Hip-hop sampling has a way of elevating obscure tracks into the cultural pantheon. “Impeach The President” by the Honey Drippers is a perfect example (the president in question is Nixon.) While the song itself isn’t well-known outside of sample geek circles, I can guarantee you’ve heard its opening few seconds. According to WhoSampled.com, it’s the most-sampled breakbeat in history.
David Shields says that about one in five hip-hop songs samples “Impeach The President.” That doesn’t sound to me like it’s true, but the break certainly has been sampled enough times to place it alongside the Funky Drummer and Apache breaks as a cornerstone of hip-hop. At least one commercially released song has used the sample every year since 1985. Here are some standouts:
Audio Two – “Top Billin’”
Cleverly flips the break, reordering its component drum hits into a totally different beat. Audio Two’s beat, in turn, was sampled for “Real Love” by Mary J Blige.
Big Daddy Kane – “Smooth Operator”
Includes a bunch of other samples: “All Night Long” by Mary Jane Girls, “If it Don’t Turn You on (You Outta Leave it Alone)” by BT Express, “Do Your Thing” by Isaac Hayes, “Risin’ to the Top” by Keni Burke, “The Champ” by the Mohawks, and “Put Your Hands Together” by Eric B. & Rakim.
Biz Markie – “Alone Again (Naturally)”
The subject of the infamous lawsuit that ended the golden age of sample-based commercial hip-hop. The song uses two samples, one from Gilbert O’Sullivan, the other from the Honey Drippers. Gilbert O’Sullivan is the one who sued; the Honey Drippers didn’t. To my knowledge, they’ve never received a nickel in royalties from anyone who’s used the sample.
De la Soul – “Ring Ring Ring (Hey Hey Hey)”
The chorus uses lyrics and melody from the Curiosity Killed the Cat song “Name and Number.”
Digable Planets – “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”
The horn lick comes from “Stretching” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
There are a ton of other samples in this track, you can read all about it on Wikipedia if you want.
Mick Jagger – “Sweet Thing”
The lyrics are on the corny side, but it’s cool that it quotes “Für Elise” and it’s a nice message.
Nice & Smooth – “Funky for You”
Uses a great sample of “Do That Stuff” by Parliament. Dizzy Gillespie did not, in fact, play the sax.
Biggie Biggie Biggie Smalls is the illest.
Slick Rick – “It’s a Boy”
Also includes sax from Tom Scott’s version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Today” and vibes from Cal Tjader’s version of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.” (The Tom Scott sample is also the hook in “They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth.)
Tekken 3 – “End Theme”
Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ to F**k Wit’”
Here’s a hot mix tape of many tracks sampling “Impeach The President,” along with the original.
The Honey Drippers may be everywhere in music, but they’re not well documented. The internet has very little to say about their members, history or anything else beyond their name. “Impeach The President” isn’t available on iTunes or Amazon, though it’s easy to find mp3s on the web. The imbalance between the Honey Drippers’ anonymity and the omnipresence of their sample is amazing to me. The beat fits under songs about despair and uplift, mindless partying and sober social commentary, bragging and self-loathing. Sample culture is crazy sometimes.
Update: see a blog post on how to program this break on a drum machine.
Further update: here’s a mashup of “Impeach The President” with several of its memetic descendants.