It may not sound like the most appealing effect of listening to a song, but there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned earworm in the music world. A tune that you just can’t get out of your head can make the difference between an all-time greatest hit and an unmemorable B-side flop. So, it’s pretty intriguing to find out that the catchy song your brain just can’t stop playing on a loop is actually derived from another song. This practice is usually called sampling in some circles and interpolating in others. Sometimes done with permission — sometimes not — sampling involves cutting and remixing a snippet of an existing song for use in brand new ways on a brand new track. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous cases.
“U Can’t Touch This” – MC Hammer (1990)
MC Hammer might not be making music anymore, but his legacy lives on in his eponymous pants — and in his 1990 hip hop hit “U Can’t Touch This.” The recipient of numerous Grammy awards and an essential tune on the soundtrack to every junior-high birthday party you went to in the early ’90s, “U Can’t Touch This” owes at least part of its success to Rick James.
James’ 1981 chart-topper “Super Freak” is interpolated and referenced throughout “U Can’t Touch This,” essentially serving as the beating heart of MC Hammer’s still-iconic track. “Super Freak” is still a smash hit in its own right, as is Hammer’s take on the classic.
“C.R.E.A.M.” – Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
More than 25 years after its initial release, “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan remains one of the most iconic and recognizable hip hop songs of all time. Still, despite its lasting fame and enduring legacy, it’s worth noting that the song owes credit to an earlier group.
Throughout “C.R.E.A.M.,” the song “As Long as I’ve Got You” by The Charmells can be heard. Predating Wu-Tang’s revival of the song by nearly three decades, the older track, as it was integrated into Wu-Tang Clan’s song, made for something completely fresh.
“Juicy” – The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
Much like Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G. remains an unimpeachable icon of the hip-hop and rap genres, even decades after his greatest hits were released. One of Biggie’s most popular songs, “Juicy,” helped to cement that status for the rap legend back in 1994.
However, also similar to Wu-Tang Clan, some of the success — or at least credit for a large part of the track’s catchiness — belongs to another group. One of the most recognizable aspects of “Juicy” is its use of “Juicy Fruit” by Mtume, a track released more than 10 years prior to Biggie’s smash hit.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” – Coolio (1995)
Many listeners will recognize Coolio’s 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” (featuring L.V.) as the foundation for Weird Al Yankovic’s parody “Amish Paradise,” but the truth is that “Gangsta’s Paradise” could be recognized as something interpolated from “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder. It’s funny how these things work, isn’t it?
Stevie Wonder’s song is referenced in Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” and its catchy beat comes from “Pastime Paradise” as well. This makes the two songs sort-of siblings and Weird Al’s version the strange uncle who brings Jell-o molds to Thanksgiving.
“Digital Love” – Daft Punk (2001)
Back in the early 2000s, there was one group at the forefront of the sampling game: techno duo Daft Punk. One of the first to really attempt to graft the beats and the rhythms of older songs into something fresh and new, the pair released “Digital Love” in 2001 to great success.
The utilization of George Duke’s “I Love You More” works very well on the track. Artists have gone on to sample Daft Punk in the years since then, meaning there’s actually a scenario in which a song could sample a sample of a sample — how meta is that?
“Sing for the Moment” – Eminem (2003)
Eminem remains one of the most predominant names in rap, despite not having a huge hit in a few years. That doesn’t mean he didn’t churn them out like crazy in the past, though. One example is “Sing for the Moment” from 2003, which makes good use of Aerosmith’s 1973 power ballad “Dream On.”
Like many things about the rapper’s life and career, Eminem’s use of Aerosmith’s song isn’t remotely subtle. The title of the hit song even gets its name from a snippet of the lyrics in “Dream On.”
“Crazy in Love” – Beyoncé (2003)
Beyoncé is one of the biggest artists working today, but even in her early days she was topping the charts. Beginning with her years in Destiny’s Child and stretching all the way up to her recent album with husband Jay-Z, the singer can top best-of lists effortlessly, and she does it often.
While “Formation” and “Partition” came much later on, one of Queen Bey’s biggest hits is 2003’s “Crazy in Love” (featuring Jay-Z). Similar to her husband and his frequent reliance on samples, the track interpolates “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)” by The Chi-Lites throughout its four-minute run time.
