People tend to throw around the term “slept on” a little too freely in hip-hop. But in the case of producer K-Def it's entirely fitting. The Passaic, New Jersey product – who came up under the tutelage of Marley Marl working the boards at the super-producer’s House of Hits studio in the early ’90s – boasts a discography healthy with both hits and soulfully crafted cult favorites for the likes of Lords of the Underground, Tragedy, World Renown, and Ghostface Killah. And in the ominously orchestrated string stabs of “Real Live Shit,” by Real Live – his own group with rhyme partner Larry-O – K may lay claim to one of the definitive crime rhyme tracks of the ’90s. Remarkably, his most recent output may actually include some of his best work yet. An excellent, previously unreleased LL Cool J tune rescued from his archives resides comfortably alongside his finest vintage material. An impressive ongoing series of sonically potent instrumentals for Redefinition Records – including the sublime “Supa Heath” – culminates in an EP, Night Shift, dropping this month. Thus, in an effort to help prevent the current K-Def creative renaissance from drifting undeservedly into the “slept on” lane, we felt it only right to ask the man for a list of his favorite sample flips.
CLICK THE THUMBNAILS ABOVE TO CHECK OUT K-DEF'S FAVORITE SAMPLE FLIPS
1. Biz Markie - "Nobody Beats the Biz" (Prism, 1987)
PRODUCER: Marley Marl
SAMPLE SOURCES: Steve Miller Band - "Fly Like an Eagle" (Capitol, 1976)
Lafayette Afro Rock Band - "Hihache" (Music Disc, 1973)
K-Def: With "Nobody Beats the Biz," Marley did his thing on it. That’s all I can really say. He did his thing on it. When I heard the "Fly Like An Eagle," me and my boy went to like five different record shops tryin’ to find that Steve Miller Band. And when we finally got it we figured those drums from "Hihache" were in there too 'cause we didn’t know no better back then. At some point I got frustrated because I had like five different copies of Steve Miller Band Fly Like an Eagle and none of them had the break in it. So I knew that there were other record elements involved. And when I found that "Hihache" drum beat years later, I was like, Ohhhhhhh! It just seemed like those drums fit that loop and that melody so perfectly. That really motivated me to try to start combining my records together to make 'em make sense. It was the first record I think I heard that made sense because the drums [on both records] are doing the same pattern. It wasn’t loud and dominant, but it gave it a real groovy feel.
2. Public Enemy - "Public Enemy No. 1" (Def Jam, 1987)
PRODUCER: The Bomb Squad
SAMPLE SOURCE: Fred Wesley & the JB's - "Blow Your Head" (People, 1974)
K-Def: I knew James Brown stuff pretty good. The original record of "Blow Your Head" was fast as hell and it had bongos and all this other shit in it. And when I first heard "Public Enemy No. 1" I heard the 12-inch instrumental without Chuck D rhyming on it, and I thought, that shit didn’t sound like [what I remembered "Blow Your Head" sounded like]. It sounded like they chopped up [Melvin Bliss' breakbeat classic] "Substitution," and did their own pattern. It was a phenomenal [production to do] with that technology back then. To his day I don’t believe there’s too many people who could [re-create] that record. It was just incredible [what they did with the sample]. The swing of the drums and the way the [synth] noise just stayed there. I know looping was just starting then. At the time, sampling was a lot of 4-track taping and re-dubbing and making stuff extend. But to hear something where you couldn’t [tell] where the sample was placed it was [so seamless], I just thought that was incredibly hooked up. It was simple, but very effective.
3. A Tribe Called Quest - "Bonita Applebum" (Jive, 1990)
PRODUCER: A Tribe Called Quest
SAMPLE SOURCE: RAMP - "Daylight" (ABC, 1977)
K-Def: When I heard the Little Feat drums [that were sampled on "Bonita Applebum"] I was like, okay that’s cool. But the RAMP shit is what kinda got me stuck on stupid. Because it sounded like Roy Ayers, but it [wasn't]. I’ll be honest with you. It took me at least 7 years after "Bonita Applebum" came out to find that [RAMP] record. That was really rare. I didn’t even know about no damn group named RAMP. I didn’t know Roy Ayers was producing other groups.
