Monday, May 24, 2021

Behind the Sample: 'NARD

One of my favorite aspects of Hip Hop music is discovering the musical legacy behind the singles.  I love it when I stumble across an old tune and instantly recognize it from its use in a more-famous rap song. I've found a lot of great music this way over the years.

Many of the Hip Hop genre's biggest hits have sampled from Jazz, Funk, R&B and Rock songs, and from the earliest days of the rap scene, artists would dig through crates of old records for inspiration.  Sometimes just a few seconds from a dusty old album would speak to an artist enough to sample, loop and rhyme over.  

For many young artists without the means for expensive musical equipment, two turntables and a microphone (cue Beck) were enough to create unique, original music.

Just last week, I was having a conversation about samples with a coworker and asked him if he'd ever listened to Bernard Wright's album, 'NARD, because a couple of the album's tracks have been prominently featured in some of Hip Hop's greatest hits.

He was unfamiliar, and realizing I didn't actually own it myself, I promptly ordered myself a copy of the LP on Discogs.  I've been happily spinning it since and that brings me to today's post...

'Nard is the near definition of a forgotten gem.

Bernard Wright was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1963--the son of the legendary Roberta "Killing Me Softly" Flack.  A prodigal young jazz/funk keyboardist, Wright began touring with jazz drummer Lenny White when he was only 13-years-old.

Wright's debut album, 'Nard, was recorded when he was just 16 and released in 1981.  While the album didn't gain as much momentum as it deserved, it did make it to #7 on the Billboard Jazz charts, and the single, "Just Chillin' Out", made the charts for both US R&B and Dance that year.

But here we are, 40 years later, and the album still holds up.  

From the wacky, funked-out roller coaster trip of "Haboglabotribin'" to the beautiful piano rendition of Miles Davis' "Solar" concluding the album, 'Nard is a musical joy ride.

Wright's commercial career peaked a few short years later with the single "Who Do You Love?" (which was later the base for LL Cool J's hit single, "Loungin").

But back to 'Nard...

If you've ever heard the song "Gz & Hustlas" from Snoop Doggy Dogg's 1993 breakout masterpiece, Doggystyle, you'll instantly recognize Bernard Wright's connection when you hear "Haboglabotribin'".

A few years after Snoop, 2Pac sampled the same song on "Lie to Kick It" from his album, R U Still Down?

The song's music box intro transitioning to full on, bass-slappin' funk was a major player in the memorable Snoop anthem.  Wright's amusement park raps and tweaked vocals throughout the song feel like a lost track from George Clinton.  It's goofy and weird, but funky as all get out.

Speaking of slap bass, the album's next track, "Spinnin'" is even more impressive -- highlighting Wright's keyboard skills and a tight horn section bringing to mind Earth, Wind & Fire or Kool & the Gang.

Around the 1:25 mark, the song suddenly switches gears to a laid back vibe.  That :15 seconds of chill was later sampled on the self-deprecating megahit 1995 song, "I Wish" by Skee-Lo.  

Check out Bernard Wright's "Spinnin'" in the YouTube clip below, and then watch Skee-Lo's classic music video to hear the sample.

Songs from the album have also been sampled by The Afros, Yo-Yo feat. Ice Cube, and Anotha Level, and dozens of other artists.

The whole 'Nard album is worth checking out if you haven't heard it, and used copies of the out-of-print LP aren't difficult or expensive to find online.  Enjoy!

(The sampled clip on "Spinnin'" first appears at 1:25)

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