Sample Wars: Kendrick Lamar vs. Fatboy Slim

February 21, 2013 | Andy Cush

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.

Today, we look at The Chakachas’ “Yo Soy Cubano,” a song that provided sample fodder for two wildly different tracks: Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” and “Magic Carpet Ride” by Mighty Dub Katz (an early project of Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim).

“Yo Soy Cubano,” The Chakachas, 1970: Though they’re known for Boogie Nights-worthy sex jams like this one, the Chakachas also made soul-tinged rhumba like “Yo Soy Cubano.” The most notable thing about the group, however, may be their race: though their visuals incorporate Afro-Latino imagery and they wrote songs with titles like “Yo Soy Cubano,” nearly all of the Chakachas were white Europeans (vocalist Kari Kenton actually was Cubano). The band’s label was so intent on obscuring its members’ whitness that  it reportedly hired a group of black musicians to impersonate them for a show at the Apollo.

“Backseat Freestyle,” Kendrick Lamar, produced by Hit-Boy (2012): With “Backseat Freestyle,” Hit-Boy does one of my favorite things about sampling: he lifts the oddest, most offhanded part of “Yo Soy Cubano” –an a capella vocal riff that happens at  1:15 in the original recording–and flips it into something completely different, then builds a new sound-world around it. When pitched down and married to a giant, clanging beat, a simple “Ah, ring king king” becomes a vocal hook for the ages.

“Magic Carpet Ride,” Mighty Dub Katz, 1995: This Latin-flavored acid house track takes a squelchy TB-303 bass line, and augments it with “Yo Soy Cubano”‘s main horn riff and the same vocal sample Hit-Boy and Kendrick use. The track forebears Fatboy Slim’s ear for pop hooks, as he and collaborator Gareth Hansome mostly take the catchiest part of the original track and capitalize on it.

The Verdict: Kendrick wins by a mile. While Mighty Dub Katz are able to take the vocal aside and use it as a rhythmic element, by slowing the sample down and looping it, Hit-Boy and Kendrick highlight a tonal contour that’s not even audible in the original.  Together with the track’s other impressively recontextualized sample–from Roscoe Dash’s “Good Good Night,” –the Chakachas’ vocal refrain makes for an air of massiveness and menace that reflects “Backseat Freestyle”‘s nihilistic rhymes.