Modern artists owe so much to classic rock. Some of those influences are obvious — seriously, where would Oasis be without the Beatles? But classic rock has also had a huge influence on hip-hop and R&B, though it’s not always as easy to hear. The influence is most easily heard when artists sample bits of classic rock songs in their own music, creating something that’s both brand new and totally familiar at the same time. Classic rock samples are all over R&B, from Jay-Z to the Beastie Boys. Take a listen to some of the best classic rock samples to be found in contemporary R&B, where the connection between the two genres comes through loud and clear.
1) “Gold Digger,” Kanye West, ft. Jamie Foxx (2005)/”I Got a Woman,” Ray Charles (1954)
If you listened to top 40 radio even a little in 2005, this song will bring back a few memories. Kanye West’s breakout single was one of the biggest hits of the mid 2000s, shooting to number one and breaking the record for the fastest-selling digital download. And I doubt the world would have gone so crazy for it without Ray Charles. “I Got a Woman” gave “Gold Digger” the hook it needed to become the earworm of the decade (admit it, you’re singing it right now). Interestingly, only the middle hook is actually Ray Charles; the intro and outro are sung by Jamie Foxx, who played the iconic musician in the 2004 biopic Ray.
2) “Gone Baby, Don’t be Long,” Erykah Badu (2011)/”Arrow Through Me,” Paul McCartney (1980)
Paul McCartney’s R&B track still sounds fresh 35 years later and goes with Badu’s laid-back vibe like peanut butter and Nutella. The sample track is prominent and easily recognizable, and Badu seamlessly blends the original song’s style with her own — McCartney’s influence is everywhere, even though he never sings a note. The story behind the sample is almost as good as the song itself. Badu only had a day to secure the rights to the McCartney song and still get the track on her album, so she tweeted anyone she could think of to reach him — at his Twitter, at Lenny Kravitz (a friend of daughter Stella McCartney), and at her fans — in an effort to get his approval in time. The activity caught the attention of McCartney’s people and led to a phone call from Macca himself, who approved its use on the spot.
3) “Can’t Forget About You,” Nas, ft. Chrisette Michele (2006)/”Unforgettable,” Nat King Cole (1951)
This is the weirdest one on the list, but also the coolest. Sampling a standard against rap is a bold choice, but it works here. You barely hear “Unforgettable” at first, but once you find the familiar hook, complete with backing vocals, it doesn’t let go. And it veers off into even weirder territory when Chrisette Michelle’s jazz-inspired bridge brings the song to the brink of musical theater.
While Nat King Cole sings about love, Nas reminisces about different kinds of significant moments, like when Michael Jordan retired, or when Mr. T tried wrestling. Unforgettable, indeed.
4) “Sing for the Moment,” Eminem (2007)/”Dream On,” Aerosmith (1973)
Samples are usually just… well, a sample of the song, maybe the bass line or a familiar chorus. But “Sing for the Moment” uses so many full cuts of “Dream On” that it’s practically a duet with Aerosmith. In fact, since it ends with an original guitar solo from Joe Perry, it might as well be. But the song really hits its stride when Aerosmith moves into the background as Eminem raps over one of the most powerful bass lines ever written.
5) “Beautiful Girls,” Sean Kingston (2007)/”Stand by Me,” Ben E. King (1961)
Doesn’t this just make you want to smile? Despite heavy use of autotune and other contemporary production techniques, the doo-wop bass sample from “Stand by Me” gives “Beautiful Girls” a classic, almost timeless, feel. It’s cute and happy, and it wouldn’t be close to the same song without that oh-so-familiar backing beat.