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.
This week saw the release of Earl Sweatshirt’s long-awaited debut album Doris. We’re looking at early highlight “Centurion,” which shares a sample with the 1995 Kool G Rap track “Take ‘Em to War.”
“A Divine Image,” David Axelrod, 1969, samples appear at 1:55 and 2:27: “A Divine Image” sounds like Ennio Morricone scoring a slasher flick. Dissonant strings alternately drone and scream, punctuated by horn blasts, loping percussion, and gently strummed electric guitar. Haunting and overwhelming, it’s a far cry from the sample for which he’s most known, “The Edge,” which Axelrod produced for David McCallum and which provided the basis for Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode.”
“Take ‘Em to War,” Kool G Rap feat. MF Grimm and B1, produced by T-Ray, 1995, sample appears at :00: Producer T-Ray (who? more on that in a second) chose the most obvious moment of “A Divine Image” to sample: the moment when the drums and bass first kick in, the spaghetti-western style guitar hits, and the song starts grooving. That single measure, looped over and over, comprises just about the whole of “Take ‘Em to War.” Fortunately, G Rap and guests MF Grimm and B1 absolutely slaughter it, and the loop provides just the right amount of laid-back menace. Bizarrely, T-Ray now owns a sideshow in Venice Beach and is the subject of the AMC reality series Freakshow.
“Centurion,” Earl Sweatshirt feat. Vince Staples, produced by Christian Rich, 2013, sample appears at :53: The Axelrod sample doesn’t hit until a minute through the track, when Earl’s verse starts. Rather than going for the groove of “Divine Image,” like the Kool G Rap beat, “Centurion” swipes its tension and atmosphere, all clusters of tremolo strings and shrieking horns. It works well, and Earl’s virtuosic, internal rhyme-laden rapping wouldn’t sound the least bit out of place next to G Rap and Grimm on “Take ‘Em to War.”
The Verdict: Christian Rich’s production on “Centurion,” with its two distinct sections and creeping ambience, is certainly more inventive, but there’s something about the brutal simplicity of “Take ‘Em to War” that just hits harder. Prime-era work from a master like Kool G Rap doesn’t hurt either. Witness the jaw-dropping closing couplet: “It’s G Rap, baby you know me/You try to hurt this/I’ll split your fucking top and leave a fingerprint on purpose.”