In this episode, Joe and Toby explore some of the most iconic hip hop tracks of the 1990’s including, one of the greats, “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G. Unbeknownst to most of the world, this grammy nominated hit song, featured a not-so-well-known sample from a 1983 soul/funk group. This group created a ripple throughout time, inspiring many artists, from Gwen Stefani to Chance the Rapper, turning their legendary sounds into chart topping hits. So, if you are a fan of hip hop and love being surprised, this one's for you.
What we geek out over in this episode: The Beatles “Twist & Shout” (1963), Jimi Hendrix “Testify” (1964), “Sexual Healing” music video, Da Brat “Funkdafied” (1994), Whitney Houston “One Of Those Days” (2002), Gwen Stefani “Luxurious” (2005), Jay-Z “Ignorant Sh*!” (2007), Mac Miller “Good Evening” (2010)
Bonus Material: Ice Cube “It Was A Good Day” (1993) samples Isley Brothers “Footsteps in the Dark” (1977)
🔊Big Poppa Intro
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell. What’s up Toby?
Toby: What’s going on Joe, glad to be here!
Joe: Together on this show, we listen to legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well- known — songs they sampled from. What are we listening to today Toby?
Toby: We are listening to one of Brooklyn’s Finest Mc’s. The Notorious B.I.G. single entitled Bigg Poppa, off his debut album “Ready to Die” released in September of 1994. This was a huge year for hip hop and every time I listen to this album, I can’t help but to think about all the parties that I attended where the DJ played this song. Let’s take a moment and revisit where this song was sampled from.
🔊Between the Sheets 1
Joe: This track is called “Between the Sheets” by The Isley Brothers. The Isleys are from right here in our home state of Ohio, down south a ways in the Queen city of Cincinnati. They began performing in 1954 and toured churches as a quartet until one of the brothers, Vernon, was killed in a tragic accident at the age of 13. They reformed in 1957 and chose to take a detour from religious songs.
Toby: Sad story indeed…it’s always interesting to see how families rebound from tragedy and what change occurs as a result to their creative output. In this case, the Isleys changed from religious music to secular.
Joe: That change resulted in a storied career that features 16 albums that have charted in the Top 40, thirteen of which are certified gold or platinum, and a 1992 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Toby: One of their first major hits came in 1959 with the song Shout. I have heard this song many times, but I never knew that the Isley’s wrote it.
Let’s take listen to Shout by the Isley’s.
Joe: This song is a staple at wedding receptions and sporting events. Was this played at your wedding reception?
Toby: Can’t say that it was. But I’m sure that people were cutting the rug something fierce to this. Shout was the first major hit for the Isley’s, and it’s ironic in a way, because it samples a Jackie Wilson track called Lonely Teardrops. Let’s take a listen to that.
Joe: Here are the specific portions of each song that are sampled. First, Lonely Teardrops
And now Shout…
Toby: Wow - I knew people did a lot of covers back in the day, but it always amazes me to find examples of people just taking parts of songs. This doesn’t strike me as being malicious, but similar to how people were accustomed to working with blues and jazz standards at the time.
Joe: Agreed. It seems to be a common practice in the early days of recording, so perhaps it was generally more accepted that portions of music were public domain. Regardless, Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, wrote Lonely Teardrops, and he later signed The Isley Brothers to the Motown label, so he must not have been too upset.
Toby: Covering songs was certainly a common practice. And sometimes it takes the right artist performing a song before it becomes a hit. The Isley’s had another hit in 1962 with their cover of the song Twist and Shout. It was their first Top 40 hit on both the Pop and R&B charts. Let’s take a listen.
🔊Twist and Shout
Joe: I hadn’t realized this was a cover, I always thought the Isley’s had done the original. Turns out this was first done a year earlier by a group called the Top Notes. Have a listen:
You can hear how the original was a bit more loungey and hadn’t quite found it’s footing. Ronald tears it up on the Isley’s version, which helped propel its success.
Toby: Then another band came along and covered it in 1963. I don’t want to just give you the answer. Let’s play Jeopardy. This British band has sold 1.6 billion singles and has had more number 1 singles than any other band. It’s also a ladybug.
Joe: Who are the Beatles?
Toby: Brilliant Watson!
Joe: Let’s take a listen
🔊Beatles Twist and Shout
Joe: I think this is the version that a lot of people think of when they hear this song, maybe in part because of Matthew Broderick’s lip sync of it in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This version also makes my throat hurt. You can hear John Lennon really pushing his voice on this track. Apparently he was sick during the recording session and this was the only take they could get. It works though — that extra oomph gives an energy to the track.
