Sampling has always been a key component of hip-hop, but while most people think of producers and beat makers digging through dusty crates of records looking for the perfect snippet to mix into their aural collage, that only tells half the story. Many of hip-hop’s best and brightest have been profoundly influenced by the movies too, and a lot of tracks will sample dialogue from cult classics or rework a theme song into a beat, or in the case of Immortal Technique’s Goonies Never Die, do a bit of all of the above while espousing his love for one of our favorite childhood flicks.
Warning: These Songs Are Not Safe for Work
This got us thinking: What are some other hip-hop tracks that love the movies? To answer that question, we’ve put together a little list featuring some of the best (and potentially worst) rap songs that utilize movie samples.
For whatever reason, a lot of rappers really love horror movies. Cataloguing all the hip-hop songs over the years that have used samples from horror movies would be ridiculous. From DMX’s riff on John Carpenter’s Halloween in Tales from the Darkside to Canibus reworking Philip Glass’ haunting Candyman for his track "Genabis," it seems pretty obvious that a lot of MCs dig the genre.
Yet for all the tracks inspired by slasher movies and the like, it’s Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger who got not one, but two tracks dedicated to him back in the 1980s.
Before Will Smith was the Big Willie or even the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he and partner DJ Jazzy Jeff had a promising music career. Jeff’s sample-heavy production always showed off his love of pop culture (how else do you explain the awesome use of the I Dream of Jeannie theme in "Girls Ain’t Nothin’ but Trouble"?) but he took things to a new level when the duo released their ode to disfigured child killer Freddy in 1988’s "Nightmare on My Street."
The track seems pretty silly in retrospect, with its tale of Smith squaring off against Freddy, but it did do a nice job of reworking Charles Bernstein’s creepy score. Maybe the most interesting story about "Nightmare on My Street" is that it wasn’t officially licensed by New Line Cinema. Some copies came with a disclaimer on them pointing this fact out. Of course, back in the wild days of the ‘80s, most hip-hop samples weren’t authorized, but it was unusual to see someone preemptively acknowledge it to try and avoid a court case. We doubt that would have helped had New Line decided to go to court.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn-based trio the Fat Boys also got in on the action in 1988 – albeit legally – with the release of their track "Are You Ready for Freddy?" This track doesn’t rework the classic Bernstein score, but it does feature a rapping Freddy Krueger, for what it’s worth. Unlike the Fresh Prince track, this one was done with New Line’s blessing and Robert Englund. Not that it really matters.
Not every rap group was so caught up in horror movies, though. The Staten Island hip-hop collective known as the Wu-Tang Clan incorporated their love of Asian cinema – particularly classic chop-socky kung fu flicks, samurai movies and John Woo films – into a distinctive soundscape with the release of 1993’s seminal "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)."
Featuring beats crafted by MC/producer/actor the RZA, cataloguing all the movie samples in the Wu-Tang catalog is a daunting task. However, if you’re genuinely curious, this website will show you a whole lot of them – along with the songs they were used in.
Unlike Immortal Technique’s "Goonies Never Die" or the Nightmare on Elm Street songs, Wu-Tang (both as a collective and on their myriad solo projects) don’t make songs that are obvious homages to the films they’re sampling from. Instead, they use the sampled dialogue as a way of setting a tone or establishing ambiance. Take GZA’s "Liquid Swords," which appeared on his solo album of the same name.
The track features a lengthy opening monologue from Daigoro pulled from Shogun Assassin (which was an American remix of the first couple of Lone Wolf and Cub films). The rest of the track isn’t about Shogun Assassin at all, but it certainly sets a tone – which extols how GZA will cut through wack MCs not unlike Ogami Itto slices his way through an entire clan of Yagyu ninjas.
Gangsta rap has long had an infatuation with Scarface – and it’s possible that Pacino’s dialogue has been sampled almost as much as James Brown’s "Funky Drummer" (jump to the 5:30 point for the break everyone samples) at this point. However, sampling Scarface is pretty much played out these days.
There have been better gangster rap movie tie-ins – like Ice-T’s "Colors." Another in the same vein is Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s "Deep Cover."
The title track for the underrated Bill Duke crime film of the same name, "Deep Cover" introduced us to Snoop and showed what Dre was capable of in the wake of leaving NWA. The lyrical narrative mimics the plot of the film, which found Laurence Fishburne playing an undercover cop who starts to like being a drug dealer more than an officer of the law.
"Deep Cover" pulls double duty, not only paying homage to the film, but giving us one of our earliest tastes of what would become Dre’s signature G-funk West Coast sound and a glimpse at Snoop before he was famous for “nizzling” everything.
Of course, this is all just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to rap songs influenced by movies – like we didn’t even get to MC Chris and Star Wars (mostly because I’m not a fan). Share some of your favorites with us in the comment section below, and the first person who mentions Vanilla Ice’s "Ninja Rap" gets hit with the banhammer. Don’t say you weren’t warned.