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Best James Brown Samples: 20 Tracks That Built Hip-Hop

Endlessly funky, the best James Brown samples reveal why the hardest working man in show business became the most-sampled artist in history.

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Photo: Universal Music Archives

He was known as The Godfather Of Soul and The Minister Of New New Super-Heavy Funk, but James Brown could easily be called the Brother Of Boss Breakbeats. His beats are the basic building blocks for numerous rap, R&B and godfather-knows-what-else jams. James Brown didn’t only put B-boy dancers on the good foot, he made hip-hop all ways funky. The funk is here, people, and these are the 20 best James Brown samples – arranged in ascending order of how many times these stone-cold thrillers have been picked to their bad bones.

Listen to Questlove of The Roots explore the influence of James Brown , and scroll down for our best James Brown samples.

20: “Take Some – Leave Some”

From the epic 1973 album The Payback, this laidback slice of OG G-Funk just rolls along as it sees fit, full of atmosphere and delivering a message or two along the way. It’s got a live-in-the-studio feel, yet, incredibly, this is Mr. Brown freestyling over a previously recorded LA studio orchestra led by Fred Wesley As heard on Master Ace’s “Letter To The Better” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Solo Power (Syncopated Soul).”

19: Marva Whitney: “Unwind Yourself”

James Brown revue starlet Marva Whitney cut some wickedly raw sides under James Brown’s production banner, including this 1968 tune that gave birth to the distinctive groove of DJ Mark The 45 King’s “The 900 Number” (named after Akai’s S900 sampler) and DJ Kool’s party classic “Let Me Clear My Throat.”

18: “Give It Up Or Turn It A Loose”

OK, so there was an original 1968 version of this bad boy with a bassline laid down low by “Sweet” Charles Sherrell, a man so invested in funk and soul that he grew up washing Curtis Mayfield’s car for guitar lessons. But the hip-hop producers’ favorite is James Brown’s own cover version from the Sex Machine sessions in 1970, with 19-year-old Bootsy Collins playing bass. Sampled by PE on “Welcome To The Terrordome,” Ultramagnetic MCs on “Give The Drummer Some,” and Def Jef’s mighty “Just A Poet With Soul.”

17: “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothin’’

The diss record is part of the very fabric of hip-hop; James Brown’s early prototype was a shoo-in to be sampled. Geto Boys picked up on its vibe on “Talkin’ Loud Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin,” Divine Styler likewise for “Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin,” and De La Soul borrowed a piece for “Down Syndrome.” Note, there are two cuts: the “rock” one from 1970, unreleased at the time, and the “funky” one released in ’72. Compare and contrast. (Actually, they’re both funky.)

16: “Blind Man Can See It”

In its original version, a short-form tune that was full of groove, allowed to drop kinda easy like, from the glorious soundtrack for Black Caesar. Hip-hoppers felt how heavyweight it was, with Snoop Dogg finding use for it on “The Vapors,” Coolio on “Sticky Fingaz,” and Blackstreet on their cornerstone tune, “No Diggity.”

15: “Soul Power (Pt.1)”

One of Brown’s funk landmarks, this glorious dissertation on the strength of soul, driven by Bootsy and his brother Catfish, and released in 1971, drew plenty of admirers. Among them were the supreme advocates of soul power, Public Enemy, on several tunes, including “Night Of The Living Baseheads;” BDP on “Poetry;” and EPMD on “Total Kaos.”

14: Marva Whitney: “It’s My Thing”

Released in 1969, “It’s My Thing” was the title cut of Marva Whitney’s debut album. Inspired by The Isley Brothers’ hit “It’s Your Thing,” it showcases her raw-edged funky style to a T. Sampled by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien on “Money For Sex” and Public Enemy on “Bring The Noise,” plus plenty more.

13: “The Boss”

This one had to be big in hip-hop, which often admired the tropes of 70s Blaxploitation movies, full of badass dudes, pimps and hustlers. This deeply moody groove comes from Brown’s 1973 soundtrack for Black Caesar and it’s tougher than tuff. Those who picked its bad bones include Nas (“Get Down”) and Poor Righteous Teachers (the classic “Word To The Wise”).

12: “Blues And Pants”

One of at least four James Brown songs mentioning hot pants. Taken from the 1971 Hot Pants album, it was written by Mr. Brown with his musical director, Fred Wesley. You’ll hear it used on Geto Boys’ “Scarface,” Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler,” and Soul II Soul’s “Get A Life.”

11: “Escape-Ism”

That Hot Pants album has been rinsed: here’s another deeply funky offering from its box of tricks, sliced and diced by Onyx (“Throw Ya Gunz”), Masta Ace (“Ace Iz Wild”) and Run-DMC (“Back From Hell”), plus loads more.

