There’s a reason that sampling in hip-hop is compared to alchemy. Beyond crate-digging to find that perfect track, it’s a creative process that involves careful manipulation, such as re-pitching, equalising, and changing up the speed. That’s why producers hunt high and low for unusual gems, which often leads them to use music that is lesser-known in the West: records from abroad can be easier and cheaper to clear while also resulting in a more original sound. We bet you didn’t know that 50 Cent sampled the queen of Soviet pop: Alla Pugacheva. And he’s not the only one. Discover what other New East records inspired the biggest artists of today.
Constantly revolutionising the sound of hip-hop, Kanye West chose a radically minimalist approach for his sixth studio album, Yeezus. The stripped down sound makes all the samples on the record stand out. This 1969 hit by Hungarian rock band Omega makes one of Kanye’s most memorable track endings. Unusually, the song most recently made it into Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s debut film on skateboarding culture in Los Angeles.
It is no wonder that Kendrick himself called DUCKWORTH his favourite track on DAMN: not only does it tell a powerful true story but also perfectly wraps up his Pulitzer-prize winning album from 2017. The track is divided into three different samples, one of which happens to come from a 70s Yugoslavian rock band, September. The title Ostavi Trag can be translated as “Leave a Mark,” which fits Kendrick’s record ideally.
While Piggy Bank might not be the most recognised track on 50 Cent’s second studio album The Massacre, the sample it uses comes from the most celebrated pop diva of the late Soviet Union and 90s Russia — Alla Pugacheva. Sonet was her musical take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 90. If you want more of this unlikely crossover, enjoy this hilarious mash-up of 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P. and Pugacheva’s Ask Me to Follow You (Pozovi Menya S Soboy).
Best known for their fusion of rap and rock, Beastie Boys were no strangers to experimenting with different genres, including classical music. Their 1998 album Hello Nasty was especially praised for its diverse sound. Electrify features a sample from Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s major work, The Firebird. It seems the Beastie Boys were quite into Stravinsky at the time: a sample from The Rite of Spring also appears in the cinematic intro of the music video for Intergalactic.
Taking You Off Here is the opening track on the iconic Queens duo’s final album, The Infamous Mobb Deep. The 1976 sampled track from Soviet band Pojushhie Serdca translates from Russian as, “Where to find Love?”. Listening to the lyrics on this 1995 version, the answer would probably make you think it’s not on the streets of NYC.
In this eerie track Eminem imagines a scenario in which he is detained for a murder, after his lyrics coincidentally match up with a killer’s crime. The song, co-produced by the rapper’s fellow Michigan companion, Fredwreck, samples a 1976 song from a Czechoslovakian progressive rock band called C&K Vocal. Eminem has described the beat as “evil” and “one of his favourites ever.”
The first full-length track on the third ATCQ album, Midnight Marauders, this record is a dedication to Bantu Stephen Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist. Like most of the album, it was produced by Q-Tip, a heavy-weight in hip-hop. Midnight Marauders is imbued with the band’s signature mix of jazz, soul, and R&B sound, and this track features a composition by a Polish jazz legend — multi-instrumentalist Micha Urbaniak and his band.
Perhaps the most surreal crossover on our list, here Edita Piekha’s My Neighbour (Nash Sosed) appears on the record of the legendary underground group Jedi Mind Tricks. The contrast between wholesome Soviet pop and aggressive rap lyrics is quite unexpected — but perhaps that’s exactly what Jedi Mind Tricks were going for.
O-zone’s viral hit Dragostea Din Tei may have peaked in 2004, when it topped several European charts, but it continues to live on in memes, videos, and remixes. In 2008, it was also sampled in T.I. and Rihanna’s 2008 collaborative track, Live Your Life. This uplifting number, produced by the master Just Blaze, was number one on the Billboard Hot 100, breaking the record for the highest jump to the top at the time.
Named after the 16th-century rebel leader of the first successful slave uprising in colonial Mexico, this 2020 bilingual track by D Smoke and Snoop Dogg features a sample from the Bulgarian folk song Hey, Petrunko (Bre, Petrunko). It had previously been used in a song by Azerbaijaini group Kaspiysky Gruz (“Caspian Cargo”) famous for its memorable and mysterious opening line “I don’t fucking trust people or fish,” which would explain the series of Russian comments under the D Smoke & Snoop Dogg video on YouTube.