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Color Me <i>Hip Hop?</i> An Exclusive Guide to Barbra Streisand’s Secret Place in Rap Music

Color Me Hip Hop? An Exclusive Guide to Barbra Streisand’s Secret Place in Rap Music

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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.

Streisand, Africa
Some of us thought that Barbra going “tribal chic” in Africa, 1972 was her at her most Afro-centric.  Perhaps it was, until now.

 

Barbra Streisand, Eminem
Announcing that Eminem had won the Oscar for Best Song for “Lose Yourself.”

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?

 

Bruce White artist
Illustration by Bruce White.  We all thought the Jon Peters perm was Barbra at her most afro-centric, but we were wrong.

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.

The verdict: They have nothing to be guilty of (except that one wrong note).

 

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.

The verdict: Rough going, but creative and powerful.

 

c). “Escuela Calle,” by Akil Ammar feat. Nedman Guerrero (2006)

 

If the RZA use of “Woman in Love” is heavy on the brutality of thug life, “Escuela Calle” by Mexican rapper Akil Ammar—our first Streisand hip hop track en Español—has the opposite effect; it sounds like the congenial chef from your favorite tapas bar came out of the kitchen to tell you about the evening’s specials.  Regrettably there is nothing in English about this rapper on the Internet, so go figure.

The verdict: Order some sangria and go with the RZA track.

Barbra Streisand, Scavullo
Barbra Streisand photograhed by Francesco Scavullo

2. “Pavane” (Vocalise), from Classical Barbra, (1976)

“Paparazzi,” by Xzibit (1996)

 

Rapper and TV Host (MTV’s Pimp My Ride) Xzibit recorded “Paparazzi” on his 1996 debut album At the Speed of Life.  The track which, of course, samples the Streisand “Vocalise” from Classical Barbra is both one of the most successful appropriations of Barbra’s music in hip hop, as well as one of the most musically accessible.  The Xzibit track is a blistering indictment of hip hop artists who are “only in the rap game, only for the money and the fame,” which I personally could not agree with more.  The track went to number nine on the U.S. rap chart and was a hit in many territories around the world, including Switzerland, where it went to number six on the Schweizer Hitparade (I included that fact for the dopamine spike of typing “Schweizer Hitparade”; try saying it aloud, it’s uncanny and could easily put Zoloft out of business.)

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.

 

Barbra Streisand Donna Summer color
Photo by Francesco Scavullo, 1979. We all thought the travelling sisterhood of Barbra and Donna was Barbra at her most afro-centric. We were wrong.

3.  “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” from Wet (1979)

a). “Rainy Dayz,” by Raekwon feat. Ghostface Killah and Blue Raspberry (1995)

Ghostface and Raekwon
Raekwon and Killah.  Blue Raspberry not pictured.

 

What Raekwon (Corey Woods), Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coles), and singer Blue Raspberry (Candi Lindsey)—all Wu-Tang Clan personnel—have done with the Bruce Roberts/Paul Jabara song “Enough is Enough” is quite curious.  Really more of an interpolation of a bit of the melody and a few lyrics than a proper sample, the track begins with a very plaintive, torchy, accapella verse sung by Miss Raspberry, followed by a snippet of dialogue from John Woo’s 1989 film The Killer.  He: “you sang beautifully just now.”  She: “I sang for him and he isn’t here.” An ominous sounding bird squawks a few times, as if to comment on all this drama, and then, appropos of nothing, Miss Raspberry sings a little bit of the “Enough is Enough” verse but with new lyrics: “It’s raining, it’s changing, my man is going insane…insane.”  I know how she feels as I felt the same way when I heard this track.  With this, Raekwon and Killah commence rapping, trading verses with the usual fuss about getting rich, the hardship of thug life, and blah, blah, blah.  The whole business is set over dissonant chords and thumping beat (has there ever been a major chord used in a hip hop song?)  Occasionally Blue Raspberry comes back and sings something about the weather and her man going insane and that pretty much sums it up.

“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)

Brooklyn-born D.J. Todd Terry is a house music legend who has done remix work for everyone from Annie Lennox to the Rolling Stones and everyone in between.  His 2001 “Raining” is an altogether more interesting and creative approach to “Enough is Enough.” The track uses the meat of the original chorus and enough original vocals to keep both fans of the original and hardcore dance music afficianados engaged.

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.

 

Streisand 1970s
Photo by Steve Shapiro

5.  “Grandma’s Hands,” from Butterfly, (1974)

a). “Beat Break #1,” by Mekalek (2006)

 

L.A.-based D.J./producer Mekalek’s 2006 album Live and Learn was a nice surprise.  The musical settings were interesting and surprisingly varied and engaging.  The record overall just seems more intelligent and intellectually provacative than the usual hip hop fare.  The CD utilizes some short interstitial musical breaks to connect the tracks.  “Beat Break #1” is basically the introduction to “Grandma’s Hands” with very little adornment.  Though you don’t hear any vocal lines, you do hear her “ahhing” and “oohing” over the intro.  In listening to this again I was reminded of the great work arranger Tom Scott did on Butterfly (he is best known for Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark).

