The months before the release of Nothing Was The Same, the third studio album by Canadian hip hop titan Drake, were dominated by the emcee’s hit singles. The album’s first single, “Started From The Bottom,” was released in February, a whole seven months prior to the album. The simplistic rap banger hit #6 on the Billboard 100, turning in at least one new quotable and reinvigorating Drake’s legend.
It was followed by “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” a seemingly omnipresent slice of synth-laden R&B. The self-professed “wedding song” produced by Noah ‘40’ Shebib found the pair channelling their “Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson production” alongside recent OVO signees Majid Jordan. The commercial dominance of the song was such that it functions as a sort of timestamp, scoring summer 2013 and marking a brief period of popular culture.
Though Drake entered 2013 as a pop culture fixture, he left it with a new type of ubiquity. NWTS, like Thank Me Later before it, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 100. That same week, the rapper had 12 songs on the Billboard 100, including bonus track “All Me” and future singles “The Language,” “Too Much” and “Worst Behaviour.” Even “Furthest Thing,” which was never released as a single, peaked at #56. The album broke Spotify’s streaming record, racking up 15.6 million first week streams. Drake himself would break this record again with 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and earlier this year, he broke both Apple Music and Spotify’s first day streaming records with Scorpion.
In celebration of the fifth anniversary, we’re breaking down all the samples on Drake’s landmark 2013 LP, looking at the elements that helped make Nothing Was The Same his most essential record.
Though the numbers are fairly consistent through Drake’s discography, Nothing Was The Same still stands as Drake’s most sample-heavy effort, with an average of 1.5 samples per song across the 13-track standard LP. Naturally, the numbers are skewed by both “Tuscan Leather” and “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music,” which house 9 of the record’s 20 samples.
Dissecting Every Sample from Drake’s Nothing Was The Same
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“Tuscan Leather” Samples
“Tuscan Leather,” the triumphant start to Drake’s third album, opens with a heavily edited Whitney Houston sample. Her vocals from “I Have Nothing” are reversed, pitch-shifted and cut to create a vocal mosaic, over which Drake delivers some of his most celebratory bars. An infrequently sampled song, “I Have Nothing” originally appeared on Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard OST, and was included in the blockbuster film of the same name.
Drake throws in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interpolation of Prodigy’s 2000 single, “Keep It Thoro.” The lead single off his acclaimed solo debut established Prodigy as an act outside of Mobb Deep, his longtime collaboration with fellow Queensbridge artist Havoc. Drake interpolates one of Prodigy’s bars – “heavy airplay all day with no chorus / We keep it thoro, nigga” – to boast about his own lyrical achievements. Though he drops the reference just 50 seconds in, like Prodigy’s single before it, “Tuscan Leather” is without a chorus. Though the pair never formally collaborated, Drake posted a photo with Prodigy following his sudden death in 2017.
The drums that suddenly enter at 1:56 are sourced from a 1968 cut by British rock outfit The Turtles. “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re The Royal Macadamia Nuts)” was featured on The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, a concept album on which the band performed as a number of fictitious groups vying to win a musical competition. The album featured a variety of genres, some offbeat and comical, though it also included one of the group’s biggest hits, “Elenore.” “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re The Royal Macadamia Nuts)” itself has since become a popular breakbeat sample, and can be heard on joints by Ice Cube, Stetsasonic, Big Daddy Kane, and The Internet.
The track closes with an extended monologue by soul/R&B legend Curtis Mayfield. The Super Fly singer originally gave the sampled speech in 1987, talking over his band transitioning into “When Seasons Change” at the annual Montreux Jazz Festival. Mayfield, who played on July 18, helped close out a roster that featured legends such as Nina Simone, Herbie Hancock, Joe Cocker and Dizzy Gillespie. It’s hardly an event that would stick in either Drake or 40’s mind: the pair were 9 months and five years old, respectively.
“Furthest Thing” Samples
The scratching that’s looped throughout the introduction is lifted from a very brief section of Memphis emcee La Chat’s 2001 track, “Peanut Butter.” The track, as with much of her debut, was produced by DJ Paul and Juicy J of Three Six Mafia. A part of the Hypnotize Minds roster, La Chat most famously featured on Project Pat’s 2001 hit, “Chickenhead,” soon thereafter leaving the label and carving her own gangsta-inclined path.
