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Let’s agree on this first: Michael Jackson’s influence on hip hop in a general sense is immeasurable. But what about in a specific sense? Chances are, you can name three or four decent Michael Jackson samples off the top of your head – but when you sit down and look at them, you realize that hip hop is woven from a fiber consisting of pure, uncut Michael Jackson. Without Michael Jackson, some of hip hop’s greatest songs are no more. Here’s a sampling of the very best.
Breakadawn – De La Soul
Prince Paul took “I Can’t Help It” and turned it into one of the best chill-out songs of all time. I have been known to put this song on repeat and just do nothing.
Don’t Stop The Music – Rihanna
There’s likely something in the brain that’s hardwired to respond to simple call-and-response patterns like “Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Coo Sa,” and though I hadn’t heard “Wanna Be Starting Something” in years and years, Rihanna’s beat is instantly familiar. Devious.
Good Life – Kanye West f/ T-Pain
Famously, Kanye hired So Me to direct this video after drunkenly crashing Justice’s acceptance of the Video of the Year award. Net positive. Kanye’s sample of “P.Y.T.,” omnipresent but acknowledged around 2:14, caps what’s probably the most triumphant song he’s ever released – the video, which dropped on the day his album did, seemed to put to rest his silly manufactured rivalry with 50 Cent that had occupied gossip columns for weeks while letting Kanye run a victory lap around the record industry.
Got Your Money – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
The spirit of the ODB, a Billie Jean sample, seriously, and a sample of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” A winning formula if there ever was one.
It Ain’t Hard To Tell – Nas
I’m sorry to say that I missed this sample completely the first hundred times I listened to Illmatic, at least partly because of how well produced the song is. But “Human Nature” is leaned on heavily during the verses.
Special Mention: 911 is a Joke, 100 Miles and Running
Not samples proper, but the two most incendiary hip hop groups of the late 80s-early 90s both found room to use the “Thriller” laugh for more devious purposes. The clip is probably short enough that MJ got $0 royalties from either.