I have been listening to Drake’s latest studio album, Nothing Was the Same, a LOT. I’ll be honest, right now NWTS is constituting a large majority of my weekly and even daily music consumption. After the first few listens, I started noticing the album’s samples of classic Golden Era hiphop songs and I began formulating my little hiphop-hypothesis (aka hiphop-ethis) that Drake was tipping his hat towards the hiphop greats while simultaneously composing himself into their company, into the hiphop canon.
In fact, he doesn’t really do this. The only Golden Era samples are actually samples of the same song, Wu-Tang’s 1997 “It’s Yourz,” which appears in Drake’s “Wu-Tang Forever” and then again in the immediately following “Own It.” Turns out my hypothesis was based on a faulty aural ID of the sample–probably both times–as the sample of T la Rock and Jazzy J’s “It’s Yours” (1984) that turns up on Nas’s 1994 “The World Is Yours.” (Put simply, I thought Drake’s producers were sampling Nas, not Wu-Tang. Guess I wasn’t looking at the track listing.) Oddly, none of the sources I checked–Wikipedia, WhoSampled, XX–include any suggestion that Wu-Tang’s chanted “It’s yours!,” which constitutes the chorus on “It’s Yourz,” released in 1997 in New York City, owes anything to Nas’s track, which came out on his debut Illmatic in 1994, also in New York. Does that seem strange to anyone but me?
I also recognized the sample of Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M. on “Pound Cake,” but without any samples of Nas it turns out that NWTS just samples a lot of Wu-Tang among its other assorted samples of pop, soul, and hiphop tracks. Not the Golden Era homage I had in mind.
And yet, it’s still relevant that Drake (ok, his producers) is sampling rap from the ’90s, Nas or not. As Prof Tricia Rose writes, “sampling in rap is a process of cultural literacy and intertextual reference” (89). Sampling “is about paying homage…It is also a means of archival research, a process of musical and cultural archaeology” (79). Recycling older musics in contemporary contexts “affirms black musical history and locates these ‘past’ sounds in the ‘present’” (89). See, when rap started in the late 70s, rap couldn’t sample rap–there was only soul, funk, jazz, blues, electronic music to be had and drawn from. Sampling these preexisting black and American musics was a way for rap to intertextually situate itself into the living tradition of African-American musics.
But now that rap has been around for forty-odd years, contemporary rappers can situate themselves within African-American musics by sampling rap alongside those samples of soul and funk and jazz and pop. So Drake’s opener on NWTS, “Tuscan Leather,” can sample Whitney Houston alongside Curtis Mayfield–nodding both to the music that was on the radio when we (yes, Drake and I) were kids, as well as the music our parents’ generation heard. In fact, Mayfield is sampled heavily on Kanye West’s debut The College Dropout, released in 2004, but that was ten years ago, and now we’re in a generation where J. Cole samples a track from that debut, West’s “The New Workout Plan,” on his “Work Out” from 2011, and my students know who Aaliyah is from Drake’s 2010 “Unforgettable,” which samples Aaliyah off of her 1994 R. Kelly-produced Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, whose title track is sampled in Outkast’s “May-December,” off of their 2004 Speakerboxxx/The Love Below–or maybe my students never noticed the sample but recognize Aaliyah’s name from Kendrick’s line that “Only that nigga was missing was Aaliyah” on Drake’s “Buried Alive Interlude” or Drake’s “Since I saw Aaliyah’s precious life go too soon” on “We’ll Be Fine,” both off Drake’s 2011 Take Care.
The point is, time flies. 2004 was 10 years ago and 1994 was 20. In 1994, I was 8. So was Drake. Aaliyah was 16 (ergo the statutory-rape-ness of her relationship with producer R. Kelly). Kendrick Lamar was 7. Nas’s Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready to Die, Outkast’s Southernplayadisticadillacmuzik, and Common’s Resurrection all came out that year–that’s why Nas and Outkast had twentieth reunion tours this year. Nostalgia. Nostalgia sells. These cycles put us in rap’s third or fourth generation, if such distinctions aren’t the fictions Jeff Chang warns us they are. Christopher Wallace would’ve been 42 this year and Aaliyah would be 36. Nas is 41 and Andre 3000 is 39, even if he plays a 24-year old Jimi Hendrix in the new biopic All Is By My Side. History is more like a circle than a line, or a rhythm that you hear in the corner of your mind, still echoing from the tape deck long shut off in the dash of the quiet, waiting car.
Wikipedia: “Nothing Was The Same,” “Tuscan Leather,” “Wu-Tang Forever [Drake album],” “Own It,” “Connect,” “Poundcake/Paris Morton Music 2,” “Wu-Tang Forever [Wu-Tang Clan album],” and more.
WhoSampled.com: “Drake ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR Own It samples Wu-Tang Clan Its Yours,” “Nas The World Is Yours samples T La Rock and Jazzy Jay It’s Yours,” “Drake feat. Young Jeezy Unforgettable samples Aaliyah feat R. Kelly At Your Best (You Are Love),” “Wu Tang Clan Its Yourz,” and more.
WhoSampled.com Blog. “Drake–Nothing Was The Same: The Samples.”
Andrew Martin, “A History of Drake’s Obsession with Aaliyah.” Complex.com.