“All Summer Long” – Kid Rock (2007)
While plenty of focus has been put on popular songs that sample other tracks, there’s one phenomenon that hasn’t been mentioned yet: the art of looping two songs together in one new track. For a prime example of this feat, look no further than Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long.”
The country-rocker takes both “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd and “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon and combines them to create a song that plays like a pop-simmered pastiche of down-South fun. To his credit, the song was immensely popular throughout the summer of 2007.
“Stronger” – Kanye West (2007)
Sampling pioneer, hip-hop artist and producer Kanye West wasn’t afraid to pay tribute to the techno-dance duo that preceded his experimentation: Daft Punk. West’s 2005 single “Stronger” relies heavily on “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk.
West had no qualms about hiding the source of his samples; he directly references Daft Punk’s song right there in the title of this track, after all. With songs like this era-definer on his roster, it’s impossible to dismiss the strides West made in the 2000s that still define the genre today.
“Paper Planes” – M.I.A. (2007)
It was nearly impossible to go a single day without hearing M.I.A.’s 2007 smash hit “Paper Planes” in the months that followed its release. Used in commercials, movies and TV shows to no end in the years that followed, the song was all but inescapable for quite some time. And it’s catchy enough that we didn’t mind.
But we have to give catchiness credit where catchiness credit is due. As it turns out, M.I.A. was aided by the 1982 single “Straight to Hell” by The Clash. That this politically active singer chose to sample a song from one of punk music’s most notorious groups seems perfectly fitting.
“Whatcha Say” – Jason Derulo (2009)
In what might be one of the most peculiar instances of sampling in recent years, Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” heavily features a sample of “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap. A slow, somber indie song from 2005, Imogen Heap’s distorted and haunting vocals are sped up significantly to become the chorus for Derulo’s song about…cheating on a partner?
This example is proof positive that, when a song is good, it’s possible to rework it and reshape it into any sort of genre imaginable. And it’s a testament to both Derulo and Imogen Heap’s talents.
“Right Round” – Flo Rida Featuring Ke$ha (2009)
Before Ke$ha was dropping future classics like “TiK ToK” and “Your Love Is My Drug,” she was featured on tracks from other bigger artists like Flo Rida. In fact, she can be heard singing the chorus and background vocals in Flo Rida’s 2009 single “Right Round.”
The song is a playful and suggestive riff on 1984’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive. Flo Rida and Ke$ha’s version is certainly a bit more risque, but both are equally as catchy.
“On the Floor” – Jennifer Lopez (2011)
Jennifer Lopez is nothing short of a powerhouse. She can act, she can sing, she can dance — and judging by her hit “On the Floor” from 2011, she can sample. An obscure track from a French-Brazilian pop band, “Lambada” by Kaoma, is smoothly integrated into Lopez’s club track.
The song was hugely successful in the early 2010s when it was released, and that’s due in part to Lopez’s reliance on some of the musical stylings of Kaoma and their 1989 song to make the beat for her chart-topper. It’s always interesting to see where artists find inspiration, especially when we might not be familiar with the source tracks.
“Best Song Ever” – One Direction (2013)
When One Direction was in its prime, critics and boy band haters were quick to dismiss anything the group put out as something from just another soon-to-be-finished pop act. Fans, on the other hand, were just as quick to compare 1D to the great British boy bands of the past — you know, like a little band called The Beatles, for example.
This is what makes their single “Best Song Ever” so tongue in cheek. After years of being compared to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, One Direction went in an interesting direction and sampled “Baba O’Riley” by The Who — not a boy band, but a definite English great nonetheless. One Direction might have eventually broken up, but this was a clever move that proved they were familiar with the classics.
“We Can’t Stop” – Miley Cyrus (2013)
Miley Cyrus is all too familiar with reinvention. The artist, a former Disney Channel star who found success in her singing career and a huge fan base with her show Hannah Montana, has never stopped trying to change her sound and her image since officially growing up.
While she might be inching farther away from her roots today, she was once a pillar of pop. Her hit song “We Can’t Stop,” which arrived just as she was debuting her Disney-less career, interpolates the song “La Di Da Di” by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick for use as its beat.
