Blue Note Records' Ten Best Sample Sources

Blue Note's cover art: Also an inspiration. (Original on the left, homage on the right.)
Blue Note's cover art: Also an inspiration. (Original on the left, homage on the right.)

Hip-hop artists have never been shy about sampling songs from the vaults of the Blue Note jazz label, and few have pilfered with as much creativity and gusto as A Tribe Called Quest's one-time de facto leader Q-Tip. During Tribe's heyday, Tip mined heavily from Blue Note's stylistic peak in the '70s, with cornerstone tracks from the group's first three albums being hooked around jazz grooves. Ahead of Michael Rapaport's documentary about the band, which hits screens on July 8, here are ten Blue Note tracks that have been flipped into rap classics—including, of course, a liberal number of Q-Tip compositions.

Donald Byrd, "Think Twice"

Donald Byrd's mid-'70s excursions on the funky side struck a strong note with the Native Tongues collective. A Tribe Called Quest invoked the Mizell Brothers produced track's break-down for the bulk of "Footprints," De La Soul resurrected the sample for its own tiny Tribe tribute, "Simply Havin'," and even the crew's kid rap prodigy turned FBI fugitive, Chi Ali, joined in with the sample shenanigans for "Road Runner." But it was occasional Tribe producer J Dilla who showed his appreciation for Byrd's sophisticated jam most openly by recreating the track himself for his overlooked Welcome 2 Detroit project. (Bonus Byrd: Black Moon's iconic use of "Wind Parade" for its early-'90s cornerstone "Buck 'Em Down.")

Lonnie Smith, "Spinning Wheel"

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The drums from Hammond B3 specialist Lonnie Smith's take on "Spinning Wheel" have been used to soundtrack a sizable swathe of the '90s rap scene, with notable nabbers including the Beatnuts' swaggering party-starter "Psycho Dwarf," Brooklyn hard rocks Black Moon's "Enta Da Stage," Stimulated Dummies' pet project Hard 2 Obtain's "Ghetto Diamond," and gruff-voiced, kinda one-hit-wonder Nine's "Whutcha Want." But Q-Tip is the serial sampler, layering the drums under both Tribe's "Can I Kick It?" and "Buggin' Out," before going on to reuse the trick on Queen Latifah's Flavor Unit cohort Apache's "Gangsta Bitch."

Bobbi Humphrey, "Blacks & Blues"

The funkiest flautist to ever record for Blue Note, Bobbi Humphrey was also the label's inaugural female signing. Her 1973 Blacks & Blues album is a svelte, six song set of Mizzel Brothers directed jazz-funk gems, complete with the glorious "Harlem River Drive." Back when he cast himself as Zev Love X, the artist now known as MF Doom looped up the album's title track for K.M.D.'s Teddy Ruxpin-referencing "Peachfuzz," and its follow up "Plumskinzz"—although only the former features a video with cameos from white-rapper ambassadors MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice.

Blue Mitchell, "Good Humour Man"

Staten Island's forgotten rap duo the UMCs notched up a smooth, early-'90s anthem with "One To Grow On," a song hooked around a canny snatch of trumpet player Blue Mitchell's "Good Humour Man." Although if you think Kool Kim and Haas G's positive posturing errs on the twee side, Queens rap ruffians Akinyele and Kool G Rap tapped into Mitchell's "Flat Backing" for "Break A Bitch Neck," which is the type of track that makes Odd Future resemble a wholesome Christian rap troop.

Lou Donaldson, "Ode To Billie Joe"

Lou Donaldson's Blue Note catalogue has spawned four well-rinsed breaks: "Ode To Billie Joe," "It's Your Thing," "Pot Belly" and "Who's Making Love?" The latter may have experienced the most mainstream recognition by being the basis of Biggie's "One More Chance," but it's "Billie" that has notched up the most sample credits. Among a vast list that includes Kool Keith, Black Sheep, Lord Finesse and, er, Warren G, it's Corona's finest The Beatnuts who take the synergic spoils by not only amping the sample up for "World Famous" but also riffing on Blue Note artist Hank Mobley's The Turnaround artwork for the cover of the Intoxicated Demons EP the track appears on.

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