The Rap Legacy Of “Friends And Strangers”

The last couple of weeks have proven to be Hip-Hop Christmas around these here Internets with free projects raining down like dollar bills at your mom’s night job. Two particularly spectacular works were Wale’s More About Nothing and Smoke DZA’s awesomely-named George Kush The Button. While listening to both, I couldn’t help but notice a familiar saxophone riff sampled in each album.

That sample, found on DZA’s “Good Talk” and Wale’s “Friends and Strangers” comes from Ronnie Laws’ song “Friends and Strangers” off his album of the same name. Now, I’m horrible at identifying samples, but Laws’ notes are so distinctive that they become the most distinguishable part of any beat. I was also able to recall the sample because I first heard it on one of my favorite albums from the David D. Backpack Era: Mm..Food. Unlike most songs that have been sampled multiple times, “Friends and Strangers” has gotten pretty decent treatment every time it’s been used. For proof, here’s a brief history of Hip-Hop songs that have sampled the tune.

First, for reference, here’s the actual song:

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The oft-sampled notes don’t come in until around the 30-second mark. The repetition is playful and fun in its simplicity, leading to a falling action that mimics the up-and-down of gaining friends that eventually become strangers. This theme has clearly been a muse for rappers who write over the sample.

MF DOOM – “Deep Fried Frenz” (Produced By MF DOOM) — This was my first encounter with this sample. DOOM lays the samples over boom baps that allow for the accompanying Whodini sample. This is still my favorite song to use the “Friends and Strangers” loop. For those that say DOOM is all non-sequitors, check this song out. Almost every line is a gem to live by: “I found a way to get peace of mind for years and left the hell along/ turn a deaf ear to the cellular phone.” Amen, brother.

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