The Sugarhill Gang’s classic flip of “Apache” turned out to be its second biggest accomplishment. The group known for making hip-hop’s first Top 40 song gave one of the first examples of what one of hip-hop’s greatest samples could be.
The Sugarhill Gang didn’t expand on the instrumental, but rather tweaked it on just the right spots for its second highest-charting single. “Jump On It” stripped “Apache” of its grandiose horns, and focused on its most raucous, party-starting elements—that ever-recognizable percussion pattern and the riff’s call to the dance floor. By doing so, The Sugarhill Gang doubled the funk and tripled the boogie, plus that “A-hunga-hunga” certainly didn’t hurt its longevity.
Would “Jump On It” be as popular outside of its historical importance without that hilarious The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode? That’s impossible to know for sure, but when that riff comes on, do you really care?
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981)
It’s not an original song like the others on this list, but “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” was an influential cut, as it was an example of the potential of the turntables. Questlove once wrote, it’s “A five-minute history of what a night in the Bronx musta been like.” A majority of us wouldn’t know if that’s true firsthand, but if it isn’t, it at least makes a pretty solid attempt at giving a snapshot at the birthplace of hip-hop. “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” was a live DJ recording of Grandmaster Flash masterfully mixing cuts like “Another One Bites the Dust,” Chic’s famous “Good Times,” and of course, a sampling of the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.”
Nas wasn’t going to survive hip-hop’s greatest feud by simply sticking to his prodigious lyrical strength. He needed to be unrelentingly cocksure, and he needed to show that with crystal clear precision to match his rival’s sense of showmanship. He already had “Ether” and his resurgence in Stillmatic, but Nas ended up making one of the best songs of his career at the tail end of that era.
“Made You Look” isn’t necessarily a reach back into hip-hop’s earlier era to recreate that youthful, gun-toting mindset as much as it is for inspiration. Salaam Remi’s use of “Apache”’s urgency is a call to arms rather than the dance floor here, and it’s an invitation that Nas obliges to. “Don’t say my car’s topless/Say the titties is out,” Nas raps. That line never became a catchphrase, but that doesn’t make it any less memorable.
Ultramagnetic MC's "MC's Ultra (Part II Edit)" (1987)
The famed breakbeat is given a more kinetic energy than its ‘80s predecessor thanks to the two rappers pushing the show along. Ced Gee and Kool Keith trade rhymes in a style that’s reminiscent of the Beastie Boys. Their chemistry is undeniable, and even if you try to, you can’t because they are yelling at you like gold-toothed Meek Mills from the ‘80s. The free-associative lyrics (“Refuse to lose, make you feel the blues/Touch your sole son, yes you choose/new shoes “) inspire a few more headnods, however.
“Apache” finds itself sampled on this early example of Rick Rubin’s production prowess. “You Can’t Dance” sounds outdated by today’s standards, but it does act as a historical reference point for hip-hop’s common themes of confidence expressed through rhythm. Did B-Boys dance it out with this playing out of the boombox back in the day? It’s actually hard to imagine otherwise.
Kool Moe Dee's "Way Way Back" (1987)
The How Ya Like Me Now album cover that featuring Kool Moe Dee posing in his all-white outfit in from of an all-white jeep is as awful as it gets. The use of the “Apache” sample definitely followed the cover’s lead with all of its attitude. It’s clear who’s in control on “Way Way Back” with the sample covered by a caps and the sampled horns gutted throughout his verses. There’s no party here, but if he has to tease you to make you sit down and listen, he’s more than happy to do so. Kool Moe Dee’s combination of charisma and one-liners (“Like 4-5-6 on Cee-lo Dice/And I get more sex than a cat chase mice) help turn “Way Way Back” from an appetizer to a full course.
Schoolly D's "Housing the Joint" (1987)
“Jump On It,” one of hip-hop’s first and most well-known “Apache” uses, didn’t simply loop the track. It built on its best parts, and “Housing the Joint” does the same. The breakbeat is fainter but noticeable as another drum pattern is added on top of it for a funkier vibe. The Sly & The Family Stone "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" mix only adds to the track’s longevity.
Young MC "Know How" (1989)
Young MC doesn’t have too much hip-hop prestige to his name with “Bust a Move” being his most well known hit. He does have some other ingenious moments, like sampling goodie “Know How.” Young MC isn’t one of the greatest to do it, but he at least acts like it through technical dexterity over the best instrumentals: “Apache” and Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft.” Kudos to the Queens rhymer for displaying Shaft-like swagger throughout the four minutes.