The piano trills and gospel vocals that enter at 2:48 – immediately after the beat switch – are taken from a track with a familiar-but-unexpected title. The Corinthian Temple Cogic Choir cut their second and final album, I’ve Already Been To The Water, in 1990, and the entire record went unsampled for twenty-three years. Producers 40 and Jake One took elements from the heart of “Hold On, for We’re Going Home” and inserted them into “Furthest Thing,” though it seems that the title of the track may have influenced Drake’s writing process.
“Started from the Bottom” Samples
The instantly recognisable piano that underpins lead single and smash hit “Started From The Bottom” bears little resemblance to the sampled source. Producers 40 and Mike Zombie intricately juxtaposed single notes from Bruno Sanfilippo and Mathias Grassow’s 2008 minimalist piano composition, “Ambessence Piano & Drones 1,” in order to create the melody. The ambience-heavy track has been sampled just the once, which makes sense given the lack of inherent melody within.
The female vocal sample that quietly enters at 0:46 is taken from the opening of Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz’ “Who U Wit?” The group’s 1997 crunk album, Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album, helped further popularise the Memphis-based subgenre, which commercially peaked in the early-to-mid 2000s. Despite crunks short-lived prominence, “Who U Wit?” has been sampled almost 200 times over the last two decades, appearing on tracks by A$AP Mob, Rick Ross and Erykah Badu.
“Wu-Tang Forever” Samples
The simple piano that runs throughout “Wu-Tang Forever” is not unlike the atmospheric keys featured on “Started From The Bottom.” Unlike that track, however, the sample here is a far more traditional melodic loop. It’s sourced from the middle of Zodiac’s 2012 instrumental, “Loss Config.,” which was included on his debut EP. Zodiac – aka Jeremy Rose – is a famous figure in Toronto, though he very nearly wasn’t. The young producer stepped into the spotlight in 2013, when he alleged that he’d been wronged by The Weeknd after having helped craft his signature sound on his acclaimed mixtape, House of Balloons. Another Zodiac cut, “Come,” was later featured on Mac Miller’s Kendrick-featuring joint, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty.”
There are two samples of a sole Wu-Tang track on the outright dedicated jam, though it’s not the only time on the album that the legendary Staten Island posse make their presence felt. “It’s Yourz” was originally featured on the group’s sophomore album, 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever, which followed a swathe of defining solo outings such as Method Man’s Tical, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and GZA’s Liquid Swords. The titular refrain is itself an interpolation of a classic 1984 track, T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours.”
“Own It” Samples
The sole sample on “Own It” is the titular holdover from “Wu-Tang Forever.” The legendary group’s 1997 single, “It’s Yourz,” featured verses from Raekwon, U-God, RZA, Inspectah Deck and Ghostface Killah. As mentioned earlier, the titular phrase is taken from a 1984 hip hop classic. Not only was T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours” produced by ‘80s pioneer Rick Rubin, but it was also the first record to be released with the Def Jam logo on the sleeve. The very same refrain was sampled on Nas’ Illmatic cut, “The World Is Yours.”
“Worst Behavior” Samples
There’s just one identified interpolation on “Worst Behaviour,” which pays tribute to the late Biggie Smalls. “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” was B.I.G.’s second posthumous single, and like “Hypnotize” before it, the track reached #1 on the Billboard 100. This two-hit run made Biggie the only artist ever to score two posthumous #1 hits, a feat that’s yet to be repeated. Drake’s interpolation lifts bars from the first verse, the handiwork of the then-young Bad Boy Records signee, Mase.
“From Time” Samples
“Hold On, We’re Going Home” Samples
The only sample on “Connect” comes in the form of a vocal sample lifted from a 1998 DJ DMD track. Drake ushers in the quiet background sample when he says “swangin’” at 1:02, after which DJ DMD’s muted voice can be heard floating beneath the atmospheric beat. A Texas native and UGK affiliate, DJ DMD released his third and final album in 2001. “25 Lighters,” one of his most enduring tracks, has been sampled on songs by Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Mac Miller and Run The Jewels.
“The Language” Samples
“305 to My City” Samples
There’s practically no identified samples on “305 to My City,” though there’s one lyrical reference so specific that it’s technically an interpolation. At 3:58, Drake himself interpolates – or repeats – a famous quote from classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland’s line, “we’re not in Kansas anymore” has since become a reference made to denote a sudden or obvious change in scenery, oftentimes referring to the act of getting hopelessly lost.
