As a genre of music, hip-hop transcends all genres, borrowing from the entire spectrum of recorded sound. In fact, one of my favorite aspects of the music is the education I have received from it—especially as a primer to jazz, soul, funk, and R&B. That’s because sampling--using a snippet of recorded music in an otherwise different context than the original--lies at the heart of the artform. Sampling has allowed older, more obscure records and artists a chance to enjoy a second life. So, in “Loop Lore,” I delve into the back story of a rare or well-known sample, starting with one of the most iconic beats in hip-hop, The Honeydripper’s “Impeach the President.” Not only does this story illuminate an important chapter in rap, but it also provides yet another familiar tale of exploitation in the music industry.
The track’s storied history begins on January 30th 1973, only six months after the infamous break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at The Watergate office complex. Though the five perpetrators were tried and convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws, we know that the trail of guilt ultimately lead directly to President Nixon himself, forcing him to resign as a result. That very same month, veteran soul and R&B singer Roy C. Hammond released a rock-solid drum workout with a funky guitar riff, who’s politically charged title, “Impeach The President,” perfectly captured the zeitgeist. Though he might have seen the writing on the wall for Nixon, little did Hammond know that the first four bars of his song were destined to become a hip-hop mainstay, sampled in over 696 songs according to the website Whosampled.com.
The slew of ‘80s and ‘90s hits built upon “Impeach” reads like a list of rap classics--MC Shan’s “The Bridge,” Audio Two’s “Top Billin’,” “Jump” by Kriss Kross, “The Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)” by Digable Planets, “I Get Around” by Tupac and “Unbelievable” by Biggie Smalls to name just a few. Even dance and pop acts from Soul II Soul to Janet Jackson have utilized "Impeach's" infectious boom bap. Plus, you know a beat is special when top-notch MCs like Chuck D. (in “Rebel Without A Pause”) and GZA (in “As High as Wu Tang Get”) reference it in their rhymes.
Known for such hits as “Shotgun Wedding” (Blackhawk Records, 1965) and “Don’t Blame the Man” (Mercury, 1973), Hammond cut “Impeach” with a group of no-name high school musicians from Jamaica, Queens whom he dubbed, The Honey Dripper’s (long before Robert Plant formed his group of the same name in 1981). Though he couldn’t even recall the drummer’s name, Hammond said, “I had to spend many hours with him after school, but he turned out to be pretty good.” Recorded at Broadway Recording Studios in Manhattan—in the same building that currently houses the Ed Sullivan Theatre—“Impeach The President” was considered too controversial for Mercury, the label to which Hammond was signed at the time, so he released it on his own imprint, Alaga Records. But without the promotional power of a major behind it, the song went on to sell only a few thousand copies, before joining the stacks of obscure funk 45s.
Flash forward to 1980 at the T-Connection, a popular hip-hop club on Gunhill Road in the North Bronx. Aaron Fuchs, a self-described scholar of black music as well as one of the early journalists to write about hip-hop, was the guest of Bronx deejay Afrika Bambaataa. “When you see a guy coming to a gig with a little laptop and you remember what it was like to see Bambaataa and his posse come to a gig with four or five guys carrying crates of records behind him, it was very tribal man, a whole nother experience-- very post gang,” says Fuchs, now 69, founder of the seminal rap label Tuff City Records. “He [Bam] showed me the extraordinary respect of letting me see his records,” he continues, and “even with certain stuff scratched out, I knew enough about music and its history to fill in the blanks.” Among a record collection that Fuchs calls, “the most expansive panoply of the musics that nurtured hip-hop,” he identified a 45 of “Impeach The President” with Alaga Records’ trademark red and yellow label.
