Today marks Billie Holiday‘s centennial, and the world is celebrating the legacy of the songstress. Nicknamed “Lady Day,” her powerful vocals have found their way into hip-hop quite a few times, be it rappers cleverly reusing her lyrics or choosing to invoke some of her best music.
In honor of Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, The Urban Daily lists eight of the best rap songs with samples from her recordings.
J. Cole – ‘Cost Me A Lot’
J. Cole was not afraid to tap into the legendary songstress on this track from his Friday Night Lights mixtape. Cole spits about coming up and all the territory that comes with money, usually at a price. Holiday’s vocals are used as ad libs throughout the song and even functions as the title.
Pete Rock feat. Tradegy Khadafi, Cappadonna and Sticky Fingaz – ‘Strange Fruit’
Not only is this Pete Rock track named after Lady Day’s heart-wrenching song about Black people and lynchings, but it even uses her vocals in the beginning to set things off. It’s more of a braggadocios rap track than a reinterpretation of the song, but Pete’s production and the lineup of emcees helps with overlooking this. Sticky kind of steals the show with his delivery and slippery flow.
Aloe Blacc & Exile – ‘Blind Love’
Emanon (no name spelled backwards) was the pairing of Aloe Blacc and Exile back in the early stages of their careers. Exile, who would eventually work with another artist on this list (Blu), chops up a few guitar plucks to give this track life. Aloe Blacc rhymes about the feelings he has for a girl, and how he ends up feeling rather blue about it.
RZA – ‘A Day To God Is 1,000 Years’
A quick sample of Holiday finds its way into RZA’s track about striving for greatness. From his third album, Birth of a Prince it was his first one to not use the Bobby Digital alias, but maintains a similar lyrical style. The sample is sped up and used throughout the song in typical Wu fashion, showing how the group influenced a generation of beat makers.
Blu – ‘Amnesia’
You can find Blu using her words to great effect here as it really fits the mood of the song. The track feels like a hip-hop version of a Holiday song with the melancholy piano in the background, and even mentions her name near the beginning. Perhaps not coincidentally, the sample used by Blu is of Lady Day’s ‘Am I Blue?’
Killarmy – ‘Swinging Swords’
The Wu-Tang affiliated group borrowed Holiday’s lyrics for the chorus to this song. Serving as the third single to their album Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars, the group deploys her vocals as a warning to anyone who steps to them. It’s a straight jack move instead of a Wu song with sped up or slowed down vocal samples, but it still has the Wu vibe nonetheless.
Dwayne Wiggins – ‘What’s Really Going On (Strange Fruit)’
Dwayne Wiggins mashes up the title of Marvin Gaye’s magnum opus with Lady Day’s most celebrated work, aiming to invoke the power of both of them. The music video is a heavy throwback to the days of segregation, not being subtle about the era Lady Day lived through. This could be seen as a cover to ‘Strange Fruit,’ and the Tony! Toni! Tone! singer sticks in a sample of it for good measure.
Mobb Deep – ‘Avirex’
Even Prodigy of Mobb Deep once tried to use a Holiday sample. This unreleased 90s cut finds the Mobb emcee playing her lyrics backwards to imitate a commonly used swear. The track is hot, and one wishes it had a proper release.
Notable Mention: Kanye West – ‘Blood On The Leaves’
Kanye samples Nina Simone‘s cover of ‘Strange Fruit’ on this Yeezus track, but it’s worth mentioning as Nina’s take is just as haunting as the original. Kanye has always commented on Black America and race relations in his music, so it is not surprising that he decided to flip the civil rights song for his own music. The lack of a coherent social message or theme on his song, however, was a bit strange.
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