Am I the only person who noted a feeling of change in the air and, perhaps, even slight cognitive dissonance when Barbra Streisand presented the 2002 Oscar for Best Song to Eminem for “Lose Yourself?” In that moment, Miss Streisand relying, no doubt, on her considerable oratory experience and a lifetime of giving line readings in front of a camera, managed to convey some measure of “hip-hop-hooray” enthusiasm for something she may well have been thinking about for the first time. (One can almost hear her at rehearsal saying, “what is this Gil (Cates)—there’s a person called ‘Eminem’?”) If you’re the sort of person who thinks about things like this, you may have confidently assumed that the closest Miss Streisand had ever gotten to rap music was, indeed, this Funny Girl/Slimshady Academy Award pop culture mash-up or, perhaps, being nestled in the testosterone-laden troika of Wyclef Jean, Usher, and Will.i.am at the recording session for U.S.A. for Africa 25. Well if you are that sort of person, you will no doubt be both interested and surprised to discover that Barbra Streisand’s own master recordings have actually been sampled extensively in hip hop and rap music. If you’re not that sort of person, you are about to start feeling sleepy.
Indeed, while I had always assumed that Columbia Records had exercised its legal prerogative and preference to withhold license requests to sample Barbra’s masters, it turns out to not exactly be the case (more on this later). In fact Streisand recordings dating back to the early-1970s have been used prominently to create new hip hop tracks.
Therfore, with your kind indulgence (and my kind permission), after the jump Stargayzing.com presents what I affectionately call The First Barbra Streisand Rap Album or, if you prefer, Color Me Hip Hop: a lovingly curated, fully annotated, and completely serious guide to Barbra Streisand’s unsung place in the Rap music firmament! Nu?
1. “Woman In Love,” from Guilty (1980)
a). “Life,” by Royce Da 5’9″ feat. Amerie (2002)
Amerie (a minor R&B diva) is the hook singer on this track. Her vocal of the song’s first two lines—”life is a moment in space, when the dream is gone, it’s a lonlier place”—is beyond annoying to me because she sings the wrong note each time on the word “gone.” The effect after several passes is the musical equivalent of nails on a blackboard. In spite of this irritiant, they do actually sample the introduction of the master to rather good effect. Royce Da 5’9″ is actually Ryan Daniel Montgomery, a Detroit native and Eminem cohort. This track was on the album Rock City which peaked at number eight on the R&B chart. “Life” was not released as a single. The track was produced by someone named Ayatollah (yeah, sure) and other than that horrible mis-sung note that sounds like the vocal equivalent of hitting a pot hole, this isn’t such a bad record. It was a Columbia release which suggests that the sample was actually approved.
b). “Put Your Guns Down,” by RZA feat. Star (2008)
De-facto leader of hip hop legend Wu Tang Clan, Rza (Robert Fitzgerald Diggs), is a major hip hop playa and successful actor, screenwriter, producer, and recording artist. The track is culled from his 2008 CD Digi Snacks which was released under alter-ego “Bobby Digital” and peaked at number 29 on the R&B chart and number 10 on the rap chart. The track, which was not a single, uses the same sample of the Streisand master’s introduction as “Life,” but any resemblance to the uplifting Da Royce track ends there. “Put Your Guns Down” is brutal and grim, two adjectives not generally associated with Miss Streisand, which infuses the whole enterprise with more than a bit of surrealism. The “Woman in Love” sample fades away in a rather violent soundscape, replete with a woman’s screaming and much goings on about guns, drugs and thug life. I kind of tune out after a bit, like I was looking for the piano bar and wandered into the wrong room, but I’ve never claimed to either understand rap or say that it is in any way meant for me. Of course, this does not stop me from having strong opinions.
c). “Escuela Calle,” by Akil Ammar feat. Nedman Guerrero (2006)
The verdict: Order some sangria and go with the RZA track.
