That’s “the way” to sample.
Nickelodeon star turned singer Ariana Grande is officially a hit on the charts. After failing to make the top 40 in a few previous attempts like 2011’s “Put Your Hearts Up”, her “The Way”, the first single from her forthcoming album, rose to #1 on iTunes and just debuted at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 this past week. It’s now gaining quickly in radio airplay. The song also includes rapper Mac Miller who is enjoying his first top 40 hit, albeit as a featured artist. However, you may find yourself recognizing that “Way” samples another song that’s been included in two other hits to make the Hot 100. You probably just don’t know what it’s called or who sings it. Let’s go behind the groove and see where our sample takes us.
“A Little Bit Of Love”, Brenda Russell
In this particular case, we’ll be taking a trip back into the late 70’s. R&B singer Russell was just about 30 when her debut self-titled album hit the shelves on Horizon Records. Among the songs on the effort was “So Good So Right”, which became a #30 hit on the Hot 100 in the fall of 1979. “Love” was the fifth song on the track listing, and although it didn’t become a single when the album was released, it has managed a chart life all on its own as a sample. It was written and produced by Russell herself. It is the most interpolated song in her catalogue now. Of note, this is the second song by the performer to be sampled on a song in the top ten this year. Earlier in January, “I Cry” by Flo Rida, which sampled her 1988 hit “Piano In The Dark”, climbed to a peak of #6 on the Hot 100, the same as the original song.
“Still Not A Player”, Big Pun featuring Joe (#24, 1998)
Rapper Christopher Rios, born in The Bronx, New York, made a name for himself as Big Pun, a shortened version of Big Punisher. He signed to Loud Records in 1997 and began to record for his debut album, 1998’s Capital Punishment. First single “I’m Not A Player” went to #57 on the Hot 100, a decent start for the new talent, but it was a remix featuring our sampled song in question and R&B singer Joe‘s “Don’t Wanna Be A Player” that brought both of them into the top 40. While Joe sang the hook, Big Pun rapped, and the track managed a peak of #24 on the Hot 100. It was also Pun’s biggest hit on the R&B survey, going to #6. Sadly, the performer lost his life in 2000, and a posthumous album was released after his death to moderate sales and single peaks. “Player” remains his signature song.
“I Want You”, Thalia featuring Fat Joe (#22, 2003)
After the success of singers like Paulina Rubio and Shakira into the American market in 2001-2002 with albums and singles in English, Mexican performer Thalia decided to try to break the U.S. with her 2003 self-titled album. This first single from the effort features rapper Fat Joe, a longtime friend and collaborator with Big Pun. Looks like Joe was inspired by that previous hit of his with the Brenda Russell sample; not only is it used in the song, but he even mentions the late rapper’s song in his rap in “Want”: “We could maybe elope, have a baby and all/’Cause I don’t want to be a player no more.” Though it became a top ten single on CHR radio, it only managed a peak of #22 on the Hot 100, Thalia‘s only top-40 hit to date in the States. She’s still having hits in regular ol’ Spanish nowadays.
“The Way”, Ariana Grande featuring Mac Miller (#10, 2013)
So, now we get to the current incarnation of the song that came out nearly thirty-five years ago. Once again, the Big Pun song is name-checked by Mac Miller in his opening rap of the song: “Do she love me, do she love me not?/I ain’t a player, I just crush a lot.” Grande is now the third act from a Nickelodeon-based series to go onto hit the Hot 100 as a recording artist, following Miranda Cosgrove and Big Time Rush. However, she is the first of the three to successfully make the top 40 and she’s done it with a bang. Will she go any higher than #10 on the big chart? She may be down to #25 on iTunes, but her radio gains are just taking off. Look out for it on the airwaves all summer long and an album to follow at the end of it. Her new series, Sam & Cat, will also debut sometime later this year.
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