Jay Electronica: My World
From Victory mixtape (2010)

DJs Furious Style and Dub’s Victory mixtape of all Jay Electronica joints has stayed in steady rotation since the beginning of the year and one song that I keep coming back to is his tribute to Nas, “My World.” I’m not sure who produced this (prob Jay himself?) but I like how he revisits Ahmad Jamal to create a beat similar-to-but-not-a-duplicate of “The World Is Yours.” And soaking in that vibe made me nostalgic for all the good piano-based beats

To be sure, I’m hardly the first to feel that flavor and while I’m generally not a fan of reinventing the wheel I doubt anyone’s going to raise a fuss over revisiting a few classics.

Since I could literally come up with a hundred songs, I tried to limit myself based on a few ground rules. 1) Acoustic piano, no Rhodes or Wurlitzer or synths. 2) No producer twice (believe me, I could – and still might – just devote posts to the “best of” Primo/Pete Rock/Evidence. 3) I tried not to repeat the same source musician but I don’t know all the sources here and frankly, I got no problem showing Ahmad Jamal more love. I also split the following into two different categories based on the feel of the piano loops – melancholy and lively. Personally, I’m more of a fan of the former (at least these days; call it a consequence of getting older) but I’m not mad at some jaunty piano to keep your heels a’clickin’.

Dilated People: Pay Attention
From Expansion Team (Capitol, 2001)

Hands-down, my favorite DJ Babu-produced track and one of the best things on Expansion Team. I don’t know I never bothered to figure out where this loop was originally from (it’s an Ahmad Jamal sample, natch) but once I finally did, I was even more impressed by the chop job – he’s basically creating a new melody and arrangement out of different snippets from the source material. An exceptionally well-crafted piece of production.

All Natural feat. Lone Catalysts: Renaissance
From Second Nature (All Natural, 2001)

Yup, another Ahmad Jamal loop, this one taken from The Awakening (aka the most sampled piano album in hip-hop history?). Props to J. Rawls, another master of the piano sample, who really picked up on the potential of the source material, using two different parts to construct the track. Lovely collabo here too, between All Natural and Lone Catalysts – this has long been a personal favorite of mine.

Camp Lo: Sparkle
From Uptown Saturday Night (Profile, 1997)

Based on the album credits, it seems as if this isn’t technically a sample but an interpolation of a Cal Tjader tune which makes sense since I never was able to find the original piano loop from the source. Pete Levin’s supposed to be on the keys here and along with Bill Ware on the vibes, the two do a beautiful job of recreating the smooth charm of Tjader’s original.

Group Home: Up Against the Wall (Getaway Car Mix)
From Livin’ Proof (Payday, 1995)

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about DJ Premier as a producer is his willingness to revisit old source material and find multiple uses for them. In this case, the same Young Holt Unlimited album yielded both one of the all-time melancholy piano beat classics (awkward phrase, I know) – “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” – but Preem also mined it to craft this moody wonder.

Common: Maintaining
From Resurrection (Relativity, 1994)

Speaking of being so nice, they flipped it twice, No ID took two different parts of MJQ’s “But Not For Me” and turned them into “In My Own World” and “Maintaining” – quite impressive given how different each song feels. Com Sense, No ID and MJQ keep the party live indeed.

Kool G Rap and DJ Polo: On the Run (Untouchable Mix)
From the “On the Run” 12″ (Cold Chillin’, 1992)

This one goes beyond “lively” and straight to “jackammer to your melon.” This is one of the best songs of Kool G Rap’s career and while the original Sir Jinx version was strong enough on its own, the Trackmasters’ remix took things to the next level by using one of the best damn piano funk songs ever recorded, Ray Bryant’s “Up Above the Rock.”

Billy the Kidd (Defari): Say It Twice
From Saloon Music (ABB, 2000)

For a while in the late ’90s/early ’00s, Evidence was digging deep into all kinds of piano loops but he really nailed it on this one for Defari, recording under his Billy the Kidd nom de plume.