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.
To celebrate the release of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience this week, we’re looking at Sly, Slick, & Wicked’s “Sho’ Nuff,” which provides the basis for “Suit & Tie” as well as “Pop Painkillaz” from net-minded production duo 5kinAndBone5, the team behind Le1f’s monstrous “Wut” beat.
“Sho’ Nuff,” Sly, Slick, & Wicked, 1973 (samples appear at :01 and :20): Produced by none other than James Brown, “Sho’ Nuff” breezes by in under three minutes, as cascading harps brush up against congas, syncopated guitar, and twinkling electric piano and John Wilson (Sly), Charles Still (Slick), and Terry Stubbs (Wicked) harmonize and trade lines. Though the group hasn’t recorded any music since the ’70s, its members have been active in the music industry since, with Stubbs working as a songwriter for the O’Jays, and Wilson working as a producer for Janet Jackson and Barry White.
“Suit & Tie,” Justin Timberlake feat. Jay-Z, Produced by Timbaland, Timberlake, and J-Roc, 2013: JT’s all-grown-up comeback single “Suit & Tie” opens with a screwed horn riff that acts as an introduction to the frist verse of “Sho’ Nuff,” then segues into another heavily pitched down loop that’s hardly recognizable as a sample. Then, 45 seconds into the song, the production breaks open and Timberlake launches into his joyously slinky main vocal melody. The samples jump out, and “Sho’ Nuff”‘s signature harps provide a stylish, unobtrusive backdrop for all the crooning. For the song’s final section, Timbaland does a synthy Keith Sweat homage that–shockingly–works perfectly.
“Pop Painkillaz,” 5kinAndBone5 feat. YG, Ty$, Fred Wesley, and Bernie Worrell, Produced by 5kinAndBone5, 2011: Produced and released as a single by the semi-mysterious production duo 5kinAndBone5, “Pop Painkillaz” is amazingly funky, thanks in large part to the inexplicable inclusion of Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell and Trombonist Fred Wesley. YG’s staccato flow and easy charisma almost make up for his dickheaded lyrics, and Ty$’s droopy-eyed hook is effortless and perfectly laid back. 5kinAndBone5 play the samples pretty straight, emphasizing “Sho’ Nuff”‘s layered arrangement and making room for Worrell and Wesley’s expert playing.
The Verdict: While Timberlake and Timbaland do all they can to obscure the “Sho’ Nuff” sample, 5kinAndBone5 revel in it, altering the music little but taking obvious joy in making it their own. I’m baffled that they got Worrell and Wesley on board, but it’s a blessing they did–the veteran players’ accompaniment nails the sweet spot between the sample’s lush soul and Ty$’s West Coast-as-fuck hook. Excuse the cliche, but listening to “Pop Painkillaz” feels like opening a can full of sweaty, unadulterated California summer and basking in it.