10: Fred Wesley & The JB’s: “Blow Your Head”

From Fred Wesley & The JB’s’ awesome 1974 album Damn Right I Am Somebody, this inferno of funk, apparently adorned with James Brown’s own synth playing, is musical murder. Those who showed their appreciation via samples include Digable Planets (“Rebirth Of Slick”), De La Soul (“Oooh”), Bomb The Bass (“Beat Dis”), and Public Enemy (“Caught, Can We Get A Witness?”). These people knew their phonk.

9: “Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)”

Hot pants were a (very) brief female fashion trend in the early 70s. James Brown liked them. Boy, did he like them… so much so that, as the single version was hot on the charts in 1971, he re-cut it in an eight-minute-plus version for the album of the same name. Sampled by Eric B & Rakim on the classic “Paid In Full” and Gang Starr on “2 Steps Ahead,” among many others.

8: “Get On The Good Foot”

“The long-hair hippies and the Afro blacks/They all get together” and get on the “good foot,” says JB on this hit 1972 tribute to togetherness. He could have added future B-boys and rappers to that list, as it’s been looped by many: 2 Live Crew used it for “Break It On Down,” EPMD snipped it for episode three of their “Jane” series and Stetsasonic adapted it to their stylings on “The Hip Hop Band.”

7: “Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud”

Tell it, Godfather. Mr. Brown was reportedly under pressure from African American activists to make a statement, and he did it big style with this 1968 thriller, recorded with schoolkids chanting the chorus alongside him: instill that pride young. Samples of this astonishingly unfussy but highly effective anthem came from Cypress Hill (“Insane In The Brain”), Pete Rock & CL Smooth (“They Reminisce Over You (TROY)”), and Intelligent Hoodlum (calling it straight on “Black And Proud”).

6: “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”

In the early, 70s Mr. Brown’s records didn’t only display a more explicit leaning towards black politics, they also became harder. This riffing 1970 jam was as funky as blue cheese, but there’s a heavyweight guitar part to rock your world. Not released on the album at the time, those who sampled the 7” single include Beastie Boys on “Sounds Of Science,” BDP on ʻSouth Bronx’ and, of course, Public Enemy on a slew of tracks, including “Welcome To The Terrordome;” it is almost a prototype PE record in itself.

5: “The Payback”

Mr. Brown in full Godfather mode, promising revenge in this simmering fury of a jam. “I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razor,” he quips on “The Payback,” calculating the best method for dishing up revenge. Chilling. Samplers included En Vogue on ʻHold On’ and Ice Cube on “Jackin’ For Beats,” while Brown’s own J.B.’s used the backing track to build their own “Same Beat.”

4: Bobby Byrd: “Hot Pants – I’m Coming, I’m Coming, I’m Coming”

James Brown’s right-hand man, who had been with him from the get-go in the early 1950s, cut some amazing records himself with The Godfather in the producer’s chair. It might seem that Byrd’s remarkable “I Know You Got Soul” would be his most-sampled tune, and it did get bitten a lot, but his boss breakbeat is “Hot Pants – I’m Coming, I’m Coming, I’m Coming,” a runaway funky thriller released in 1971 and snipped and sampled on Guy’s “My Fantasy,” Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes The Hotstepper” and James Brown’s own “Static.” The “Bonus Beats” mix, put together on a rare 12” in 1988, was especially sampled, cropping up on The Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold.”

3: “Funky President (People It’s Bad)”

JB wrote this 1974 tune in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation from, and Gerald Ford’s ascension to, the Presidency. The groove flows thanks to studio drummer Allan Schwartzberg, while Brown makes the case for a Funky POTUS. There are great uncredited female interjections – “Hey!” – and the SP-1200s and S1000s broke it into pieces on NWA’s “F__k Tha Police,” The UMCs’ “One To Grow On” and De La Soul’s “Brain Washed Follower.”

2:The J.B.’s:“The Grunt”

Any hip-hop head will immediately recognize the famous saxophone “teakettle whistle” in this funky instrumental from Brown’s ’70s band, The J.B’s. First issued on the King label as a two-part single, it was one of only two instrumental singles recorded by the original J.B’s line-up featuring Bootsy and Catfish Collins. Part 1 of “The Grunt” appeared on the J.B.’s 1972 album, Food For Thought, and has been endlessly sampled over the years, from Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck” to Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” and “Rebel Without A Pause,” and (quietly in) Erykah Badu and Common’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop).”

1: “Funky Drummer”

It’s big, it’s bad, it drives numerous huge hits – yet it wasn’t a huge hit itself when released in 1970. “Funky Drummer” provided the rhythmic inspiration for pretty much everyone in hip-hop, R&B and the mad whirl of late-80s indie-dance. Besides the nearly 1,000 sample uses, the Stone Roses’ drummer Reni practiced to a loop of it; it was used by Prince on “Gett Off.” The funky drummer in question was Clyde Stubblefield, and you had to wait until the very end of the B-side of the original two-part 7” single to hear him deliver the ultimate drum break. It was worth the wait.

Stay tuned for more episodes of Get Down, The Influence Of James Brown, a three-part mini-series narrated by Questlove (The Legendary Roots Crew) unpacking the question of how James Brown changed American music forever.

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