The Best Michael Jackson Samples

Hip-hop has a decades-old habit of refashioning pieces of culture in its own image, so it makes perfect sense that Jackson’s sounds have found new life in a number of hip-hop tracks throughout the years. Check out the best 15 Michael Jackson samples here.

Michael Jackson

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Michael Jackson

Even before Michael Jackson’s 2009 death, his legacy was a frequent topic of discussion among fans and critics. Almost always missing from that discussion, though, is the love he showed for hip-hop. The new jack swing-styled Dangerous brought in Heavy D for a verse on “Jam,” and Michael Jackson himself strung together some bars on the title track. The 1995 follow-up, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, enlisted The Notorious B.I.G. and platinum-selling rapper Shaquille O’Neal. Even more notably, Michael Jackson graced Summer Jam 2001 with his presence during JAY-Z’s set (Hov would remix “You Rock My World” that same year).

Even if MJ didn’t constantly big-up the culture, he’d still be a favorite to sample because, well, he’s Michael Jackson. Until recently, Thriller was the highest-selling album of all-time. Hip-hop has a decades-old habit of refashioning pieces of culture in its own image, so it makes perfect sense that Jackson’s sounds have found new life in a number of hip-hop tracks throughout the years.

Most recently, Drake sampled previously unheard MJ vocals from a 1983 recording session with Canadian singer Paul Anka on Scorpion’s “Don’t Matter to Me.”  Other jams that have been turned into hip-hop gold include “Human Nature,” “Thriller,” and “ABC.” To commemorate what would’ve been his 60th birthday, check out the 15 best Michael Jackson samples below.

Drake, “Don’t Matter To Me”


Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”

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Album: To Pimp A Butterfly

Producer: Sounwave

Sample: “Smooth Criminal”

While this is an interpolation and not a sample, it has become one of hip-hop’s most iconic MJ-related moments, and thus merits a little rule-bending for inclusion on this list. Among its other missions, To Pimp a Butterfly sought to condense a history of black music into one album, and “King Kunta” is one of the more accessible examples. Kendrick throws in Jackson’s “Annie, are you okay?” into a performance that’s basically him doing his best James Brown impression (Brown, of course, was a major influence on Michael). With this track, the lineage continues.

Big Pun, "You Ain't A Killer"

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Album: Capital Punishment

Producer: Younglord

Sample: “With a Child’s Heart”

Don’t sleep on the versatility of Michael Jackson samples. Though the King of Pop ain’t a tough guy (protestations of badness notwithstanding), the chords from his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “With a Child’s Heart” give this vicious Capital Punishment classic its grit. But it’s no crutch: Big Pun’s intensely complex rhyme schemes imbue “You Ain’t a Killer” with menace.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Got Your Money” f/ Kelis

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Album: Nigga Please

Producer: The Neptunes

Sample: “Billie Jean”

Ol’ Dirty Bastard toned down the surrealness of his classic debut Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version as he moved into his final album, Nigga Please—at least for one song. The shift was helped by the Neptunes and alt-R&B legend Kelis, who showed up on “Got Your Money.” Over the drum beat for “Billie Jean” and a criminally funky bass line, ODB’s final single combined commercial appeal with beloved Ol’ Dirty Bastard idiosyncrasies like the ghoulish howl near the end, which perfectly punctuates the song’s charm. It turns out mixing ODB’s NSFW koans (“I don’t have no trouble with you fuckin’ me/But I have a little problem with you not fuckin’ me”) with the “Billie Jean” drum beat was a stroke of genius.

Kris Kross, “Jump”

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Album: Totally Krossed Out

Producer: Jermaine Dupri 

Sample: “Want You Back”

“Jump” was a major step for So So Def—the single had the longest run at No. 1 for a rap song up to that point, and kept En Vogue’s “My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It),” Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Under the Bridge,” and even a Wayne’s World-energized “Bohemian Rhapsody” out of the top spot. The runaway hit became instantly recognizable for the duo’s fast-rapping pipsqueakish voices (“It’s wiggidy-wiggidy-wiggidy-wack!”) and that Jackson 5 sample, which chops the Motown smoothness into rabble-rousing piano stomps. It ended up being a strike of lightning, though: Kris Kross would never come close to replicating their debut’s success.

Public Enemy, “911 Is a Joke”

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Album: Fear of a Black Planet

Producer: Bomb Squad

Sample: “Thriller”

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’s Flava Flav solo cut "Cold Lampin' with Flavor" found the Public Enemy MC doing what he does best: bugging out. The follow-up “911 Is a Joke” asks what else is bugged-out. Surprise, surprise, it’s the lack of concern for black life. Aimed at paramedics rather than police, “911 Is a Joke” became Public Enemy’s second No. 1 on the US rap charts. The Fear of a Black Planet track is also part of the rap tradition of sampling Vincent Price's laugh from “Thriller,” which—like the Bomb Squad’s production style and Flava Flav’s existence—has become synonymous with madness.

Q-Tip, “Move”

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Album: The Renaissance

Producer: J Dilla

Sample: "Dancing Machine"

Q-Tip improved on his so-so debut Amplified by using a little less Korn and more Jackson 5 on The Renaissance. “Move,” one of the album’s two J Dilla beats, shows Q-Tip finding inspiration in his love of old school black music. This time he shows how thorough he is by looping the shimmering groove of one of the Jackson 5’s final and lesser known hits, “Dancing Machine.” Like his work with A Tribe Called Quest, that appreciation doesn’t feel insular and the energy ends up being contagious. Bonus points for the video’s direct homage to ‘Rock With You.”

Naughty by Nature, “O.P.P.”

