Few artists have mined the vaults of musical history quite as deeply or as ingeniously as Kanye West. From his early work as a go-to producer for the likes of Jay Z, Ludacris and Alicia Keys, to his much-celebrated career as the most compelling artist in hip-hop, Kanye has redefined how rap’s building blocks can be used. From re-twisting well-known classics into compelling new iterations, to altering perceptions of what kind of music can be sampled in hip hop, and introducing new generations of listeners to soul, funk, psych, house and gospel classics, his innovation continues to astound. Want proof? Here are the 20 best Kanye West samples. If you think we’ve missed one of yours, let us know in the comments section, below.
Best Kanye West Samples: 20 Tracks That Revolutionised Hip-Hop
20: The Royal Jesters: ‘Take Me For A Little While’
On ‘Ghost Town’, the penultimate track of Kanye’s 2018 album Ye, he returns to the soulful grooves with which he made his name, powering his verses with The Royal Jesters’ sterling version of the Vanilla Fudge classic.
Hear it on: ‘Ghost Town’
19: James Cleveland And The Southern Community Choir: ‘God Is’
Gospel is at the heart of West’s 2019 album, Jesus Is King, with the form both inspiring new music and lending the album several of its samples. Lifted by West for the track of the same name, this song by “The King Of Gospel”, James Cleveland, is a brilliant example of his celebrated fusion of pop, jazz, soul and gospel.
Hear it on: ‘God Is’
18: Tears For Fears: ‘Memories Fade’
West’s 808s & Heartbreak album found him dialling back on samples to make room for a self-produced melding of hip-hop and R&B. One of his few concessions was ‘Coldest Winter’, which appropriated Tears For Fears’ mournful synth-pop original as a base for a powerful meditation on loss.
Hear it on: ‘Coldest Winter’
17: The 24 Carat Black: ‘I Want To Make Up’
The lone producer on Pusha T’s much-celebrated 2018 album, Daytona, West fashioned a masterclass in sampling, channeling the mournful soul of this lost classic by Cincinnati collective The 24 Carat Black to brilliantly atmospheric effect on the track ‘Infrared’.
Hear it on: ‘Infrared’
16: Whole Truth: ‘How Can You Lose By Following God’
Looking to the funkier side of gospel for his inspiration on the Jesus Is King track ‘Follow God’, West builds his sequence of pounding hip-hop rhythms on this little-known, soulfully devout 1974 number.
Hear it on: ‘Follow God’
15: Pastor TL Bennet: ‘Father I Stretch My Hands’
A relative unknown until the 2010s, the Chicagoan pastor’s classic 1976 gospel track ‘Father Stretch My Hands’, a richly soulful number with a Stevie Wonder-esque warmth, was sampled heavily for West’s two-part The Life Of Pablo track of the same name.
Hear it on: ‘Father I Stretch My Hands, Pt.1’
14: Mr Fingers: ‘Mystery Of Love’
Kanye ran hip-hop through a deep house blender on The Life Of Pablo’s track ‘Fade’, taking elements from two classics, Hard Drive’s ‘Deep Inside’ and this legendary number by Larry Heard’s Mr Fingers project, creating something shimmering and new in the process.
Hear it on: ‘Fade’
13: Shirley Bassey: ‘Diamonds Are Forever’
Never one to shy away from a well-known sample, West breathed new life into Bassey’s classic Bond theme, repurposing it on his hit single ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)’, which probed the ethics of the diamond trade. Winning Best Rap Song at the Grammys, the track received the ultimate accolade in the form of praise from the grand dame herself.
Hear it on: ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)’
12: Arthur Russell: ‘Answers Me’
West often throws leftfield samples into the mix, but few could have predicted that Arthur Russell’s avant-garde mid-80s track would find a new home in a hip-hop song. On The Life Of Pablo’s ‘30 Hours’, West transforms the eerily echoey vocal and cellos of the original into a driving hip-hop meditation on his early career.
