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My blog is my space to highlight academic work outside of my formal publications. Posts vary from short essays to album reviews to exemplary student work to small sample-digs that I use as warm-ups for my courses. This blog also contains the burgeoning archive of artist interviews that I am collecting for my dissertation, "Writing in the Break."

  • Writer's pictureTyler Bunzey

Digging the Digital Crates: Sounding "Nina Simone's Hip-Hop Children"

Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933 in Tryon, NC. Simone grew up playing church music and aspired to be a concert pianist. She was enrolled in Julliard School of Music for a period of time but found that most of the prestigious institutions in classical music spheres discriminated against her because of her blackness. To make a living during her time at Julliard, she performed in Atlantic city and began to play secular music, adopting the stage name Nina Simone. Her hauntingly beautiful voice and melding of classical and black styles enraptured her audiences, and she rose quickly to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Simone would become an important artist both for her aesthetic contributions and for her unapologetic support of the Civil Rights movement in songs like her rendition of "Strange Fruit" and her original "Mississippi Goddamn." Simone moved to France at the height of her American popularity, and she struggled with mental health ailments later in life. Simone passed away from breast cancer in her home in France in 2003 at the age of 70.


Simone's music has been sampled throughout hip-hop. This sample dig uses Salamishah Tillet's "Strange Fruit: Nina Simone's Hip-Hop Children" (2014) as a blueprint of how Simone's legacy has been sampled in hip-hop. All of the samples--minus the Jay-Z sample--come from Tillet's excellent article.

Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" (1965) @4:55, 5:18, and 8:33

is sampled in Talib Kweli's "Get By" (2002).


Cassidy's "Celebrate" (2007) samples "Strange Fruit."

As does Common's unreleased 2009 track "Strange Fruit."

And Kanye samples it in his 2013 track "Blood on the Leaves."


More recently, Jay-Z's "Story of O.J." (2017) samples Simone's "Four Women" (1966).


Simone's hip-hop legacy is quite obviously dense and complex. I've been presenting these samples unproblematically because the purpose of this sample dig is just to inform my students of who Simone is (almost all of them don't know). However, if you're interested in a great analysis of the ethics and hypermasculinist legacy of producers and artists sampling Simone, you really should check out Dr. Tillett's article (again, "Strange Sampling: Nina Simone's Hip-Hop Children"). Tillet argues that while sampling Simone can be problematic in tracks like West's "Blood on the Leaves" because of the context of his sample, artists like Lauryn Hill are carrying on Simone's artistic legacy of imbuing black rage and raw emotion into their work. As a parting note, here is Hill's "Black Rage" (2014), a sketch that Tillet specifically discusses in her conclusion:

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