Toby: Speaking of energy, there’s a guy by the name of Jimi Hendrix that played guitar with a whole lot of energy. One of his first recordings was with the Isley’s on the 1964 track Testify. Let’s take a listen.
Joe: I love how even though he’s playing through a clean rig without the fuzz and sonic distortions he would incorporate into his later playing, you can still tell this is Jimi. Just take a listen to some of his guitar licks.
Joe: From playing with an iconic rock’n’roll legend to influencing countless hip hop artists, the Isley’s have enjoyed a successful career that has spanned multiple decades. For now, let’s dive back into our first featured song, Between the Sheets by the Isley Brothers. This was the title track of their 22nd album, released in April of 1983. Their previous two albums, Inside Out and The Real Deal didn’t sell well or have any hit songs, so they felt some pressure to get back on the charts. This album returned them to prominence in a big way.
Toby: It sure did. The album is certified Platinum and sold 1 million copies in the US alone. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Soul album chart, and the songs Between the Sheets and Choosey Lover were both top ten hits on the R&B charts.
Joe: Let’s take another listen to Between the Sheets
🔊Between the Sheets 2
This track was geared to capitalize on the success of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, which had been a huge hit the year before. Not a bad song to emulate! Side note, you ever see the video for Sexual Healing? I didn’t realize Marvin made a video, it’s amusing…
Toby: Yeah, it’s… something. He gets a little hot and bothered by his doctor, and then she pulls out a big blue bottle of Midnight Love Potion…
Joe: Can you get that on Amazon?
Toby: I think so, but I don’t think it’s eligible for Prime shipping. Anyway, Marvin and his doc down some of the love juice, then drive off in a limo for a night on the town.
Joe: I can see Between the Sheets being the logical progression of that evening. The Isley’s certainly aren’t subtle with the lyrics.
Toby: For sure. This song has been a staple on many a Slow Jams mix tape. The songwriting trio of Chris Jasper and Marvin and Ernie Isley crafted a hypnotic downtempo beat that provides the perfect backdrop to Ron Isley’s crooning.
Joe: It’s also the perfect foundation for our next featured track, the Notorious B.I.G.’s Big Poppa…
🔊Big Poppa Chorus
Joe: Released December 30, 1994, just in time for New Year’s. Nominated for best solo rap performance at 1996 Grammys. Lost to Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio (another song we should explore in a future episode) Certified Platinum, sold over 800,000 singles
Toby: The line “I love it when you call me Big Poppa” is sampled from his own verse on the Super Cat song “Dolly My Baby,” released in 1993
🔊Dolly My Baby
This song really stands out in my mind because it actually featured Puffy and Biggie and another MC named 3rd Eye. Biggie has the best verse, but I LOVED 3rd eyes verse as well.
Joe: Let’s talk a little about Biggie and his legacy. Rolling Stone has referred to him as the “greatest rapper that ever lived”. Billboard calls him the greatest rapper of all time. Obviously, “greatest anything” lists are a little silly and completely subjective. But one of the greatest honors is to be recognized by your peers. In 2003, XXL magazine asked several hip hop artists to list their top five favorite MCs, and Biggie made more lists than anyone other rapper. That was 15 years ago, but his legacy still stands. Toby, what are some specific things that stand out to you when it comes to Biggie as an MC?
Toby: Biggie was one of the first MC’s to cross over to pop appeal but with real lyrics. If you look at the some of the MCs of the time, there were many that didn’t look like him. They were all skinny dudes — Biggie embraced who he was and that really appealed to fans. There is an MC by the name of Pusha T, who’s known for working with Pharell from the Neptunes and his recent beef with Drake and is well respected in the industry. He’s currently signed to Kanye’s Good music label and when asked about Biggie he had this to say: “I believe the Notorious B.I.G. was the greatest rapper who’s ever lived. I remember in ’94, when Ready to Die came out, I was in 11th grade, living in my mother’s house in Virginia. There was a frenzy at my high school, arguing and talking about that album. We used to spend hours in the car, reciting his raps, trying to figure out what in the hell made him veer off in this way or that way. Some rappers just say a punchline, and it’s like, “OK, we get it.” But Big delved deep. He was a master painter with words. And his flow was just so effortless. I mean, I think I’m an awesome writer, but my bars still sound like bars. Big had all these intricacies, all these colors, all these witty things – and it didn’t sound like a rap. It was a conversation.”
Joe: I think that’s what I appreciate about Biggie. Great storytellers set the scene and make you feel like you are immersed in the action. Biggie doesn’t make you feel like you are listening to a song, he makes you feel like you are part of it.
Toby: He was a definitely a great story teller, and not lacking for confidence. I mean, how confident does one have to be to say that he’s black and ugly as ever, and then turn around and just KNOW that he’s getting all the girls. I can’t tell you how many parties I attended in college with Biggie’s “One More Chance” playing.
