Each week in Sample Wars, we’ll pit two songs which sample the same source material head-to-head against each other, to determine which one rocked the sample better.
Between a new music streaming service and file format, a Stereogum list, a book, and a new-ish Crazy Horse album, Neil Young seems to be having a late-career moment. In honor of that–and, full disclosure, that he is probably this writer’s single favorite musician–we’re doing a special Neil Young edition of Sample Wars, looking at two songs called “Southern Man,” by Tre-8 and Hue Hef, both of which sample, yes, “Southern Man.” I had never heard either before sitting down to write this, and both are pretty fucking great.
“Southern Man,” Neil Young, 1970
“Southern Man,” is perhaps the angriest song Young has ever recorded. Released in 1970 on After the Gold Rush, his mostly-mellow third album, the track comes out guns blazing, with Neil alternately raving against racism in the American South and mourning its countless victims, and has one of the gnarliest guitar solos in a career full of gnarly guitar solos. It even inspired one of rock’s most famous disses, from Lynyrd Skynyrd on “Sweet Home Alabama” (“I hope Neil Young will remember/That a southern man don’t need him around, anyhow”).
“Southern Man,” Tre-8 and Dem Haze Boyz, 2011: My favorite thing about this “Southern Man” is also its most obvious imperfection: the way the Neil Young sample isn’t quite long enough to fit a measure of the beat, leaving an audible gap every time it loops. That, along with the downbeat-heavy 808 drum track and Mannie Fresh-style snare fills, gives the song a wonky DIY feeling akin to what Madlib might make if he was born in New Orleans instead southern California. Dem Haze Boyz, fronted by Tre-8, a second-tier No Limit soldier who passed in 2011, flip Young’s message into one of gritty southern pride, spinning tales of project hallways, collard greens, and places “where the ambulance is scared to come pick up a dead body.”
“Southern Man,” Hue Hef, 2006: Precious little information is available online about Hue Hef, who released “Southern Man” on his Tha Carolina Spokesman mixtape in 2006 (it’s got 177 downloads on DatPiff, to give you an idea). That said, the sorta awesomely-named Hef sounds like a veteran on the mic, spitting quick breathless bars that personalize Neil Young’s removed, abstracted (white guy’s) take on racism.
The Verdict: Like I said before, both of these are very, very good. Hue Hef’s alternately seething and contemplative takes on racism feel vital and are truer to Neil Young’s original, but Tre-8’s “Southern Man,” with its ridiculously hard beat and easy, posse-cut familiarity. feels like the song I’d return to more. Really, just listen to all three, including Neil Young’s.