Hip Hop Sampling in the 2000s: A Technique Perfected

Decades: The 2000s

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

While the 1990s are known as the Golden Era of sample based rap music, the technique was perfected in the 2000s, with refined methods and new technology. Established artists built on the foundations they had laid in the 1990s; up-and-coming producers from all over the world used affordable new solutions like music software to further develop beat making. Here are some great examples for every year from 2000 to 2005 which demonstrate just how good sampling had become by the early 2000s.

2000: Slum Village - Get Dis Money

Fantastic Vol. 2

Possibly one of the Top 5 greatest rap albums of all time, Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2 is full of classic beats, mostly produced by legendary Jay Dee aka J Dilla. No other musician has influenced the type of laid-back beat as he did.

The song Get Dis Money is a prime example: Jay Dee uses an unusual Herbie Hancock loop and filters it heavily. His trademark drums with a clappy snare and a genius bass line make this beat timeless. All the elements are arranged so beautifully that the sample itself steps into the background, becoming part of an organic whole.

2001: Pete Rock - Get Involved

PeteStrumentals

Pete Rock is one of the greatest beat makers in hip hop history, making a name for himself in the 1990s as the producer part of duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth. In 2001, he released his first instrumental album, PeteStrumentals, a collection of beats which show him further elevating his abilities.

Get Involved is my favorite track in this classic collection. Pete Rock takes a sample from the 100% Pure Poison song Windy C, loops it and puts his trademark filter effect on it. He perfects this beat by laying down smooth rolling bongo drums and scratching in sample snippets from James Brown and Eric Clapton at key moments. Just genius.

2002: Gang Starr - Skills

The Ownerz

DJ Premier, much like Jay Dee and Pete Rock, has legend status in hip hop, producing hit singles for a wide range of artists. He has a signature style, often chopping up samples and rearranging them. (There are also very few Premier beats with an open hi-hat.) Premier is a member of duo Gang Starr, alongside rapper Guru, who sadly passed away in 2010. Even though his musical style is so recognizable, he always manages to give Gang Starr beats their own special sound.

DJ Premier advanced this signature style on Gang Starr’s 2003 album The Ownerz with new sounds and sampling styles, creating some incredible beats. The first single Skills sounded like nothing else when it came out — and it still does. There aren’t many individual sounds, but each is carefully chosen. While the bass line flows, the synth melody and the clanking hi-hat move slowly. A contradiction of elements that make this beat stand out until this day.

2003: Kanye West - Through the Wire

The College Dropout

Kanye West’s very first solo single changed the way samples were used in the 2000s. Kanye used various vocal parts of Chaka Khan’s 1985 ballad Through the Fire and sped them up. Through the Wire keeps the original hook line and the bridge of Chaka Khan’s original, but rearranged expertly to fit into a hip hop beat. The woody drums and the occasionally fast moving hi-hats complement the beat perfectly.

Kanye’s blueprint of pitched-up soul would be adapted and expanded on by many artists throughout the 2000s, most notably rap group The Diplomats and their producer duo The Heatmakerz.

2004: Nujabes - Aruarian Dance

Samurai Champloo Music Record: Departure

When I first heard Nujabes’ Aruarian Dance back in 2005, I was mesmerized by its soulfulness and relaxed low-fi vibe. I later found out that many music fans had had the same experience. Thanks to the internet, the cultural exchange over country borders started to flourish in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Nujabes’ soulful productions originated not in hip hop’s home country, the USA, but in Tokyo, Japan.

Nujabes showed a new style of sampling, often using laid-back Brazilian music as the basis for his beats. Aruarian Dance from the soundtrack of anime series Samurai Champloo is no exception, as it samples The Lamp Is Low by bossa nova guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Simple and fitting drums and a careful arrangement of sounds make this track a landmark in sample-based music. All those low-fi beats in YouTube videos — they go back here.

2005: Little Brother - Lovin’ It

The Minstrel Show

Another new star producer to emerge in the early 2000s was 9th Wonder. He took full advantage of new technologies of the time: 9th made his breakout project God’s Stepson, a remix album of Nas’ God’s Son, with music production software and distributed it over the internet. Soon afterwards, he would find himself in the studio with artists like Jay-Z or Destiny’s Child.

9th Wonder was also the producer of rap group Little Brother. Their 2005 single Lovin’ It shows his unique sampling style well: 9th tends to use various parts of a song, often from the middle and end; he also likes to sample vocal elements, in this case the chorus from The Stylistics’ wonderful One Night Affair. 9th Wonder’s drums, especially the snare, hit a slight bit earlier than usual, but all the heavier.

Honorable Mentions

There are many. Looking back into this topic, the early to mid 2000s are truly another Golden Age of sample based rap. Here are, in no particular order, some producers I could’ve easily included in the list (but I tried to represent each year with one influential track).

  • Alchemist
  • Hi-Tek
  • Just Blaze
  • People Under the Stairs
  • Fat Jon
  • J. Rawls
  • MF Doom
  • Madlib
  • Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind
  • Cool & Dre
  • RJD2
  • Nottz

Fade out: The Late 2000s

Sampling experienced a full bloom in the 2000s. The technique burst with new approaches by numerous iconic beat makers. One important producer team of the time doesn’t show up in the list because from early on, The Neptunes didn’t rely much on samples, instead composing their amazing beats completely themselves. Check out Allure from Jay-Z’s Black Album (2004):

Artists such as Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, or Timbaland also produced beats for huge hit songs of the time, mostly without using samples. Timbaland even did so way back in the mid 1990s, producing Pony by Ginuine for example.

Probably the most fundamental change in the approach to making beats came in 2008 when Kanye West released 808s & Heartbreak. The highly influential album employed minimalist electronic sounds and auto-tune singing, instead of traditional sampling. In a way, this move away from sampling reflects the times: the iPhone came out just a year before, ushering in the digital modern age.

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