Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” defined and redefined music for generations and crafted a legacy through numerous classic songs and her undeniable talent as a singer and musician. A part of her legacy is her relationship to hip-hop, with countless rappers throughout the years sampling her music. As rap enthusiasts know, sampling not only allows listeners to learn of music they didn’t know about before, but it also creates a generational bond as producers bridge the gap between genres. This is an integral part of rap culture, where producers often sample the music of older Black artists.
In honor of Aretha Franklin’s legacy, we chose 10 rap songs that sample the music of Aretha Franklin. From Yasiin Bey and Outkast to Rapsody and Kanye West, these rappers not only celebrated Franklin’s work but introduced her to new generations of fans.
A flipped sample of “One Step Ahead” is the first thing listeners hear from “Ms. Fat Booty.” Produced by Ayatolloh, the track tells the story of Yasiin Bey and a woman he’s pursuing. The song captures the highs and lows of a relationship but offers an unexpected twist at the end. Bey’s storytelling is what makes the song so memorable but Franklin’s vocals turned into a high-pitched loop make it that much better.
The title track for Rapsody’s second album is essentially a tribute to Franklin. Producer Nottz kicks off the song with “Young, Gifted and Black,” letting the sample ride and set the tone for the rest of the album. Then, he loops a thumping piano part that accompanies Rapsody throughout. That the North Carolina MC’s boastful declarations are accompanied by the Queen of Soul’s powerful piano-playing is a beautiful, generational exchange. Rapsody is honoring the black women who came before her while carving out room for future black female artists on “Laila’s Wisdom.”
Before there was MAGA-hat wearing Kanye West, there was the old Kanye West who transformed classic soul songs into infectious hip-hop samples. Case in point? “Spirit in the Dark.” Franklin’s slow and soulful croon is almost unrecognizable in the hands of West, who makes her sound like a chipmunk. But the sample works, a call and response effect happening between West and Franklin. Also, fun fact: Franklin allowed West to sample her song under the condition that “School Spirit” didn’t contain any profanity. This is why the song is edited even on the explicit version of the album it’s on, The College Dropout.
Franklin’s inclusion on “Jazzy Belle” is subtle, so much so that listeners probably aren’t even aware that she’s sampled on the track. Producers Organized Noize took Franklin saying the word “Rock” and distorted it, the disc scratching making the sample that much harder to identify.
Similar to “Jazzy Belle,” the sample on “Some Seek Stardom” isn’t as pronounced as other ones on this list. Taken from The Fugees’ first album Blunted on Reality, “Some Seek Stardom” — produced by Stephan Walker and Rashad Muhammad — is built off a small looped organ part from Franklin’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” But the decision to use this song only compliments the theme of “Some Seek Stardom”: staying above the evils and corruption of the world which, in the case of the song, is fame and the bad that can come with it.
“You Already Knew” is full of chopped up parts from Franklin’s “Mister Spain.” Producer Oh No makes the singer sound like a feature, her voice present throughout the track from beginning to end. But the best part of the track, which serves as a tribute to Franklin, is surely the bridge:
“How you doing, how you feel?
And let the world spin round and round
No matter how it spin, it won’t break me down
I’m on solid ground, but far above the clouds”
This, accompanied by Franklin’s vocals and soothing instrumentation, is absolutely beautiful. A moment that’s so pure and uplifting that you’ll wish it lasted forever.
Sampling the changing piano chords from “Until You Come Back to Me” is an obvious but still great choice. It carries the song’s main melody and is such an integral part of the track. Speeding it up just a little bit and placing it over a rap beat breathes new life into it, which Lupe Fiasco raps on in “We Love You.”
Those twinkling keys from Franklin’s “A Song for You” add a certain menace to Nas’ “The Rise and Fall.” The latter track paints a very vivid picture of how unpleasant fame and success can be. As the rapper chronicles his rise, the lyrics only get starker:
“Every night I slept with my weapon/To guard my family, for a minute, I forgot my profession/Not from Colombia or Nicaragua/Don’t distribute coke from Antigua that’s shipped out to Panama/Pablo Escobar’s bloody reign came to an end/Far from my life, a kid who made his fame from a pen/Hit the studio and changed the game again/Wrote down all the pain within, top of the charts, triple-platinum/Got the fake love back, money stacks, more plaques/Had to see who I was just to know where I was at…”
Almost like a somber lullaby the sample looms throughout, Franklin’s song about love changed into a cautionary tale about the ills of superstardom.
Mobb Deep sucked all of the sunshine out of Franklin’s song. “Drop a Gem on ‘Em” makes “You Are My Sunshine” so haunting and unsettling, as the rap duo offers a warning to anyone that tries to cross them, Franklin’s dissonant piano strikes accompanying them.
Public Enemy’s use of “Respect” is definitely more of an interpolation than sample but it serves so much importance considering the track’s commentary on how black women are mistreated in America.
This story was originally published in 2018.
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