“Feel This Moment” – Pitbull Featuring Christina Aguilera (2013)
When two of the biggest names in pop music come together to do a song, you already know it’s going to be a chart-topper. Throw in a sample from an already-iconic song, and you expand your recipe for success to greater heights. This is exactly what happened with Pitbull’s 2013 song “Feel This Moment” featuring Christina Aguilera.
The track samples the meme-worthy A-Ha song from 1985, “Take on Me.” While Pitbull and Aguilera never opted for an animated music video like A-Ha, it was still a massive success for them.
“The Man” – Aloe Blacc (2014)
Sampling one pop song for use in another is one thing, but taking a catchy and enjoyable song in its own right and completely transforming it into a totally new track for your own use is something else entirely — and it’s equally impressive. Just turn on Aloe Blacc’s soulful “The Man” from 2014, which completely reworks and interpolates Elton John’s “Your Song” from 1970, to see what we mean.
By taking “Your Song” and effectively making it his song, Aloe Blacc actually managed to surpass the success of Elton John’s track with his own version of the ’70s single. You can’t argue with that kind of creative success.
“Uma Thurman” – Fall Out Boy (2015)
When is it not exciting to see a band go from a relatively well-known status within its genre to global success in pop music? (The answer is “never.”) This is exactly the phenomenon that Fall Out Boy experienced in the mid-2010s as they transitioned from being a big name in alternative rock to becoming all-out pop superstars from 2015 onward.
Their hit single “Uma Thurman” references Quentin Tarantino’s iconic 1994 film Pulp Fiction all over the place (starting, of course, with the title). However — strangely enough — the track also draws from the theme song of the T.V. show The Munsters.
“Redbone” – Childish Gambino (2016)
Childish Gambino remains one of the most mystifying and unique voices in R&B. Starting off as actor, writer and comedian Donald Glover and transitioning into his alter ego of Childish Gambino whenever he’s singing, he released the catchy single “Redbone” in 2016. It’s one of many examples of why Gambino is a prevailing voice in the genre.
As it happens, Gambino looked to the past for his future. “Redbone” makes use of “I’d Rather Be With You,” a 1976 song from Bootsy’s Rubber Band, a collaborative project between Funkadelic and Parliament led by none other than bassist Bootsy Collins.
“Wild Thoughts” – DJ Khaled Featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller (2017)
DJ Khaled is an enigma. Like Diplo, Marshmello and other popular DJs from today’s top-40 charts, he’s not actually the one doing all the singing. He would much rather recruit other chart toppers to provide the vocals to go with his beats (and occasionally become a meme).
In the case of “Wild Thoughts” (featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller), DJ Khaled also relied on someone else for the beat. Take one listen to “Wild Thoughts,” and the influence of 1999’s “Maria Maria” by Santana featuring The Product G&B is impossible to ignore. It works well, though, and both songs are successes.
“Shape of You” – Ed Sheeran (2017)
There’s something about Ed Sheeran’s no-frills acoustic sound that makes him one of today’s top pop artists. He’s been unstoppable as of late, a quality that started appearing in his 2017 track, “Shape of You.” As the lead single from his third album, the song shattered records by staying at the top of the charts for 16 consecutive weeks.
Surprisingly, though, Sheeran’s inspiration for the track came from “No Scrubs” by TLC. He incorporates parts of the girl group’s R&B hit from 1999, using it to form the framework of his own smash hit decades later.
“Bodak Yellow” – Cardi B (2017)
It’s the trendy song that started it all for her. “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B showed the world in just a few minutes exactly what she was about and what she was capable of doing. Years later, Cardi remains unmatched — but does she owe some of that success to the person she sampled? Absolutely.
Her first big hit, “Bodak Yellow,” boldly sampled the breakout hit “No Flockin‘” by Kodak Black. The artist she interpolated is even referenced in the title, which is a “play on the name” of the rapper.
“Without Me” – Halsey (2018)
It’s always a strange phenomenon when an artist samples a song by another artist who’s still making hits themselves. This is the case with Halsey and her emotional breakup song “Without Me,” which interpolates 2002’s “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake.
Halsey is something of a genre-bender herself, experimenting in all different sorts of sounds under the pop umbrella every time she drafts her next big single. Justin Timberlake is no different, dabbling in pop, hip-hop, R&B and even a few folksy singer-songwriter tracks — which might be exactly why this song works so well.