Hear it on: ‘30 Hours’
11: Aretha Franklin: ‘Spirit In The Dark’
Among of the range of sped-up soul samples that defined the sound of Kanye’s debut album, The College Dropout, West demonstrated his genius for manipulation as he turned Aretha Franklin’s slow, bluesy vocals and mournful piano into a humorous and upbeat “chipmunk soul” backing on standout track ‘School Spirit’.
Hear it on: ‘School Spirit’
10: Steely Dan: ‘Kid Charlemagne’
On the Graduation stand-out ‘Champion’, West took an ebullient and catchy hook from Steely Dan’s fusion-inclined 1976 album track and ran with it. Adding punchy beats, a reggae shuffle and 80s synths turned it into a modern hip-hop classic.
Hear it on: ‘Champion’
9: Curtis Mayfield: ‘Move On Up’
On Late Registration’s fourth and final single, ‘Touch The Sky’, a pitched-down version of Mayfield’s 1970 soul classic provided an irresistible hook for West and fellow-rapper Lupe Fiasco’s positivist lyrics of self-fulfilment.
Hear it on: ‘Touch The Sky’
8: King Crimson: ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’
A masterclass in sampling prowess, ‘POWER’ cleverly interpolates from a number of sources, among them Cold Grit’s ‘It’s Your Thing’ and Continent Number 6’s ‘Afromerica’, but it’s the unhinged vocals and pounding drums of King Crimson’s 1969 psych-rock classic that truly drive the track, giving it a crucial bombastic sense of menace.
Hear it on: ‘POWER’
7: Bon Iver: ‘Woods’
A stunning example of West’s ability to repurpose seemingly disparate elements, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy track ‘Lost In The World’ transforms Bon Iver’s delicate a cappella number into a booming hip-hop anthem, throwing in a stirring sample from Gil Scott-Heron along the way.
Hear it on: ‘Lost In The World’
6: Ponderosa Twins Plus One: ‘Bound’
Amid the experimental and abrasive industrial landscapes of Yeezus, West also found time to dig deep in the soul crates. Used to explosive effect on the album’s final track, ‘Bound 2’, this brilliant 1971 obscurity has since had a new lease of life, also being picked up by Tyler, The Creator for ‘Boy Is A Gun’.
Hear it on: ‘Bound 2’
5: Ray Charles: ‘I Got A Woman’
Cheekily reconfigurating a snippet of Ray Charles’ R&B number into something entirely different, West’s mammoth dancefloor hit ‘Gold Digger’ featured a re-worked vocal turn by Jamie Foxx, who’d recently bagged an Oscar for his portrayal of the singer in the 2004 biopic Ray.
Hear it on: ‘Gold Digger’
4: Jackson 5: ‘I Want’
Snapped-up by Jay Z as a young producer, West’s work on the rapper’s The Blueprint album – which typically featured sped-up samples of Motown classics backed with stark, clipped beats – helped re-popularise sampling as one of hip-hop’s key building blocks. On single ‘Izzo (HOVA)’, West chops and reworks this evergreen Jackson 5 number while retaining its ebullient and life-affirming spirit.
Hear it on: ‘Izzo (HOVA)’
3: Daft Punk: ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’
West helped bring an increased electronic music presence into hip-hop with his inspired sampling of the French duo’s 2001 dancefloor bomb. A huge international hit when released as a single, ‘Stronger’’s ingenious melding of electronic dance and hip-hop styles brought him a new audience.
Hear it on: ‘Stronger’
2: Nina Simone: ‘Strange Fruit’
On key Yeezus album track ‘Blood On The Leaves’, West was bold and uncompromising enough to pair a sample from Nina Simone’s beloved civil-rights song with a bitter tale of failed relationships. The effect remains mesmerising.
Hear it on: ‘Blood On The leaves’
1: Chaka Khan: ‘Through The Fire’
Kanye’s debut solo single, ‘Through The Wire’ was famously written and recorded with his jaw wired shut after a near-fatal car crash. Driven by an irresistible, pitched-up sample of Chaka Khan’s ‘Through The Fire’, his self-reflective, heartfelt moment of carpe diem remains one of the defining moments – and samples – of his career.
Hear it on: ‘Through The Fire’
Looking for more? Discover the best Kanye West songs of all time.