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.

 

Streisand, Steve Shapiro
Photographed by Steve Shapiro

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 1.9.9.4. (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)

 

If you’ve ever longed to hear a Russian rapper spitting (presumably) rhymes over the introduction to “My Heart Belongs to Me,” this is a red letter day.  I virtually travelled around the world to unearth this beyond-obscure Streisand sample for my Stargayzing readers.

The verdict:  This track alone should have prompted a boycott of the Sochi olympics.  Just say “nyet!”

Barbra Streisand, "Stoney End"

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.

 

Streisand, Barry Gibb

8.  “Make it Like a Memory,” from Guilty(1980)

“Guilty,” by De Souza feat. Shena (2007)

 

It makes sense that Barbra’s biggest-selling international album would spawn the greatest number of samples.  “Guilty” by De Souza feat. Shena is really a dance track and at least begins with a promising sample idea: taking the end of “Make it Like a Memory”—the awesome string arrangement that closes the album—and building the new song around it.  It’s really not much of a song and the concept runs out of steam fairly quickly as Shena just repeats over and over “baby I’m guilty,” but the idea was good, at least.

The verdict: This track will soon be like a memory to you.

Barbara Streisand illustrationIllustration 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)

 

New York DJ Junior Sanchez is a well-known producer and artist, having worked with everyone from Madonna to Shakira to Katy Perry.  Also a dance track, “B With U” is among the most solid songs to be featured in “Color Me Hip Hop.”  It’s really much more of an original song than many of the hip hop songs, as it just snatches a bit of the well-known keyboard intro from “Promises” and uses it judiciously.

The verdict:  Much more of an original song than a sample-reliant retread.  Give it a spin.

 

Barbra Streisand, The Oreos

10.  “Lost Inside of You,” from the A Star is Born Soundtrack,  (1976)

“Frédéric (Enfant Du Divorce),” by Ol’ Kainry (2001)

 

French rapper Ol’ Kainry builds this track around different instrumental parts of Streisand and Leon Russell’s “Lost Inside of You” and the results are interesting.  My French is a bit rusty so I am rather at sea as to what is on Ol’ Kainry’s mind, so I would encourage Stargayzing readers who are fluent en Française to chime in.

The verdict: Je ne comprend pas, but it’s fairly pleasant.

 

Streisand, Neil Diamond
Recording “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, January 1, 1977
Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage.com

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)

 

Eligh is Eligh Nachowitz, an L.A-based producer and DJ who was, coincidentally, born in 1978, the same year the song he samples so creatively was released.  I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Eligh is Jewish and grew up in a house that had BSGH Vol II in it.  Regardless of how he happened upon it, Eligh’s work here is, hands down, the most exciting use of a Streisand sample in this listicle.

“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)

 

This is just bizarre.  First of all, it took me like ten minutes to sort out the name of the track, which is “stupid love”—get it?  This is not really a sample but an interpolation and a really weird one at that.  Salbukutu uses the song including a horrible vocal almost in its entirety and someone (is it Nasty Mac?) occasionally screams “stupid.”  I think this is Philippino, but I can’t be sure.  It’s just too obscure to research.  This is some terrible stuff, but I was literally laughing out loud.

The verdict: Stupid, love.

b). “Promatic,” by Waffle House (2003)

 

Maybe these two interpretations of “Evergreen” would make fine bookends, as they are both awful but in different ways.  “Promatic” by Waffle House is much more urban than “S2pidluv,” and resorts to the sped-up track cliché.  (Why don’t rappers realize this is just lazy?)

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)

Tania Morgan
Tanya Morgan is a hip hop group, not a disco singer, but the assumption is normal.

 

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)

 

Probably the most high-profile Streisand sample isn’t really a sample, but an interpolation of a fragment of the song,  just the words “memories in the corner of my mind” sung by Papa Wu or some other clan member at the 1:13 point.  It’s not actually the master so it probably shouldn’t have been included here, but I thought it was interesting.  The Wu-Tang Clan is to hip hop what Barbra is to musical theater, but they are so many worlds apart that “Tearz” is amusing and essential.

Hanoch Piven portrait
Illustration by Hanoch Piven

 

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?

You may also enjoy:

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The Son Also Rises: Jason Gould Finds His Voice. A Stargayzing Exclusive Interview, Plus the Debut of His Song “Morning Prayer!”

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9 Comments

  1. Mark Bliss
    May 8, 2014 at 1:42 am
    Reply

    Great article, focussing on yet another aspect of Barbra’s cultural influence. Well done.

    • David Munk
      May 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Mark. Thanks for checking in and I’m glad you liked the piece. David

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