Joe: I love Diddy’s quote regarding Biggie’s charm… “Around women he was a charmer. He didn’t really make the first move, and a lot of times it just happened from, “Pleased to meet you.” He would get introduced to people and when he said “pleased to meet you” to a girl it rang a different way. I guess they was caught off guard by how much of a gentleman he was, how smooth he was and also how he didn’t try to continue on the conversation. That made her feel comfortable. They’d lay in the cut, something else would happen, and then they’d start laughing. They’d see the humor and it was a wrap.”
Toby: The other thing is, despite the all of the fact that music is subjective, there are a ton of MC that list Biggie as being one of the greatest of all time. Including Jay Z, Eminem, Nas…
Joe: OK, so while Biggie is maybe the most notorious artist to sample the Isley Brother’s Between the Sheets…
Toby: Oh no. You did not just do that…
Joe: It’s ok buddy, I know sometimes my words just hypnotize you…
Toby: Stop. Just stop.
Joe: Okay, okay. Gimme one more chance though to bring the old thing back
Toby: If you mean that you’ll stop with the bad puns and we can dig into some other samples, I’m all for it! Otherwise I might have to give you the boot, give you the boot! In fact, I’m going to kick in the door with a song from a pioneering female rapper that samples Between the Sheets.
Toby: This is Funkdafied from Da Brat’s 1994 album of the same name on the So, So Def label. This song debuted at #11 on Billboard 200 and topped the Rap and R&B/Hip Hop charts. Da Brat was the first solo female rapper to go platinum. Besides her solo work, she’s done featured appearances on numerous tracks with Kriss Kross, Missy Elliot, Mariah Carey, Brandy, Destiny’s Child, Kelly Rowland and Lil Wayne. And let’s not forget the rap icon that is Shaquille O’Neal.
Joe: She was also in Mariah’s movie Glitter and did a stint on VH1’s The Surreal Life and Celebrity Fit Club. I’m glad to hear about the Fit Club appearance, because the woman had a problem with rum.
Toby: Yeah, there were two separate incidents where she attacked women with rum bottles, and she did almost 2 years in prison for the second one. It seems like she has had some bad times at clubs specifically, but now has her life in order again. Now she’s paying it forward by mentoring young talent on the TV show The Rap Game and has a supporting role on the show Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta. Rumor has it that she was interesting in starting up a boxing club called Right Right Left, but then thought better of it.
Joe: Let’s fast forward now to 2002 and see how another female icon used Between the Sheets to create a hit. Listen to how she turns Between the Sheets into more of a mid tempo jam. It’s still laid back, but the pace picks up a bit from the original song.
🔊One of Those Days
Toby: This is Whitney Houston’s One of Those Days, off of her album Just Whitney. This song talks about something we can all relate to — taking some down time to relax and reset.
Joe: Yep. Time for a mani pedi and some soak time in the tub.
Toby: Now when you’re done with the bath, you’re probably ready for some time Between the Sheets. You want to make sure those sheets have a high thread count.
Joe: Like those fancy Egyptian cotton sheets?
Toby: Like rolling in cashmere. In fact, you want sheets so good they’re luxurious, which just so happens to be the name of the 2005 Gwen Stefani song that also samples Between the Sheets. Let’s listen.
Joe: Gwen takes the opposite approach from Whitney — she actually slows down the sample of Between the Sheets and counterbalances that with a faster rhyme flow in the chorus. This song wasn’t originally supposed to sample the Isley’s. In fact, Gwen and co-writer Tony Kanal had the song finished before the producer of her album, Nellee Hooper, suggested laying the Between the Sheets track under the song.
Toby: Tony Kanal… you mean the bass player for No Doubt and Gwen’s former boyfriend?
Joe: That’s the one, the same guy she wrote the No Doubt song “Don’t Speak” about. But it’s ok, she also wrote the song “Cool,” about their friendship, so it’s all good.
Toby: So anyone that says that men and women can’t be friends is just talking some ignorant… stuff.
Joe: Yessir. Kind of like our next track
Toby: This is Ignorant… we’ll clean it up and say “stuff” … from Jay-Z on his 2007 album American Gangster. This album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and sold almost half a million copies in its first week. It was also his 10th number one album, tying him with Elvis for the second most, behind The Beatles.
Joe: I like how Jay and producer Just Blaze sped up the Isley’s sample and gave it a gritty pulse with the kick and snare. I know we can’t play a ton of this track on a family show, but speaking of family shows, you gotta love that he shouts out CHIPS and Erik Estrada on this track.
