Sampling The Beatles In Hip-Hop Music

Posted by Billyjam, September 3, 2009 10:25am | Post a Comment

"The Grey Video" (Danger Mouse "Encore" Beatles meets Jay-Z)
Everyone loves The Beatles, including rappers and their producers, so it makes perfect sense that hooks, drum beats, high hats, stabs, guitar riffs, vocal soundbites, etc. etc. from the Fab Four's vast and varied Wu-Tang Clancatalog would provide an ample sampling source for hip-hop producers and remixers. RIght? Yes, but only if done legally-- provided that the owners of the copyrighted Beatles material were to give permission to the interested producer(s). And this is not something that happens easily. In fact, The Beatles' catalog is often referred to in hip-hop production circles as "the holy grail of samples," since it is so hard to get permission to sample the Liverpool lads' music for hip-hop songs. 

That's why it was such in 2007 when Wu-Tang Clan announced that they had secured the first fully legit sample of the Beatles' music. They reportedly got granted permission to sample the White Album's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for the Wu-Tang album 8 Diagrams. As it turned out, it Dhani Harrisonwasn't technically a Beatles sample clearance, but rather the go-ahead to replay the George Harrison penned Beatles tune with none other than George's own son Dhani Harrison (reportedly a major Wu-Tang Clan fan) playing the guitar bit on the track that also featured guest vocalist Erykah Badu.

Of course, The Beatles' music has been sampled many times in hip-hop (without permission) over the years, most famously on Danger Mouse's career-launching, incredibly popular (albeit totally illegal) 2004 release The Grey Album, where he liberally sampled the entire Beatles' White Album in a masterpiece mash-up that is beautifully blended with Jay-Z's The Black Album. The fact that it was an illegal recording didn't stop people from hearing it either. The album, which was sold as a bootleg, was traded and given Danger Mouse the grey albumaway in CD format and downloaded for free, thus making its way to countless iPods and music collections.

Likewise, The Beastie Boys sampled The Beatles for their 1986 recording "I'm Down," which, had it been cleared, might have made it onto Licenced To Ill. Ever the diehard Beatles fans, a few years later in 1989, for their Paul's Boutique album track "The Sounds Of Silence," the Beasties and their producers The Dust Brothers sampled snippets of several Fab Four songs including "Back in the USSR," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "When I'm Sixty-Four," and "The End." The reason the Beasties got away with sampling the Beatles that time was, unlike with "I'm Down," they didn't even ask for clearance permission, and hence coudn't be rejected. More importantly though, this was 20 years ago and before the landmark Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. lawsuit, which pitted Biz Markie against Gilbert O'Sullivan (who the Biz unsuccessfully sampled). The outcome of that suit changed the process and future of hip hop sampling forever thereafter.
The Roots
Many other songs/artists have sampled The Beatles. Talib Kweli's "Lonely People," off The Beatiful Mix CD, samples "Eleanor Rigby," a Beatles song also sampled by Ja Rule on his 2007 recording "Father Forgive Me." In 2002 the Roots sampled The Beatles song "Hey Bulldog" into their track "Thought At Work," but it got put on the back shelf and never legally released, again due to samples not getting clearance.

Delicious Vinyl sampled a bit from Paul McCartney's Band on the Run record onto a Tone Loc album--which they later had to take off for legal reasons. There are countless other Beatles songs that show up in hip-hop recordings, incuding many mashups by DJs/producers the world over, who, like everyone else, love The Beatles' music. Feel free to add in the COMMENTS below any Beatles samples in hip-hop recordings that you know of that you recommend tracking down. Thanks!

More info about the Beatles reissues coming out next week right here! And more posts all about The Beatles here!

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Beatles 2009 (15), Beatles (103), Jay-z (25), Danger Mouse (5), Ja Rule (2), Wu-tang (5), Tone Loc (2), Talib Kweli (20), The Roots (24)