5 Great Piano Samples in Hip-Hop

November 20, 2012



WHEN I WAS STUDYING piano and aspiring to be a producer and M.C., I spent countless hours listening to hip-hop records, finding the songs that they’d sampled, and learning about those original artists. Some may question the musicianship of sampling, but because of its prevalence in hip-hop, I was exposed to a world of great music that came generations before me, which inspired me to be a better pianist. Here are five keyboard moments that stand out because of the stellar playing on the original songs and the creativity the producer applied to the samples.

Ahmad JamalNasNAS
The World Is Yours

sampled from
I Love Music

Producer Pete Rock takes a two-bar portion from one of the solo choruses of Jamal’s jazz piano classic for what’s become a hip-hop classic. Finding the passage nearly five minutes into the song, Rock sampled a series of lush Jamal minor ninth and suspended chords and created a hypnotic foundation for rapper Nas’ intricate metaphors and wordplay.

Ramsey LewisLeaders of the New SchoolLEADERS OF THE NEW SCHOOL
Case Of The P.T.A.

sampled from
The Mighty Quinn

The Leaders’ DJ, Cut Monitor Milo, didn’t just take one sample from this song (itself a cover, as it was written by Bob Dylan and performed by Manfred Mann), but used a technique called “chopping,” which is sampling numerous small parts of a song and rearranging them. Each verse uses a different “chop” of Lewis’ solos, bluesy riffs, and gospel-like chord progressions. This song also introduced the world to the signature baritone growl of Busta Rhymes.

Isaac HayesPublic EnemyPUBLIC ENEMY
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos

sampled from

The signature quarter-note piano stabs were taken from the middle of an extensive piano solo where the pianist uses the blues and pentatonic scale, along with a keen sense of rhythm, to build up tension throughout his improvisation. Production team The Bomb Squad was known for finding these types of dissonant samples that can be found throughout Public Enemy’s music.

Nina SimoneTalib KweliTALIB KWELI
Just To Get By

sampled from

Kanye West morphs the piano breakdown from one of Simone’s most well known songs into a driving hip-hop track. He chopped up Simone’s arpeggiated riff and gave it a completely different rhythmic role that it originally had, giving the sample a whole new feel.

Minnie RippertonA Tribe Called QuestA TRIBE CALED QUEST
Lyrics To Go

sampled from
Inside My Love

The original is a standout track due to its floating progression of a series of minor 11th chords played on Fender Rhodes by Crusaders keyboardist Joe Sample. Ripperton’s soprano voice sustains on top of the Rhodes, and this takes on almost synth-like quality when sampled and sped up.

Kev Choice is an Oakland, California-based rapper who infuses hip-hop with his classical piano training, often performing with a live ensemble that includes rhythm, string, and horn sections.

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