Toby: Alright, let’s switch over to an artist that usually writes more family friendly rhymes, Chance the Rapper. Let’s take a listen to how he sampled Between the Sheets on his 2012 mixtape 10 Day and the song Juke Juke.
This track has over 500,000 downloads on the mixtape site datPiff, and another 900,000 streams. Apparently the album name came from a 10 day suspension he received as a senior in high school for having weed on campus. He used that downtime to begin work on this album — I’d say he made good use of his time.
Joe: The song starts with a pretty innocuous sample of Between the Sheets, but I dig how Chance and producer Caleb James quickly cut up the Isley track to create a syncopated monster. That snare hi-hat interplay makes me smile. Alright, I’ve got one more for you Toby, and this is a tangled one. Sadly, Mac Miller died of a drug overdose in September, and this line from his song Good Evening is haunting:
“Only been a year, I could stick around a hundred more. I ain’t going nowhere. Young and so much time to go!”
Toby: That is sad man. But let’s pay homage to his music and trace the roots of this track.
Joe: Believe it or not, this, too, follows an interesting line back to our first featured song, the Isley Brother’s Between the Sheets. We’ve already heard how Jay-Z’s song Ignorant “Stuff” samples the Isley’s.
Toby: And if we listen to the song A Night Off from Drake’s 2009 So Far Gone mixtape, we can hear how it samples the Jay-Z track, slowed wayyyy down.
🔊A Night Off 1
And if we jump to around 1:15 of that Drake track, we hear this:
🔊A Night Off 2
Joe: Which if you speed waaaaay up, is the intro and underlying track to Mac Miller’s Good Evening
🔊Good Evening Intro
So, whether he realized it or not, Mac is actually sampling the Isley’s.
Toby: That’s crazy man. I always love finding these connections between tracks.
Joe: Speaking of connections, Biggie was the only child of Jamaican parents, so let’s dive into the connection to Jamaican toasting for our bonus material in this episode. We discussed earlier how Biggie’s line “I love it when you call me Big Poppa” is taken from his verse on the song Dolly My Baby by Super Cat.
Toby: So for today’s bonus material, I’m going to ask that listeners pay extra attention. This might get a bit confusing, but I’ll do my best to explain it. So we all know about DJ’s- it’s short for Disc Jockey- it’s the person slanging records and playing music to make folks hit the dance floor. I’m going to talk about a different type of DJ- this one is spelled out instead of just the initials, D-E-E-J-A-Y, and it’s defined as a person who sings or toasts over an instrumental track in the Jamaican style of music known as dancehall. Dancehall deejays who select the music to play are called selectors and research shows that the term Deejay was credited back to selectors U-Roy and King Stitt in the 60’s and 70’s. This would give give deejay’s a chance to come up with a freestyle on the spot and “toast” to the riddim being played.
Joe: Toasting was born out of an African tradition of storytelling which was performed by people known as griots. The tradition of toasting with a mix of chanting and singing has evolved over time with the emergence of hip hop and is known as singjaying.
Toby: Let’s listen to a good example of singjaying from a song by a young artist named Vicious on a track called“Nika”. I used to love this song and it’s good to have an excuse to play it.
Joe: I see what you did there! You snuck in another sample of Between the Sheets Brilliant!
Toby: You like that? Some other examples of singjaying can be seen with artists like Capleton. This is a perfect example of a blend of hip hop and singjaying that worked well to promote both genres, hip hop and dancehall. Here is his song Tour of the 1995 album Prophecy
Joe: Is that a sample from Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story” that he used?
Toby: Yes sir! And you can see how instrumental it was to be able to use a track like this to bridge between different genre sets in a club. One of the best that I’ve ever witnessed to do it was a canadian DJ crew called Baby Blue in Toronto.
Joe: Toronto — That’s certainly a melting pot of diversity and musical tastes.
Toby: So true- it was important to be able to manage a smooth transition between hip hop, to reggae, to soca or calypso.
Joe: I knew I could count on you to get us chair dancing before this episode was over.
Toby: In the immortal words of Will Ferrel- You’re my boy blue, you’re my boy…”
Joe: And that’s going to wrap up another episode of Riffs on Riffs. This episode we’ve explored the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets”, Notorious BIG’s “Big Poppa”, as well as tracks from Da Brat, Whitney, Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper, and Mac Miller. We also took a quick listen to dancehall and the art of singjaying. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we have. Toby, what do we have coming up for our next episode?
Toby: As always, we are never gonna stop. We will enter the 5th dimension and spend some alone time with Halsey.
Joe: Count me in for that! We’ll take you out with another toast track that was a hit for Shaggy in 1996. Til next time, this is Mr. Boombastic, Joe Watson
Toby: And Mr. Lover Lover, Toby Brazwell
Joe: Thank you for listening to Riffs on Riffs