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Tracing the Hip-Hop Samples Back to the Jazz Source, in Take Me Back Thursdays

Francis Wolff
Blue Note Records
Alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, whose music has been sampled by everyone from Pete Rock to Kanye West.

When I started to get heavily immersed in jazz, it felt new yet somehow familiar. Have you ever met the friend of a friend and had an instant connection? I realized that jazz had always been in my life, only in the form of hip-hop.

I came to understand that I knew Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew" through A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation." I discovered "The Mighty Quinn," by Ramsey Lewis, through "Case of the PTA" — Leaders of the New School, from my hometown of Uniondale. Long Island. And Bob James' "Take Me to The Mardis Gras" was instantly recognizable from its use in Run DMC's "Peter Piper."

Eventually I found myself craving the origins of the song as much as, if not more, than the song itself. It led to me to my love and appreciation of jazz, one that I don't know what I would do without. And I learned the ways that hip-hop producers found their samples, through close listening. Here's the legendary Pete Rock in a Jazz Night in America interview with Trevor Smith, talking about how some jazz records kept drawing him back — especially those by alto saxophone great Lou Donaldson.

Pete Rock On Using Records Multiple Times And Shouting Out Lou Donaldson
DJ and producer Pete Rock talks about sampling the same record on multiple beats during a 2019 interview for a Jazz Night in America episode on saxophonist Lou Donaldson.

And in this Jazz Night video from 2017, which has been viewed almost 1.5 million times, pianist Robert Glasper talks about how tracks by Ahmad Jamal and Herbie Hancock have served as material for hip-hop producers like Pete Rock and J Dilla.

Robert Glasper: “Jazz is the mother of hip-hop” | JAZZ NIGHT IN AMERICA

This Thursday at 10 p.m. on Evening Jazz, we kick off a new feature for Jazz Appreciation Month titled Take Me Back Thursdays — where we'll feature jazz sampled in hip hop and beyond. We'll dig in the crates to highlight some great jazz music and tell the story of how one genre inspired another. Tune in and join me!

Nicole Sweeney is a Queens-born, Long Island-raised music lover. Growing up in New York with West Indian parents, she was surrounded by all types of music every day and the influence of jazz was constant.