The Sample That Got Away

On Gang Starr’s 1998 album, Moment of Truth, DJ Premier is heard ranting at the end of “Royalty” about “break-record cats putting out all the original records that we [Hip-Hop producers] sampled from.” In an era before a Google search could trace the DNA of every sample, Premier was referencing certain individuals who were disobeying the omertà of the genre.

Premier has the uncanny knack of taking a sample, chopping it, and flipping it so that it seems both familiar and original. But, of course, with more and more recognition, he’s been forced to reconcile that clearing a sample isn’t always so easy. In fact, there was one that got away, and it still resonates with him today.


When Gang Starr was working on their 1994 album, Hard To Earn, they recorded a song called “Doe in Advance,” which sampled the Ohio Player’s “Sweet Sticky Thing.” At the time, Premier wasn’t always clearing samples, but he felt that since the loop was so recognizable, he needed to clear it with the group.

“Obviously back then you’re dealing with mailing the song because you can’t just say, ‘OK, email the MP3 so we can hear it,’ ” Premier says. “I really didn’t want it to be denied, so I asked if there was any way that I could talk to Diamond, because I figured it was a long shot.”

The “Diamond” in question was James “Diamond” Williams, drummer extraordinaire for the Ohio Players. At the band’s height of popularity, they produced 17 Top 40 hits, including “Skin Tight,” “Fire,” “Love Rollercoaster” “Who’d She Coo?” and, of course, “Sweet Sticky Thing.”

The group was no stranger to having their music used in a Hip-Hop context. Notable songs like “Dope Man” from N.W.A, “Me, Myself, and I” by De La Soul, “Jump” by Kriss Kross, and “Ready To Die” by The Notorious B.I.G. all had contributions from the Ohio Players. The song in question, “Sweet Sticky Thing,” was even used by OutKast (“Crumblin’ Erb”) the same year Premier wanted to include it on Hard To Earn. Yet Gang Starr’s song was a sticking point for Williams.

“He told me, ‘Man, I have all daughters, dude. Y’all are cursing on the song. I don’t want my daughters hearing those songs where they’re cursing on the record that I was a part of,’ ” Premier says. “I’m like, ‘But some your albums have naked women on them!’ Call it art. Call it whatever.’ ”

Every time Premier was convinced that Williams would soften on his stance, he’d again reiterate that it wasn’t happening.

“It’s all good,” Premier says, jokingly. “I got love and respect for Diamond. He’s one of the illest drummers ever. The Ohio Players are one of my favorites of all time. I ain’t mad at him no more. It’s a story now.”

Perhaps Premier is the one who got the last laugh: He used “Sweet Sticky Thing” on Group Home featuring Guru’s “So Called Friends” a year later.

* Banner Image: DJ Premier / Photo by Jonathan Mannion

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