20 of the Most Iconic Reggae Samples in Hip-Hop
Hip-hop has had a strong connection to reggae music since the days of DJ Kool Herc’s summer house parties in the early 1970s. Hip-hop’s foundation was built on elements of the Jamaican sound system culture and throughout the years, reggae samples have become a staple in the genre. All different types of music samples have been heard in hip-hop songs but there's nothing like that raw, Jamaican sound blended with rap.
At the height of hip-hop’s first golden age, Boogie Down Productions was one of the very first acts to flip a reggae sample. In the 1990s, hip-hop and reggae both crossed over in a major way, and the use of reggae samples became commonplace amongst players in the hip-hop game. Today, hip-hop songs with reggae samples are dropping a rapid pace, especially during the hotter months, when folks are searching for the soundtrack to cookouts and dance parties.
Most recently, Nicki Minaj dropped her first solo single of 2019, "Megatron," which samples "Filthy Riddim," a classic beat notably used in dancehall songs like Mr. Vegas' "Heads High." Nicki's new hit follows a tradition of summer hip-hop and reggae crossovers that also includes The Diplomats’ bold "Dipset Anthem" in 2004 or G.O.O.D Music’s earth-shattering “Mercy" in 2012. Even with the surge in popularity with Afrobeat lately, hip-hop’s relationship with reggae continues to flourish.
As fans continued to deliberate on 2019's song of the summer, XXL compiles a list of 20 essential hip-hop songs with reggae samples. —Mark Elibert
On his classic debut album, Ready to Die, The Notorious B.I.G. nods to his Jamaican heritage via "Respect," an autobiographical track that lifts and speeds up Pan Head's "Gun Man Tune" for the hook. The sample chop provides a flavorful seasoning.
For LL Cool J’s titillating club banger “Doin’ It,” the Queens MC and Rashad “Ringo” Smith sampled the piano keys off Grace Jones’ 1983 reggae single “My Jamaican Guy.” The song adopted the concept of Leshaun’s “Wild Thang” (which also samples Grace Jones’ hit) where a raunchy conversation between the two rappers details a steamy, sexual encounter. The song was originally meant for The Notorious B.I.G but due to money issues, “Doin’ It” became LL’s second top 10 hit off Mr. Smith and his third top 10 hit overall.
This gritty track by Smif-N-Wessun is filled with dancehall references, from the “gunman talk” to the static noise of the speakers filling up the spaces of the boom-bap production. This song can be considered a precursor to G.O.O.D Music’s “Mercy,” as both songs play on the theme of sound clash culture. Elements of Buju Banton’s controversial hit “Boom Bye Bye,” Gregory Isaacs’ “Ruler for the Dance” and Clement Irie’s “Sound Boy Get Kuff” can all be heard throughout.
Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” holds a special place in the heart of hip-hop heads and Lauryn Hill’s “Lost Ones” is one of the many hip-hop songs that have sampled the classic. Over a minimal boom-bap beat, Hill talks openly to an ex after a breakup and gets everything off her chest. The “Bam Bam” sample is heard in the refrain of the song and after the second verse, where Hill sings Winston Riley’s revered Stalag riddim.
When Foxy Brown dropped the Spragga Benz-featured “Oh Yeah” in 2001, the track completely missed the Billboard Hot 100. But thanks to a sample of Toots and the Maytals “54-46 Was My Number” and Spragga Benz toasting all over the chorus, the song became a signature hit for Foxy Brown (especially in her NYC hometown). It became a standard for the dancehall-infused hip-hop songs that ruled the early 2000s and later became a hip-hop classic.
The Diplomats called upon the legendary production team The Heatmakerz for this classic cut off the group's debut album, Diplomatic Immunity. The two producers sampled Sanchez’s 1996 reggae ballad “One In A Million” by flipping the opening horns along with Sanchez’s smooth croon into a resounding hip-hop beat. The song made The Diplomats a household name, becoming the group’s biggest hit and ushering in a new era of New York hip-hop.
The way Kanye West sampled the opening horns on John Holt’s cover of The Beatles’ “I Will” makes this a fitting, soulful ride into the sunset for Hov. The various drum beats and stadium audience sounds paired with the blaring trumpets allows Hov to look back on his career up to that point. It’s important to note this and “Lucifer” were the only two Kanye beats that made the cut on The Black Album.
This menacing cut from Jay-Z’s The Black Album finds Kanye West sampling Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil” to play up the track's tension. Kanye executed the production so perfectly that Jay shouted him out at the beginning of the song. On the record itself, Hov flips the idea that Max Romeo presented on “Chase the Devil” and applies it to eliminating what he sees as evil, as he expresses his resentment and unfulfilled vengeance over the murders of his dear friends.
