Today, Easter Sunday (April 4), legendary music groups The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire are set to participate in the latest Verzuz showdown and the second since its partnership with streaming platform Triller. In addition to those who were of age during each band’s prime years will be a generation of rap fans tuning in, who know them from their favorite rap songs, as well as their own original classic material that is rooted in R&B, Funk, and Soul.
Many of rap’s most monumental records have been enhanced by samples of material from artists that came before them, a practice that was once frowned upon by those very artists. Over time, however, it has become embraced, as it signals a bridging of the gap between generations and benefits each party and keeps the music alive and thriving, past, present, and beyond. Two predecessors that have played a pivotal role in shaping rap music are The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire. They are recognized as two of the most decorated and influential black bands of musicians of the past century. Dominating the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, both groups are responsible for dozens of classics that doubled as a soundtrack to black life in America and continue to reverberate decades after their creation. That reverberation is bolstered in part by the work of various figures within hip-hop, who have drawn from their respective catalogs in the parocess of creating a soundtrack of their own, resulting in even more music that has and will go on to stand the test of time.
As music lovers across the globe prepare for an unforgettable night of great entertainment and insights behind some of the most iconic records of all time, VIBE takes a deep dive into The Isley Brothers’ and Earth, Wind & Fire’s contributions to hip-hop and highlights fifty classic rap songs that wouldn’t exist without their music.
1. “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G.
The Isley Brothers unleashed their bedroom ballad, “Between the Sheets,” in 1983, and barely a decade later Chucky Thompson and P. Diddy revisited the classic slow jam, delivering it to The Notorious B.I.G., who molded his 1994 single into one of the most enduring rap anthems in history.
2. “Still Not a Player” by Big Pun feat. Joe
R&B vocalist Joe draws from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1992 drop, “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo Interlude)” for his contribution to Big Pun’s 1998 platinum smash, “Still Not a Player,” which dominated radio in 1998 and remains one of the late lyricist signature records.
3. “Guilty Conscience” by Eminem feat. Dr. Dre
How Dr. Dre could flip something so smooth into something so sinister is beyond us, but the legendary boardsman made the impossible look elementary in his construction of this 1998 conceptual number, which pairs Eminem and himself with The Isley Brothers 1975 cut,’ “Sensuality.”
4. “Funkdafied” by Da Brat
Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, so when Jermaine Dupri laced rapper Da Brat with a beat sampling The Isley Brothers’ 1983 offering “Between the Sheets,” the same year as Biggie’s 1994 “Big Poppa,” it was all fair game. That said, Da Brat was able to make her version, titled “Funkdafied,” into her own, becoming the first solo female rapper with a platinum album.
5. “A Week Ago” by Jay-Z feat. Too Short
As king of the entendre, JAY-Z sampling a song and then later using it as a title of another song is just a further testament to his innate greatness. In 1998, Hov channeled the spirit of The Isley Brothers with the Too Short duet, “A Week Ago,” which draws from The Isley’s “Ballad for the Fallen Soldier,” a title he would use for a bonus track on The Blueprint 2:The Gift & The Curse album years later.
6. “Live at the Barbeque” by Main Source feat. Nas, Joe Fatal and Akinyele
Historically treasured as being rap king, Nas’ introduction to the rap world, “Live at the Barbeque,” released in 1991, finds Large Professor digging in the crates and doing work with a sample from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1971 soundtrack contribution to the movie Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. EWF slayed with “The Man Tries Running His Usual Game but Sweetback’s Jones is So Strong He…,” and yes, that’s the title of the track.
7. “It Was A Good Day” by Ice Cube
In 1993, when Ice Cube presented us with one of the greatest storytelling songs of all-time, he also presented a new take on one of The Isley Brothers’ most popular throwbacks, 1977’s “Footsteps in the Dark,” for a new generation of music lovers.
8. “We Major” by Kanye West feat. Nas and Really Doe
Kanye West outdid himself with this 2005 posse cut with Nas and Really Doe, which is built around elements lifted from the live version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” from 1975.
9. “So Far to Go” by J Dilla feat. Common and D’Angelo
When The Isley Brothers’ 1980 ballad, “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time for Love) (Parts 1 & 2)” gets in the clutches of J. Dilla, great things happen, as he cooks up this 2006 plush composition for Common and D’Angelo to display their talents over.
10. “Up Jumps Da Boogie (Remix)” by Timbaland and Magoo feat. Missy Elliott
Timbaland constructs a jittery soundscape out of scrapped parts from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 effort “Sunshine” for the futuristic composition that made a seismic impact upon its release in 1998.
11. “Shut Em Down (Pete Rock Mixx)” by Public Enemy
When appraising remixes of the rap variety, this 1991 Pete Rock production is viewed as the standard to which others are held. It makes sense that Pete would dig into his record collection and bless Public Enemy with a slice of “Ain’t I Been Good to You (Part 1 & 2),” The Isley Brothers’ 1974 release, for the instrumental to this seminal cut.
