Rap music's defining feature is not the cursing, the bravado, or even the beefs -- it's the genre's dependence on sampling other music. Ever since DJ Kool Herc began mixing up breaks from soul and disco records during Bronx block parties, hip-hop has been making music out of other music. And while Kool Herc's samples were straight-up break samples, over the years hip-hop sampling has gotten extremely varied and intricate, sometimes to the point that the original song is hardly recognizable. Just take a look at this -- and that's just one artist. Transforming a song into something original and great is an artform all on its own, and one that we ought to respect as much as any other. So without further ado, here are the six best hip-hop sampling songs of the first six months of 2012 (in no particular order).
For a Lil' Wayne hate track, what better song to sample than the legendary Notorious B.I.G.'s diss track "What's Beef?" In this song, Pusha T utilizes that foreboding string arrangement of "What's Beef?" with low-volume synthesizers and also uses Biggie's lyrical cues in order to eviscerate Lil' Wayne.
Little-known rappers Actual Proof churn MGMT's upbeat hit "Electric Feel" into a slow-burning backdrop for freestyling. This is one that's been morphed and added to to create a very impressive result. The way Actual Proof allows "Electric Feel's" signature electro-riff to remain just audible is beautiful.
Newcomer Danny Brown's "Grown Up" puts Gorillaz's forebodingly melancholic "Tomorrow Comes Today" to great use. By using the song's made-for-rap percussion and adding some simple piano hits, Danny Brown makes a track that sounds like 2012's version of A Tribe Called Quest.
A basically-ignored Luyas and Twin Sister single from 2011 certainly qualifies for a "Least Expected Songs To Sample" list. But Kendrick Lamar, with definite help from Dr. Dre, actually turned "Meet the Frownies" into a SoCal hip-hop track. "The Recipe" takes multiple facets of "Meet the Frownies" to make a complete song -- the laidback groove and , Andrea Estrella's vocals for the hook, and even that weird pipe organ riff.
Lil B is definitely today's most eccentric rapper (case and point: he just released an 855-song mixtape). But we gotta give it up to him, if only for this song choice. On "Glourious BasedGod," from his March mixtape God's Father, Lil B hoods up M83's"Steve McQueen" just enough with some drum machine percussion. There's nothing like getting boasty to one of 2011's most triumphant songs.
Schoolboy Q gets double points for sampling a cover song, in this case Lissie's cover of "Pursuit of Happiness" by Kid Cudi. The drawn out distorted guitar of Lissie's cover fits Schoolboy and A$AP's attitudes perfectly and give a celebration song unparalleled grit. And the hook -- with its vocal juxtaposition of Lissie and Schoolboy Q -- is just perfect. Sampling "Pursuit of Happiness" for this song really makes sense, after all Schoolboy offers up his simple path for the pursuit of happiness -- "Weed and brews."
So, there you go. Hopefully the next six months will produce some equally good and better samples. Did we miss anything?