Looking back on the past few weeks of derision DJ Khaled received for his Father Of Asahd single, it’s noticeable how much of it centered around his sample of a classic rap song for one of its lead singles. In this case, the single, “Just Us” featuring SZA, used an interpolation of Outkast’s seminal 2000 hit “Ms. Jackson” — in fact, the instrumental for the former is more or less a wholesale lift of the latter. Rap fans, collectively, were steamed — so much so, in fact, that the din even reached the ear of the multi-platinum producer, who used his ubiquitous Snapchat to defend his work in an ill-advised rant that didn’t go over so well.
It’s reminiscent of other, similar instances over the past few years regarding the reuse of classic hip-hop songs for new hits that for some reason, rubs hip-hop heads the wrong way. Recently, rap fans caused an uproar over Juice WRLD’s sample of the Sting hit “Shape Of My Heart” for his breakout single “Lucid Dreams” after the same loop was previously used by Nas on the 1996 It Was Written standout, “The Message.” His new album, Death Race For Love features a sample of “Saudade Vem Correndo” by samba legend Stan Getz — the same cut used to make Pharcyde’s 1995 hit “Runnin’” — and it’s a safe bet, if or when Juice releases “Make Believe” as a single, rap purists will get mad at him all over again.
It’s ironic because, as a whole, hip-hop contains the most samples of any popular genre; it basically invented the practice from scratch. Many of hip-hop’s biggest hits from “Rapper’s Delight” to “T.R.O.Y.” to “Juicy” are simple replays or loops of older, popular hits. The critical backlash against songs like “Just Us” or “Lucid Dreams” for interpolating past generations’ favorites begs the question: Why does a genre built on sampling hate samples so much?
The topic of sampling has entered the public discourse a lot in recent weeks. Besides top-tier rap luminaries like Jay-Z and Kanye West being sued for supposedly uncleared samples, Maryland area rapper Logic went on a social media tirade deriding the practice of having to pay 100 percent of royalties to clear samples, only to have rights-holders veto their use. Incidentally, the beat he was trying to clear was a remake of A Tribe Called Quest’s career-launching 1989 hit, “Can I Kick It?,” which already contained a sample of Lou Reed’s 1972 Transformer classic “Walk On The Wild Side.” Logic’s version was also mocked online by older fans who grew up with the pivotal original.
Going back further, even fan favorite J. Cole caught a wave of backlash over his album Born Sinner, which contained samples mimicking the melodies of both A Tribe Called Quest and Outkast. “Forbidden Fruit” sampled “Mystic Brew” by Ronnie Foster, the same song Tribe sampled for their 1995 hit “Electric Relaxation,” while “Land Of The Snakes” contains a sample of Outkast’s 1999 single “Da Art Of Storytellin.” Both songs were censured on arrival by fans who held the originals in such high regard, that Cole’s use of the songs — even in tribute to the history of hip-hop, which older heads harp on nearly constantly — was considered blasphemy.
While fans seem to take so much umbrage at the perceived trampling of propriety, the artists being sampled or honored don’t seem to mind so much. Outkast, who handcrafted both “Da Art Of Storytellin’” and “Ms. Jackson,” could just as easily have blocked the use of their samples for the newer artists’ updates. Likewise, the members of A Tribe Called Quest have never complained about any of the artists sampling their work or the works that they sampled themselves. Although Sting reportedly made sure to collect the lion’s share of Juice WRLD’s royalties from “Lucid Dreams,” he did call it a “beautiful interpretation” of his own song “Shape Of My Heart,” while Nas, like his fellow rap elder statesmen, has so far declined to comment on the similarities between “Lucid Dreams” and “The Message.”
So, why do so many millennial fans grouse so heavily about youngsters’ reinterpretation of our old favorites? Probably for the same reason their parents harrumphed and dismissed late-’90s hits like Puff Daddy’s “jiggy era” hits “Been Around The World,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” or Will Smith’s “Just The Two Of Us” and “Men In Black.” Hearing a familiar beat with unfamiliar lyrics can be disappointing — many of the tweets berating DJ Khaled’s “Just Us” describe getting hype at the recollection of the old favorite before confusion and disappointment set in. As we get older, we want to be reminded of better times, not our own impending obsolescence. Songs that remix, revamp, and rewrite our old hits remind us more of the latter than the former.
It’s the same reason Hollywood keeps churning out remakes of old movies and franchises, even though critics seem to hate them. Nostalgia is a powerful motivator, moving the needle initially, but once the consumer sees the differences, they usually reject the new-and-improved version for not living up to their memories of the original. It’s why Snoop Dogg’s many remakes of foundational rap hits like “<a title="" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqmYm0xVckg” target=”_blank” title=””>La Di Da Di” and “Vapors” often get overlooked in these discussions. So too do Def Squad’s covers of “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Symphony.” Not only did prior generations dismiss these covers as novelties, but hip-hop’s obsession with the new and the original caused them to be missed by younger fans at the time.
Now, those younger fans are the older heads, watching the rise of a new generation they feel disconnected from. It’s probably natural to want to keep them from changing prior classics, but maybe this is a chance to forge a stronger bond with them over these newfound shared interests. If DJ Khaled’s sample of Outkast’s 20-year-old hit earns Outkast another generation of dedicated fans, then we should be encouraging remakes, not shooting them down.