Over time, hip-hop has only gotten more experimental and inventive. That’s not to disrespect the creative masters of the early days of the genre, but it’s the natural state of any genre of music to expand and innovate with each passing year. Case in point, “This Is America,” the smash 2018 hit by Childish Gambino, just became the first hip-hop song to win Record of the Year at the Grammys, and it’s fair to say it’s fairly far on the experimental side of the spectrum. Hip-hop, quite simply, is getting bigger, weirder, and at least ini some cases, better.
This may be grating or unwelcome to certain traditionalists, but again, it’s the natural way of things, and seeing more innovative tracks finding this kind of success will likely only push hip-hop artists toward further experimentation in the years to come. That might mean any number of different things, but combining the decidedly current need to be inventive with one of the oldest tricks in the book, sampling is one option a lot of rappers will undoubtedly land on.
Sampling unrelated music, and at times music that may seem incompatible, has always been a great way to make a song stand out, or at least a great way to give it a shot. Considering this idea, and the notion of combining recognizable music with experimental ambition, we came up with some classic songs a bold hip-hop artists might do well to work with (if possible) in the near future.
1 — “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — The Beatles
Written by George Harrison, this mournful but captivating tune is one of The Beatles’ most beloved, and one that’s already taken many different forms in covers. It’s been done via ukulele instrumental (by the great Jake Shimabukuro), as a faster-paced rock song, and even adapted to video form by Cirque du Soleil. Listen to these different versions and you can quickly come to understand how this song can be incredibly effective in a variety fo styles and applications. It’s about time a great hip-hop artist got in on the action and tried to twist it once more. Gambino actually would be an interesting candidate to get the job done here.
2 — “Purple Haze” — Jimi Hendrix
If there’s any classic song that just won’t go away, it’s “Purple Haze.” It’s in films constantly, and covered either in recordings or on stages quite often. Now that online slot games have graphics and sounds that rival modern video games, “Purple Haze” has even become part of a Hendrix-themed game, which in turn is part of a broader rock series. The song is just everywhere, even after all these years — except in mainstream hip-hop. Hendrix is actually pretty easy to sample given the timeless, catchy nature of his guitar riffs and melodies, so this one should really happen before too long. If he weren’t mired in career-altering and self-inflicted drama, we’d say Kanye West might have a good shot at getting this right.
3 — “Live Forever” — Oasis
Oasis is one of the sneakier bands among the truly iconic rock groups of the last 50 years. No one really considers them on a tier with the likes of U2, classic rock icons, or certainly The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Yet they have five to 10 songs that just about everyone would recognize after two seconds. “Live Forever” is perhaps the most famous of them all, and not a particularly easy song for sampling, though there’s a guitar solo in the middle of the song that could make for a clever and fantastic interlude in a softer hip-hop track. Eminem tends to opt for a twangier, almost country-infused classic flavor to his occasional guitar inclusions, but because he does this sort of thing from time to time, he might be one to give this a shot.
4 — “Love & Mercy” — Brian Wilson
“Love & Mercy” is another utterly timeless song — not one that necessarily comes to most people’s minds when listing the best songs from rock history, but one that critics always factor in, and which is almost impossible not to appreciate when you listen to it. It’s a song that inspired its own biopic, for good measure! Like “Live Forever” (though in a totally different way) it’s a challenge from a sampling perspective, but a worthy one. Frankly it’s hard to think of a logical musician for this option, though it would be fun to see Becky G return to the hip-hop scene to give it a try, simply because she represents Wilson’s hometown of Inglewood, California.
5 — “Seven Nation Army” — The White Stripes
This is the most modern song on this list, though there’s an argument to be made that it will wind up being the most iconic rock song recorded in the 21st century to this point. “Seven Nation Army” is favored in highlight reels and in sports stadiums, and as always instantly recognizable because of its stupefyingly impactful bass melody. That melody has become so famous in and of itself that sports crowds routinely recite it as a chant. It’s a bit of a throwback idea, but we could imagine Ludacris matching the song’s energy and creating a sort of pump-up hip-hop track tailor-made for NBA Playoff highlights and the like.