Tougher Than Leather Jackets: Elton’s Hip-Hop Connections

Rap samples across the years…

He might not seem the most likely advocate of hip-hop, but Elton John’s done his bit for the music. In 2011 he talked about how the then-new Kanye West album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ was “genius” – Elton played piano on ‘All Of The Lights’ – and has forged a firm friendship with Eminem, the pair having performed ‘Stan’ together at the Grammy Awards back in 2001 (video below).

In 2006, it was even reported that John was keen to record a hip-hop album, with the singer telling Rolling Stone: “I want to bring my songs and melodies to hip-hop beats… I want to work with Pharrell, Timbaland, Snoop, Kanye, Eminem and just see what happens.”

It’s probably for the best that John’s own rap album never saw the light of day – but his catalogue has found its way into hip-hop via a long succession of samples. Here, just for fun, Clash selects four examples of an Elton melody or two popping up in a rap track.

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Action Bronson and Party Supplies – ‘Silverado’ (2013)
Samples: ‘Island Girl’ (1975)

From November last year, Action Bronson and Party Supplies’ ‘Blue Chips’ sequel packed its share of samples into 19 tracks. Opener ‘Silverado’ does nothing – at all – to make its lift of Elton John’s ‘Island Girl’ its own, simply repeating the intro of the 1975 track, from the album ‘Rock Of The Westies’, without worrying about the snatch of Elton’s own vocal being caught in the loop. Action goes off over the top, but there’s no mistaking this track’s roots, firmly planted in the ‘75 stateside number one single, about prostitution on the streets of Action’s home city, New York.

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Raekwon – ‘Kiss The Ring’ (2009)
Samples: ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (1973)

The Scram Jones-produced closing track on Wu-Tang Clan rapper Raekwon’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II’ clearly borrows Elton’s wordless vocal rise from ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ (check it out at 42 seconds), albeit via a filter or some. The 2009 album attracted generous acclaim, with many critics comparing it favourably with its maker’s solo breakthrough, 1995’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’. There were no Elton samples on that LP, though, so really: what is the better album?

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Kanye West – ‘Good Morning’ (2007)
Samples: ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ (1975)

West and John’s collaboration proper would come in another couple of albums for the Chicago rapper-producer, but Kanye was already borrowing from Elton ahead of ‘All Of The Lights’. ‘Good Morning’ opens his 2007 LP ‘Graduation’, and lifts a falsetto vocal from ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ (appearing at 1.42) for use as a repeated hook. From the album ‘Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy’, Elton’s original – a co-write with Bernie Taupin, naturally – went top five on release in the US, and top 30 in the UK. At almost seven minutes in length, though, it was hardly the most radio friendly offering amongst Elton’s catalogue.

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Ashanti: ‘Good Good’ (2008)
Samples: ‘Bennie And The Jets’ (1973)

This single from New York rapper/R&B singer Ashanti’s 2008 LP, ‘The Declaration’, is greedy with its big-league samples: alongside its incorporation of the melody from ‘Bennie And The Jets’, a track first found on Elton’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ LP of 1973, producer Jermaine Dupri also uses Michael Jackson’s ‘The Girl Is Mine’. Hell, if you can afford it, why not? And at the time Ashanti was a hot property, with her previous album ‘Concrete Rose’ selling over a quarter of a million copies in its first week. A lukewarm reception greeted ‘The Declaration’, though – something that can’t be said of the critical reaction to Elton’s ’73 masterpiece.

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This is just a scratching of the surface when it comes to other artists sampling or covering Elton’s material. If you want to suggest some of your favourites, get in touch with Clash via Twitter

Elton John is guest editor of Clash magazine issue 92 – get more information on that, here

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Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

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