In the last few months, we’ve seen an unlikely takeover of the music industry by Queen. It’s not hard to understand why – the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody just won actor Rami Malek the Best Actor award at the Oscars. As a result, it seems you can’t open your eyes or ears without seeing or hearing about Queen. The song “Bohemian Rhapsody” recently became the most streamed song of the 20th century, and from commercials playing the music to bookstore stands displaying copies of the DVD and vinyl records, the band really is everywhere these days.
Before Queen’s film-inspired revival, there was an interesting article from last spring asserting that Queen and hip-hop are a match made in heaven. Noting sampling examples from “Ice Ice Baby” to “Hollaback Girl,” with some Eminem and Pusha T in between, the article makes a good point. There are no limits to Queen’s appeal as unlikely as a musical partnership with hip-hop artists may seem.
One can’t help but wonder what other unlikely classic artists could make surprisingly natural fits for hip-hop samples. These are just some we’d pick.
James Brown is such an obvious pick, he doesn’t bear mentioning. And in fact, Sampleface has essentially made note of Brown before in looking at some of the most sampled tracks in music history. JB featured in numerous tracks. Catchy, funky, upbeat, inventive, yet never the same twice, James Brown performed in a way that in retrospect makes it feel as if he was simply leaving breadcrumbs for other artists – hip-hop or otherwise – to pick up.
U2 seems almost antithetical to hip-hop in a lot of ways. But there’s also no denying the unique quality of the band’s never-ending catalogue of hits. And in a way, unique matters more than any specific rhythm, beat, or style. Unique means a song or melody sticks in people’s minds whether or not they like it. And it’s just this kind of melody that can have a strong effect when sampled. Specific songs are difficult to debate because it would depend on a hip-hop artist’s vision. But haunting, catchy songs like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” would be interesting to hear flipped.
Hendrix may have more of an enduring quality than any other guitarist or rock star we’d label as “classic”. All the more remarkable given that he died in his 20s, nearly 50 years ago. He’s still a popular source for soundtrack music and his hits comprise their own video game on the internet. Granted, it’s a casino slot, and casino arcade sites can have well over 1000 games these days, but it’s an achievement to be considered for something so wildly outside his zone. Hip-hop would be no different, and while there aren’t many definitive examples of Hendrix in hip-hop, the guitarist is sampled enough that someone’s going to build a fresh hit out of him at some point.
AC/DC isn’t really an original idea here. LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Eminem are among the big names that have sampled or remixed AC/DC or otherwise remixed. But there’s more material to be had here. Time and time again it’s been proven that heavy guitar riffs can work in hip-hop refrains. Slowed down rock verses can also serve as nice hip-hop interludes. No band is better for either than AC/DC (though Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, and even Aerosmith could work well).
Elton John wouldn’t have come to mind here were it not for the fact that he’s getting a 2019 biopic, in the vein of the aforementioned Bohemian Rhapsody. Frankly, he’s a little bit soft and lyrically-focused for this to seem like a natural idea. However, given that there’ll likely be a renaissance of Sir Elton’s music with the movie coming out, we reckon someone will give it a shot. It’s a boring suggestion, but we’d say the effort ought to start with “Rocket Man.”
(If you’d prefer some more obscure artists to sample, we have an article for that too!)