Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day where we celebrate the birth and countless contributions the good Reverend Doctor made in the name of civil rights and equality in this country. Among Dr. King's most memorable works were his inspiring speeches. It's easy to forget that in a pre-internet/mass media era, the only way one could hear King's famous words would be to pick up a recording of one of his speeches on vinyl. Yes, King had a record deal with EMI to release his most famous speeches, and their ubiquity has lead to a surprisingly long history of King's voice being sampled across all genres. In observation of the man's great works, we at the Weekly have assembled our choices for the most memorable samples.
Fingers, Inc. – "Can You Feel It" 1986
One of the most significant records that King has been sampled on has to be 1986's "Can You Feel It" by Fingers, Inc. While some attribute the single to the groups producer Mr. Fingers (aka Larry Heard), the tune remains among the most influential singles in the deep house genre. Release the first year Martin Luther King Jr. day was celebrated, invoking the civil rights' leaders trademark voice and unforgettable words could have been perceived as sacrilege. Luckily, the tasteful presentation maintained the impact of its original delivery and brought it respectfully to the dance floor.
Three Times Dope – "Increase the Peace (What's Going On)" 1988
With a half-decade of rap including deliberately positive messages for the community, Hilltop Hustlers Crew members Three Times Dope made "Increase the Peace (What's Going On)," a record whose composition bridged the gap of hip-hop into the family tree of socially aware black music. Along with lifting a bass-line from Marvin Gaye's seminal "What's Going On," DJ Woody Wood cuts up King's speeches on the hook, emphasizing the musicality of King's voice.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five "The King" 1988
That same year, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five unveiled their tribute, "The King." At a point in their career where, after changing hip-hop forever with "The Message," they'd performed songs about everything from Jesse Jackson to "Miami Vice," the Five's (usually short) narrative about Dr. King's legacy and impact really stands out as one of the group's later gems.
Gwen Stefani featuring Andre 3000 – "Long Way to Go" 2004
It's really puzzling to remember that a record as bizarre-sounding as "Long Way to Go" came out on a major label. At a post-"Hey Ya" post-No Doubt time when Outkast's Andre 3000 and Gwen Stefani were given carte-blanche to do whatever they wanted, "Long Way to Go" was the result. Presumably about recognizing racial identity and harmony post-King, Stefani and Andre identify that the struggles King spoke of are still relevant and require an active attention instead of just remembering his work as part of the past.
Common – "A Dream" 2006
This will.i.am produced cut from the Freedom Writers soundtrack was probably the most visible appearance King's voice on rap radio in recent memory. Along with the audio of the famous "I Have a Dream" speech, the video incorporates actual images lifted and reanimated from both the "I Have a Dream" speech and the civil rights movement. King's "I Have a Dream" speech was also named the #1 music video of all time by Black Entertainment Television during their first ever Notarized Top 100 videos countdown on New Years Eve 1999. "Thriller" was #2.