Guerilla Black turned heads in 2004 with his debut single, “Compton.” Upon his arrival, the rapper not only resembled Biggie Smalls in appearance but he also possessed a flow similar to the late rapper’s heavy, nasally delivery. Carlos “6 July” Broady sampled Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” for "Compton," which features an excellent feature by dancehall king Beenie Man.
The Runners flipped Ini Kamoze's 1984 "World-A-Music" for the Cam'ron-assisted "Murda Murda," a standout from Juelz Santana's second solo album, What the Game's Been Missing. The track had previously been re-popularized by Damian Marley, who sampled the same murderous lyric for his own "Welcome to Jamrock" in 2005.
Paying homage to one of the most popular Jamaican artists of all time, A$AP Ferg unleashed a heater with “Shabba.” On the song, Fergenstein and Flacko rap over a chaotic, bass-heavy production with samples of Shabba Ranks' “Ting A Ling” sprinkled throughout. Ferg compares himself to the dancehall icon, from the gold tooth aesthetic down to the numerous gold rings.
The remix to Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” is a busy track. Four different rappers lend formidable verses to the fiery song, with Kanye adding several new sounds to update Young Chop’s soul-stirring production. Barrington Levy’s echoing chants from his 1985 hit “Under Mi Sensi” can be heard under Kanye’s verse.
This hard-hitting track was first produced by G.O.O.D Music producer Lifted with Kanye adding a sample of Fuzzy Jones’ howling opener from Super Beagle’s “Dust A Sound Bwoy” to the intro. The Super Beagle record is a favorite amongst sound systems competing against others in a sound clash—Kanye used the idea for this thrilling record. Kanye, Big Sean, Pusha-T and 2 Chainz each back the idea behind the sample up with formidable verses warning the competition of G.O.O.D Music, hip-hop’s champion sound.
Nas got busy over this Da Internz and Salaam Remi-crafted beat built around a samples Super Cat’s “Dance Inna New York” (plucked for Nas by late rap legend Heavy D). The song hit the UK Singles Chart and was widely acclaimed by music critics for Nas’ lyrics and the cohesiveness of the song’s production.
Kanye West and fellow Chicago native King Louie rap about their lavish lifestyles on this standout cut off Kanye’s experimental Yeezus album. The intro and chorus of Beenie Man’s “Stop Live In A De Pass,” where Beenie speaks on memories lasting forever, is sampled on the track. Like Beenie sings on the sample, Kanye tells his listeners is cool to embrace the new sound and style he’s taking on because the memories of the past will last forever.
WondaGurl, only 16 years old at the time, laced Jay-Z up with a haunting beat for “Crown” off Magna Carta Holy Grail. Parts of Sizzla’s opening verse on “Solid as a Rock” can be heard on the opening of the track, which sets up the theme of resiliency that Hov raps about. The sample is slowed down and heard faintly throughout the song with ominous 808s and various drum beats.
Rico Love and Earl & E sampled Chaka Demus and Pliers’ iconic 1992 hit “Murder She Wrote” for this popular radio hit. The song contains an upgraded version of Sly and Robbie’s familiar guitar strums and pounding drums with a sample of Lil’ Vicious’ chorus from the original “Freaks” in 1994. Montana offers bravado while Nicki lets her Caribbean side show with a steamy, patois-fueled verse.
Here’s another example of Kanye showing his admiration for dancehall reggae. While “Famous” became popular for Kanye’s Taylor Swift name drop, the Sister Nancy sample could not be ignored. In the middle of this booming cut off The Life of Pablo, Kanye samples the legendary “Bam Bam” tune and blends it with an evocative hip-hop sound.
There’s no questioning how much of a dancehall reggae fan Drake is. In 2016, “Controlla” became one of the hottest songs of the summer thanks to its breezy dancehall beat and dance floor-ready vibes. For the album version of the song (a version with Popcaan leaked prior), a sample of Beenie Man’s “Tear Off Mi Garment” amplifies the dancehall aesthetic of the track.
On his 13th studio album, 4:44, Jay-Z let off a pair of vintage Hov verses over No I.D.’s reggae-inspired production on the Damien Marley-assisted “Bam." No I.D. used several elements of dub (dub-style delay and sirens) throughout the song while also sampling Sister Nancy’s classic reggae anthem “Bam Bam.” Damien Marley, on the other hand, interpolated Jacob Miller’s “Tenement Yard” on the hook.