“Old Town Road” – Lil Nas X (2019)
Like Doja Cat, Lil Nas X is a somewhat serious (but also kind-of-joking) artist who frequently resorts to humor in his music. One of his biggest hits so far, “Old Town Road,” is just a single example of this.
A previously unseen country-rap hybrid, the track actually samples a bit of metal too. “34 Ghosts IV” by Nine Inch Nails is heard in the opening notes of the song, as well as throughout the rest of the single. You just have to dig a little deeper into the beat of this now-iconic “cowboy rap” song.
“My Type” – Saweetie (2019)
One of today’s most popular viral tracks — thanks in large part to the short-form video app TikTok — owes its catchy beat to “Freek-A-Leek” by Petey Pablo. Released in 2003 and produced by Lil’ John, the song is an excellent example of confidently Southern hip-hop with a strong crunk influence thrown in.
But Saweetie might be a more recognizable name than Petey Pablo among the younger generations these days, many of whom would recognize “My Type” before they realized it incorporated “Freek-A-Leek” in a very big way. The sample of the track can be heard loud and clear, making this one a nostalgic banger for those of us who came of age in the early 2000s.
“Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” – Ariana Grande (2019)
Ariana Grande surprised both fans and critics alike when she dropped two albums in the same year in 2019. Sweetener and Thank U, Next both earned themselves plenty of high praise, and rightfully so. Both albums show exactly the kind of pop superstar Ariana Grande is capable of being.
One of the singles from Thank U, Next, titled “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” stands out for a few reasons. In addition to being a wildly catchy song, it also samples “It Makes Me Ill” by ’90s boy band *NSYNC. How’s that for a nostalgic throwback?
“Barefoot in the Park” – James Blake Featuring Rosalia (2019)
At first listen, this song from ultimate moody maverick James Blake seems to tell the tale of a relationship heading down a rocky road — with a little help from Spanish singer Rosalía. In reality, Blake confesses the song really refers to someone who “can make you feel so great that you are almost in a hallucinogenic state, the way you see behind the curtain of reality.”
The song’s deep backstory may leave some lost in translation, but one thing is certain: That beat didn’t come straight from Blake’s talented brain. He sampled harpist, singer and actress Valerie Armstrong’s “Fíl Fíl a Run Ó” throughout the heartwarming track.
“My Oh My” – Camila Cabello Featuring DaBaby (2019)
Much like Zayn Malik, the solo artist who defected from One Direction, Camila Cabello sent shockwaves through the music community when she announced her decision to leave her formative girl group, Fifth Harmony. Fortunately, she hasn’t had any problem finding success on her own since then.
One of her hit tracks, “My Oh My” (featuring viral rapper DaBaby), is no exception to this trend. A catchy tune in its own right, the song samples another son that’s impossible not to put on repeat: “Llaman a la Puerta” by Pochi Marambio and Tierra Sur.
“Break My Heart” – Dua Lipa (2020)
A former rising star who’s now found her rightful place in the pop-music constellation, Dua Lipa has gotten a few boosts from dance trends on TikTok. One of the newer tracks from her album “Future Nostalgia” also received some extra attention because of the song it samples — and the album’s name couldn’t be more apt.
Heavily utilizing 1987’s “Need You Tonight” by INXS, “Break My Heart” takes what worked so well for the Australian rockers and reworks it for the pop genre. Harvesting nostalgia and trendy pop rhythms is another recipe for success for this young Brit.
Countless Drum & Bass Songs (The Amen Break)
The entire Drum and Bass (also known as D&B) genre wouldn’t exist without sampling; songs frequently incorporate vocal cues, sound effects, famous movie lines, and live speeches from various sources, then speed them up and mix them together to create something brand new.
Without a doubt, the “Amen” drum break is the most popular and pervasive sample in D&B history. Certain outlets claim that the sample has appeared in over 2,000 songs from artists around the world. Gregory C. Coleman created the original drum break decades ago for the 1969 song “Amen, Brother” which was performed by The Winstons. Despite how popular the “Ame” break is, Coleman never received royalties for the countless times it’s been sampled.