In case you haven’t realized, samples are ubiquitous in hip-hop. Flipping an old classic or a forgotten favorite is a staple of the genre. To that end, producers regularly introduce new audiences to the tunes of yesteryear, creating a timeless vortex of music appreciation that spans generations.
As such, here at TripleOT, I’d like to pay respect to an indelible part of hip-hop through this series: Who Flipped It Better? Despite the swaths of music untouched by modern remixes, plenty of tracks have seen an innumerable amount of sample usage – that could mean having a single line chopped and inserted into the background as with Run DMC’s “Louder” or “Aww Yeah” snippets in “Here We Go (Live at the FunHouse)” or having minimal substantive changes as Joey Bada$$’s “Waves” on which he spits over a 2011 track by Freddie Joachim.
For this series I’m concerned not with the origin track as much as I am songs that flip the original. For each installment I’ll be pitting two tracks with the same sample against one another, in an attempt to determine, who flipped it better.
Part 2. For each installment I’ll be pitting two tracks with the same sample against one another. This series is less concerned with the origin track as much as it is the its implementation in songs that sample the original, in an attempt to determine, who flipped it better.
10 miles and a 30-minute car ride separates Queens from Brooklyn. The former has blessed hip-hop heads with acts like 50 Cent, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, and Consequence, while the latter gave birth to Jay-Z, Mos Def, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and more. For this week’s installment of “Who Flipped It Better?” we’re looking at two NY heavyweights, Action Bronson (Queens) and Talib Kweli (Brooklyn), and their sampling of a Scope track, “Kayakokolishi.”
Action Bronson "Bonzai" (prod. Harry Fraud) vs. Talib Kweli "She's My Hero" (prod. Oh No)
The Sample: Scope – “Kayakokolishi”
Born out of a collaboration of high school bandmates Henk Zomer and Rik Elings, the band Scope has its roots in Zwolle, The Netherlands. Periodically shuffling members, Scope would continue to exist in some iteration for nearly five years, from 1971 to 1976. Spawning two albums (a self-titled release and II), the band would perform and release under the Negram Label, a currently defunct house that was absorbed into the Dutch division of Universal Music. “Kayakokolishi,” the third track on the Scope’s debut album, is a seven-minute journey, melding flutes, bass, light percussion, keyboards and electric guitar that builds into an all-out jam session.
Action Bronson – “Bonzai”
Background: “Bonzai” came packaged as the fifth cut off Action Bronson’s 2017 album, Blue Chips 7000. The track ended an absence of Harry Fraud production on Bronson albums, an absence most noticeable on Bronson’s debut studio album, Mr. Wonderful. Bronson has a fondness for employing a single producer for any given project; the first two entries in the Blue Chips series featured Party Supplies, while Rare Chandeliers was solely orchestrated by The Alchemist. Although Fraud produced three other tracks on the album, BC 7000 features a quintuplet of producers, including The Alchemist, Party Supplies, Daringer and Knxwledge.
The shortest running of the 13 tracks on Blue Chips 7000, “Bonzai” continues Action Bronson’s tradition of flaunting his Flushing, Queens swagger and humor on top of (obviously) sample-laden production. Wisecracks and references are the name of the game for Bronson, who recently took his charisma to the television, starring in a pair of shows for the Viceland network.
At face value, the track is a miasma of abstract verses serving to illustrate the cartoonish image by which Bronson characterizes himself. “I’m so chill, it’s like I’m in a circle playing hacky-sack/ Embroidered dragon on the satin jacket, bastard/ I’m always eatin’ dinner/ Still got the body of a swimmer and I don’t like winter no more,” isn’t particularly majestic or though-provoking as far as bars are concerned, but when they lead into a hook that sees Bronson hanging, “off the side of a mountain to trim a bonzai” he clears any misconception about how profound the track is meant to be.
In an interview with Complex, Bronson plays up these allusions to his caricature. In reference to his choice of clothes, Bronson said, “It’s true. I’ve had this on for four days straight. I’m a cartoon character at this point. My outfit rarely changes.” For the better part of his career, Bronson has been self-aware of the image around which he built his music. Beginning as something of a chef who raps, Bronson has seamlessly fused comic relief, his love of good food and good weed, and generally light-hearted exaggerations into a host of exemplary tracks, of which Bonzai is a standout.
Talib Kweli – “She’s My Hero”
Background: As a member of groups like the Soulquarians, Reflection Eternal (with Hi-Tek) and Black Star (with Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def), Talib Kweli’s music has always aired on the side of conscious. Voicing his opinion on politics and current events is a bit of a mainstay for this Brooklyn rapper, and “She’s My Hero” fits the archetype so prevalent through Kweli’s 20-year career. According to the description on his SoundCloud, the track is an ode to Bresha Meadows, an Ohio teenager who shot and killed her abusive father after years of torment. Meadows, who served time in juvenile detention before accepting a plea deal, was the inspiration for the Oh No produced cut, and Kweli drew parallels between similarities shared by her and his daughter, Diani.
Kweli wrote, “The first thing that struck me about Bresha was how much she physically reminded me of my own daughter. I had a similar experience when George Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who reminded me of my son. I instantly felt drawn to these children and I felt compelled to dive deeper into their lives.”
The fourth track on his 2017 album, Radio Silence, “She’s My Hero” is a sobering take on not only, Meadows’ story, but a greater narrative of violence and inadequacies of the United States justice system. Kweli raps, “The justice system is a profit/ They shuffle us to prison, but shit it’s just as toxic for women to get a judge to listen,” capturing the hopelessness that many see, Bresha and her family included, in the capabilities of judicial intervention.
Verdict: Talib Kweli – “She’s My Hero”
In considering both tracks, lyrical content became a non-issue; how do you weight the tongue-in-cheek “Bonzai” against the solemn “She’s My Hero”? Both tracks serve a particular purpose within their respective bodies of work, and both are acutely representative of the careers of their performers.
As such, this battle came down to the merits of production. Where “Bonzai implements a largely stagnant flip of the source material’s intro, Oh No takes the “Kayakokolishi” sample and incorporates swaying female vocals that accentuate the anguish carried by Meadows’ story. The Kweli cut also throws in a quick nod to fellow NY rapper Jadakiss by including a rip of his trademark laugh around the 1:06 minute mark.
Though Kweli reigns victorious in this bout of “Who Flipped It Better?” both cuts play to the strengths of their artists, taking a little-known source and manifesting it into a backdrop suitable for competing styles.
Thoughts on the use of “Kayakokolishi” as a sample? Let me know @BJTripleOT on Twitter or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org