Given his newfound status as a celebrated author (and resident egotripland contributing curmudgeon ), perhaps it’s easy to forget J-Zone ’s history as a skilled producer in his own right. The miracle-working maestro of dollar bin sample fare, Zone’s dense leftfield funk has accompanied raps by everyone from Akinyele to R.A. the Rugged Man, E-40 to Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island. But it’s his own recordings that provide the best platform for his distinctively off-the-wall aesthetic. While J’s 2001 opus Pimps Don’t Pay Taxes remains a classic of the broke baller ethos, don’t snooze on the other projects deeper within his oeuvre – like his exceedingly clever ’06 Hendrix tribute EP, Experienced! Like much of his other work their comic impulses belie a musical intricacy and sophistication that show J to be an ace student of the craft of beat-making. Oh, and let the record also show: contrary to popular rumor this funk fiend hasn’t fully retired from making tracks, he’s just chillin’ in the rap nursing home. Between bingo matches and bedpan changes we hit him up for a list of his favorite sample flips.
HIT UP THE THUMBNAILS ABOVE TO CHECK OUT J-ZONE’S FAVORITE SAMPLE FLIPS.
10. J-Zone - “Stroke Happy” (Old Maid Entertainment, 2001)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Artist Unknown – Horny Corny Funky Songs LP (no label, date unknown)
J-Zone: I didn’t really want to include this because I didn’t do much to the sample, but the original record is so ridiculous and I’ve been asked what it is so many times to date. There’s no info or titles listed on the album, so I have no idea what the song’s proper name is. I remember finding the record and being like, “The rest of my album can be garbage; flipping this shit for a skit will make it undissable!”
9. Tha Alkaholiks - “Read My Lips” (Loud, 1995)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Ohio Players – “Satan’s Boogie” (Westbound, 1993 – previously unreleased ’70s recording)
J-Zone: E-Swift should call up Mark the 45 King, The Beatnuts, Ultramagnetic, and Showbiz and create the most underrated hip-hop producers of all time super-group. Swift had a knack for sampling the smallest snippets of shit and piecing all of them together to make something really dense. The entire Coast II Coast album was done with this style and it inspired me as a producer who liked to use a “kitchen sink” approach to making beats. Just keep piling samples into the machine ‘til it runs out of memory. All he sampled was little bits of the guitar riff and then put it in key with a bunch of other little sounds. The whole album is an exercise in sample-based hip-hop that you can put in movies and dip the clearance.
8. Divine Styler - “Ain’t Sayin Nothin” (Syndicate/Epic, 1989)
PRODUCER: Bilal Bashir
SAMPLE SOURCES: Jr. Walker and the All-Stars – “Shoot Your Shot” (Soul, 1967)
Banbarra – “Shack Up” (United Artists, 1975)
J-Zone: This song is incredible as a whole. When I listen to this, I can’t help but think it was the pre-cursor to DJ Premier’s mid-’90s style: Chopped up Ultimate Breaks & Beats drums, a weird sample triggered crazily, and absolutely no bass whatsoever. [ laughs ] Just straight punchy mid-range. This sounds like it could be on Hard to Earn or Jeru’s first album. Bilal flipped that Junior Walker horn really dope on the breakdown because there’s a little delay in the sample before the horn comes in so it sounds crazy when he triggers it. House of Pain used the same horn for “Jump Around,” but this usage was better, I thought. Bilal did a nice job flipping up the drums at the end of the song, too.
7. Wrecks-N-Effect - “New Jack Swing” (Motown, 1989)
PRODUCER: Markell Riley
SAMPLE SOURCE: The Village Callers – “Hector” (Rampart, 1968)
J-Zone: Fuck all you keep-it-realers. The “Hector” loop has been used by others, but it was never freaked into a dance cut like this. Simply by adding a few horn hits, guitar riffs, and the right swing on the drums, the tone and vibe of the loop are completely altered. On the real, the LP this song is on ( Wrecks-N-Effect ) had so many dope beats on it from Markell Riley and Redhead Kingpin. Don’t sleep because of Phife’s “Strictly harcore tracks, not a New Jack Swing” line. Same goes for Hollywood Impact with the hip-house shit. All that shit was basically danceable Bomb Squad stuff and when people go through hip-hop’s history, they slight this type of shit unfairly when talking about production.
