The 10 coolest bassline samples ever

Grandmaster Melle Mel of Granmastrer Flash and the Furious Fiveand WOnder Mike of The Sugar Hill Gang join Living Colour backstage during The Million Man Mosh II at the Highline Ballroom on January 21, 2013 in New York City.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ever since The Sugarhill Gang first stitched together Rapper’s Delight, the sampling of other people’s records has been a source of constant creativity. “The way that we used to make records was this,” says Sugar Hill bassist, Doug Wimbish. “On Fridays we would go to the club and check out how the crowd responded to a bassline or a riff, which could have been from wherever, it didn’t matter. 

“On Monday we’d go in the studio and cut it – the rappers had already been writing their ideas, and so they already had a concept by the time they came into the studio. At one point there were two studios, and we were cutting at both: one up the hill and one down the hill about a mile from each other.”

While you could probably write a book about Rapper’s Delight, which was taken from Good Times by Chic, it was the tip of the iceberg: countless other hits have re-tooled classic basslines and made them new again. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Sugar Hill Gang – ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (1979)

The Sugarhill Gang stormed their way into the chart in 1979 with this landmark single, which was lifted almost entirely from Chic’s‘ Good Times. Bernard Edwards’ original bassline was a favourite of DJs who played at the block parties where rap got its start, which would eventually lead to the Sugarhill Gang freestyling over the tune live before recording it for Rapper’s Delight.

Eric B. & Rakim - Paid In Full (1987)

First popularized by Eric B. & Rakim back in 1987, the original bassline from Don't Look Any Further by Dennis Edwards – and played by Nathan East – continues to be put to good use by rap and hip hop artists, including Snoop Dogg, who repurposed elements of the track in 2002 for his own remake of Paid in Full.

A Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It? (1990)

In 1990 A Tribe Called Quest reworked the bass part from Lou Reed’s 1972 Walk on the Wild Side. Can I Kick It? is actually built around a handful of different samples, but the sliding bass part, originally played by Herbie Flowers, is the most recognisable. Despite getting permission from Reed to use the sample, he demanded 100 per cent of the royalties, to which the group agreed.

Deee-Lite – Groove Is in the Heart (1990)

Groove is in the Heart is a patchwork quilt of different samples, from the drum track of Vernon Burch’s Get Up to Herbie Hancock’s infectious bassline from Bring Down The Birds. Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins also provided guest vocals. The original bassline was played by Ron Carter and appears on Hancock's 1966 album, Blow-Up.

Vanilla Ice - Ice Ice Baby (1990)

John Deacon's unmistakable bassline from Queen’s 1981 hit Under Pressure is one of the most iconic intros in music history. Subsequently, Rapper Vanilla Ice found himself in hot water when he lifted it for his breakout single Ice Ice Baby. The track was eventually co-credited to the band and their collaborator David Bowie. 

Massive Attack - Safe From Harm (1991)

The the bass-and-drums groove behind Massive's Safe from Harm is a direct grab from Stratus from Billy Cobham's 1973 album Spectrum. What’s interesting when comparing the two, is how much of Cobham’s improvised jazziness gets discarded by Massive Attack, who instead focus on Lee Sklar’s driving bassline.

Jay-Z feat. Foxy Brown - Ain't No Nigga (1996)

The second single from the American rapper Jay-Z's first album borrows a sizeable chunk of the bass-led groove from Seven Minutes of Funk by Richmond Virginia one hit wonders The Whole Darn Family. The original bassline – originally played by Woudy Hughes – has been the backdrop to tracks by EPMD, The Alkaholiks and many more.

The Chemical Brothers ­– Block Rockin’ Beats (1997)

A rhythmic instrumental track by The Chemical Brothers, Block Rockin’ Beats leans on lots of samples, but the most noticeable are Bernard Purdie’s galloping drums and the wild bassline courtesy of Wilton Felder’s original from The Well’s Gone Dry by The Crusaders, from their 1974 album Southern Comfort.

Eminem – My Name Is (1999)

The opening few bars of Eminem’s breakout hit is unmistakably recognizable from Labi Siffre's I Got The... , which was also sampled by Jay Z for The Streets is Watching. Check out Dave Peacock's bass groove at 02:09 on the original. Dr. Dre and Eminem reportedly finished My Name Is, in around an hour. 

J. Cole (Feat. Kendrick Lamar) – Forbidden Fruit (2013)

Forbidden Fruit features the bassline and organ sample from Ronnie Foster’s Mystic Brew, which gained a cult following in the 80s following the emergence of acid jazz. Sampled a total of 22 times, Electric Relaxation by A Tribe Called Quest is another standout example.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.