12. “As One” by JAY-Z feat. Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Young Gunz, Peedi Crakk, Sparks and Rell
On the second disc of 2002’s The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse album, producer Just Blaze implements elements of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1977 drop, “Fantasy,” into “As One,” the triumphant posse cut officially introducing State Property into the Roc-A-Fella fold.
13. “Bury Me A G” by Thug Life
The Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You (Part 1 & 2)” is reconstructed by producer Thug Music for Thug Life’s 1994 release, “Bury Me a G,” one of the Tupac Shakur led group’s most recognizable songs from their short-lived run.
14. “Paper Thin” by MC Lyte
Producer King of Chill incorporated elements of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 single, “Shining Star,” for this timeless ’88 release from MC Lyte’s debut.
15. “Tell Me Something Good” by UGK
16. “Mr. Muhammad” by A Tribe Called Quest
In 1990, A Tribe Called Quest became among the first artists to pilfer from the Earth, Wind & Fire catalog, lifting vocals from the group’s 1997 “Brazilian Rhyme (Beijo Interlude)” for their People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm cut, “Mr. Muhammad.”
17. “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature
1977’s “Make Me Say It Again Girl (Part 1 & 2)” by The Isleys gets transformed into a bonafide cultural anthem for 1992, courtesy of Naughty By Nature producer KayGee.
18. “Ni**a What, Ni**a Who (Originator 99)” by Jay-Z feat. Jaz and Amil
Timbaland draws from “Sunshine” by Earth, Wind & Fire yet again, utilizing a prominent bassline in his production work for JAY-Z’s Hard Knock Life single, “Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)” featuring Jaz and Amil.
19. “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
DJ U-Neek takes a sample of the 1977 cut, “Make Me Say It Again Girl (Part 1 & 2)” by The Isley Brothers for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s 1995 single, “Tha Crossroads,” one of the biggest rap hits to crossover to the pop charts to date.
20. “I Got the Hook Up” by Master P and Sons of Funk
In 1998, amid his hostile takeover of the rap game, Master P teamed up with Sons of Funk for the titular track from his film, I Got the Hook Up, which samples “After the Love Has Gone,” a 1979 recording by Earth, Wind & Fire.
21. “I” by Kendrick Lamar
In 2015, upon the roll-out of Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, the rapper unveiled this Isley Brothers influenced track, which samples their 1973 hit, “That Lady.”
22. “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo” by Yo-Yo feat. Ice Cube
This 1974 standout, “Devotion,” gets flipped into this 1991 breakout single from west coaster Yo-Yo, who flexed alongside Ice Cube, resulting in one of the more prominent instances of Earth, Wind & Fire getting the sample treatment.
23. “Parental Discretion Iz Advised“ by N.W.A
Another instance of a rap act extracting from The Isley’s 1969 effort, “I Turned You On” is N.W.A., who sampled the song in 1988 for this Straight Outta Compton cut.
24. “Prisoners of War” by Organized Konfusion
Shades of “Power,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1972 release, are embedded within Organized Konfusion’s cut, “Prisoners of War,” from their eponymous 1991 debut.
25. “Receipt” by Lil Wayne
Ronald Isley’s wailing vocals from The Isley Brothers’ 1972 recording, “Lay-Away,” finds new life alongside Lil Wayne on his Tha Carter 2 standout, “Receipt,” released in 2005.
26. “Reach the Top” by Jay-Z
Years before helping usher in the soul sample craze with his recruitment of Kanye West and Just Blaze, JAY-Z got his feet wet in the rap game via one-offs like this 1994 rare gem, which samples Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1973 salvo, “Keep Your Head to the Sky.”
27. “Who Me?” by KMD
The late MF Doom, then known as Zev Love X, sampled The Isley Brothers’ 1969 track “I Turned You On” for KMD’s 1991 single, “Who Me?”
28. “More Reasons” by Cam’ron feat. Jaheim
In 2004, Cam’ron hooked up with Jaheim for this Purple Haze cut, which prominently samples Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1974 single, “Reasons.”
29. “Man’s Best Friend” by Ice Cube
Ice Cube’s 1991 Death Certificate track, “Man’s Best Friend,” contains elements of The Isley Brothers’ 1969 composition, “I Turned You On,” one of the most sampled records that may fly under the radar.
30. “Ridin in Da Chevy” by Three 6 Mafia feat. Lil Noid and Playa Fly
Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 selection “That’s the Way of the World” gets a facelift by Juicy J, who reworks the original into Three 6 Mafia’s 1994 offering, “Ridin in Da Chevy,” which features Lil Noid and Playa Fly.
