Full Circle: The Beatles & Hip Hop (It's A Black-White Thang)
How do you measure the greatness of an artist? Is it through record sales or awards and accolades? Is it through the number of times a musician’s lyrics are quoted and their songs sampled? Is it in the global reach and chart success that they achieve? Is it the merchandise they’ve sold or the number of YouTube views, SoundCloud plays, and Twitter followers they have? If the above are the measuring rods of greatness The Beatles have succeeded overwhelmingly in each category. Granted SoundCloud, Twitter and YouTube did not exist in their time but if you search the 3 platforms for Beatles-related content you’ll find an overwhelming amount of data; content that you would take you years to watch, read or, listen to.
The Beatles are considered the most influential rock group of all time. Now, it’s no secret that rock and roll music was originally created by black musicians in the 1950s (by the likes of Chuck Berry) and eventually became a predominantly white genre of music. Fast forward to the 60s and Beatlemania was in full effect. By this time a lot of black people were angry because they felt that their music had been stolen from them. Little did they know that in a few years a new genre of music would be born which would allow them to take back what they felt was rightfully theirs (or at least elements of it).
The 70s was an interesting time to be alive (or so I hear) and one of the great things that that decade gave birth to is hip hop. For a long time sampling was the only way hip hop was made. This was partly because the vast majority of the black kids who took part in the creation of that genre couldn’t afford musical instruments with which to create their own songs, so they improvised. Of particular interest to me though is how music with black origins (rock and roll), which was popularized by white youth, went global, and after years of radio play came back full circle to be incorporated into another form of popular black music; hip hop.
Hip hop producers will sample any and everything they get their hands on. The Beatles have inspired countless musicians so it was only a matter of time until they were sampled. But sampling a Beatles record legally isn’t easy. It’s common knowledge in the music world that clearing a Beatles sample is damn near impossible. But when did copyright law ever stop anyone from sampling anyway? Hip hop, much like modern rock, is a rebellious form of music.
Over the years we’ve heard countless number of songs that have borrowed lyrics, melodies, samples, and riffs from The Beatles. But don’t take my word for it, look at the facts as at the writing of this article. While they may be in 27th place for the most sampled artist, they hold first position for most covered artist according to WhoSampled.com. ‘Yesterday’ has been covered 158 times, making it the 2nd most covered song. That’s not all though; their song ‘Eleanor Rigby’ is in 7th position, ‘Let It Be’ holds the 13th place, ‘Hey Jude’ is in 14th position, ‘And I Love Her’ holds 17th place, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is in the 21st spot, ‘Come Together’ holds 25th place, ‘Michelle’ in in 28th, ‘Something’ is in 29th, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is in 36th, Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is 48th, ‘The Long And Winding Road’ is 52st, and the list goes on. They have sold more than 600 million records worldwide and received numerous accolades which I won’t get into because you can easily find that information on Wikipedia.
Anyway what’s the point of the article you ask? Nothing life changing. Although I had heard of them since I was a child I realize that I never really took the time to listen some of their music. Only when I immersed myself in sampling did I come to find out that a number of my favorite rap songs sampled, interpolated, or borrowed elements of songs by the Beatles. I’ve shared a few of those at the end of this article. Maybe this will inspire some of the younger generation of rappers and producers to concentrate more on melody, lyricism, and chord progression instead of passing all their vocals through Autotune and chanting words that no one can make any sense of (ahem Young Thug).
One can never truly talk about the influence that The Beatles have had on hip hop without mentioning ‘The Grey Album’; an unauthorized mashup album which combines the vocals from Jay-Z’s ‘Black Album with beats that sample The Beatles’ ‘White Album’. The Grey Album was produced and released by Danger Mouse in 2004, and was quite well received, but caused quite a bit of controversy (as stated before, sampling The Beatles is asking for legal trouble). Interestingly though Paul McCartney, who has recently collaborated with hip hop superstar Kanye West, when asked about his opinion on the influence of The Beatles in the 211 BBC documentary ‘The Beatles and Black Music’, said "it was really cool when hip-hop started, you would hear references in lyrics, you always felt honored. It’s exactly what we did in the beginning – introducing black soul music to a mass white audience. It’s come full circle. It’s, well, cool. When you hear a riff similar to your own, your first feeling is ‘rip-off.’ After you’ve got over it you think, “Look at that, someone’s noticed that riff."
The Wu-Tang Clan’s 2008 track ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’ is another rap song which is notable because the group got clearance to replay the guitar riff from ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ by the Beatles. The riff was played by George Harrison’s son, Dhani Harrison.
In homage to the Beatles I also sampled one of their tracks which you can check out below.