Sample Wars: RiFF RAFF and Action Bronson vs. Talib Kweli and Dela

March 28, 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.

As you may have heard, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers dropped this month. As a tribute to the sartorial inspiration for James Franco’s Alien, we’re deconstructing one of RiFF RAFF’s best love tracks, the Action Bronson-featuring “Bird on a Wire.” Dexter Wansel’s “Rings of Saturn,” the source of the track’s sample, also provides the backbone for Talib Kweli’s 2009 collaboration with French producer Dela, “Long Life.”

“Rings of Saturn,” Dexter Wansel, 1976 (samples appear at :00, :20, and :31): Dexter Wansel was a dyed-in-the-wool pro musician, producing, arranging, and writing songs for the likes of Labelle, The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, and The Jacksons. “Rings of Saturn,” the closing cut of his debut solo album, finds him in spacey quiet storm mode, layering soprano sax over shimmering synth pads and rollicking drums. It’s easy to hear the appeal both producers found in the track’s moody ambience; it lends itself equally to both Dela’s blunted classicism and Harry Fraud’s bleary-eyed majesty.

“Bird on a Wire,” RiFF RAFF feat. Action Bronson, Produced by Harry Fraud, 2012 (sample appears at :00): Possibly the greatest beat yet from the rap’s best young producer, “Bird on a Wire” is a slow motion victory lap for Harry Fraud, RiFF RAFF and Bronsolino. Fraud pitches up the original track’s opening sax lick just enough to slightly distort its timbral character–you’d be excused for thinking you were hearing some kind of far eastern string instrument. From there, he emphasizes “Saturn’s Rings”‘s elemental four-note bass line and adds skittering 808s for a beat that’s on some serious Miami Vice type shit. I dare you to listen to this and not think of leather suits, limos, and speedboats at dawn.

“Long Life,” Dela feat. Talib Kweli, 2009 (sample appears at :00): On long life, Kweli takes subliminal shots at a very specific someone–the internet seems to believe it’s Mobb Deep’s Prodigy–over some loping drums and a mostly unaltered sample from the intro “Saturn’s Rings.”  Producer Dela augments the beat with his own keys, nailing a mellow mood that’s not far from the one Hi-Tek created on Reflection Eternal’s Train of Thought, still Kweli’s most enduring statement.

The Verdict: With just a one-measure loop, some banging drums, (and some synth bass, perhaps?), Harry Fraud creates a track that takes the slow regality of “Saturn’s Rings” to another, hypnotizing level, giving Bronson and RiFF RAFF all the gravitas of two kings surveying their domain. Not a bad trick for two goofy, free-associative white dudes. How fitting that while the French producer is still tinkering with the sound of rap’s East Coast “Golden Age,” the New Yorker is taking it international.