From past to present: what's there to know about music sampling and surprising songs you didn't know were sampled

From past to present: what's there to know about music sampling and surprising songs you didn't know were sampled

Music is a constant dialogue between the past and the present. Whether we know it or not, some of today’s biggest tracks are partially made from songs from the past, all through the art of music sampling.

In music, sampling is taking a snippet, be it lyrics, instrumental, or other various elements, from a previously recorded track and reworking it into new songs. It is the foundation of some of the most renowned and popular songs in music today and has inherently changed the music world, but where did it come from?

Sampling has been around for ages, with origins dating back to Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry in the 1940s. The two composers experimented with a movement called Musique Concrète, which is essentially a collection of non-musical sounds to mixed together to create a musical composition. 

Since then, many toyed with a form of sampling, one way or another. However, the art form really picked with the emergence of the hip-hop scene in the late 1970s, and subsequently spread to EDM and disco music. DJs back then would manipulate vinyl records and replay certain parts of songs to get the crowd dancing, much like we hear in nightclubs today.

A lot of songs have either used samples or been sampled from. Twitter user, @MankySwan, posted a thread of popular tracks that were surprisingly sampled. Songs like Britney Spears' 'Toxic', Rihanna's 'Don't Stop the Music' and Gotye's 'Somebody That I Used to Know' were just some mentioned in the thread. Check it out here:

Sometimes, music sampling can be obvious. Like Ariana Grande’s 2019 hit song ‘7 Rings’ which uses the instrumental of Mary Martin’s and Patricia Neway’s ‘My Favorite Things’ from the 1959 musical, The Sound of Music. Listen to it here:

Other times, you really have to listen for it. Much like Fatboy Slim’s ‘Praise You’ which borrows the instrumental from Hoyt Axton's James B. Lansing Sound Inc.’s  ‘Balance & Rehearsal’ from 1973. Listen to it here:

While it all seems pretty straightforward, the history of music sampling is extensive and complicated. There have been many debates regarding the matter through the years, with some referring to it as piracy and theft while others say it acts as a catalyst for creativity and innovation.


Here are other popular songs that you may not have known were sampled:

Parokya Ni Edgar's 'The Ordertaker'

Filipino rock band, Parokya Ni Edgar, uses the elements from ‘Toxicity’ and ‘Chop Suey!’, both by System of A Down, in their 2005 track ‘The Ordertaker’.

Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road'

Lil Nas X’s viral hit, 'Old Town Road' and all its remix versions, that feature Billy Ray Cyrus, BTSRM, Diplo and many more, uses Nine Inch Nail’s ‘34 Ghosts IV’ as a base sample. 

Cardi B's 'Bodak Yellow'

Cardi B’s 'Bodak Yellow' dips into the genre’s predecessors and samples certain lyrics and vocals Freak Nasty's Da Dip.

Agust D's 'Agust D'

BTS member Suga, under his stage name Agust D, released a self-titled single in 2016 that sampled James Brown’s ‘It's a Man's Man's Man's World’. 

Crush's 'Oasis'

The South Korean R&B singer, Crush, samples Lil Jon's and The East Side Boyz's 1997 track 'Who You Wit' in his hit song 'Oasis' that features South Korean rapper, Zico.


If you want to find out if some of your favourite songs have been sampled or were sampled from, check out WhoSampled, a comprehensive and ever-growing database of sampled songs from the last thousand years.