“Too Much” Samples
“Too Much” is actually built atop a pre-existing Sampha song, also titled “Too Much.” The titular refrain from that original track serves the same function on Drake’s cut, though the small differences between the vocal takes suggests that Sampha interpolated his original for Drake. Sampha’s two appearances on NTWS helped launch his career: released just three months after his second Young Turks-released EP, the record elevated the artist to the ranks of contemporaries such as Justin Vernon and James Blake. He went on to collaborate with acts such as Kanye West and Solange, and his 2017 debut, Process, won the coveted Mercury Prize.
The ostentatious opening to “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2” takes more than a cue from legendary jazz organist Jimmy Smith. The late Smith included “Jimmy Smith Rap” as the closing track on his 1982 LP, Off The Top, which featured appearances from veterans such as George Benson and Stanley Turrentine. Whilst not strictly ‘rap,’ the spoken word track definitely embodies the ostentatious displays of wealth that would come to be associated with hip hop stardom. The same dialogue was sampled on Count Bass D’s aptly-titled 2002 track, “Real Music vs. Bullshit.”
Though the voice itself is so distinctive, many fail to realise that the female vocals on “Pound Cake” are courtesy of British singer and Drake contemporary Ellie Goulding. They’re taken from the introduction to Goulding’s 2012 track, “Don’t Say A Word,” included on her sophomore album, Halcyon. Goulding later claimed that she and Drake had been collaborating in the lead up to Views, though none of these collaborations have since surfaced.
The self-evident “C.R.E.A.M.” sample marks the third appearance of the Wu, who’ve previously graced both “Wu-Tang Forever” and “Own It.” Unlike those samples, the “cash rules everything around me” refrain is delivered by an actual Wu-Tang member, Method Man. Whilst Drake’s NWTS is celebrating its 5th anniversary this September, the Wu-Tang Clan are coming up on the 25th anniversary of their blockbuster debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
It’s ironic how Drake’s interpolation at 1:32 – “real name, no gimmicks” – has become one of hip hop’s most notable gimmicks. The catchphrase, popularised by onetime Shady Records signee Obie Trice, referred to his choice to eschew a stage name in favour of his unconventional birth name. Trice’s 2003 debut, Cheers, is a testament to a bygone era: the Eminem-approved record debuted at #5 on the Billboard 200, and it featured two seperate tracks focused on the classic Eminem-Benzino feud of the early 2000s. Despite Trice’s own legend, the catchphrase owes much to a high-profile feature at the start of Eminem’s “Without Me” which, as one of Em’s most famous tracks, ranks amongst the most famous hip hop songs ever made.
One of the most prestigious features a younger rapper can land, JAY-Z contributes a standout verse on “Pound Cake.” In doing so, he innocuously flips an iconic bar from an earlier collaboration, 2011’s “No Church In The Wild.” Jay’s interpolation is looser than most, taking creative liberties with the original bar, “sunglasses and Advil / Last night was mad real.” At 3:55, Jay closes out his verse with “last night was mad trill / I’m fresh out of Advil, Jesus grab the wheel.”
Analyzing Drake’s Sample Choices on NWTS
The sampling throughout is just one of the aspects that makes Nothing Was The Same such a singular entry in Drake’s catalogue. The album opener, “Tuscan Leather,” boasts six separate samples, whilst the closer, “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music,” features five. This kind of complex composition is uncommon for Drake, whose collaborators usually favour a simpler approach.
Noah ‘40’ Shebib, Drake’s longtime offsider and sonic architect, produced “Tuscan Leather.” It was, at that point in his career, the sample-richest cut he’d produced: of the five samples on his previous record holder, A$AP Rocky’s 2012 posse cut, “Fuckin’ Problems,” just two are direct samples. The other three are interpolations, or replayed samples, featured in the form of lyrical homages and familiar melodies. Though Drake himself works two interpolations into “Tuscan Leather,” it’s still an unusually dense effort from the OVO producer.
“Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music” finds OVO staple Boi-1da and Toronto-born producer Jordan Evans on a similar grind. The cut, which opens with a luxurious monologue from Jimmy Smith, juxtaposes Wu-Tang’s most famous refrain against a vocal melody from Ellie Goulding’s “Don’t Say A Word.”
The album-appropriate monologue, which touches on studio champagne, “real” music and the joys of recording, was the source of much controversy. Jimmy Smith, a popular jazz musician who died in 2005, originally recorded the conversational track as an outright dedication to the art of jazz. In the original song, Smith says as much:
Jazz is the only real music that’s gonna last. All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow. But jazz was, is and always will be.”