“Impeach was cultish,” says Fuchs, “It kind of separated record purchasers from crate-diggers.” Always trawling through the lists of distributors’ cutouts, he managed to score a 50-count box of “Impeach The President” for the bargain price of 25 cents a copy. “What I did was, if I’d go to the Roxy and I had a new record for Afrika Islam, I’d throw in a couple copies of ‘Impeach,’” says Fuchs. “I never got into or was able to get into greasing people or paying people off, but I could really live with using that type of stuff as currency.”
Based in Long Island City at the time, Fuchs started working with a young, up-and-coming deejay/producer from the nearby Queensbridge projects named Marlon Williams, aka Marley Marl, one half of the very first commercial rap radio show, Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack, on New York’s WBLS-FM. Just cutting his teeth on production, Marley had a small set-up in his sister’s apartment in the projects that included a four-track, a Roland TR-808 drum machine and 2 SDD-2000 sampling digital delays by Korg. Marley's first production for Tuff City was a track called “Take it Off” by Spoonie Gee. Interviewed by Dubspot in 2013, he recalled, “Fuchs said, ‘Here, I can’t pay you for this Spoonie Gee session, but you can take this pile of records.’ In that pile was “Impeach The President.”
According to Fuchs, “Marley was voracious, and as soon as I gave him something, it was used one way or another.” Marley sampled the Honey Dripper’s kick and snare (with accompanying ghost notes) to each of his SDD-2000s. He added a hi-hat and a kick from the 808 drum machine to bolster the sampled kick. For a hook, he sampled a reverbed horn fanfare from the record “Scratchin’” (1975) by The Magic Disco Machine, reversing it to play backwards like a stab of pure noise. Finally he brought in MC Shan (Shawn Moltke) to christen the track with lyrics.
“The track ‘The Bridge’ was made not to be a record, it was made as intermission music for the Queensbridge festival that we had in Queensbridge Park in 1984,” Marley said. “Now the first time the track played everybody’s heads turned. Everybody was like, ‘Wow, it’s a song about Queensbridge.’ Everybody was like, ‘Play it again, play it again.’ It was so popular that day that we played it in the park, one of my nephews took the tape and spread it around Queensbridge. Everybody in Queensbridge had a copy of that song and it wasn’t a record yet. I had to do something about that.”
Though “The Bridge” was originally made in 1984, it was only released as a 12-inch on Bridge Records in 1986, becoming an instant street classic. Marley, who by that time was helming a crew of now legendary artists known as the Juice Crew, went on to use the “Impeach” beat on many subsequent productions including such certified rap hits as “Eric B. Is President” (1986) by Eric B. & Rakim and “Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz” (1986) by Biz Markie. Ironically, he even handed the beat over to the competition when BDP made “The Bridge is Over” the following year.
“The funny story about ‘The Bridge is Over’ is that I had met BDP for the first time at Power Play studios when they was playing their demos for Mr. Magic” said Marley. “So he went into the room, the music was very loud. He did not like it at all, so it got really really heated. In the rush to vacate the studio, I forgot my famous drum reel with all my drum sounds on ‘em. Fast forward, I’m listening to the radio and I hear this song called “The Bridge Is Over” utilizing my drum sounds. I was like ‘Yo! That sounds like my drum sounds. Who’s that?’ ‘That’s them kids that Magic dissed in the studio the other day.’” So another hip-hop classic, “The Bridge is Over” also benefited from the “Impeach” beat.
By the time “Impeach The President” appeared on the deejay friendly Ultimate Breaks & Beats, Volume 11 (Street Beat Records, 1987), the cat was out of the bag, and that break was on its way to becoming a standard building block for rap tracks. In that year alone, it was used in “I Got An Attitude” by Antoinette, Dana Dane’s “Dana Dane With The Fame,” Cool C’s “Juice Crew Dis,” and Audio Two’s mega-hit “Top Billin.” Fuchs even took his own stab at a version getting Spoonie G to drop some lyrics on a track called, “You Ain’t Just A Fool, You’s An Old Fool” (Tuff City, 1988). But that was only the beginning…. (to be continued)