you can hear elements informed by the work of Dilla, from Clams Casino through to Hudson Mohawke. And beats from ‘Donuts’ continue to be sampled for fresh use amongst contemporary rappers: members of Wu-Tang Clan, Drake and Big Pooh have turned to these 31 cuts for still-fresh sounds to contextualise anew. Pitchfork deemed ‘Donuts’ worthy of a 10/10 on its 2013 reissue, while Clash has previously celebrated its brilliance in our Essential 50 of 2009 (here). And we see no reason to not continue our love affair with such a remarkable record” – CLASH

Beck - Odelay

Release Date: 18th June, 1996

Label: DGC

Producers: Beck Hansen/The Dust Brothers/Mario Caldato Jr./Brian Paulson/Tom Rothcock/Rob Schnapf

Key Cuts: Devil’s Haircut/The New Pollution/Sissyneck

Standout Track: Where It’s At


“”I got a stolen wife and a rhinestone life, and some good old boys/I’m writing my will on a three-dollar bill,” he sings in ”Sissyneck,” the finest of his many country-funk inventions. Ultimately, what holds all Beck’s work together is his arch, whacked-out street poetry. Whether reminiscing about a rough-hewn club (”A place we saw, the lights turned low/With the jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow”) or philosophizing about settling down (”I dropped my anchor in the dead of night/Unpacked my suitcase and threw it away”), Beck maintains a perfect balance of hip disaffectedness and depth of feeling. And that’s why he’s no loser, baby” – Entertainment Weekly

Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique

Release Date: 25th July, 1989

Label: Capitol

Producers: Beastie Boys/Dust Brothers/Mario Caltado Jr.

Key Cuts: Hey Ladies/Looking Down the Barrel of the Gun/Shadrach

Standout Track: Shake Your Rump


It’s impossible to hear the vast majority of this album as anything other than a locked-tight group effort, with its overlapping lyrics and shouted three-man one-liners, and it’s maybe best displayed in the classic single “Shadrach.” After years of post-Def Jam limbo and attempts to escape out from under the weight of a fratboy parody that got out of hand, they put together a defiant, iconographic statement of purpose that combined giddy braggadocio with weeded-out soul-searching. It’s the tightest highlight on an album full of them, a quick-volleying, line-swapping 100-yard dash capped off with the most confident possible delivery of the line “They tell us what to do? Hell no!” – Pitchfork

N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton

Release Date: 8th August, 1988

Labels: Ruthless/Priority

Producers: Dr. Dre/DJ Yella/Eazy E

Key Cuts: Fuck the Police/Express Yourself/Quiet on the Set

Standout Track: Straight Outta Compton


Although they were as much a reaction against pop-friendly rap, Straight Outta Compton's insistent claims of reality ring a little hollow today, since it hardly ever depicts consequences. But despite all the romanticized invincibility, the force and detail of Ice Cube's writing makes the exaggerations resonate. Although Cube wrote some of his bandmates' raps, including nearly all of Eazy-E's, each member has a distinct delivery and character, and the energy of their individual personalities puts their generic imitators to shame. But although Straight Outta Compton has its own share of posturing, it still sounds refreshingly uncalculated because of its irreverent, gonzo sense of humor, still unfortunately rare in hardcore rap. There are several undistinguished misfires during the second half, but they aren't nearly enough to detract from the overall magnitude. It's impossible to overstate the enduring impact of Straight Outta Compton; as polarizing as its outlook may be, it remains an essential landmark, one of hip-hop's all-time greatest” – AllMusic

Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Release Date: 28th June, 1988

Labels: Def Jam/Columbia

Producers: Chuck D/Rick Rubin/Hank Shocklee

Key Cuts: Bring the Noise/She Watch Channel Zero?!/Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

Standout Track: Don’t Believe the Hype


The strife that birthed Nation of Millions and Black Planet is mirrored in some of the upheaval of 2014. The business of hip-hop has changed, as free mixtapes have supplanted retail albums as the chief method of kicking off a rap career. Artistic freedom can evaporate at the drop of a gavel. (see: Lord Finesse’s pursuit of Mac Miller for borrowing a beat on a free release.) Hip-hop has again had its political mettle tested by social injustices too systemic to deny. Returning to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet for these just-released reissues is an encouraging reminder of what a hip-hop album can be to the world, a peek back at that one time a rap act pissed square into the mouth of adversity and came away unscathed. Hear the drummer get wicked” – Pitchfork

De La Soul3 Feet High and Rising

Release Date: 3rd March, 1989

Labels: Tommy Boy/Warner Bros.

Producers: Prince Paul/De La Soul

Key Cuts: The Magic Number/Say No Go/Me Myself and I

Standout Track: Buddy


Together, the sampled sounds of the Jarmels, the Blackbyrds, the New Birth, and even white artists like Led Zeppelin, Bob Dorough, and Billy Joel, make a strong case that all of American pop is African-American pop, from which everyone has been borrowing. Sampling—De La Soul sampling Parliament, Obama sampling Lincoln, Melania sampling Michelle—is nothing less than the American pastime, the creative reuse of history amid the tension between erasure and emergence that is central to the struggle for the republic. No one can ever do it as big as De La Soul did” – Pitchfork

The Avalanches Since I Left You

Release Date: 27th November, 2000

Label: Modular

Producers: Robbie Charter/Darren Seltmann

Key Cuts: Flight Tonight/Electricity/Frontier Psychiatrist

Standout Track: Since I Left You


Now it's Australia's turn: the debut of Melbourne sextet the Avalanches is the freshest dance album in years. Despite a painstaking construction process - it's essentially hundreds of samples stitched together, the crackle of ancient records audible throughout - Since I Left You's breakbeat funk sounds deliciously breezy and sunkissed. Tracks come laden with pop hooks, dancefloor nous and a cheery disinterest in borrowing from fashionable sources. Stay Another Season pinches its bassline from Madonna's Holiday, but Close to You is powered by steals from 1980s monstrosities Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Both work perfectly, as does the rest of this glorious, varied album. British producers should take notes” – The Guardian

DJ Shadow Entroducing.....

