No doubt the most popularly famous classic rock sample in hip-hop is the titular riff in the milestone 1986 crossover single “Walk This Way” by Run-DMC.
Perhaps because of that anthem’s totemic status, however, the original 1975 Aerosmith rocker has only been sampled 22 other times of note, in numbers such as “Same Song” by Digital Underground, “Keepin’ the Faith” by De La Soul, and “I Desire” by Salt-N-Pepa.
Alas, classic rock has figured into hip-hop from the latter’s very beginnings when Billy Squier drum sounds turned up on a 1981 live tape of the Force MCs and most definitively four years later when Run-DMC released King of Rock.
So what specific rock songs have most frequently served as bricks in hip-hop’s sonic foundation? The following roster rounds up eleven of rap’s most relied-upon go-to tracks.
“Come Together” – The Beatles (1969)
Sampled In: 30 Songs
Sample Examples: “Frame of Mind” – Evidence; “I’m Strung Out” – Conejo; “Typical American” – The Goats
The seductively downward-throbbing bass and muted drums that kick off the Beatles’ Abbey Road album have proven endlessly malleable in the hands of hip-hop DJs and producers. To creating an atmosphere of arousal, suspicion, mellowing out, rising to life, or any other number of emotional settings, “Come Together” plays like magic musical wallpaper.
“I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” – Hall and Oates (1981)
Sampled In: 31 Songs
Sample Examples: “Say No Go” – De La Soul; “I’ll Do Anything” – Heavy D; “Mama Loves a Crackhead” – Plan B; “Crew Can’t Go for That” – Trigger Tha Gambler and Smoothe Da Hustler
You’ve got great drums, a sexy dance pulse, and those entrancing, high-pitched keyboards on “I Can’t Go for That.” As a result, hip-hop’s most inventive architects do, indeed, keep going for that.
“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin (1969)
Sampled In: 39 Songs
Sample Examples: “Off Ya Chest” – Jay Dee; “Our Most Requested Record” – Ice-T; “Whole Lotta Love” – Vicious Rumor Club; “Just As Long as I Got You” – 101
“Whole Lotta Love” is a sludge bass, fuzz guitar, wildman-on-fire drumming, and a break down when the percussion turns into a slow-burn volcano and Jimmy Page’s axe chops vast slices through the listener’s skull. That’s not even including Robert Plant’s banshee wails. Given these pressure cooker elements, hip-hop has regularly returned her to find just the right detonators to set off a new song’s explosions.
“Money” – Pink Floyd (1973)
Sampled In: 39 Songs
Sample Examples: “It’s All About the Benjamins” – Puff Daddy; “Money” – Cypress Hill; “Let a Ho Be a Ho” – Geto Boys
Between the most instantly hypnotic bassline ever laid down on tape and the cha-ching sound effects, it almost sounds as though Pink Floyd could see—and hear—hip-hop coming.
“Another One Bites the Dust” – Queen (1980)
Sampled In: 51 Songs
Sample Examples: “Dead Man’s Tetris” – Flying Lotus; “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five; “Ghetto Starz” – Onyx; “Another Ho” – JJ Fad
Danger seethes in the tone, timing, and coiled precision of John Deacon’s instrument on “Another One Bites the Dust.” Queen’s bassist is one of the most underrated four-string virtuosos in all of rock—but that’s certainly not the case with hip-hop. Time and again, rappers and producers have returned to Deacon’s loaded notes and busted them out in limitless new directions.
“We Will Rock You” – Queen (1977)
Sampled In: 105 Songs
Sample Examples: “Till I Collapse” – Eminem; “Funk You!” – Afrika Bambaata; “We Will Rob You” – Raekwon; “When Will They Shoot” – Ice Cube
It’s those drums—those behemoth, planetary-pole-quaking beats that open Queen’s louder-than-life anthem “We Will Rock You.” Nothing had ever been recorded that came close to the sheer vastness and reality-pounding percussion and, really, nothing’s successfully surpassed their initial impact ever since. Hip-hop artists understand the power of those beats. Hip-hop artists will also never run out of new ideas as to how to use them.
“Fly Like an Eagle” – Steve Miller (1976)
Sampled In: 108 Songs
Sample Examples: “Nobody Beats the Biz” – Biz Markie; “Ghetto Bird” – Ice Cube; “Star Wars” – Nas; “Way of Life” – Lil Wayne
Steve Miller goes sort of prog, sort of psychedelic, sort of mellow, and sort of something not entirely describable on his hit “Fly Like an Eagle.” That unique table of contents has enabled hip-hop constructors to tear the song down and launch it in hugely imaginative directions.
“When the Levee Breaks” – Led Zeppelin (1971)
Sampled In: 124 Songs
Sample Examples: “Lyrical Gangbang” – Dr. Dre; “Kim” – Eminem; “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” – Beastie Boys; “Midnight” – Ice-T
Led Zeppelin’s bulked-up cover of “When the Levee Breaks,” a 1929 ditty by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, really does sound like a dam just about to burst. The groove is unstoppable, and John Bonham’s drums rain down as though he’s slamming them with, indeed, the hammer of the gods. With those beats as a backing track, an array of rappers have finished the job and let the levee break open, free and wide, flooding the world with dynamic new music.
“School Boy Crush” – Average White Band (1975)
Sampled In: 125 Songs
Sample Examples: “Halftime” – Nas; “Microphone Fiend” (1988); “Life Is… Too Short” – Too Short; “D.A.I.S.Y.” – De La Soul; “It’s a Boy” – Slick Rick
Scotland’s supreme funky blue-eyed soul brigade scored their biggest rock radio hit stateside with the 1974 instrumental “Pick Up the Pieces.” Hip-hop, however, unearthed deeper AWB cuts and immortalized the group in an ongoing series of songs. Among the original tracks, “School Boy Crush” has proven most prolific. The end result is that, on the list of most sampled artists of any genre, the Average White Band comes in at #15.
“The Big Beat” – Billy Squier (1980)
Sampled In: 225 Songs
Sample Examples: “99 Problems” – Jay Z; “Looking for Trouble” – Kanye West; “Out of This World” – A$AP Rocky; “Roxanne Roxanne” – UTFO; “Jam Master Jammin’”- Run-DMC
The irony is that “The Big Beat,” the first single from Billy Squier’s debut album, The Tale of the Tape, stiffed on rock radio. What rock fans missed, though, South Bronx DJs turned into one of the cornerstones of hip-hop, building song after song after Squier’s jazzy, funkified, hard rocking percussion, making history in the process and redirecting the flow of music worldwide with a passion that continues unabated today.
“Long Red” – Mountain (1972)
Sampled In: 497 Songs
Sample Examples: “99 Problems” – Jay Z; “The Glory – Kanye West; “Wouldn’t Get Far” – The Game feat. Kanye West; “Chain Smoker” – Chance the Rapper; “Eric B. Is President” – Eric B. and Rakim
In a sense, “Long Red” by proto-metal power trio Mountain isn’t even really a Mountain song. Hang on, this gets a little complicated. “Long Red” first appeared on a solo album by Mountain guitar wizard and frontman Leslie West. Only adding to potential confusion is that he titled that record… Mountain.
The band Mountain later routinely played “Long Red” in concert, and reinvented the scorching piece as their own—at least until hip-hop got a hold of it.
With just about 500 samples to date, “Long Red” is far and away the most employed classic rock song in the hip-hop canon.
Like a mountain itself, “Long Red” is a towering presence in hip-hop, and a testament to the hard-and-heavy rock sounds intertwined with rap’s grooviest roots.