These days, music nostalgia is showing up in more ways than one. As recording stars like Lady Gaga have older songs finding success in the present day, others like Gwen Stefani are considering reuniting with her former bandmates after years of being on a hiatus. But, between the sheer force that is TikTok sounds and the professional pressures recording artists feel to obtain commercial success, when monitoring the Billboard Hot 100 charts, it is hard not to come across a few dozen songs that aren’t flooded with easily recognizable samples.
Many music purists argue that sampling is a creative cop-out, but when intentionally done, sampling is one of the easiest ways to reintroduce legacy acts into music’s forever-changing ecosystem. For some artists (or their estates), it can prove lucrative.
The world of music theory and overall music production is vast, so a few terms need to be defined to add context to this list. “Sample” as a term is often thrown around loosely, but to clarify in terms of this list: Generally put, there are two things people mean when they use the term. A true “sample” is using part of an original recording, whether it’s clipped, slowed, sped up, or played in reverse. Meanwhile, interpolation is the reproduction of an element of the original recording, such as quoting lyrics or having musicians replay melodic elements of the underlying instrumental. For a breakdown, check out Uproxx’s interview with Naima Cochrane.
With tens of thousands of songs to choose from, the songs selected for this list adhered to a strict set of qualifying factors. First, all samples that appear on the songs listed below must be billed to a Black recording artist’s discography (across the diaspora). Next, the newer song, which includes the older sample, must have been released in the last 20 years (2003 and beyond). Next, cover songs were not considered. Finally, the songs on this list were screened for quality control metrics, including the creative way the sample was used, how prominent the featured sample is integrated into the newer song, and the overall quality of the newer song. These samples were verified by WhoSampled.com’s online database.
So, without further ado, here are the best uses of samples (over the last 20 years) in alphabetical order according to the artist.
50 Cent – “21 Questions” feat. Nate Dogg
Before 50 Cent (real name Curtis Jackson) became a dominant force behind some of today’s popular television programming, he ran the rap music charts. His debut studio album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is considered by many rap critics to be one of the most impactful hip-hop debut projects of all time. Jackson is no stranger to sampling or being sampled, but his song “21 Questions” stands head and shoulders above all others. On “21 Questions,” Jackson’s use of the instrumentation of Barry White’s 1978 song “It’s Only Love Doing Its Thing” is thoroughly blended across the song, serving as the ideal backdrop to the gangster love song.
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – “Look Back At It”
Bronx rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie is one of the leaders of New York’s music scene within the new school. A Boogie acknowledges his heightened status by lending his platform to his home state’s rising acts, including Lola Brooke. The rapper has a string of popular songs, including “Drowning” and “Jungle,” but none stand out quite like “Look Back At It.” What makes the song so irresistible? Michael Jackson. Both Michael Jackson’s 1991 song “Remember The Time” and 2001’s “You Rock My World” were sampled in this track.
Beyoncé – “Naughty Girl”
Beyoncé, affectionately referred to by super fans as Queen Bey, is a music veteran (as she reminds us in the lyric, “since 15 in my stilettos, been struttin’ in this game” heard on “Diva”). The Houston native serves as an inspiration to many of today’s musicians. However, as seen on her latest album, Renaissance, she also finds inspiration in other musicians. In “Summer Renaissance,” she samples Donna Summer’s 1977 song “I Feel Love,” but this wasn’t the first time the Ivy Park boss pulled in music for Summer.
On her debut solo album, Dangerously In Love, she also sampled the late pop superstar on the single “Naughty Girl.” The sensual song pulls from Summer’s 1975 song “Love to Love You Baby,” a masterclass on how to reuse and remix a wildly popular song while respecting the original artist’s work. Honorable mention to Beyoncé’s song “Church Girl,” which samples The Clark Sisters’ 1981 song “The Center of Thy Will.”
Burna Boy – “Last Last”
Last year, international acts dominated the American music market. One of those acts near the front of the pack was none other than Burna Boy. The self-proclaimed African Giant has a strong hold on the West African music space as a native of Nigeria. The musician did see success in countries outside of the continent, but with the release of his single, “Last Last,” his international fame was cemented. The song samples Toni Braxton’s 200o song “He Wasn’t Man Enough.” With just a few vocal adlibs from Toni and under 30 seconds of Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins’ original production, Burna and his frequent collaborator Chopstix reimagined the beloved R&B track with a fresh Afrobeat perspective.
Cardi B – “Bickenhead”
On her debut album Invasion Of Privacy, Cardi brings in quite of few iconic samples. Her strongest display of sampling is heard on the smash single “I Like It,” featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin. However, because the sample used is Pete Rodríguez’s 1966 song “I Like It Like That (A Mi Me Gusta Asi),” it won’t make this list as Rodríguez does not identify as Afro-Latino. But her song “Bickenhead,” also on the album, is certainly a close second. The song samples Oscar Award-winning rapper Project Pat (of Three 6 Mafia). Pat’s 2001 song “Chickenhead” featuring La Chat served as the inspiration behind Cardi B’s track.
Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
A prime example of Donald Glover’s (also professionally known as Childish Gambino) homage to past artists is his 2016 song “Redbone.” The song has been featured in nearly every industry adjunct to music, including television, film, and video games. But what do you expect when funk legend Bootsy Collins is involved? The track interpolates elements of the 1976 song “I’d Rather Be With You” by Bootsy’s Rubber Band.
Chris Brown – “She Ain’t You”
On “She Ain’t You,” Chris Brown walked a creative tightrope, showing love to Michael Jackson, one of his biggest inspirations, while making the track his own. The song samples SWV’s 1992 song “Right Here (Human Nature Remix),” which is also a sample of Michael Jackson’s 1982 song “Human Nature.” While the harmonies and instrumentation remained the same, Brown took the right creative liberties to make it his own.
City Girls – “Twerk” feat. Cardi B
Quality Control’s dynamic duo City Girls entered the rap scene like a bull in a china shop, wrecking sh*t. Thanks to some brilliant music choices, the group has carved a lane for themselves. As proud Liberty City representatives, they’ve paid homage to Florida greats like Luke and Trina in their music. But their strongest sample to date is undisputedly heard in their song, “Twerk,” featuring Cardi B. Pulling in samples from both James Brown’s 1976 song “Get Up Offa That Thing” and Choppa’s 2003 song “Choppa Style,” no dance floor has been safe since its release. Their 2018 song “Take Yo Man,” which samples Salt-N-Pepa’s 1986 song “I’ll Take Your Man,” and Jacki-O’s 2004 song “Fine,” deserves an honorable mention.
Coi Leray – “Players”
Coi’s latest single, “Players,” highlights her knowledge of hip-hop’s roots. The track samples Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s 1982 song “The Message.” With assistance from TikTok’s flourishing mashup culture, Coi’s song has gained a life of its own. The strongest of those remixes comes from DJ Smallz 732. DJ Smallz 732’s Jersey club mashup showcases just how tapped in Coi is, as she quickly embraced the TikTok, going back to her home state to film an accompanying music video.
Drake – “Nice For What”
Drake is the king of embracing new artists and sounds. So much so, that critics consider his acceptance of every new trend serves as a detriment. But when it works, it works. Drizzy pulls inspiration from all around the globe into his music, but his best use of a sample to this day features American recording artists. Lauryn Hill’s 1998 song “Ex-Factor” serves as the sample foundation for Drake’s “Nice For What,” while the Big Tymers’ 2000 song “Get Your Roll On” is the cherry on top.
Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, and Amorphous – “Sunshine (The Light)”
Before he found a passion for media commentating or ever thought to write a book, Fat Joe was one of the Bronx’s biggest rappers. Over his decorated career, the Terror Squad head honcho had the pick of the liter when it came to guest features. However, sometimes instead of the artist picking a well-known collaborator, it’s important to work with newer acts. When DJ and producer Amorphous’ mashup of Rihanna’s 2016 song “Kiss It Better” and Luther Vandross’ 1981 song “Never Too Much” became a viral smash, Fat Joe knew he had to act. Bringing in DJ Khaled, the trio pumped out Fat Joe’s song “Sunshine (The Light),” his best incorporation of a sample in his music to date.
French Montana – “Pop That” feat. Lil Wayne, Drake, and Rick Ross
The Moroccan-American rapper has a string of smash songs, but the crown may have to go to his song “Pop That,” featuring Lil Wayne, Drake, and Rick Ross. The song was everywhere, which made it difficult to escape, but why would you want to? The remixes to the track also hit, especially the Jersey Club version. The song samples Luke’s 1992 song “I Wanna Rock” and Tyga’s 2011 song “Lap Dance,” which made it the ultimate strip club anthem.
Future – “Mask Off”
Atlanta native Future is a strange case when it comes to sampling. Although his 2018 guest verse on Jay Rock’s song “King’s Dead” featuring Kendrick Lamar and James Blake became a running joke across social media due to his quote from Juicy J’s 1993 song “Slob On My Knob,” in his song “Mask Off,” his use of Carlton Williams’ 1976 song “Prison Song” is without a doubt great.
Kanye West – “Through The Wire”
In recent times, Kanye West has been as cuddly as a porcupine. But before he was viewed as public enemy number one, West was a highly sought-after producer even before he had a smash single to his name. With his unique ear for music, West has almost always incorporated samples of all varieties into his own solo music as well as the work he’s produced for others. Of those multiple dozen uses of samples, his debut single, “Through The Wire,” which samples Chaka Khan’s 1984 song “Through The Fire” and OutKast’s 1993 song “Player’s Ball,” edges out all others by a thin margin.
Kehlani – “In My Feelings”
Singer Kehlani is another example of a singer that often pulls in vibrant blasts from R&B’s past in their work. Before Kehlani had several studio albums to their name, their mixtape releases made a huge impact not only in R&B music but rap as well. However, speaking of their studio albums, Kehlani will often seek out guest verses from more veteran singers, but on “In My Feelings,” they stuck to good ole classic sampling. The breakout single samples one of R&B music’s most celebrated groups New Edition. The track samples their 1988 song “If It Isn’t Love.”
Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”
Then there’s Kendrick Lamar. The Compton native’s usage of samples has earned him not only multiple Grammy Awards but a Pulitzer Prize. As a mentee of Dr. Dre, the king of sampling in hip-hop, Kendrick has laser focus when it comes to finding the perfect song to complement his art. His intricate blending of these researched references displays his deep knowledge of music across genres. There are several honorable mentions you could make, but let’s just stick with his 2018 song “King Kunta,” which contains six samples (most notable being Curtis Mayfield’s 1974 song “Kung Fu,” James Brown’s 1973 song “The Payback,” and Ahmad’s 1994 song “We Want The Funk”).
J. Cole – “G.O.M.D.”
Across his decade-plus career, J. Cole has experimented with several sounds all while paying homage to some of music’s heavyweights. So, Cole has quite a few great sample honorable mentions, including his use of Hubert Laws’ 1972 song “No More” on Cole’s 2013 song “Power Trip” featuring Miguel. Also, his use of Fela Kuti and the Afrika ’70s’ 1973 song “Gentleman” and Nas’ 1999 song “Nas Is Like” in his 2013 song “Let Nas Down” can’t go ignored. But his strongest sample use can be heard in his song “G.O.M.D.,” which samples Branford Marsalis’ 1992 song “Berta, Berta.”
Jennifer Lopez – “All I Have” feat. LL Cool J
At this point in time, Jennifer Lopez is probably more known for her filmography than her music, but initially entering the acting world playing the late Selena Quintanilla Pérez, Lopez is no stranger to using art to pay homage to another musician. Her song “All I Have” featuring LL Cool J may not be her most popular song, but is certainly her best use of a sample. The track samples Debra Laws’ 1981 song “Very Special.”
Lucky Daye – “Over”
Although his discography is still growing, the singer does have a few standout uses of samples. The best of those showings hands down is heard in his song “Over.” Sampling Musiq Soulchild’s 2002 song “Halfcrazy,” Daye pours his all into the track, and it certainly paid off. Honorable mention to his 2020 song “Shoulda” featuring Babyface. The track samples Toni Braxton’s 1992 song “Love Should Brought You Home,” also produced by Babyface.
Nelly – “Dilemma” feat. Kelly Rowland
Featuring Kelly Rowland, “Dilemma” was inescapable in the early 2000s, and that hasn’t changed in all these years. Thanks to Gen Z’s obsession with the song, Nelly found himself occupying the top trending sounds on the application for quite a while. The song samples legendary vocalist Patti LaBelle’s 1983 song “Love, Need and Want You” as well as D-Train’s 1986 song “Misunderstanding.”
Nicki Minaj – “Super Freaky Girl”
Nicki earned her first solo No. 1 with “Super Freaky Girl.” The song samples the late Rick James’ 1981 song “Super Freak.” Throughout the track, James’ vocals are weaved in and out as Minaj does what she does best. The song also features James’ addictive funk instrumentation. This isn’t the first time Minaj has used a sample in this way; her 2014 song “Anaconda,” which samples Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 song “Baby Got Back,” follows the same format.
Saweetie – “Tap In”
In just a few short years, Bay Area representative Saweetie rose to prominence. Her keen marketing skills and vibrant personality online quickly earned her a dedicated social media following. Known as to go-to musician influencer, Saweetie has become the face of several brand deals and advertisements. But the face of her town area belongs to rappers Too Short and E-40. As a way to pay homage to her standing grounds and Too Short, in her song “Tap In” she samples Short’s 2006 song “Blow The Whistle.”
Summer Walker – “Come Thru” feat. Usher
Summer Walker is one of R&B music’s most impactful acts. Although she feels that she is often overlooked by award shows, that hasn’t stopped R&B lovers from running her streaming numbers through the roof, landing on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for weeks at a time. On her debut studio album, Over It, the single “Come Thru” featuring Usher, Walker, and producer London On Da Track created magic. The song shows how to blend legacy acts with rookie talent with integrity. “Come Thru” samples Usher’s 1997 song “You Make Me Wanna.”
Wale – “Break Up Song”
Wale is the uncrowned king of sampling in rap music. The DMV-representer has found a way to incorporate some of his favorite artists into his music beyond guest features. From his meteoric mixtape run to his studio releases, Wale never passes up on the opportunity to incorporate a sample of some sort in his music. His 2010 song “Break Up Song,” samples Stevie Wonder’s 1980 song “All I Do.”
Usher – “Throwback” feat. Jadakiss
Casual music fans without knowledge of R&B may only recognize the singer Usher from his viral “watch this” gif pulled from his appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. But for avid lovers of the genre, the Atlanta native is one of the sound’s leading voices. Usher has already appeared on this list as a featured artist on Summer Walker’s song “Come Thru,” as the track sampled his 1997 song “You Make Me Wanna.” But, Mr. Raymond has a few notable samples sprinkled throughout his discography. His 2004 song “Throwback” featuring Jadakiss, however, is arguably the most creative use of one. On the song, Dionne Warwick’s 1973 song “You’re Gonna Need Me” serves as the track’s anchor.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.