Beyond Vinyl: 8 Tracks Made With Surprising Sample Sources

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Nickelodeon).

The art of sampling in hip-hop and sample-based instrumental music has often been thought of as someone taking sounds from vinyl records and recontextualizing them into something new. The truth is, the history of sampling and sample sources is much more complex, rich, and varied. From cassette tape snippets to recorded "found" sounds to YouTube videos, producers have utilized an incredibly vast array of source material from the very first days of sampling.

Included below are eight unbelievable examples of sampling ingenuity employed by producers over the years. Hopefully you'll look for an unorthodox sample of your own and create something amazing once you're done reading.

Kmart Muzak for Juicy the Emissary's Attention Kmart Choppers

While working at the now-closed Naperville, Illinois Kmart as a teenager during the 1980s, audio enthusiast Mark Davis took an interest in the monthly corporate-issued tapes of muzak, radio hits, and Kmart commercials that played on a never-ending loop in the store. After pocketing the October 1989 cassette as it was about to be retired to the trash, he went on to amass a collection of 59 tapes during his time at the store—eventually uploading his collection to archive.org in 2015 and catching the attention of producer Juicy The Emissary. Juicy then compiled countless samples from the tapes and turned turned them into the impressive instrumental album Attention Kmart Choppers.

Dido's "Thank You" Music Video for Eminem's "Stan"

After serving a brief jail bid in the late 1990s, veteran producer The 45 King needed to make some money and eagerly shopped his beats to potential clients. One day while he was sitting on his bed doing bills, a trailer for the film Sliding Doors came on TV with Dido's "Thank You" playing in the background. 45 King was so enamoured with her vocals that he taped the song directly off of TV, brought it downstairs to his studio, looped it, and added a bassline and drums. The beat eventually made its way to Eminem to become "Stan," one of the biggest singles of his career.

Los Angeles Radio Stations for Exile's Radio

Several producers have mentioned sampling radio stations in interviews over the years, but creating an entire album out of sounds exclusively from the radio was unprecedented until Exile released Radio in 2009. Not only is the album an impressive technical feat, it also makes for great listening. Created entirely with his trusty MPC and Los Angeles radio station samples in the span of one year, Exile told XXL in a 2009 interview, "I used some of the static as hi-hats. I used some of frequencies on AM, I put in key on the opening track," while explaining some of the process.

A Gas Stove for Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Pt. II"

The sample source of the piano key chops on Mobb Deep's classic "Shook Ones Pt. II" stumped even the most renowned crate diggers for years before the secret was exposed to the masses in 2011. Even more incredible, however, is the fact that rapper/producer Havoc sampled the song's hi-hats from his gas stove. With fans believing this was the case for years due to the opening of the "Shook Ones" music video, Havoc later confirmed it was indeed a gas stove sample in his 2016 Drink Champs interview.

Mobb Deep - "Shook Ones Pt. II"

A Children's TV Show for Nameless' "Rainbow Read"

Clear Soul Forces collaborator and veteran producer Nameless was sitting around the house one day when his son suddenly played the opening of a famous children's show on YouTube. Though he had some initial doubts about using it as a sample source, Nameless decided to chop the theme song up and turn it into the mind-bendingly creative "Rainbow Read."

After sitting on his hard drive for some time before being released on Dusty Pads EP in 2011, "Rainbow Read" once again found new life when it was included on his 2015 album The Gift: Volume One—the first ever release on the beat tape/producer-friendly label Street Corner Music.

A Car Commercial for the Gravediggaz' "Diary of a Madam"

Born out of frustration from record industry disrespect and rejection, one-time De La Soul collaborator and producer Prince Paul united with Frukwan, Poetic, and RZA to shock the world as Gravediggaz with their dark, tortured, and brilliant 1994 release 6 Feet Deep. On the album's lead single "Diary of a Madman," Paul looped a sample discovered by early RZA collaborator RNS directly from a cassette tape. Adding to the story, RNS apparently taped the sample off of a car commercial.

Windshield Wipers for Meek Mill's "Tony Story, Pt. 2"

Combining multiple sound sources has long been a technique put to use by super producer Boi-1da. "If I have sounds that I downloaded, or if I hear something from a song, I'll combine it with other sounds that I previously had," he said in a 2010 Keyboard Magazine interview.

For Meek Mill's "Tony Story, Pt. 2", the idea to sample windshield wipers originally came from a song concept Drake pitched. As Boi-1da composed his instrumental, he put his trademark technique to use, finding a low-quality sample of windshield wipers and blending it with an actual windshield wipers to give the beat just the right feel.

Meek Mill - "Tony Story, Pt.1 & 2"

A Stock GarageBand Drum Loop for Rihanna's "Umbrella"

For the first hit of Rihanna's storied career, "Umbrella" has quite an impressive resume. It won a Grammy and sold 6 million copies while also reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and landing on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Incredibly, the bulk of the beat is the simple, royalty-free "Vintage Funk Kit 03" GarageBand drum loop, which the song's co-producers producers Kuk Harrell and Tricky Stewart utilized to great effect.

Any other surprising sample sources come to mind? Let us know in the comments.


About the author: Gino Sorcinelli is the writer, creator, and editor of Micro-Chop, a Medium publication and Substack newsletter that dissects beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling. He is also responsible for The Micro-Chop Daily X, a 10-beat playlist posted daily on the Micro-Chop Twitter feed. His articles have appeared on Ableton, HipHopDX, Okayplayer, Passion of the Weiss, and Red Bull Music Academy.

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