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Album: Naughty By Nature

Producer: Kay Gee & Naughty By Nature

Sample: “ABC”

“ABC” is one of the only samples that could make getting someone to cheat sound like a giddy occasion. “O.P.P.”—the final “p” stands for “another way to call a cat a kitten” or “a five-letter word rhyming with ‘cleanest’ and ‘meanest’”—doesn’t solely rely on the Jackson 5 sample, as the group trades downright funny quotables (“There's no room for relationship, there's just room to hit it”) to make the scandalous point stick. “ABC” is one of the Jackson 5’s most famous melodies, so it’s no surprise its reprisal on “O.P.P.” adds to the track’s charm. The ode to extracurricular affairs was groundbreaking, becoming one of the first hip-hop songs to break the Top 10. 

2Pac, “Letter 2 My Unborn”

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Album: 2Pac Unreleased

Producer: Johnny J

Sample: “Liberian Girl”

A highlight from Bad, “Liberian Girl” is a potent expression of wistfulness and yearning. Tupac’s “Letter 2 My Unborn" ” is, um, not that, but the sample still never feels out of step with his gravitas. Like a lot of 2Pac’s catalog, the posthumously released “Letter 2 My Unborn" captures the tension between hope and desperation, this time in a message to his unborn son. “To my unborn child,” he says, “In case I don’t make it, just remember: Daddy loves you.” It’s an unfortunately prophetic note that intensifies the underlying dark tone in “Liberian Girl.”

Kanye West, “Good Life”

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Album: Graduation

Producer: Mike Dean, DJ Toomp, & Kanye West

Sample: "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)"

“Good Life” stands as a reminder of simpler times: Michael Jackson was still alive, T-Pain’s “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin')” was inescapable, and Kanye wasn’t rubbing elbows with a questionably-elected leader of the free world. It isn’t just a we made it! song. The track unfurls in a way that builds upon a series of triumphs, so T-Pain’s wail feels cathartic. West pulls from the outro to Thriller’s "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" for this career highlight, but as ubiquitous as “Good Life” was, it still isn’t West’s most popular Jackson pull—but we’ll get to that in good time.

Puff Daddy, “It’s All About the Benjamins”

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Album: No Way Out

Producer: Puff Daddy & Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie

Sample: "It's Great To Be Here"

Bad Boy built its empire on a shared love of soul and disco samples, so it makes sense that one of Puff Daddy’s biggest hits would sample an MJ track. The “It’s All About the Benjamins” beat works because Puff is efficient with his production choices: “It’s Great To Be Here” is an expression of boyish joy, but the guitar riff by itself sounds like money. As for the song itself, it’s a wonder how Puff was able to fit so much personality on one track. There’s his undying cool, the L.O.X. sounding like they might rob you for fun, and Lil’ Kim pissed at a foe interrupting her flourish (“Uh, uh, what the blood clot/ Wanna bumble with the Bee, huh?”). It’s all the sound of wealth.

Ghostface Killah, “All That I Got Is You”

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Album: Ironman

Producer: RZA

Sample: “Maybe Tomorrow”

Ironman was Ghostface Killah’s debut album, so naturally he stacked it with take-no-shit raps. But the real gem came when he decided to ease up and open his heart a bit. In the best hip-hop mother dedication this side of “Dear Mama,” Ghostface gives us a detailed and heartbreaking story of poverty (“Four in the bed, two at the foot, two at the head/I didn't like to sleep with Jon-Jon he peed the bed”). The sample feels specific, too: Jackson 5’s weepy “Maybe Tomorrow” gives a tortured innocence to a song delivered from the perspective of a child in the ghetto.  “All That I Got Is You” is the wounds behind the Ironman persona. You’re still wiping tears by the time Ghostface gets back to these raps.

JAY-Z, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”

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Album: The Blueprint

Producer: Kanye West

Sample: "I Want You Back"

JAY-Z and Michael Jackson were clearly pals by 2001. The King of Pop famously showed up during Hov’s Summer Jam set, and appears on uncredited on The Blueprint’s bonus track “Girls, Girls, Girls (Part 2)." But the most famous reminder of their relationship is the Kanye West-produced “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” JAY-Z’s first Top 10 hit, which represents JAY-Z’s most crucial pivot from hardened street-talker to folk hero. Though the narrative is golden on its own, a major part of the track’s success is West’s chop of “I Want You Back”—objectively one of the Jackson 5’s most beloved and cheerful numbers.

De La Soul, "Breakadawn"

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Album: Buhloone Mindstate

Producer: Prince Paul & De La Soul

Sample: “I Can’t Help It”

One of Buhloone Mindstate’s central questions is how popular you can get before selling out. At the nexus of this tightrope act is “Breakadawn,” a late-album highlight that combines De La Soul’s signature love of sampling with accessibility. Prince Paul gives Jackson’s already tender vocals an added shimmer, resulting in one of the Native Tongues posse’s best productions and hip-hop’s prettiest Jackson flips. The season is summer when this comes on.

Nas, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”

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Album: Illmatic

Producer: Large Professor

Sample: “Human Nature”

After coming “straight out the fuckin' dungeons of rap,” Nas ends Illmatic on a dreamy note with Michael Jackson’s delicate coos, some of the tenderest of his career. While the sample itself is instantly recognizable, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” also sticks out because it features some of Nas’ most memorable punchlines (“I drink Moët with Medusa, give her shotguns in Hell”) strung together with slick internal rhyme schemes. It was also the most radio-friendly track of his bars-heavy debut, which was why he was pissed when SWV used the same sample to greater commercial success.

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