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”
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.
Brother Jack McDuff, “Oblighetto”
A Tribe Called Quest’s rambunctious “Scenario” is one of the greatest hip-hop posse cuts, and the track’s partly propelled by the brooding notes of organist Brother Jack McDuff’s “Oblighetto” (itself included on the nattily titled Moon Rappin’). In another case of J Dilla following the Native Tongues sample playbook, the Detroit producer later contributed a somewhat askew remix of the track to the Blue Note Revisited project.
Joe Williams, “Get Out Of My Life, Woman”
“Get Out Of My Life, Woman” has a lofty history of being sampled by rap types; Biz Markie seems so infatuated with it that he’s based songs around loops from versions by Lee Dorsey, the Mad Lads, Allen Toussaint and Oliphant Grassella. (If not others.) While Dorsey’s performance takes top ranking for being sampled the most, the slinky piano-propelled break from one-time Count Basie Orchestra vocalist Williams’ version has also been well worked. The most persuasive use of the break appears on Kool G Rap & Polo’s “Ill Street Blues,” with the video also featuring G Rap’s cronies playing some form of Monopoly with real cash. (Nerd note: Technically, “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” was first released on the Solid State label before it was eventually brought under Blue Note’s wing.)
Ronnie Laws, “Tidal Wave”
Saxophonist Ronnie Laws’ debut album, Pressure Sensitive, is usually associated with the jazz-funk standard “Always There,” but hip-hop loop diggers have found bountiful pickings in the record’s other grooves. The swanky opening bars of “Tidal Wave” are the most plundered, and once more suggest that Q-Tip and the Boot Camp Click were likely sifting through the same crates at one point in time: Tribe used the song for “The Love” on its flatlining final album, while Black Moon fared better employing it as the basis for “Who Got The Props?”
Grant Green, “Down Here On The Ground”
Guitarist Grant Green recorded prolifically for Blue Note, providing the label with seven albums during a rude run between 1970-72 alone. Alive! appeared during that period, and is a fine testament to Green’s slickly nuanced playing. A couple of decades later “Down Here On The Ground” would receive a second sampled life, with Blue Note hound Q-Tip rhyming over pretty much the whole shebang on “Vibes And Stuff,” Pete Rock throwing it in the mix for his and CL Smooth’s “Act Like You Know,” and Madonna entering the realm of rap lists by using it on “I’d Rather Be Your Lover.” The slinkiest flip, however, goes to Muggs, who based Cypress Hill’s “Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk” around its grooves.
Ronnie Foster, “Mystic Brew”
In which once more Q-Tip is caught pilfering from the Blue Note vaults, this time turning the opening phrasings of organ player Ronnie Laws’ “Mystic Brew” into the bed for Tribe’s sumptuous “Electric Relaxation.” The sample then made another appearance in 2004 for Roc-A-Fella footnote Rell’s “Real Love,” which also featured Kanye West and mushmouthed Tribe associate Consequence.