That album [Tribe's People's Instinctive Travels & The Paths of Rhythm] was the first album where you just heard some eccentricsuperraredunkulous breaks. It just got crazy because De La came with their wild shit, Jungle Brothers came with their wild shit. At that time when it came out there was nothing else out that was sampling like they was sampling on that album. Using all kinds of weird shit – using that "Luck of Lucien" shit – that break was rare as hell. They had a lot of rare stuff. It wasn’t hooked up the way it eventually was on Low End Theory and Midngiht Marauders. But, man, [it was a real] change up from how Marley, Juice Crew and EPMD and everyone else was doin' it. Marley would either loop something and put an 808 on top and that was it. Or he would do a beat like "The Bridge" and just chop up something and that was that. And then you hear these guys come out of nowhere and they’re looping everything, and all the loops go together, collage-ing all together. It was just like a mystery with Tribe and all their stuff.
4. De La Soul - "Bitties In the BK Lounge" (Tommy Boy, 1991)
PRODUCER: Prince Paul
SAMPLE SOURCE: Lou Donaldson - "It's Your Thing" (Blue Note, 1969)
K-Def: When "Bitties" came out no one was expecting De La Soul to use that Lou Donaldson record - out of of all the records they had, the weird stuff. I know Prince Paul is the man behind the beats, but I was not expecting that. Those guys were eccentric, wearing the African symbols. It wasn’t no hard stuff. When I heard that shit and the way they rhymed on it with the girls on it and the beginning with that [horn] sound on it – it was like, what the fuck is that? And they kept it simple, raw, hard. And when they used it they made it into a story. I had to go and look for that record. When they put the credit on the album of what the sample was there was a massive hunt for it. We ain’t even gonna talk about how many other people used that break, including myself for Tragedy, Brand Nubian, a gazillion people. That [sample] is just an all-time favorite, and they were the first to use it.
5. Nas - "Represent" (Columbia, 1994)
PRODUCER: DJ Premier
SAMPLE SOURCE: Lee Erwin - "Thief of Baghdad" (Angel, 1974)
K-Def: Wow. A mythological, mystical, put-you-in-a-daze/trance-listening-to-him-rhyme-off-that-psychedelic type of beat. I didn’t know what that sample was, but what drew me to it was the hypnotic the way Premier hooked it up. Preemo’s known for those drums. If he used those drums no matter what he puts with 'em it usually sounds really, really good. I had that album [Illmatic] a year before it came out. And "The World Is Yours" and that track always stood out. I just felt the way he hooked it up… I didn't know if it was a chop or a loop, or what. It’s just crazy.
6. World Renown - "How Nice I Am" (Warner Bros., 1995)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Chick Corea - "Tones For Joan's Bones" (Vortex, 1966)
K-Def: I think that's one of the illest piano loops. [The piano from] "The World Is Yours" is probably the only other one that brings out that same feeling in me. I told Pete [Rock], "Yo, Pete, that joint made me make this joint." He was like, "What? What is that [sample]?!?" He was biggin' my shit up, and I was biggin' his shit up. "The World Is Yours" made me make "How Nice I Am." Just because of the piano. The track is just [James Brown's] "Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved" drums chopped up, with a piano from Chick Corea. Them two things together, along with [Tribe's] "Here's a funky introduction about how nice I am” [vocal snippet]. I just think the piano from "How Nice I Am" was one of the illest grooves [for its time]. In the '90s everybody else was doing filtering, and all this low end bass, and all this muddy kind of stuff. But that was a real vibrant kind of beat.