2. “Pavane” (Vocalise), from Classical Barbra, (1976)
“Paparazzi,” by Xzibit (1996)
The track had further cultural impact as it was featured on the “Pax Soprana” episode of The Sopranos as well as being used in the video game Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3 (I know less about gaming than I do about hip hop, so you tell me). Most significantly, the track pissed of rapper E.D.I. Mean (get it?) who dissed Xzibit on TPac’s “Bomb First” with this nasty barb, “Got a little question for that nigga that made ‘Paparazzi’/If you ain’t in this rap game for the motherfuckin’ cash, man/Then what is your motherfuckin’ purpose?” I wonder if Mr. Mean meant that question rhetorically, as I can think of many reasons to become an artist other than the “motherfuckin’ cash.” I just can’t relate to people who are so motherfuckin’ cynical. I can say with a measure of confidence this is the closest Barbra has gotten to an authentic rap war.
The verdict: Are my Stargayzers following all of this because I am exhausted and I’m only on the second song.
3. “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” from Wet, (1979)
a). “Rainy Dayz,” by Raekwon feat. Ghostface Killah and Blue Raspberry (1995)
“Rainy Dayz” was the fourth single (promo only) from Wu-Tang member Raekwon’s 1995 CD Only Built for Cuban Linx. The track also includes a sample from Michael Jackson’s cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” so “Enough is Enough” wasn’t the only injured party in all this hip hoperatic silliness.
The verdict: Enough is enough.
b). “It’s Not Enough,” by Madame B. (1995)
If you’re not particularly into dance music, listen from the 2:00 mark where the Streisand vocal begins to be integrated into the mix. Of particular interest here is the almost eerie looping of the extended note “tear”—but just the part of the note before the vibrato—which was held pretty long on the original recording, now time stretched to such a bizarre length that it began to remind me of the Emergency Broadcasting System tone that was used to prepare the nation “for an actual emergency” from 1963 to 1997. I reflexively began searching my house for a gas mask and bottled water.
“It’s Not Enough” is one of the few Streisand samples used in dance music as opposed to something more hip hop/R&B. In my research I learned that Madame B. is, apparently, one Sophie Nadaud, a French dance music artist. Other than the vocal line “and we won’t waste another tear,” the track uses various instrumental pieces of the original master.
The verdict: I tapped my foot for the first two minutes, but at seven minutes plus, enough is really enough. N’est ce pas?
c). “Raining,” by Todd Terry (2001)
The verdict: Don’t waste another tear for Mr. Terry; this sample actually works.
4. “Prisoner (Love Theme From Eyes of Laura Mars),” from Barbra Streisand Greatest Hits, Vol. II, (1978)
“Prisoner,” by Army of the Pharaohs (2010)
Another example of the chipmunk effect: Streisand’s vocal is sped up to the point where she could be absolutely anyone, while AOTP raps about the usual competetive hip hop bullshit. By the time the chorus comes in, we’re grateful for anything resembling an actual song.
Army of the Pharoahs is a Philadelphia-based hip hop collectively led by Jedi Mind Tricks MC Vinnie Paz in 1998. They apparently have strong ties to other underground groups like OuterSpace, Snowgoons, La Coka Nostra, and Jedi Mind Tricks. Are you getting all this?
The verdict: I would rather drink urine than ever hear this track again.
5. “Grandma’s Hands,” from Butterfly, (1974)
a). “Beat Break #1,” by Mekalek (2006)
The verdict: It’s short but wonderful, proving that when it comes to making collages, sometimes a little goes a long way.
b). “Willie Dynamite,” by Fat Trel feat. Smoke DZA and Danny Brown (2013)
“Willie Dynamite” uses quite a bit of the original master recording. The spine of the record is the instrumental track almost its entirety, with added staccato percussive elements. Vocally, Barbra is all over the track (only moderately sped up this time.) She “ahs” and “oohs” and even gets her own line: “baby don’t you run so fast, you might fall on a piece of glass.” Lyrically we have the usual profanity and rapping about nothing of particular interest. There are also references to William DeVaughan’s early-1970s soul masterpiece”Be Thankful for What You Got” (can’t rappers do anything but boast and borrow?).
