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The news on Friday that legendary singer-songwriter Bill Withers had died was devastating to countless music fans. During Withers’ time in the spotlight, he recorded a large number of classic songs, including timeless ones like “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me” that have resonated through multiple generations.
Withers’ impact, though, extends far beyond his own biggest hits. Hip-hop fans were likely introduced to his music through tracks from their favorite rappers. Whether it’s Big Daddy Kane repurposing “Lean On Me,” Ghostface slipping a bit of “Ain’t No Sunshine” into the end of “Nutmeg,” or J. Cole using a drum break to show off his alter ego, Withers’ influence in hip-hop is multi-generational, and still as strong as ever. Below are ten of the best hip-hop (and hip-hop-adjacent) songs that sample or interpolate songs by Bill Withers.
Kanye West, “Roses”
Song sampled: “Rosie”
Withers ended up with a writing credit on Kanye’s moving tribute to his maternal family, thanks to samples of his 1977 track “Rosie.” West and his cousin Tony Williams changed Bill’s “Rosie” to “roses,” for a tear-jerking reason. “The roses are a symbol of family tightness and togetherness,” Williams has explained. “Instead of sending flowers, we ourselves were the roses.”
Kendrick Lamar, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”
Song sampled: “Use Me”
The drums on Bill Withers’ “Use Me” have been used by everyone from J. Cole to J-Lo. But arguably the most memorable time came when K. Dot took them for the first half of his classic 12-minute, three-perspective epic.
UGK, “Use Me Up”
Song sampled: “Use Me”
“Use Me” strikes again. The sample source for this was right there in the title. But UGK didn’t take the oft-sampled drums. Instead, Pimp C took the track’s bassline, its groove, and Withers’ smooth vocals, and turned the whole thing into a Texas rap classic.
Blackstreet f/ Dr. Dre and Queen Pen, “No Diggity”
Song sampled: “Grandma’s Hands”
There’s neither diggity nor doubt that the opening moments of Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands”—an acoustic guitar riff and a hum—were repurposed masterfully into this 1996 jam. Teddy Riley is credited with production, but it was actually the idea of co-producer William “Stylez” Stewart to use the Withers sample. “If he hadn’t played that sample for me, there would never be a ‘No Diggity,’” Riley has admitted.
Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride”
Song sampled: “Kissing My Love”
Yet another classic Withers break, “Kissing My Love” also shows up on a number of iconic rap songs, including Eric B. and Rakim’s “In the Ghetto” and the Jungle Brothers’ “Straight Out the Jungle.” But it’s on the good Doctor’s eternal ode to rollin’ in my 6-4 that James Gadson’s drums reach their peak.
Will Smith, “Just the Two of Us”
Song sampled: “Just the Two of Us”
“Just the Two of Us,” the original, actually has a bit of a contentious history. It’s credited to Grover Washington, Jr. featuring Bill Withers, which Withers was famously testy about. Despite that rocky start, the track has become iconic, and has had a second life being used in two rap classics. Not just Will Smith’s tribute, but also in Eminem’s mocking, dark twist on Will’s song’s father-child dynamic, “97’ Bonnie & Clyde.”
Cam’ron f/ Mase, “Horse & Carriage”
Song sampled: “Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?”
Long before Cam’ron was getting his own Knicks jersey, he was a young rapper from Harlem who brought in his neighbor who used to do funny dances to rap funny, quick-flowing, clever, boastful songs. “Horse & Carriage,” from Cam’s 1998 album Confessions of Fire, is among the best of these—a duet between a young Cam and Mase, both with plenty to prove. The beat takes the opening couple seconds of a tune about Withers’ doubts of his girl’s fidelity and turns it into a high-spirited, bouncy romp.
2Pac, “Soulja’s Story”
Song sampled: “Ain’t No Sunshine”
“Ain’t No Sunshine” has been used plenty of times in rap, including by DMX. But Pac takes a less obvious part. “Soulja’s Story” replays the song’s music, rather than interpolating its famous lyrics. Plus, there’s history: the resulting song was powerful enough that authorities tried to blame it for a cop killing.
T.W.D.Y., “Player’s Holiday”
Song sampled: “Lovely Day”
Shout out to Andrew Barber for the inspiration on this one (you can see his Twitter tribute to this track, his single favorite Bill-inspired rap song, here). T.W.D.Y. was a Bay-area supergroup of sorts. And the video for the 1999 song “Player’s Holiday,” which takes music and melodies from the Withers all-time great song “Lovely Day,” featured damn near every Bay Area rapper of note. Too Short, Mac Mall, E-40, and more all showed up to hang on a yacht and celebrate the end of player haters everywhere.
Song sampled: “Can We Pretend”
You know we couldn’t have a best hip-hop anything list without Madlib, our producer of the year. He was behind this lost mid-’90s joint (literally—it stayed in the vault until the 2004 release of The Lost Tapes) that takes the bassline from “Can We Pretend” and turns it into a boom-bap masterpiece. Put it on to be instantly transported to a basement where people crate-dig through old jazz records and use words like “rhythmatic” and “interpretating.” There’s no place I’d rather be.