Breaking Down Every Single Sample Used In Kanye West's 'MBDTF'
Yesterday, November 22nd, was the five year anniversary of the release of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. While the album is known for many things — it’s West’s comeback album, his self-referential album, his most evocative album — one of the most notable elements of the classic record is Kanye’s skillful use of samples. Taking from other songs is an important part of rap, but on MBDTF, it’s elevated to an art form.
In celebration of years of listening to one of the best rap albums ever made, we rounded up every single sample used throughout the entirety of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
In High Places – Mike Oldfield
The iconic “Can we get much higher?” line in ‘Dark Fantasy’ is actually a sample from Mike Oldfield’s song ‘In High Places.’ Surprisingly, the song is about a hot air balloon ride taken by the Virgin Records CEO — the biggest hot air balloon of its time, and apparently something to write a song about. Honestly, the original really lacks the metaphorical depth that Kanye gave the phrase. Kanye definitely elevated this mediocre eighties song into a rally cry.
You Showed Me – The Turtles
At first listen it’s difficult to discern what exactly from The Turtles’ low key love song was sampled in ‘Gorgeous.’ But sampling isn’t always as simple as stealing lyrics. Behind the heavier beats and voice of Kanye, there’s a guitar riff that’s actually the same as ‘You Showed Me’ — it kicks in about a minute into the song. It’s an example of an artist sampling beyond the point of recognition, and the influence is definitely there.
It’s Your Thing – Cold Grits
The break beat in funk band Cold Grits’ ‘It’s Your Thing’ didn’t just inspire the drums in Kanye’s ‘Power,’ it’s also featured in Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Blacker The Berry’ and ‘Collect Calls,’ as well as the Gorillaz’s song ‘Superfast Jellyfish.’ It’s been traveling around music circles for a while, which is pretty surprising, considering the band never even released a full record.
Afromerica – Continent Number 6
As the title track for Continent Number 6’s Afromerica album, the snippet of the song used is pretty obvious when used in ‘Power.’ While the original song is a little cheesy, it definitely makes you want to go all Jennifer Beals or something. Like most samples Kanye has taken throughout his career, he somehow turns a song that could’ve gotten lost in the past something you can’t help but remember.
21st Century Schizoid Man – King Crimson
Changing from funk to prog rock, Kanye takes the mid-song statement, literally saying “21st Century Schizoid Man,” and turns it into the calling card of ‘Power.’ While the other two songs add the beats and memorable chorus, the King Crimson sample is what makes “Power” have a hard rock edge. With three samples so different and diverse, it’s almost understandable that Kanye spent 5,000 hours composing this track.
You Are — I Am – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
At 2:04 the song “You Are — I Am” finally gets as dark as ‘So Appalled’ — and adds some iconic cello riffs. The sample is another one that sneaks up on you, more in the background music than the actual melody. Kanye was able to sneak in a sample from a band best known for only one great track, and that time they covered Bruce Springsteen.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – Smokey Robinson
Skip to the middle of Smokey Robinson’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ and you can find the iconic vocal riff that appears throughout ‘Devil In A New Dress.’ But it’s the only time effective production can’t be credited to Kanye, as it’s the one song on MBDTF that isn’t produced by him. So shout out to Bink!
Expo 83 – The Backyard Heavies
Way at the end of funk song ‘Expo 83,’ the drum beat changes. Kanye took that minuscule change and created the entire backbone of ‘Runaway.’ Let’s have a toast.
Mary Jane (Live) – Rick James
Six minutes deep into Rick James’ live performance of ‘Mary Jane,’ he yells “Look atcha!” And of course, this is the same “Look atcha!” that kicks off the drop of ‘Runaway.’ This is one of the least surprising samples on the album. Kanye has expressed some Rick James love before, saying, “I think personality and songs are what sells albums. You have to take a good personality and put it with a good song. I know those are two things Rick James had a whole lot of.”
She’s My Baby – The Mojo Men
In 1966, San Fran was taken over by garage rock. The Mojo Men were simply part of this wave of heavily distorted guitar licks. Slow down the beginning of their song ‘She’s My Baby,’ and you have the dark, hair-rising riff that kicks off ‘Hell Of A Life.’
Stud Spider – Tony Joe White
Another almost unnoticeable sample, but Kanye ripped the drums from White’s ‘Stud Spider’ to build the drum-based underscore of ‘Hell Of A Life.’
Iron Man – Black Sabbath
Kanye’s singing on the chorus mid-‘Hell Of A Life’ imitates Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Iron Man’ breakdown. While it doesn’t copy the lyrics, the basic structure — it’s called interpolation! — is copied by Kanye. In essence, it’s a great way to add some heavy metal street cred.
Avril 14th – Aphex Twin
When asked about being sampled by Kanye West on ‘Blame Game,’ Aphex Twin wasn’t exactly the happiest. “Is it a sample?” he said. “I actually don’t know what it ended up being in the end, I’m so slack. I know that he tried to fucking rip me off and claim that he’d written it, and they tried to get away with not paying.” But, hey! The sample is there! So at least you’re on a giant track? Sorry, Aphex Twin.
Soul Makossa – Manu Dibango
If you skip to 2:05 in ‘Lost In The World’ you can hear Kanye singing in the exact same tone as Manu Dibango’s “ko mama sa maka makoosa.” The song itself is never explicitly sampled, ‘Ye just borrows the stylistic vibe. It’s most likely a direct reference to Michael Jackson, Kanye’s musical idol, who famously sampled the song on his smash ‘Wanna Be Startin Something.’
Think (About It) – Lynn Collins
Sampled in over 1,000 songs, including Janet Jackson’s ‘Alright’ and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Ain’t Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None) the drum beat in ‘Think (About It)’ is pretty ubiquitous in pop music. It comes in right at the drop in ‘Lost In The World,’ and continues in the background of almost the entire song.
Woods – Bon Iver
Because Bon Iver collaborated with Kanye on MBDTF, does it really count as a sample? Basically, the entire intro of ‘Lost In The World’ is Bon Iver just being himself — making some soft, melancholy pop noise by sampling his song ‘Woods.’
Comment #1 – Gil Scott-Heron
If you’ve never listened to Gil Scott-Heron, you need to go open up your Spotify right now. “Comment #1” consists of his musings on culture from the African American perspective Pre-rap, Gil Scott-Heron was the one bringing black life to the forefront of culture. The sample on ‘Lost In The World’ and the entirely Heron-focused ‘Who Will Survive In America?’ feel are the most important political moments on MBDTF.
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