How well do you think your ears can distinguish a sampled instrument from an authentic one? No, we don’t mean if you can pinpoint the horrendously cutting electric synth that’s buzzing away incessantly across any dance club floor, but from the sort that were thrown on early hip-hop albums and even the tracks of funk legend James Brown.
It may take a listen or two, but once you key into the subtle – and sometimes not-so-subtle – instrumental manipulation, the control afforded by digitized instruments becomes incredibly evident.
“Change the Beat” – Fab 5 Freddy
This 1982 track features everything from punchy kicks to a THX-like opening drawl that sets up the reverbed verses atop plucky synths and digitized echoes throughout its nearly 8-minute-long runtime. At the time of its release, the track “Change the Beat” did just that.
“Amen Brother” – The Winstons
For a track that has so many full and rich sounds, it sure is a surprise to see the likes of “Amen Brother” topping the chart. And yet, upon subsequent listening, one can start to pick out the instruments that seem to be synthetic – spoiler alert: it’s all of them.
“Think (About it) – Lyn Collins
If you’re picking up on a running theme of lots of funky tracks backed by samples, you’re right on the money. As comparatively inexpensive as virtual instruments and synths are to physical instruments, their inclusion on the tracks of innumerable funk, reggae, and hip-hop tracks gave many artists a chance at producing tracks they otherwise couldn’t.
“Funky Drummer” – James Brown
Making the list twice, James Brown is no stranger to using samples to back his idiosyncratic shouts, sustains, and subtle mutters on the mic. The Master of Funk certainly knows his way around the mixing table, as most of his songs feature one sort of sample or another – all in the name of a good time.
“La Di Da Di” – Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh
We’re still not sure how a track that mostly consists of broken-bar rapping and off-key singing constitutes one of the most sampled tracks in music history, but we don’t question the data lords. We simply type and obey.
“Funky President” – James Brown
Alright. We think we finally understand how Brown managed to make this list twice. We’re fairly certain he would record as little of his voice as possible, and then simple weave the various bits of him asking “ain’t it funky” and “ha-cha” over and over throughout the mix. Add in some record scratching and a drunk kit and voila.
“Bring the Noise” – Public Enemy
Another early hip-hop track, Public Enemy brings the now-iconic drums, kicks, high-hats, snares, and horns that one can come to expect form the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Whiney voices mixed with full verses held aloft by synthetic snares and basses helps Public Enemy secure their spot on our lovely listed of recycled sounds for a new era.
“Here We Go” – Run DMC
If there’s one thing that shocked us as we bottomed-out this list, it’s how funk dominated over hip hop. One would thing that the genre that made cuts so obvious in their tracks would reign supreme, but the absolute opposite seems to be true.