[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
For four decades, one of hip-hop's biggest external influences has been a quartet of automatons from Düsseldorf, Germany. Should you be unfamiliar with the infinite groove of the autobahn, I'm referring to Kraftwerk, the German legends launching a four-night, eight-performance, three-dimensional cybernetic revolt at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Each evening they'll play two different albums, starting tonight with 1974's Autobahn and ending March 21 with 2003's Tour de France Soundtracks.
Despite co-founder Florian Schneider's decision to leave the band in 2008, anticipation remains so high that tickets to the sold-out series were only available via lottery. As the success of Daft Punk and Transformers have taught us: People love robots.
It helps when said robots were the breaking, popping and locking soundtrack spun by early rap pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa, Egyptian Lover and the entirety of Detroit techno. More contemporary fountainheads like Dr. Dre, DJ Shadow, Madlib and J Dilla also repeatedly tapped them for inspiration.
With the machine invasion looming, here's an abridged list of some of the best hip-hop songs that sample Kraftwerk:
Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, “Planet Rock”
Samples: “Trans-Europe Express” and “Numbers”
Before production technology was advanced enough to sample, producer Arthur Baker nicked “Trans-Europe's” melody and broke hip-hop to global audiences (which led to a lawsuit from Kraftwerk). If you ever wondered why the Roland 808 was/is the go-to drum sound of hip-hop, it starts with Baker and Kraftwerk. This song irrevocably altered the trajectory of rap, house, techno and how to properly wear dark sunglasses.
Egyptian Lover, “Egypt, Egypt”
Samples: “Tour de France”
Formerly one of the mainstays of seminal L.A. mobile disco crew Uncle Jamm's Army, Greg Broussard went solo, adopted a pharaonic image, sampled Kraftwerk and established the sound of early L.A. electro rap with this 1984 smash, “Egypt, Egypt.” Still regularly played on KDAY, “Egypt, Egypt” ranks alongside “Walk Like an Egyptian” as L.A.'s two greatest contributions to the field of Egyptology.
JJ Fad, “Supersonic”
Lifts liberally from “Numbers”
“Supersonic” doesn't directly sample Kraft-werk, but the Ruthless Records classic clearly has all the hallmarks of the robot's Kraut-rock. Co-produced by Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and Arabian Prince (a close ally of Egyptian Lover), “Supersonic” remains a totemic cut still frequently referenced in pop culture, from “Fergalicious” to Eminem's “Rap God.”
Jay-Z featuring Memphis Bleek, “It's Alright”
Samples: “The Hall of Mirrors”
A mash-up of the Kraftwerk spaceship's liftoff noises and The Talking Heads' “Once in a Lifetime,” this song finds Jay-Z at his late-'90s flossy apex. Whether he was rapping over Broadway musicals or motorik beats, he effortlessly consolidated his reign as King of New York.
The Fearless Four, “Rockin' It”
Samples: “The Man Machine”
Supplying the groove for yet another essential early New York classic, Kraftwerk's noirish minimalism matched the futuristic, dystopian block party essence of early five-boroughs rap from The Fearless Four. As a bonus, “The Man Machine” also provided the sample for Jay-Z's first dalliance with robots on the Lil' Kim – aided “Sunshine.”
Lil B, “In a Hearst”
Samples: “Kometenmelodie 2”
There probably are better constructed and rapped songs that sample Kraftwerk, but few references are more fitting than Lil B the BasedGod's decision to rap over an obscure loop from Kraftwerk's early years. It's more evidence of the eccentric Germans' enduring inspiration on a generation of rappers born a decade or more after “Planet Rock.”