The verdict: How odd to hear Streisand essentially reduced to a caffeinated hook singer.
6. “My Heart Belongs to Me,” from Superman, (1977)
a). “Truancy,” by King Syze (2006)
I was rather shocked to discover three tracks that sampled “My Heart Belongs to Me,” Alan Gordon’s 1977 composition that was a top-10 hit from Superman. “Truancy” uses the typical device of appropriating the introduction of the master and using it as the sound bed of the verses. Then when that get’s boring—or actually way after it get’s boring—they dip into the sped up vocal a bit, in this case, repeating “my heart has gone to sleep” over and over, until I was practically asleep.
The verdict: This sleepy track should be put to sleep.
b). “Real Life Isn’t as Dope as the Movies,” by Agency 22.214.171.124. (2006)
Another underground jewel, this track, once again, uses the introduction of “My Heart Belongs to Me” as the spine of the new track. There is no vocal. It’s really interesting to pause and consider the paradox of how these hip hop tracks, which appropriate the work of Streisand and so many amazing musicians, utterly refute what traditional pop music and Streisand, as a leading progenitor thereof, represent: melody is competely marginalized; the musical track is something to be borrowed or stolen and grafted onto the new sonic collage. The finished product often (as in this case) appears to value attitude, boasting, and the viccisitudes of thug life. Welcome to 21st-century hip hop.
The verdict: “Real Life”is just dopey.
c). “Za 10 Godina,” by Tram 11 feat. Ivana Husar (2000)
The verdict: This track alone should have prompted a boycott of the Sochi olympics. Just say “nyet!”
7. “Just a Little Lovin’,” from Stoney End, (1971)
“Secondhand Sureshots,” by J Rocc (2009)
Orange county native J Rocc formed the collective of west coast DJs called The World Famous Beat Junkies in 1992. This 2009 sample of 1971’s Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill-written and Richard Perry-produced “Just a Little Lovin’,” works for me on some level, which proves that I am not a unilateral hater when it comes to hip hop. Would I want to sit around and listen to this? Of course not, but there is something sonically appealing about J Rocc’s repeated assertion “baby you lied to me” over the introduction to the song.
The Verdict: As far as secondhand music goes, J Rocc’s track is innocuous, but stick with Barbra or Dusty Springfield.
8. “Make it Like a Memory,” from Guilty, (1980)
“Guilty,” by De Souza feat. Shena (2007)
The verdict: This track will soon be like a memory to you.
Illustration by Rob De Vries, available through fineartamerica.com. We all thought “Up the Sandbox” was Barbra at her most afro-centric. We were wrong.
9. “Promises,” from Guilty, (1980)
“B With U,” by Junior Sanchez (1999)
The verdict: Much more of an original song than a sample-reliant retread. Give it a spin.
10. “Lost Inside of You,” from the A Star is Born Soundtrack, (1976)
“Frédéric (Enfant Du Divorce),” by Ol’ Kainry (2001)
The verdict: Je ne comprend pas, but it’s fairly pleasant.
11. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” from Barbra Streisand Greatest Hits, Vol. II, 1978
“No Flowers,” by The Grouch and Eligh feat. Paris Hayes (2009)
“No Flowers” uses both instrumental and vocal elements of the master and, for once, creates something sympathetic, warm and in some ways, vibrantly new. Though “No Flowers” is fresh and different, it still feels very connected to the original.
The verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed the aroma of “No Flowers”—I suspect you will too.