As curatorial samplers, Boi-1da and Evans cut the monologue to reflect the attitudes of their far more contemporary record, espousing that “real music” – irrespective of genre – is what’s “gonna last.” Smith’s estate took exception to this change, because he “wasn’t a fan of hip hop.” Whilst it remains to be seen why somebody with a dislike of hip hop would name a 1982 album track “Jimmy Smith Rap,” the disagreement quickly spiralled into a fully-fledged lawsuit. It was only in May 2017, four years after the record was released, that Drake finally beat the suit, with the judge ruling that the transformative nature of the sample placed it squarely within fair use.
This issue, though ultimately resolved in Drake’s favour, is an indication as to the reasoning behind his sample-light approach. The low sample count is likely a consequence of the modern legal system: whilst artists in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s could sample prolifically without worrying about legal ramifications, the legal system has since caught up with hip hop’s stylistic quirks.
DMG Clearances president Deborah Mannis-Gardner cites the shrinking industry as another cause of sampling’s decline: the past three decades have seen major companies and corporations acquiring many minor publishers, placing previously accessible samples within legally fortified catalogues. Mannis-Gardner notes that some artists simply tire of being sampled, as was the case with Stevie Wonder, who supposedly knocked back a request from Kendrick Lamar. He did, however, greenlight Jay-Z’s “Smile,” which samples “Love’s In Need Of Love Today,” in 2017.
Artists who continue to sample face significant and often unforeseen hurdles: Kanye West has weathered more than a few sampling-related legal battles, including a couple from the Yeezus era, at least one from the MBDTF era and an allegation from his 2018 solo project, ye. He even had to jump through a few hoops to get those Aretha Franklin vocals in ‘04. Drake himself has had relatively few brushes with sampling-related litigation, suggesting that his approach is more precautionary that reactionary. He was, however, turned down by James Blake in 2015, for being impolite.
Marvin Gaye’s Influence on NWTS
In the lead up to the record, Drake referenced Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear as a major influence on his upcoming album. That record is a novel pick: it was the last album Gaye released in the ‘70s and was a critical and commercial failure for the troubled artist, peaking at just #26 on the Billboard 200.
The project was the first recorded after Gaye’s 1977 divorce from Anna Gordy Gaye, the sister of Motown Records head Berry Gordy. The terms of their divorce stipulated that Gaye owed Gordy half of the royalties earned on his upcoming LP, a fact which dissuaded the singer-songwriter. His biographer, David Ritz, recalls him asking, “why should I break my neck when Anna was going to wind up with the money anyway?” His position changed as the session ensued, with the once apathetic Gaye becoming embroiled in the “deep passion” of the music, taking the opportunity to cast off the last remnants of his long-troubled relationship. The result was an album riddled with bitter humour, earnest heartache and undoctored emotion.
It’s this raw emotion that drew Drake to the project. Speaking on Here, My Dear, the emcee hailed it as “so honest,” noting that Gaye “just puts it all out there.” It’s easy to see why this kind of emotional availability inspires Drake, an artist whose career has flourished in the space between braggadocious bars and tender, heart-wrenching vocals. Take Nothing Was The Same cuts “From Time” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” both hip-pop ballads extolling the potential of love and the trials of modern relationships. The universality of these issues is not surprising: like Gaye before him, Drake said “[he] just want[ed] to sing the world’s triumphs and problems on one record.”
Furthermore, the emcee did famously frequent Gaye’s Sunset Boulevard recording studio, Marvin’s Room, going as far as to name a fan-favourite Take Care cut after the hallowed halls. Nothing Was The Same marks the last time that Drake recorded at the studio, laying just one track: album opener “Tuscan Leather.”
After NWTS, Nothing Ever Was the Same
Nothing Was The Same stands as a defining statement, for both Drake himself and contemporary hip hop as a whole. The record found the radio rap regent at the peak of his powers, his winning brand of R&B/hip hop fusion underpinned by the invaluable production work of Noah ‘40’ Shebib. Whilst 2016’s Views would continue his reign on the charts, it lacked the focus of its predecessor, and is occasionally cited as Drake’s artistic misstep.
Though his albums would continue to get longer, and his shadow would cast further across the musical landscape, Drake has yet to turn in an album as succinct and powerful as Nothing Was The Same. Originally a reflection on his rapidly changing life, the album’s title proved prophetic, for after the record, Drake’s legend was all but assured.