How (and how not) to sample Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Great pop-soul album, or the greatest pop-soul album? There’s a strong case to be made for the latter, no doubt — not that it’s being helped any by the useless remixes MJ commissioned for Thriller‘s upcoming 25th-anniversary deluxe edition, many of which leaked to the ‘nets this week. Check out Kanye West’s limp twist on "Billie Jean":

Kanye’s done some undeniably brilliant work with Jackson samples in the past — see his beats for Jay-Z’s "Izzo" (which flipped the Jackson 5’s "I Want You Back") and his own "Good Life" (Thriller‘s "P.Y.T."). Where’d that production genius go on "Billie Jean 2008"? I mean, it sounds fine, I guess — "Billie Jean" will always be an awesome song — but all ‘Ye’s added is a gratuitous boom-bap backbeat and some silly vocal adlibs ("Yeah… uh-huh… yeah-yeah-yeah… uh… number one!") Halfway through I started wondering if I had accidentally crossed into an alternate universe and cued up the song from this classic Onion story. ("’When I was in the studio mixing and recording, I decided ‘Tha Kidd’would work best if I kept all the music and vocals from the originalversion and then didn’t rap over it,’ Combs said. ‘So what I did is putin a tape with ‘Billie Jean’ on it, and then I hit record. The thingturned out great.’" Still funny!)

Akon, Fergie, and will.i.am all kicked in passable-yet-pointless remixes of various other Thrillercuts, which are floating around on YouTube for anyone who’s interested.However, lest you think I am some sort of sample-hating Grinch — whichI am not! — let’s move on to a much, much better use of MichaelJackson’s catalog. Coincidentally, it comes from Kanye’s Chi-townbuddy, Rhymefest (a.k.a. the dude who co-wrote "Jesus Walks"). "NeverCan Say Goodbye" is the first song we’ve heard from ‘Fest’s upcomingMJ-themed mixtape, Man in the Mirror (lyrics occasionally NSFW):

The song’s producer (who I believe is named Best Kept Secret) twiststhe Jackson 5 hit into a wispy, twinkling bit of candyfloss that stillhits hard — nice.  Rhymefest’s latest rhymefest takes on a fewsubjects, including emcees who can’t stop talking about their supposeddrug-slinging résumés: "But how you yap about it, glorify and bragabout it/I’da thought you’d be so rich you wouldn’t have to rap aboutit?!" ‘Fest’s effortless flow and regular-guy steez remind us onceagain that he really oughta be a bigger star. Perhaps best of all isTalib Kweli’s guest verse, wherein we learn that my favorite hip-hopintellectual has been watching VH1’s I Love New York! (Dig hisshout-out to unjustly-booted nice guy Punk around the 1:58 mark.) No,none of this really has anything to do with Michael Jackson, but it’sdefinitely got me psyched to hear the rest of Man in the Mirror — a couple other offerings are streaming at Rhymefest’s MySpace — and, for that matter, ‘Fest’s promised proper sophomore album, El Che.

Finally, just for kicks, here’s my all-time favorite use of an MJsample, Nas’ 1994 "It Ain’t Hard to Tell" (some more NSFW lyrics): 

Will anyone ever surpass the one-two punch of Nas’ peak-era imagery and producer Large Professor’s"Human Nature" spin? Doubtful — but at least we’ve got better cellphones now than the bangin’ early-Clinton-administration brick Nas was clutching…


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  • Killervirgo

    What about SWV’s sampling of MJ’s “Human Nature” for the remix of their song “Right Here”? I think the track still holds up today many years after its release.
    Also, Jennifer Lopez has a great sample of the Jackson 5’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are” for her song “Gotta Be There”.

  • Killervirgo

    What about SWV’s sampling of MJ’s “Human Nature” for the remix of their song “Right Here”? I think the track still holds up today many years after its release.
    Also, Jennifer Lopez’s new album Brave has a great sample of the Jackson 5’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are” for the song “Gotta Be There”.

  • Jason Bonkers

    This works. Nice picture of Jacko when he looked normal.

  • Sally

    Sounds like or seems like Jackson may have more control over how this turned out than Kanye. I mean, Jackson owns the property right? So he may have wanted Kanye to step back a bit, it will be interesting to hear what others do with it. I don’t hear any Kanye rap. That means Jackson had the last word.

    • Tunggul

      What GREAT pictures Emilee. I absulotely LOVE the one of all three of them. Jennie has such a glow about her in these photos. Jackson is now a big boy and soon will be a big brother. Being a maw- maw is the BEST thing ever!

  • aa

    alien ant farm’s smooth criminal and rhianna’s please don’t stop the music. don’t know if they qualify as samples but i like ‘em.

  • Anonymous

    here’s a billie jean for the times

  • Stephanie T.

    It’s been done way, way too many times by Rhianna, The Jungle Brothers (Don’t Stop), A.A.F., etc. Jacksons producers knew their sh-t when it came to grooves but what he really needed was a good comestologist to slap him and say that he needed to stop with the plastic surgery. He was fine in 1982 but now he looks like Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascott!

  • Anonymous

    *Cosmetologist

    • David

      -Thriller (entire video with credits) -Beat It -Remember the Time -Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough -Heal The World This is a great video that shows not only the evooutiln of Michael Jackson’s music, but also that of his appearance. Co-stars include Eddie Murphy, Iman, Magic Johnson, McAuley Culkin, Bart and Homer Simpson, and others. An exceptional video!!! *In the video Black or White, Michael appears to be furiously smashing the windows of a car for no reason. In the original, racist graffiti is painted on the windows. This was edited out in this version. Relax, Michael is not crazy. Or at least not that crazy.

  • bltfdjav fkxow

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  • Jay

    Gee jason I wonder why your last name is ‘Bonkers’ so don’t think you should open your mouth. Btw his name is JACKSON. Stephanie T. knock it off.

  • ICO

    Sleepy Brown did a good job with “Maybe Tomorrow” on “Me My Baby My Cadillac”…

  • mcectocooler@the-a-crew.com

    Here is a compilation of rap songs that sample Michael Jackson the RIGHT way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJB55hMlHQY

    • Biljana

      The thing that got me, X the stupid thngis he did, the great music, the drugs, the nose, mask, etc, was the fact that he trusted his life to someone and that person let him down, paying with the ultimate price, his life. It may sound funny, but that alone sent a chill down my back and haunted me for a few weeks.

    • Asanda

      Besides this song being exqtisiue, Michael is exqtisiue in the video .. and the choreography is exqtisiue. This is a video that is lovely to watch over and over.Miss you king.

  • Alex Vance

    Here’s a complete list of songs that sample Michael Jackson:
    http://songweave.com/michael-jackson/

  • Richie Schamber

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