At the end of the day I had to [reveal] the sample to "How Nice I Am." Every producer or DJ that I met was asking me, "What’s that sample?" I can’t get sued for it now, so I can give it up. [laughs]
7. Snoop Dogg - "Gin & Juice" (Death Row, 1993)
PRODUCER: Dr. Dre
SAMPLE SOURCE: George McCrae - "I Get Lifted" (T.K., 1974)
K-Def: One of my personal favorites. That was the beat that changed my life. It made me go from looking at [my music as just some] MPC shit to thinking, "How do I get my shit like that?" When you hear the George McCrae “I Get Lifted” sample, it sounds really good in there. But when you listen to everything else around it, you start to realize that it was really like a bullshit guitar sound. The sample wasn’t leading his track. That’s when I started understanding [a whole different approach]. "Gin & Juice" is definitely one of the best orchestrated records that I’ve heard. I would say it changed my life as far as how I made music, but it also changed my life as far as where I thought music would go in the ten years after that song was released. That record made me stop and [say to myself], "If I stay on the MP I’m never gonna go nowhere in life." Because at the end of the day the sound [I was doing] was not gonna make it. If this guy [Dr. Dre] is making stuff like this, then that means the rest of these guys are gonna start making cleaner sounding records. And that’s what happened. Puffy came out, then Timbaland, and Rodney Jerkins, and Neptunes. Everything - even if it was sample based - was crystal clear. I don’t wanna get stuck in that [old] realm. I know a lot of favorite homeboy producers - that I know made hit records - who are not even doing music anymore. Because they refused to change their style. They refused to switch over, they refused to go with technology and the flow. I know how bad it is right now. And that record right there was one of the ones that made me say, time to step my game up.
8. The Notorious B.I.G. - "Who Shot Ya" (Bad Boy, 1995)
PRODUCER: Nashiem Myrick
SAMPLE SOURCE: David Porter - "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over" (Enterprise, 1971)
K-Def: I had an advance copy of this before it came out. All I know is, when I heard B.I.G. rhyming over that break, the first thing I thought was, I gotta go find every fuckin' Stax record that hasn’t been put to the forefront yet. For some odd reason when I first heard that break I thought, I’m gonna find that. About six months after, I found it in Bleeker Bob’s in Manhattan and paid a hundred dollars for the shit. I came home and I listened to the break, and I listened to Biggie. "Who Shot Ya" made me make [Real Live's] "Real Live Shit." That sample was so hot and what Biggie wrote is so dope. And it was Stax. And I’m like a Stax, David Porter and Isaac Hayes fan. I thought finding [breaks] was all over with Stax. I had that Soul Children break - that Nas "On the Real" shit. I thought that was the last of the really good Stax breaks. And then this guy comes out with "Who Shot Ya," and I was like, damn, I still ain’t diggin' hard enough.
9. Real Live - "The Gimmicks" (Big Beat, 1996)
SAMPLE SOURCE: Diana Ross - "Brown Baby" (Motown, 1973)
K-Def: This was one beat where I can say I programmed the drums so they were actually following the bass and drums of the sample. I figured out to how to program on the MP to get the drums to follow exactly so it gave my filtered bass-lines punch. So when someone was rhyming on it, it wasn’t like you just heard a bunch of mud. And I got lucky finding a Diana Ross sample that nobody ever used. [laughs] The loop was just crazy, it was melodic, it put me in a trance. That’s a pure hip-hop beat [that really represents] the '90s - the era when every good song that came out had a good bass-line filter with a fucking smacking drum, and maybe some loop on top and some scratching - and some good rhymes. That’s all it really took. Now it’s some other shit. But that's what it was at that time.
10. M.O.P. - "Ante Up" (Loud, 2000)
PRODUCER: D.R. Period
SAMPLE SOURCE: Sam & Dave - "Soul Sister, Brown Sugar" (Atlantic, 1969)
K-Def: That’s an anthem record. The way it was chopped up, the energy behind it, the way the drums sit on it. It just reminds you of a dirty, grimy Premier record. With the intro you don’t know what to expect. And then M.O.P. comes into the song LOUD. They come in screaming! I think the last time we had records like that was Onyx or Leaders of the New School. [laughs] We missin' that. We don’t have that in hip-hop anymore. I mean, we have it - but not how it was then.
That’s like the number one party record. If anybody plays that at a party, if that don’t get the party rockin', get niggas up ready to move and do something, then ain’t nothing gonna rock the party – you got the wrong crowd. That’s definitely one of them records that get you up. [D.R. Period] killed it. He killed it. He killed it. KILLED IT.