Hip-Hop’s Top Ten Otis Redding Samples


“Otis” fever is in full effect, thanks to the Otis Redding-sampling song from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s much-ballyhooed Watch The Throne project leaking Wednesday night. The track’s production, based around a slick chop of Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” might be the most impressive thing about the song, what with Jay-Z largely forgoing rapping for doing that breathless thing which suggests not so much an economy of breath control as him realizing that he can mumble anything and fans will still give him pots of money. But anyway. In celebration of “Otis,” here are ten other royal rap flips of Redding’s music.

Marley Marl, “The Symphony”

Sample Source: “Hard To Handle”
Simply the greatest posse cut of all time, with possibly the most legendary lineup of rappers to hit the studio together (not to mention a slightly ridiculous cowboy-themed video), this Marley Marl-helmed track is a golden-era cornerstone. The formula is elementary: Marley loops the opening riff to Redding’s “Hard To Handle” while Master Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane rap their hungry asses off (and, according to rap lore, G Rap keeps rapping so long the tape reel runs out). Sorry ‘Ye and Jay, but if I have to pick just one hip-hop Redding sample, it’s always gonna be this one. (See also: The Firm’s “Affirmative Action (Remix)”.)

Ghostface Killah feat Raekwon & Cappadonna, “Fish”

Sample Source: “A Change Is Gonna Come”
“We eat fish, tossed salads/ And make rap ballads.” So spits Ghost Deini here, outlining his mighty healthy daily M.O. while RZA cooks up a beat from Redding’s mournful cover of Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem. (Tasting Notes: Ghost’s erstwhile partner-in-rhyme Raekwon shows a dubious preference for the lesser-heralded “Canadian wine.”)

Kanye West feat. Consequence & Cam’ron, “Gone”

Sample Source: “It’s Too Late”
Kanye and the endearingly mush-mouthed Cons-to-the-Quence might not be on the best of terms these days—see: Cons’s possible dis song “Man Purses” and its brilliantly literal video—but here the G.O.O.D. Music chemistry is in full-on swinging effect as the two rhyme over a track forged from the intro to “It’s Too Late.” Cam ensures that the obligatory chinchilla reference makes it into the proceedings.

De La Soul, “Eye Know”

Sample Source: “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”
The most convincingly affectionate rap love song to include the phrase “sex is a mere molecule” and allude to a rapper putting his “needle into her groove,” here Strong Island’s most creative utilize the whistled refrain from Redding’s signature tune to whimsical effect. (Skip to the 2:07 mark in the video for the visual tribute.) Pos’s lyrics also reference the long-forgotten Italian sneaker brand Lotto!

Nine, “Whutcha Want”

Sample Source: The Staple Singers’ “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”
Hip-hop’s second most notable use of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” is claimed by gruff-voiced Funkmaster Flex associate Nine, who scored a mid-’90s summer jam with a track that tapped into the Staple Singers’ take on Redding’s standard. (Alas, Universal Music Group doesn’t want to let you peruse the song on YouTube.) Nine’s anthem still booms loud to this day, although Froggy Frog’s cameo on his album holds up with a little less dignity.

Das EFX, “Dum Dums”

Sample Source: “The Happy Song”
E.P.M.D. proteges Das EFX burst onto the rap scene with a tongue-twisting style that kinda burdened them with the novelty rapper tag. But the duo’s debut is probably better than you remember, and among the hits “They Want EFX” and “Mic Checka,” the kids from Brooklyn to Teaneck found time to drop this ode to some less-than-stellar females they ran across (including, er, a 15-year-old who wasn’t impressed with Drayz’s slang tactics). The natty hook is based around a vocal grab from Redding’s “The Happy Song (Dum Dum).”

Ghetto Boys, “Read These Nikes”

Sample Source: “My Girl”

Possibly not quite the sort of endorsement Nike was hankering after, back in ’89 Houston’s straight-talking rabble-rousers dropped this ode to stomping on foes while wearing swoosh-emblazoned sneakers. Willie D (he don’t give a fuck about a god damn bystander) and Bushwick Bill (he’ll Nyquil that sickness) detail their ass-kicking deeds while tapping into Redding’s bluesy cover of The Temptations’ “My Girl,” a song mercifully free of corporate co-opting.

UMCs, “Swing It To The Area”

Sample Source: “Mr. Pitiful”
Shiny, happy rap duo the UMCs repped for Staten Island before the Wu burst on the scene, and Haas G and Kool Kim’s debut is packed with positive sentiments and uptempo grooves. Here they call on Redding’s funked-up “Mr. Pitiful,” a flip that fits their vibe well. But despite gaining a modicum of attention with the debut album Fruits of Nature (this was, of course, the era before rappers starting saying “no homo” after such titles), the duo became fed up with being tagged as conscientious rap chaps and attempted a not-entirely-persuasive hardcore reinvention with the follow-up project Unleashed, wherein they cast themselves as “Staten Island hooligans.”

E.P.M.D., “The Steve Martin”

Sample Source: “Let Me Come On Home”
One of hip-hop’s great instructional dance songs, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith’s “The Steve Martin” borrows liberally from the swaggering horn blast of Redding’s “Let Me Come On Home.” It’s an apt sonic setup for Parrish to announce that the Pee Wee Herman dance is out and explain how 1988’s hot-stepping rap fans need to replicate Martin’s moves from the movie The Jerk. In thrall with the dance, Erick can’t help but holler, “Steve Martin’s in full effect!”

Big Daddy Kane, “Nuff Respect”

Sample Source: “Lovey Dovey”
Yup, they don’t rap ’em like this any more, with one-time Juice Crew icon Big Daddy Kane spitting at warp speed in the sort of style that seemed to influence Jay-Z’s own first attempt at a rap career under the wing of mentor-turned-foe Jaz-O. Public Enemy production wiz Hank Shocklee is behind the boards, borrowing from Redding’s duet with Carla Thomas, “Lovey Dovey,” for one of the standout cuts on the Juice soundtrack.