31. “What’s Beef?” by The Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie gleans inspiration from Ronald Isley and the rest of the band with his nod to their 1987 song, “Smooth Sailin’ Tonight,” on the Life After Death cut, “What’s Beef?,” in 1997.
32. “I’m So Hi” by Three 6 Mafia
Using a sample from a song titled “Mom” for a stoner anthem is ironic, yet is exactly what occurred during the making of Three 6 Mafia’s 2000 release, “I’m So Hi,” one of multiple instances in which the Memphis natives borrow from the Earth, Wind & Fire catalog.
33. “The Show” by Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick and The Get Fresh Crew
When Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick joined forces in 1985 for “The Show,” the pair stamped themselves as a dynamic duo, helped in part by The Isley Brothers’ 1962 classic, “Twist and Shout,” which was sampled for the record.
34. “Glow” by Drake feat. Kanye West
Remnants of the live version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1974 effort, “Devotion” are found in the backdrop to “Glow,” Drake’s 2017 collaboration with Kanye West, from his More Life album.
35. “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Melle Mel
One of the earliest instances of an Isley Brothers groove finding its way onto a rap record occurred in 1983, when Grandmaster Melle Mel sampled the group’s 1959 hit, “Twist and Shout,” for ” White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It),” a watershed selection for cautionary rap.
36. “Big Willie Style” by Will Smith feat. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
While the album yielded bigger hits, 1997’s Big Willie Style’s title cut is as smooth as they come, largely on the strength of the sample of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1983, “Something Special,” as well as the presence of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
37. “#1 Player” by Red Hot Lover Tone feat. Rich Nice
The Isley Brothers 1976 cut, “At Your Best (You Are Love),” gets chopped up by Tone of Trackmasters for “#1 Player,” the producer’s 1994 release and most prominent as a lead artist.
38. “Shawty” by Plies feat. T-Pain
Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1997 hit, “Fantasy,” gets looted for Plies’ 2007 single, “Shawty,” the T-Pain collaboration that ushered the Fort Meyers, Florida native into the mainstream.
39. “Black Hand Side” by Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah gets rough and rugged with the help of The Isley Brothers on this 1993 fan-favorite, which samples the band’s 1974 song, “Hello It’s Me.”
40. “Party Ain’t a Party” by Queen Pen feat. Markell Riley, Mr. Cheeks and Nutta Butta
Producer Teddy Riley borrows elements from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1976 “On Your Face” for this 1997 celebratory banger from Queen Pen and her cast of costars.
41. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
This 1989 Public Enemy classic, which is one of the most important and impactful songs of protest, contains wrinkles of The Isley Brothers 1975 genius, as it samples their own “Fight the Power” track of the same name.
42. “Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin’s Revenge)” by De La Soul
In 1989, The Isley Brothers’ 1959 cut, “Shout” got picked apart by producer Prince Paul for this 3 Feet High and Rising tune.
43. “Life Under the Scope” by Curren$y
In 2010, New Orleans rep Currensy tried his hand at spitting some flavor atop an Isley Brothers drop, with producer Ski Beatz using various moving parts from their 1977 “Sensuality (Part 1 & 2)” for this joint from his Pilot Talk album.
44. “Nappy Heads” by Fugees
Fans often refer to its remix as the main event, however, the original version of the Fugees’ 1994’s cut “Nappy Heads” is a heater in its own right. Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1971 cut, “I Think About Lovin’ You,” plays a prominent role in the track’s replay value.
45. “Street Dreams (Remix)” by Nas feat. R. Kelly
Trackmasters laced Nas with one of the illest remixes of 1996 for his hit single “Street Dreams,” jacking a sample of their 1983 “Choosey Lover” by The Isley Brothers for him and R. Kelly to spit game over.
46. “Top Ten List” by Masta Ace Incorporated
In 1996, Masta Ace spat lyrical miracles atop a backdrop sampling Earth, Wind & Fire’s “New World Symphony” (1975) for one of his most lauded offerings of the mid ’90s.
47. “Royal Flush” by Big Boi feat. André 3000 and Raekwon
Big Boi gets a rare verse from Andre 3000 and pairs it with Raekwon for this salvo from 2008,, resulting in a trio of verses that live atop a flip of The Isley Brothers’ 1977 cut “Voyage to Atlantis.”
48. “One Day” by UGK feat. Ronnie Spencer
In 1996, UGK returned back to The Isley Brothers well, returning with a sample of their 1974 drop, “Ain’t I Been Good to You (Part 1 & 2)” for the Ronnie Spencer-assisted track, “One Day.”
49. “Without a Doubt” by Black Sheep
50. “Buddah Lovaz” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
In 1995, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony give their own rendition of The Isley Brothers’ “Choosey Lover,” titled “Buddah Lovaz,” a self-explanatory ode to the green leaf from their multi-platinum album, E. 1999 Eternal.