12. “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star is Born),” from the A Star is Born Soundtrack, (1976)
a). “S2pidluv,” by Salbukuta feat. Nasty Mac (2002)
The verdict: Stupid, love.
b). “Promatic,” by Waffle House (2003)
The narrative of “Promatic” is outrageous even by the relative standards of this crazy list, such as it is. While Barbra “ahs” and “oohs” the introduction to the Oscar winning song, the Waffle House spit a tribute to smoking crack, ordering McDonalds and Chinese at the Waffle House. Favorite lines would have to include “who the fuck stole my mother’s lamp,” “I woke up on the wrong side, I woke up with a sack of pills under my nut sack.”
The verdict: It’s hard to believe this is a cleared sample. Simply vile, unless you’ve longed to hear the sound of Miss Streisand humming while someone wraps about their nut sack.
13. “Superman,” from Superman, (1977)
“Nothing I Can Do,” by Blak Madeen and Tragedy Khadafi (2012).
“Nothing I Can Do” builds whole new track around a sped up sample of the line “there’s nothing I can do,” but not before beginning with a slowed down “I’m in love this time and I know I have it, fell into my life so I grabbed it,” that makes Barbra sound like Fat Albert, which actually has some sort of subversive appeal.
Blak Madeen is an underground Boston hip hop crew. Tragedy Khadafi (not his given name) is a “hard-hitting rhymesayer.” Yeah, whatever.
The verdict: There is something I can do—I turned it off after one listen.
14. “Guilty,” from Guilty, (1980)
“Stay Tuned (Sunset Version),” by Tanya Morgan (2005)
First of all let’s get this out of the way: Tanya Morgan is not a lady, it is the name of a hip hop group that just sounds like a lady. Once again we are treated to a sped-up Streisand vocal. Multiple pieces of the “Guilty” master are used in this fashion. I would proffer that what works about this track is what works about the sample in the first place: the melody; distinctive keyboard part; and, even manipulated as it is, Barbra’s vocal. This is how I generally feel about sampling: lazy songwriting.
The verdict: Meh. What’s the point?
15. “The Woman in the Moon,” from the A Star is Born Soundtrack, (1976)
“That’s Harlem,” by J.R. Writer feat. 40 Cal (2006)
Well here we go. “The Woman in the Moon” holds a very special place in the hearts of so many Streisand fans. “That’s Harlem” builds a new track around the vocal line “I was raised in a no you don’t world” and the results are not bad. After Barbra sings her line 40 Cal comments “that’s Harlem fo’ ya,” and it’s rather amusing to hear Barbra’s feminist message appropriated to describe life in the hood. In some ways I think it conveys the universality of oppression. Am I thinking too much?
Though I think the use of this sample is creative and interesting, “That’s Harlem” sounds like it was recorded in someone’s bathroom, a definite negative, though it may add to the track’s mixtape street cred. Was this sample ever cleared? Tough shit, Columbia Records legal department, “that’s Harlem fo’ ya.”
16. “The Way We Were,” from The Way We Were, (1973)
“Tearz,” Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
17. “We’re Not Makin’ Love Anymore,” from A Collection…Greatest Hits and More, (1989)
“Ya-Rap,” St1M feat. Cepera
I think this is Russian but in any language it’s just awful. Apparently it translates into “Ya-Rap”—lord only knows what they’re ya-rapping about—but it sounds like ya-crap. The track samples, what else, a sped up snippet, in this case Barbra humming over the intro of the master of Diane Warren’s song. Surprisingly out of all the master recordings appropriated for samples and mix tape use, this was the only one I encountered that had copyright claims against it, resulting in the muting of the audio on uploaded YouTube copies of the song. It also made my investigative work much more difficult, but hell hath no fury like a gay, disenfranchised music publishing executive on a mission to find an illegal Streisand sample— except maybe Diane Warren herself.
The verdict: We’re not having fun anymore. One must wonder how most of these sample ideas even found there way into the minds of the rap artists who appropriated them. Garage sales?
Mark BlissMay 8, 2014 at 1:42 am
Great article, focussing on yet another aspect of Barbra’s cultural influence. Well done.
David MunkMay 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm
Hi Mark. Thanks for checking in and I’m glad you liked the piece. David