11 of the best songs to sample video games
Sampling has been commonplace in music for years. Whether it’s borrowing lyrics and melodies from another artist’s song or sampling the sounds of surrounding environments, such as rainfall or traffic noise, it’s always been an integral part in the creation of music across all genres. Over the past several decades, the influence of video games in popular music has become increasingly apparent, with more and more artists choosing to include varying elements from gaming titles in their music. Here, we take a look at 11 of the best songs to sample video games that you may or may not know.
1. MICHAEL JACKSON - ‘STRANGER IN MOSCOW’ (1995)Samples: Sonic the Hedgehog 3
For years it was rumoured that Michael Jackson had helped create the music for Sonic the Hedgehog 3. While former Sega technical director that the King of Pop was involved but that his music was scrapped due to the infamous 1993 misconduct allegations, composer stating that if Jackson wasn’t credited it was because he wasn’t happy with the sound quality of the Sega system. Buxer also confirmed that the game’s end credits theme was the basis for Jackson’s 1996 single ‘Stranger in Moscow’.
2. LIL’ FLIP - ‘GAME OVER’ (2004)Samples: Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man
Noticeably sampling various sounds from the classic Namco arcade games Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Houston rapper Lil’ Flip’s addictive street smash took over the mixtape scene before landing on his second studio album, U Gotta Feel Me. In 2004, Namco filed a lawsuit against Flip, Sony BMG, and several others for wilful copyright infringement, before coupled with a joint statement that said they all looked forward to continuing their business relationship “in the spirit of our mutual respect for intellectual property.”
3. CHILDISH GAMBINO - ‘HOLD YOU DOWN’ (2011)Samples: Streets Of Rage 2
On his 2011 debut album Camp, Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) sampled Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets of Rage 2 composition ‘Slow Moon’ for the track ‘Hold You Down’. Co-produced with Ludwig Göransson, the song details Glover’s experiences with racism in high school. Nine years after its release, the creators of 2020's Streets of Rage 4 paid homage to Glover by giving him a cameo in the background of one of its levels dressed in his ‘This Is America’ outfit.
4. BEANIE SIGEL - ‘MAC MAN’ (2000)Samples: Ms. Pac-Man
In the early 2000s, Beanie Sigel was on the rise as one of Hip Hop’s most exciting new MCs. A tough-talking wordsmith from the mean streets of Philadelphia, he signed to Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records in 1998. In 2000, he dropped his acclaimed debut album ‘The Truth’ - the title track of which was produced by a young Kanye West - featuring the Robert Kirkland-produced ‘Mac Man’. Backed by the dizzying sounds of Ms. Pac-Man, the track hears Sigel use various arcade-game metaphors to describe how he sold drugs.
5. CHARLI XCX - ‘BOYS’ (2017)Samples: Super Mario Bros.
Charli XCX’s acclaimed gender-flipping, pop bop ‘Boys’ includes the fairly conspicuous use of Super Mario’s iconic coin sound, something was “going to either drive people totally crazy or people were going to be obsessed with it.” In an interview with , Charli confirmed her love for Mario, revealing that she owned a Game Boy growing up and that she “was constantly playing Super Mario.” She also featured in an ad for Super Nintendo World, singing her Mario-themed song ‘We Are Born To Play’.
6. SMASHING PUMPKINS - ‘WHERE BOYS FEAR TO TREAD’ (1995)Samples: Doom
Blink and you might miss Smashing Pumpkins’ use of a rocket launcher sound effect from 1993’s first-person shooter Doom. Appearing on the song ‘Where Boys Fear to Tread’ - taken from their Diamond-certified 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness - the use of the sample acknowledged a joke that Doom wouldn’t be as good if it had a crazy name, like SPISPOPD (Smashing Pumpkins Into Small Piles Of Putrid Debris). id Software, the game’s developer, gave a nod to the joke by in the game.
7. FRANK OCEAN - ‘START’ (2012)Samples: Playstation Startup / Super Street Fighter II Turbo
Less a song and more a skit, the first thing you hear upon pressing play on Frank Ocean’s Grammy Award-winning album Channel Orange is the familiar sound of Sony Playstation’s startup tone. As the tone fades out, a hint is given into what Ocean has loaded into the console with the character selection sound effect from Street Fighter II Turbo making a cameo. This wasn’t the first time Ocean used video game samples in his music. His nostalgia, ULTRA project in 2011 was pieced together using classic video game samples.
8. JANET JACKSON - ‘CHINA LOVE’ (2001)Samples: Legend of Mana
Produced by longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson’s 'China Love’ hears the legendary pop star rhapsodise about past-life romance and new age ambiguities over a bed of oriental textures made up of chimes and tablas. Appearing on Jackson’s 2001 album All for You, the song samples the opening seconds of Yoko Shimomura’s ‘Moonlight City Roa’ from the 1999 action role-playing Playstation game Legend of Mana.
9. JAY-Z FEAT. DMX - ‘MONEY, CASH, HOES’ (1998)Samples: Golden Axe
Who’d have thought that a bit from a game about a bunch of sword-wielders saving a kingdom could be transformed into a track that helped define rap’s late-90s bling era? Swizz Beatz, apparently. ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’ might feature some of Jay-Z’s best wordplay, as well as a gruff, unrelenting verse from DMX, but it was Swizz’s simplistic, yet effective flip of Tohru Nakabayashi and Y. "Dolphin" Takada’s ‘Thief’s Theme’ from Golden Axe that stole the show.
10. ZOMBIE NATION - ‘KERNKRAFT 400’ (1999)Samples: Lazy Jones
Zombie Nation’s career-defining, techno classic ‘Kernkraft 400’ was everywhere in 1999. In fact, it continues to be everywhere as it floods sports stadiums year in, year out, earning the title of arguably one of the most recognisable sports anthems off all-time. However, some might not know that the whirring melody on the song’s chorus actually comes from David Whittaker’s ‘Stardust’, a cut from 1984 video game Lazy Jones. Not totally original itself, Whittaker’s version borrows elements from Nena’s 80s pop behemoth ’99 Luftballons’ and Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’.
11. CHARLES HAMILTON - ‘NOVEMBER 10TH’ (2008)Samples: Sonic the Hedgehog
Charles Hamilton, a key figure from Hip Hop’s blog rap era, has been telling the world about his Sonic fandom for years. Whether through his music videos, album artwork, mixtape titles - one of them is called Sonic the Hamilton - or the songs contained on said tapes, the talented New York rhymer has always shown love to Sega’s computerised speed demon. Throughout his lengthy career, Hamilton has consistently sampled Sonic with varying results, but his clever use of Masato Nakamura’s ‘Marble Zone’ - which appears in the first Sonic the Hedgehog game - on his 2008 mixtape cut ‘November 10th’ is probably the best.