On Friday, soul sing Bill Withers died of heart complications at the age of 81. While the prolific songwriter had not released a studio album since 1985, his music remained relevant in the decades that followed through one explicit way other artists could show their appreciation.
The “Lean On Me” singer has had his music sampled in nearly 500 songs. His songs have become a staple in rap almost as much as it has in soul, with artists like 2Pac and Eminem incorporating his music into songs like “Soulja’s Story” and “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” respectively from their major label debut albums.
Even as recently as 2015, Travis Scott, Shawn Mendes, and Camila Cabello, all part of the newest generation of hitmakers, had a touch of Withers’ signature sounds in their singles.
Here are five songs that exemplify the breadth of Withers’ music, as used as samples in the work of other artists.
“No Diggity”— Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen
The Grammy-winning No. 1 hit from super-producer Teddy Riley’s group Blackstreet, which ended the 14 week reign of the “Macarena,” actually gets the foundational rhythm and soulful hum that’s on loop throughout the song from the beginning of Withers’ 1971 track “Grandma’s Hands.”
“Just The Two of Us”— Will Smith
At the height of Will Smith’s rap career came this 1997 single that shares a title with the Withers’ song it samples. Smith keeps many of the elements of Withers’ original song, but shifts its love song narrative into one about the relationship between a father and son. Smith’s son Jaden, who’d go on to be a successful rapper himself, even gets a line in at the beginning of the record.
“Let Me Ride”— Dr. Dre
The third single off of Dr. Dre’s groundbreaking solo debut album The Chronic is a bit of a gumbo of black music in the 70s. In addition to sampling Withers’ 1973 track “Kissing My Love,” the song interpolates “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” by Parliament Funkadelic, and uses elements of “Funky Drummer” by James Brown. The cut would go on to win Dre the Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy in 1994.
“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”— Kendrick Lamar
This epic 12-minute long Kendrick Lamar track, from his 2012 breakout album good kid, m.A.A.d city, includes a sample of Withers’ 1972 song “Use Me.” While the rapper’s use of a Withers record was cleared here, in a cut from his major label debut, Lamar’s sample of the singer’s track “Don’t You Want to Stay” on a song from his 2009 eponymous EP nearly cost him. He was sued for copyright infringement by the singer’s publishing company in 2016 because he was never given clearance to use the sample.
“Roses”— Kanye West
As a producer, Kanye West made his name off of using some of the most obscure samples, so it’s no surprise that the Withers’ song he would use for himself, “Rosie,” was a previously unreleased demo by the soul singer that was meant for his 1977 album Menagerie. “Rosie” would not be released until the 2002 reissue of the album, only three years before West would use it as the basis for the hook of this Late Registration cut about his grandmother’s near-death experience.
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