Release Date: 16th September, 1996

Label: Mo’ Wax

Producer: DJ Shadow

Key Cuts: The Number Song/Mutual Slump/Midnight in a Perfect World

Standout Track: Building Steam with a Grain of Salt


Using hip-hop, not only its rhythms but its cut-and-paste techniques, as a foundation, Shadow created a deep, endlessly intriguing world on Endtroducing....., one where there are no musical genres, only shifting sonic textures and styles. Shadow created the entire album from samples, almost all pulled from obscure, forgotten vinyl, and the effect is that of a hazy, half-familiar dream -- parts of the record sound familiar, yet it's clear that it only suggests music you've heard before, and that the multi-layered samples and genres create something new. And that's one of the keys to the success of Endtroducing.....: it's innovative, but it builds on a solid historical foundation, giving it a rich, multifaceted sound. It's not only a major breakthrough for hip-hop and electronica, but for pop music” – AllMusic

Tricky Maxinquaye


Release Date: 20th February, 1995

Label: 4th & B’way

Producers: Howie B/Kevin Petrie/mark Saunders/Tricky

Key Cuts: Overcome/Ponderosa/Brand New You’re Retro

Standout Track: Black Steel


Other references and samples register subconsciously -- while Isaac Hayes' "Ike's Rap II" flows through "Hell Is Around the Corner" and the Smashing Pumpkins are even referenced in the title of "Pumpkin," Shakespear's Sister and the Chantels slip by, while Michael Jackson's "Bad" thrillingly bleeds into "Expressway to Your Heart" on "Brand New You're Retro." Lyrics flow in and out of consciousness, with lingering, whispered promises suddenly undercut by veiled threats and bursts of violence. Then, there's how music that initially may seem like mood pieces slowly reveal their ingenious structure and arrangement and register as full-blown songs, or how the alternately languid and chaotic rhythms finally compliment each other, turning this into a bracing sonic adventure that gains richness and resonance with each listen. After all, there's so much going on here -- within the production, the songs, the words -- it remains fascinating even after all of its many paths have been explored (which certainly can't be said of the trip-hop that followed, including records by Tricky). And that air of mystery that can be impenetrable upon the first listen certainly is something that keeps Maxinquaye tantalizing after it's become familiar, particularly because, like all good mysteries, there's no getting to the bottom of it, no matter how hard you try” – AllMusic

Eric B. & Rakim Paid in Full


Release Date: 7th July, 1987

Labels: 4th & B’way/Island

Producers: Eric B. & Rakim

Key Cuts: I Ain’t No Joke/I Know You Got Soul/Eric B. Is President

Standout Track: Paid in Full


In one swoop, the 1987 LP Paid in Full ended rap’s status as novelty music, announced hip-hop’s new school and set the stage for its eventual chart dominance. DJ Eric B.’s taste in samples was impeccable — yep, he introduced James Brown loops to hip-hop — and the lithe interplay of beat and bass line on “Eric B. Is President” flaunts his virtuosic gifts for crafting minimal funk. Rapper Rakim’s stern tone and jazzy flow were revolutionary: One of hip-hop’s first Muslim converts, he rhymes with the authority of Malcolm X and an attention to rhythmic complexity that turned MC’ing on its head. Foreshadowing contemporary hip-hop’s money fetish, the title track boasts not only one of pop’s most sampled beats, but this bit of personal-empowerment-via-bling-bling: “Now I learned to earn ’cause I’m righteous/I feel great!” – Blender

A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory


Release Date: 24th September, 1991

Label: Jive

Producers: A Tribe Called Quest/Skeff Anselm

Key Cuts: Excursions/Show Business/Jazz (We’ve Got)

Standout Track: Buggin’ Out


The trio also takes on the rap game with a pair of hard-hitting tracks: "Rap Promoter" and "Show Business," the latter a lyrical soundclash with Q-Tip and Phife plus Brand Nubian's Diamond DLord Jamar, and Sadat X. The woman problem gets investigated as well, on two realistic yet sensitive tracks, "Butter" and "The Infamous Date Rape." The productions behind these tracks aren't quite skeletal, but they're certainly not complex. Instead, Tribe weaves little more than a stand-up bass (sampled or, on one track, jazz luminary Ron Carter) and crisp, live-sounding drum programs with a few deftly placed samples or electric keyboards. It's a tribute to their unerring production sense that, with just those few tools, Tribe produced one of the best hip-hop albums in history, a record that sounds better with each listen. The Low End Theory is an unqualified success, the perfect marriage of intelligent, flowing raps to nuanced, groove-centered productions” – AllMusic