Last week in our sister publication LA Weekly's West Coast Sound, I wrote a piece titled “Jay-Z Bungles Nirvana” about the shortcomings that Jay-Z exhibits in attempting to channel Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his new album Magna Carta Holy Grail. That's not to say Kurt Cobain's work should by any means be off limits in hip-hop, rather plenty of artists have used Nirvana's musical quotations to either drive home a point or create something totally new. These are our picks for the Top 5 Nirvana Samples of all time.
5) Atmosphere featuring Heiruspecs – “Aspiring Sociopath (Live)” 2001
When Atmosphere released their Lucy Ford album, comprised of their Lucy and two Ford EPs, journalists were quick to scoff, or at least make note, of the ballsy use of quoting “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the song “Aspiring Sociopath.” Interesting as it was, the live instrumentation of fellow Twin Cities hip-hop heroes Heiruspecs brought it to another level on the live recording found on the group's Sad Clown Bad Dub 3 release, including adding rapper Slug's take on Nirvana's “Lithium” as well.
4) Trae the Truth – “Real Rock Star” 2007
The summer of 2007 saw the “Party Like a Rock Star” fad affect hip-hop fashion and rap music to such a degree that, in retrospect, it's odd to imagine a music climate where it became so popular. While many of the tracks around this time haven't aged particularly well, one stand-out is Texas rapper Trae the Truth's “Real Rock Star.” While there were rumors at the time of Trae's label Rap-A-Lot attempting to negotiate with Courtney Love in order to clear it for his album, this mixtape cut stands as an interesting snapshot of a moment in time.
3) Yelawolf – “Marijuana” 2010
Off the comparatively obscure Nirvana deep cut “Moist Vagina” comes the hook for Yelawolf's blistering ode to the plant “Marijuana.” Making a name for himself at the time as an abrasively quick-tongued stage-destroyer, the sample fit his aesthetic perfectly and put him on the radar of hardcore Nirvana fans and hip-hop listeners looking for something different alike.
2) Sage Francis – “Pen to the Gun Fight” 2005
From his limited edition run of mixtape cuts and live excepts Still Sickly Business, Sage Francis' “Pen to the Gun Fight” takes the opening of Nirvana's Unplugged cover of the Meat Puppets' “Plateau” to deliver a blistering critique of the mid-2000s Bush administration. Several years later, Plan B had the same idea to use the sample, going as far as to name the album it's from Who Needs Action When You've Got Words.
1) 3MG – “Sunsprayed” 1993
A year before Cobain's death changed the face of rock music and made him the go-to metaphor in hip-hop for “famous person suicide,” L.A. rap trio 3MG (Three Melancholy Gypsies) channeled Nirvana's “Heart Shaped Box” for “Sunsprayed.” A landmark west coast underground single, “Sunsprayed” became a definitive track of the L.A. underground that the crew (which includes members Murs, Eligh and Scarub ) still perform to this day.