6. Masta Ace - “Saturday Nite Live” (Delicious Vinyl, 1993)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Melvin Bliss – “Substitution” (Sunburst, 1973)
J-Zone: See the #1 Honorable Mention pick (below) for why the legal climate of sampling in 1992 made producers get creative and how Ace & Co. handled it. That also explains another trend of the time: The ½ bar loop. The style didn’t last long because if you didn’t freak it right, the beat got repetitive. But those who knew how to take a really short clip, have it rocking continuously and keep the beat exciting mastered the style; Uneek was able to do it well. An SP-1200 user at the time, my limited sampling time forced me to experiment with this style and I still love it.
5. Ultramagnetic MCs - “When I Burn” (Next Plateau, 1988)
PRODUCER: Ced Gee
SAMPLE SOURCE: Brother Soul – “Cookies” (Leo Mini, 1974)
J-Zone: The funny shit about this, I didn’t actually own Critical Beatdown ‘til 1993. I had Funk Your Head Up and The Four Horsemen first and then went back to get this. I always loved the “Cookies” break beat and I’d started making beats already, so I’d always try to loop it. But there was that loud car horn at the end of the loop that kind of threw it off. I heard this and lost my mind. Ced Gee chopped it at the snare and got the effectiveness of it as a drum loop and cut out the horn. Plus he piled all that other crazy shit on top. I still want to flip “Cookies” so bad, but I’ve never come up with anything that can top this. From the first three Ultra albums to Tim Dog’s Penicillin on Wax , Ultra’s shit has never been duplicated.
4. Ice Cube - “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted” (Priority, 1990)
PRODUCER: The Bomb Squad
SAMPLE SOURCE: Kool and the Gang – “Let the Music Take Your Mind” (De-Lite, 1969)
J-Zone: When we search for drums, we usually look for clean breaks so we can pile other samples on top of ‘em easily. The Bomb Squad were so ill for looping a noisy and “busted” (containing accidental, clipped vocals and solo fills) drum loop and making it the main piece for Cube to rap on. The drums just sound so God damn big and noisy when they drop, too. The mix on this song is sterling.
3. Eric B. & Rakim - “No Omega” (MCA, 1990)
PRODUCER: Eric B. & Rakim (but rumored to be an uncredited Large Professor or Paul C)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Kool and the Gang: “Chocolate Buttermilk” (De-Lite, 1969)
J-Zone: Lord Finesse beat me to the punch with the “It’s A Boy” remix and its “Spinning Wheel” drums , but Eric B. & Ra’s “No Omega” is the same concept. I knew the drums were from “Chocolate Buttermilk,” but there were breakdowns and fills in the drums that weren’t on the Kool & the Gang song. Large Professor was so adept at chopping drums that he made it sound like he had an original session to the song that nobody else had or some shit. The breaks and fills sounded so natural that there was no way of knowing that they weren’t on the original record somewhere, laid down by the original drummer, if you didn’t have the record. Then I think he added another drum break on top at points throughout the song, but I can’t say with certainty – it was that seamless. Large was mentored by the late, great Paul C, so it all makes sense. Those guys would sample the ghost notes in a drum break and flip em; it wasn’t just kicks, hi-hats, and snares. Large wasn’t credited for the beat, but I’ll be damned if either he or Paul C didn’t do this.
2. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - “Soul Brother #1” (Elektra, 1992)
PRODUCER: Pete Rock
SAMPLE SOURCE: Ohio Players – “Pain” (Westbound, 1971)
9th Creation – “Bubble Gum” (Pye, 1975)
The JBs – “The Grunt” (King, 1970)
J-Zone: Not until I got the “Pain” record did I realize that it wasn’t the natural bassline for the “Bubble Gum” keyboard loop. At the end of “Soul Brother #1,” Pete has the filtered bassline playing under the keyboard loop and it sounds like one record. I recognized the high parts of the “Pain” sample and when I sampled it myself, I discovered the bassline for “Soul Brother #1” was from that song, too. I must’ve been about 16 years old at that point, and I’d just started making beats. Nobody ever layered different loops in perfect key like Pete did, before or ever since. That was the day I decided to take producing seriously.
1. Ice Cube - “Jackin’ For Beats” (Priority, 1990)
PRODUCER: Sir Jinx
SAMPLE SOURCES: Everything in rap at the time and Tom Brokaw’s Gangs, Cops, and Drugs documentary
J-Zone: Fuck all this flip shit; just start jackin’ everyone in sight. This was the first time this concept was done and it’s anathema to what diggin’ for rarities and flippin’ samples are about, but rap is all about breaking rules anyway. On the total opposite end of the spectrum, I have to give Jinx and the crew credit for sampling that Tom Brokaw special from 1989 for the opening dialogue. It doesn’t get any more obscure than that – a made for TV documentary that was never available commercially. Jacking records we all have and film dialog none of us has – that keeps everyone happy.
HONORABLE MENTION #1: Masta Ace - “Boom Bashin'” (Delicious Vinyl, 1993)
SAMPLE SOURCE (Drums): James Brown – “Funky Drummer” (King, 1970)
J-Zone: They sampled “Funky Drummer,” the ultimate hip-hop faux pas at the time (1993). Ace then says, “So what I used ‘Funky Drummer?’ Suck my dick.” A year later, DJ Premier started jacking drums from the Ultimate Breaks & Beats volumes to make classic shit and those cats who went to the record conventions at the Roosevelt Hotel and spent $250 on the Power of Zeus drums and made bullshit-ass beats wound up with egg on their faces. I always hated that record snob shit.
With all the legal and financial woes of sampling in 1992 (just look at the credits of The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride album for proof), you either spent your whole budget and cleared every single sound like the Pharcyde, or you went the route of their labelmate, Masta Ace, and freaked samples ‘til they were unrecognizable. Ace’s Slaughtahouse album remains unheralded as one of the most cleverly-produced sample-based rap albums ever made. Those are all records everyone had, but they were too lazy to find ways to freak ’em. And then Uneek samples the screaming from the end of Compton’s Most Wanted’s “Drive-by Miss Daisy” for the chorus on this? Like… who the fuck does that?
HONORABLE MENTION #2: Ice Cube - “We Don’t Want No 8-Ball (St. Ides Commercial)”
PRODUCER: DJ Pooh
SAMPLE SOURCE: Steely Dan – “The Fez” (ABC, 1976)
J-Zone: If The Bomb Squad and Prince Paul shared an apartment in Compton for a year, then collaborated to produce an album, it would sound like a DJ Pooh production. DJ Pooh is a genius and he never gets the props he deserves for King Tee’s Tha Triflin’ Album , which is a Top 20 all-time hip-hop album to me. Also, Threat’s Sickinnahead album and all the Ice Cube stuff he did. It was like he made this ill, quirky, gangster funk shit that you couldn’t pigeonhole to any coast or particular aesthetic. Malt liquor fucked up a lot of hoods, but musically, the St. Ides commercials embody everything there is to love about hip-hop. They were just raw and bold as fuck when it came to sampling – I guess since they weren’t commercially available, they didn’t give a shit about clearing any samples. This one is one of my favorites because of how the “Oh no!” vocal part of “The Fez” fits into Cube’s call and response about drinking 8-Ball. “The Fez” is kind of like a poppy record and it sounds so gutter in this context.