Sample Wars: Lil B vs. A$AP Rocky

June 6, 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.

This week’s Sample Wars concerns a track that’s become a modern classic of sampling, entirely thanks to one producer: Clams Casino, one of the chief architects of the dreamy, blown-out sound that’s characterized much of the “underground” or internet-minded rap of the past few years. Fittingly, we’ll be looking at a song each from both the (based) godfather of that internet rap scene and its most commercially successful beneficiary: Lil B and A$AP Rocky, both produced by Clams Casino himself.

“Just for Now,” Imogen Heap, 2005: A lighter-than-air slice of synth-pop, Imogen Heap’s “Just for Now” is second only to “Hide and Seek” (also by Heap, and prominently sampled) as the absolute pinnacle of the post-Enya new-age Starbucks/Garden State music explosion of the mid-’00s. After hearing so much of Clams’ work with the track, however, it’s impossible for modern ears to hear in and not be unsatisfied by the total lack of massive boom-bap drums. Sigh.

“I’m God,” Lil B, 2009, produced by Clams Casino: Still the greatest thing the Based God has ever recorded–judging by what I’ve heard, at least (there could always be some lost masterpiece floating in the YouTube ether, waiting to be discovered). Clams does minimal fucking with “Just for Now” on the track, but the work he does is masterful–cutting up Heap’s vocals, drenching them in even more reverb, adding those aforementioned massive drums, and separating the results into two distinct section. B is in rare form, oscillating between absurd boasts and moments of poignancy.

“Bass,” A$AP Rocky, 2011, produced by Clams Casino: “Bass” is barely recognizable as “Just for Now” –Clams slows a small snippet of vocals down to to a syrupy crawl, then chops them up. If it weren’t for this interview, in which the producer explains how he put the beat together, I doubt even the most seasoned crate-digger would have been able to spot the sample. A$AP Rocky just does what he does best, stringing together cool-sounding but mostly meaningless shit (“Bozos love my rose gold/purple got me slow-mo”), never leaving the pocket, and running his vocals through his signature Houston-style pitch-shifter.

The Verdict: “Bass” is undeniably badass–it’s the kind of music that makes you want to do lots and lots of drugs and just mean mug people–but we have to give it up for the originator. In this case, Lil B isn’t just the spiritual predecessor to nearly everything Rocky stands for (including calling himself “pretty,” even), his song is the literal ancestor to Rocky’s. The “Bass” beat originally came from a rejected snippet of Lil B’s “I’m the Devil,” a  sequel to “I’m God” from the same album. When B didn’t want it, Clams just slowed it down and made “Bass.” Just as A$AP Rocky wouldn’t exist without Lil B, “Bass” wouldn’t exist without “I’m God.”