2 Nina Simone Songs Brilliantly Sampled By Rappers

Nina Simone was a musician and activist. She was radical in her fight against racism during a time when many blacks were afraid to speak out. Her in your face style empowered us to be bold and unapologetic about our blackness while simultaneously scaring the shit out of the racist white establishment. Songs like Mississippi Goddamn and Strange Fruit shed light on lynching and segregation in the American South. She bravely sacrificed her career, and maybe even her life to ensure that her art reflected the state of America as it pertained to race relations.

In the last decade or so a lot of rappers sought inspiration from her work. Lauryn Hill made numerous Nina Simone references on ‘The Score’ and countless other MCs sampled her. But the connection was far from superficial. Her lyrics resonated with artists of our generation and they channeled her energy to create their own art. Here are 2 Nina Simone Songs Brilliantly Sampled By Rappers:

Strange Fruit

Kanye West- Blood On The Leaves

Strange Fruit is probably the most obvious. Kanye West sampled the song on his ‘Yeezus’ album. Blood On The Leaves was not conscious per se. West used lynchings to create a fuller context for a hypothetical divorce. The lyrics of the song describe the deterioration of a forbidden relationship and the financial repercussions for the unfaithful man.

Perhaps in his mind losing wealth to divorce and child support feels like a lynching. In an era where people seem to covet material wealth more than anything, it almost makes sense. But who really knows what goes on in Kanye’s mind? What makes this song brilliant is the way they used the sample. The lyrics may not mirror the black struggle, but the creativity is classic Kanye.

Rapsody-Nina

The best use of the Strange Fruit Sample in my opinion is Rapsody’s Nina. Not only does the title pay homage to Ms. Simone, but the lyrics are congruent with Nina Simone’s message. It’s also clear that Rapsody is well aware of Nina Simone’s fight and the struggles it entailed:

I am Nina and Roberta, the one you love but ain’t heard of
Got my middle finger up like Pac after attempted murder
Failed to kill me, it’s still me
Woke up singing Shirley Murdock
As we lay these edges down, brown women, we so perfect
Went from field nigga to still nigga
Being cropped out the picture
But we all know who got the juice, my sisters
Imitating us in all the Hollywood pictures
And still, they’ll never be us, nigga, nigga
I’m from the back woods where Nina would
Sing about the life we should lead
A new dawn, another deed, I try to do some good
I felt more damned than Mississippi was
They deny Nina in Philadelphia
And still we persevere like all the 400 years of our own blood
Africa, old panthers lookin’ back like who gon’ come up after us?
Outside the movies, I make sure before it move you
It moved me, now bow down to a queen please

Four Women

This is probably my favorite Nina Simone song. Four women speaks on society’s inability to really see black women of any shade. The Black Community has grappled with colorism for centuries. Our complexions have often been used to create further separation amongst us. But her song eloquently proves that we all have similar struggles despite our wide range of skin tones. In the end, we’re all black.

Reflection Eternal-Four Women

Reflection Eternal recycled Four Women on a hidden track off heir 2000 debut ‘Train Of Thought’. They didn’t sample the music from the original. Instead, they repurposed many of Nina Simone’s lyrics:

Yo, her skin is yellow, it’s like her face is blond word is bond
And her hair is long and straight just like sleeping beauty
See, she truly feels like she belong in 2 worlds
And that she can’t relate to other girls
Her father was rich and white still livin’ with his wife
But he forced himself on her mother late one night
They call it rape that’s right and now she take flight
Through life with hate and spite inside her mind
That keep her up to the break of light a lot of times
(I gotta find myself) (3X)
She had to remind herself
They called her Safronia the unwanted seed
Blood still blue in her vein and still red when she bleeds

JayZ-The Story Of O.J.

The Story Of O.J. is an effective use of Simone’s original work. But it’s bigger and bolder than the others. Jay offers a completely different and less literal interpretation of Four Women by stretching the song’s colorist theme into one about black financial independence. I would argue that his version is actually more relevant today. The message is whether you’re dark, light, rich or poor, you’re still black and that’s how you’ll be treated:

O.J. like, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.”
Okay
House nigga, don’t fuck with me
I’m a field nigga with shined cutlery
Gold-plated quarters where the butlers be
I’mma play the corners where the hustlers be
I told him, “Please don’t die over the neighborhood
That your momma rentin’
Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood
That’s how you rinse it”
I bought every V12 engine
Wish I could take it back to the beginnin’
I coulda bought a place in Dumbo before it was Dumbo
For like two million
That same building today is worth twenty-five million
Guess how I’m feelin’? Dumbo

Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga
Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga
Still nigga, still nigga
Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga
Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga
Still nigga, still nigga

Say what you want about Jay-Z, but he dropped some jewels on this song. The Story Of O.J. was a blunt reminder to blacks who achieve any level of success that they are not immune to the struggles of the black community. Piss off the right people, and they will remind you that you are not one of them. Just look at O.J. and Tiger Woods.

Nina Simone was an unsung champion of racial equality and black liberation. Though she was loved by many, her career was cut short because of her uncompromising approach to black issues.

She believed her controversial song Mississippi Goddamn harmed her career. Nina Simone left the U.S in 1970 and never returned. She died in 2003 and it’s been rumored that her ashes were scattered in several African countries. Though she’s gone from this earth, her spirit lives on in the music of our generation. Thank You Ms. Nina

Just in case you’ve never heard Mississippi Goddamn:

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