Sample Wars: Jay-Z vs. Snoop Dogg

April 25, 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.

Both of this week’s contestants are aging rap legends who’ve spent a lot of time in headlines recently: Jay-Z, for his trip to Cuba, “Open Letter,” and sale of his stake in the Brooklyn Nets, and Snoop Dogg for his reportedly dismal reggae album as Snoop Lion (I haven’t gathered up the courage to listen yet). We’ll be looking back to happier times, at songs from both artists’ debut LPs–“Can I Live” from Reasonable Doubt and “G’z Up, Hoes Down” from the first pressing of Doggystyle. The two albums, released in 1996 and 1993, respectively, are still widely thought of as their respective creators’ most enduring statements.

“The Look of Love,” Isaac Hayes, 1970, (samples appears at :07, :46, and 1:24): A masterpiece of stretched-out symphonic soul from the undisputed king of that sort of thing, “The Look of Love” combines a typically yearning vocal from Hayes with a string and horn arrangement that’s so rich it sounds like it has honey dripping from it, then launches into an extended wah guitar break. Though the track runs for 10-plus minutes, both producers choose to draw exclusively from its scene-setting instrumental intro.

“Can I Live,” Jay-Z, 1996, produced by Irv Gotti (sample appears at :00): “Can I Live” finds Jay spinning tales of street triumph in the face of adversity while displaying flashes of the moneyed elder statesman bravado that would later become his stock-in-trade: “The youth I used to be, soon to see a million/No more Big Willie, my game has grown, prefer you call me William.” The beat, lifted with minimal edits from the “Look of Love” intro by producer Irv Gotti, lends the affair some much-deserved instrumental gravitas.

“G’z Up, Hoes Down,” Snoop Dogg, 1993, produced by Dr. Dre (sample appears at :06): “G’z Up, Hoes Down” was only included on the first pressing of Doggystyle, and was reportedly removed due to clearance issues with the same sample we’re here to discuss. Dr. Dre also sticks to the intro of “The Look of Love,” looping a two-measure section, pitching it up slightly, and adding little else. Add some classic Snoop laid back self-mythologizing–all indo, cognac and khaki suits–and a singsongy Nate Dogg-esque hook, and you’ve got a minor west coast masterpiece.

The Verdict: Dre is undisputedly the better producer, but by keeping things as straightforward as possible here, Irv Gotti is able to edge him out. More of an edit than an original production, Gotti’s track smartly retains the depth, tightness, and live-band feel that makes “The Look of Love” so enticing in the first place. By speeding the sample up, Dre strips it of its regality, rendering what was once lush sounding tiny and tinny. It’s an unassuming, perfectly functional beat, but miles behind his best work of the area–much of which made it onto Doggystyle, the same album from which “G’z Up, Hoes Down” was dropped.