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Sample School: Labi Siffre

Photo Courtesy of Allmusic

Photo Courtesy of Allmusic

August Greenberg

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Sampled by: Eminem & Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Miguel, Jay-Z

Claudius Afolabi “Labi” Siffre was born in London in 1945. Raised Catholic and forced to attend a monastery for school where he was taught partly by monks, Siffre says he has never believed in god. His older brother, Kole, not only helped him skip Sunday mass, but also had an impressive music collection, including Siffre’s later influences like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Wes Montgomery. In his early 20s, Siffre worked as the electric guitar player in the second house band of British Jazz singer Annie Ross’s club in Soho.

The international subsidiary of Pye Records (home of the Kinks) picked up Libre for his first album, self-titled, which was released in 1970. It contained ten original compositions as well as a Bee Gees cover and a Harry Nilsson cover. It was labeled soul music, but could have very well fit in with the blues and rock of the era. A poetic songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, most of Siffre’s music defied direct categorization. He put out 5 more records on Pye before 1976, spawning several hits. He then stopped putting out music until 1985, when video from Apartheid South Africa spurred him to write “(Something Inside) So Strong”, a No. 4 hit and his most covered work. He then continued to put out four more albums in the following years, including a spoken word project. Siffre authored a play and three books of poetry in the 90s, and joined in a civil partnership with his longtime partner as soon as it was allowed in the U.K. in 2006. He still posts poems occasionally on his website (link: https://www.intothelight.info/ozz/2017/11/in-this-key-singing-so-la-ti-um-aint-enough.html).

Labi’s most sampled work came on his ‘75 record, Remember My Song. The track, “I got the”, will become instantly recognizable at around 2:34.

But the first known sample of this song appears on none other than Shaquille O’Neal’s second hip hop album, where he drops bars with Wu members Method Man and the RZA over the drum break. The sample can be found in “I got the” at 2:09.

 

Then, Labi got a huge profile boost in the hip hop community when in 1997 Jay-Z rapped over a Ski-produced beat that takes the strings from about 0:24.

But when Dr. Dre got a hold of the song, his ears didn’t lead him to the haunting strings or the fat drum break. Instead, he took the funky piano riff, played by Siffre himself, to create one of Hip Hop’s most enduring songs; Eminem’s “My Name Is”. Siffre refused to clear the sample when he first heard the song, as he was not fond of how Mathers targeted marginalized people by calling them “b*tches” and “f*ggots”. After clearing the clean version of the song, Siffre was upset to realize that he had unknowingly given the rights to the uncensored version as well.

The track has become as ubiquitous as Slim Shady himself. But “I got the” was not the only track Labi Siffre is sampled on.

Kanye West turned ‘72’s “My Song” into “I Wonder” on his album 2007 album Graduation. West centered on the lyrics “And I wonder if you know what it means to find your dreams?” that occur at 0:38 in “My Song” and all throughout “I Wonder”.

 

Links to my favorite samples of Siffre are below, as well as his WhoSampled page and further reading:

Interview with Labi Siffre

Miguel (prod. Salaam remi)- “Kaleidiscope”

Def Squad feat. PMD and Jama (prod. Erick Sermon)- “Countdown”

Atmosphere (prod. Ant)

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Sample School: Labi Siffre