By David Ma.
For decades, Ronald Isley has been the lead voice of the Isley Brothers ’ long, assiduous catalogue. Starting in church choir at age 3, Ron's early showings brought him and his brothers instant fame in 1959 with the release of one of America's biggest singles, “Shout” — the now ubiquitous track heard in stadiums and commercials; the one that “makes you wanna shout, throw your hands up and…”
What started out as a familial gospel/doo-wop troupe earned the brothers record deals with RCA and other major imprints. Despite the passing of multiple members and lineup changes, The Isleys never halted, amassing over 20 albums along with immensely popular, high charting singles. "After we kept getting all those hits, we just really felt like we had something people liked," says Ron.
Their mighty songbook has also served as sample fodder through the years for producers like Dilla, The Bomb Squad, and Dr. Dre. Now, at a spry 72 years of age, Ron tours frequently and all over the country like he did as a prodigious talent in the '60s. On the topic of his songs' use in hip-hop and modern R&B, says Ron: "Sure, I've had some issues with our music being sampled and used by rap artists but, overall, I'm happy to lend a hand and be a part of all this great music that was made." Here are 5 of his favorites.
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1. Aalliyah – “At Your Best (You Are Love)” (Jive, 1994)
Original Version: Isley Brothers - "At Your Best” (T-Neck, 1976)
Ron Isley: I think it was great that she did that song and wanted to capture our vibe and I think she really did that. I really miss her a lot and thought she was a great person. And we’ve met a lot of times too. We've sat together on more than one occasion at the House of Blues when we were both in LA performing or touring. And of course she was friends with R. Kelly who is like a son to me. I think they were married around the time I knew her. We talked a lot then. All this was before R. Kelly and her were annulled and before her tragic passing. She’s missed for sure.
2. Public Enemy - “Fight The Power” (Motown, 1989)
Original Version: Isley Brothers - “Fight The Power” (T-Neck, 1975)
Ron Isley: This one is difficult because I ended up going through some lawsuits and stuff due to Public Enemy using our songs. I think they used other samples of ours for their version but they definitely used the ‘fight the powers that be’ line. And we were already upset about some of their past usage of our songs. I didn’t understand how they could just sample our stuff with such disregard. But we ended up on the same distribution company so I just let it slide. It’s nothing personal at all. I actually really liked how respectful they were and ended up changing my mind and dropping the lawsuit.
3. Naughty By Nature – “Hip-Hop Hooray” (Tommy Boy, 1993)
Sample Source: Isley Brothers - “Make Me Say It Again Girl” (T-Neck/Epic, 1975)
Ron Isley: I thought it was a very good thing they did here and it ended up becoming a popular tune so I’m glad. I think all those fellas are very talented and always I always liked their music — especially what their beats did with the samples they used. They actually spoke to me before or around the time the song was released and I remember telling them they had my blessing. ‘Heeey, hoooo, heeey, hooo.’ [ laughs ]
4. The Notorious B.I.G. - “Big Poppa” (Bad Boy, 1995)
Sample Source: Isley Brothers - “Between The Sheets” (T-Neck, 1983)
Ron Isley: Man, I do this number at my shows. I do the whole ‘I like it when you call me big poppa!’ and the whole audience usually laughs. I think it was also used very well and is something that really, sincerely entertains me. I had gone through some lawsuits and whatnot with artists using my stuff around the time so I was apprehensive to say the least. But when I finally heard it, I loved it. Biggie was one of the greatest. When I hear music, I want to be entertained and he definitely did that.
5. Ice Cube - “It Was A Good Day” (Priority, 1992)
Sample Source: “Footsteps In The Dark” (T-Neck, 1977)
Ron Isley: This is one of my favorite examples of our music being sampled. When you watch the video and hear the song, it was just used so perfectly. I think Ice Cube is a great rapper and was really amazed by the fictional story he was able to tell. Once again, he ended up being a friend of mine years later. And I think he’s very talented, especially as a storyteller, similar to someone like Tupac. I was friends with Biggie too and I think those three in that era really did my work justice. I am so proud of what they did.