Run The Jewels' Self-Titled Song (2013)
“Apache” as a sample within El-P’s dense, dystopian production landscape doesn’t seem like an obvious choice. It’s inclusion on “Run The Jewels” doesn’t only speak to its longevity, but its versatility as well. Tucked under grimy synths and brooding effects, the inclusion of the breakbeat here hints there may still be unlocked potential within it.
As expected, Watch the Throne had expensive, well-produced soundscapes backing Kanye West’s and Jay Z’s instant quotables. Even the “Otis,” which contains what’s arguably the simplest sample of the album, costs an arm and a leg for the average person. One of Watch the Throne’s weirder moments oddly comes from an easily recognizable sample.
“That’s My Bitch” isn’t a bad song by any means, but it does sound out of place in an album focused on decadence. After a rough version appeared on the Internet, the Q-Tip-produced cut found itself in leaner, groovier form on Watch the Throne. The “Apache” sample rumbles as West and Jay Z trade lines with trademark aplomb. “I paid for them titties, get your own” is the first of many.
Phrenology is The Roots at their most experimental as it mixed elements of neo soul, funk, avant garde, and straight up punk rock. It’s a hip-hop album at its core like all of the crew’s albums, however. “Thought @ Work” is part-sleezy funk, part-dance record, but the “Apache” fits right in here. It’s actually the backbone and driving force of the record, holding it together from devolving into complete chaos. Black Thought glides through it all to show once again that he is one of the most underrated MCs in hip-hop.
The “Apache” sample does a variety of activities here, ranging from being the adrenaline booster, a lane of focus for Damian Marley and Guru, and an invocation of nostalgia. The latter feels more immediate since Guru has passed away. The rapping half of Gang Star did leave behind a solid body of work, including this cut from Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4 that doubles as a self-affirmative track for the MC. “Let’s see if you can flow and grow with this narration/Heads know, it’s my procreation,” Guru raps. It certainly feels like it.
Much is made about that breakbeat, but what about that surfer’s guitar? Busta Rhymes was just the left-minded MC to exploit that aspect to rabblerousing effect on “What the F**k You Want!!” Still dreadlocked and ready for action, Busta Rhymes rattles off to world-conquering verses with ease. ”Confiscate your shit and dare your ass to retaliate,” he warns. It seems like a backhanded threat from a rapper who made a track designed to make you bounce.
This single off 2005’s The Cookbook was both a feminist statement and the signal of a never-ending party backed by a timeless beat. “We Run This”’s hook isn’t too far off from the Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump On It,” but what keeps it from being a simple rehash is Missy Elliott’s charisma. There couldn’t have been that much doubt that Missy Elliott did, in fact, run this as she belts out the hook. The frantic energy of this track makes it more surprising that this is her last hit to crack the upper half of the Top 100 to date.
It sounds silly in retrospect, but MC Hammer actually did have a few joints before “U Can’t Touch This.” He didn’t have any of the catchphrases or the crotch-drop pants. What he did have was a sense of humor that treaded between quirky and cheesy (perhaps too often hitting the latter). “Turn This Mutha Out” owes part of its success to a music video that includes over-the-top dialogue, fleet-footed dance routines, and Love Boat-meets-Nation of Islam styled outfits. Another part of it was the familiarities: An audibly almost untouched sample of the “Apache” breakbeat and funk collective Parliament’s "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker).” Let’s Get It Started, the album that featured “Turn This Mutha Out,” went double platinum, but MC Hammer wouldn’t reach his career peak until 1990’s Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em—which included “U Can’t Touch This.”
HNHH counts down some of the best tracks derived from the classic "Apache" sample. We give you a glimpse into the original song's history and how the instrumental has progressed throughout Hip Hop's timeline.
Hip Hop’s favorite sample has the least Hip Hop origins. Jerry Lordan, a British RAF veteran and part-time songwriter, was inspired by the story Massai - who was the last Apache left after Chief Geronimo surrendered New Mexico to the United States. Lordan composed the riff and legendary British guitarist Bert Weedon originally recorded it.
The veteran didn’t like Weedon’s rendition, but fortunately (or unfortunately for him, depending on how you look at it), he’d hear dozens more versions before passing away in 1995. “Apache” found success in the States with Jørgen Ingmann’s successful 1961 rendition. After multiple other versions, the Incredible Bongo Band went crazy on the drums for the now legendary breakbeat and exponentially increased the altitude of that riff on the famous 1973 edition. Those two elements pushed “Apache” to become one of Hip Hop’s most used samples.
Although it’s a defining instrumental, what helps “Apache”’s longevity is how malleable it is. It’s found a place on the genre’s party records like The Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump On It” to more aggressive cuts such as Nas’ “Made You Look.” There’s plenty to choose from, but here are the greatest “Apache”-sampling songs to date.