Last week the entire music world mourned the loss of all-time songwriting virtuoso Rod Temperton. While he’s most known as the writer of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” one of the most famous songs in the history of music, his career as a songwriter spanned several decades and genres, from soul to funk to pop. Passing away at age 66 after what’s been described as a “brief battle with cancer,” Templeton’s legacy is one that not only thrives through the music he created, but in all the tremendous creations that have been done with his works. Here’s our choices for the seven most memorable Rob Templeton samples.
For the record, while we do love Temperton’s work with Michael Jackson including “Thriller,” as well as “Rock With You” and “Off the Wall,” we at the Weekly have agreed to a Jacko Embargo for this piece in favor of exploring the other songs in his catalog you may not be as familiar with.
Big Daddy Kane - “Ain’t No Half Steppin” (1987)
The hook of one of the most important rap songs of the 80s wouldn’t have existed without Rod Temperton. His group Heatwave’s “Ain’t No Half Stepping” happened to have the perfect hook when it came to falling in place for the B-I-G- D-A-DOUBLE-D-Y K-A-N-E. Dramatic, aziatic, the track’s not like many.
Kanye West, Nas and KRS-ONE - “Classic” (2007)
Three of the biggest names in hip-hop history would need a strong enough sample to be the foundation of their legendary collaboration, and thus they tapped into what’s perhaps Temperton’s biggest non-Jackson hit in George Benson’s “Give Me the Night” Smooth strings and bass, it’s four tastes that go together great!
Paris - “Ebony” (1990)
One of the strongest voices in political hip-hop, as well as perhaps its most underrated, Paris’ landmark 1990 album The Devil Made Me Do It is an absolute unsung classic of the genre. For “Ebony,” he tapped into Temperton’s first band Heatwave’s first big hit “Boogie Nights” for something infection to be both celebratory and exploratory over with his lyrics.
Public Enemy - “Sophisticated Bitch” (1986)
Speaking of underrated political hip-hop albums, Public Enemy’s debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show is somewhat under-appreciated outside of hardcore hip-hop circles. Of the best employed samples on the record is “Sophisticated Bitch’s” use of Heatwave’s “The Groove Line.” It takes the funky fun party-starting bassline and makes it an almost sinister, devious warble. Distinctly Templeton and distinguishably P.E., it’s a perfect mix of both worlds.
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GZA - “Legend of the Liquid Sword” (2002)
A late-era GZA cut, “Legend of the Liquid Sword,” a quasi-sequel to the original classic title track of the Genius’ sophomore album and Wu-masterpiece, had to have a comparable sample to the original, but still different enough to warrant a new track. Enter the Rod Temperton-penned Quincy Jones track “Razzamatazz” with just the right use of strings to make for some great Wu-manipulation.
Warren G & Nate Dogg - “Regulate” (1994)
De La Soul - “Keeping the Faith” (1991)
Bet you didn’t realize until just now that these two songs were built around the same sample! The whistle of De La’s “Keeping the Faith” happens to also be the hook from Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate.” Both come from Bob James’ “Sign of the Times.” Temperton wrote the “Sign of the Times” for Bob James in 1981 and a decade later it became two of the most infectious signature songs for surefire hip-hop hall of famers on two different coasts. It just shows how the power of music transcends coasts, generations and contexts.