WHY THE ISLEY BROTHERS ARE THE UNSUNG HEROES OF THE 'GOLDEN ERA' OF HIPHOP

Jak Alan

July 12th 2021

The Isley Brothers are one of the most acclaimed groups of all time, that’s a fact.

They’ve released over 30 albums and their career has stretched over seven decades. They were the first band to score a top 50 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 in six consecutive decades – which is an incredible achievement.

Even though they are no longer in their peak, you will struggle to find someone who hasn’t heard “It’s Your Thing’, ‘Summer Breeze’ or ‘Twist and Shout’.

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BUT WHAT EXACTLY DID THEY CONTRIBUTE TO HIPHOP?

Well, let’s go back to the early 90’s. There were some incredibly talented and iconic artists at the height of their careers: including NWA, Nas, Biggie, Tupac, KRS One, De La Soul, Snoop Dog, Wu-Tang Clan, Cypress Hill and many more.

 

The first, and arguably biggest, contribution from The Isley Brothers can be heard in Ice Cube’s bestseller, ‘It Was a Good Day’, which has over 423,993,034 streams on Spotify at the time of me writing this. This is doubling on from his second biggest hit, ‘You Know How We Do It’, which in comparison only has 165,482,894 streams.

It Was A Good Day’ is a timeless classic, but for me, the most iconic part of the track is the first 32 bars, which just loops the sample from ‘Footsteps in the Dark, before Cube chimes in with, ‘Just wakin’ up in the morning gotta thank God, I don’t know but today seems kinda odd.’

Ice Cube and his producer, DJ Pooh, are no doubt both extremely talented within their own right, but is it fair to say they owe their biggest hit of their career to The Isley Brothers?

It’s also interesting to note that, ‘Footsteps in the Dark’, only has 37,381,940 plays on Spotify, which is ten times less than ‘It was a Good Day’. Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, since the music of Ice Cube is a lot more likely to appeal to a younger crowd (even in this day and age), and they are the ones more likely to be streaming music online.

Regardless, the trend continues, when two years later in 1994, Biggie released the iconic ‘Ready to Die’, which featured the track ‘Big Poppa’. The sample used in this track once again comes from an Isley Brothers hit, ‘Between the Sheets’.

Similar to ‘It Was a Good Day’,  when I think of ‘Big Poppa’, I find myself thinking of the first 32 bars of the track, which is a loop from ‘Between the Sheets’, before Biggie joins in with “To all the ladies in the place with style and grace…”.

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I can’t help but notice the track follows the exact same formula as ‘Today Was a Good Day’ and it’s undeniably another huge classic hip-hop track which just wouldn’t have been the same without the influence of The Isley Brothers music.

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Next, we turn to Public Enemy, in particular the Pete Rock remix of ‘Shut Em' Down’, which takes influence the Isley Brothers ‘Ain’t I Been Good to You’.

Pete Rock is arguably one of my favourite producers of all time, so I am pleased to be able to add him to this list. This one’s a little harder to identify, unlike the two tracks above, but the opening riff can definitely be heard at the start of the track.

This realisation prompted me to do some further research, just to see how deep this rabbit hole goes and it turns out even the likes of the Coup, Slick Rick, UGK and Tupac have all sampled The Isley Brothers in some way or another during the late 80’s and the early 90’s.

Given the evidence, it’s only right for me to say that The Isley Brothers are in fact unsung heroes of the golden age of hip-hop, having provided a huge amount of iconic samples to some of the genres most loved artists.

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