Flip The Sample: Biggie & Method Man’s ‘The What’

Image created by: Cristina Girod (cristinagirod@gmail.com)

Welcome to the fourth edition of Flip the Sample. Let’s get right into the Jam. We’ve got another classic track and its inspirations. It’s pretty amazing how interconnected so much music is. After all, musicians and music production are pretty much like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and all the bacon festivals and bacon eating competitions out there, and all the maplewood-smoked, thick-sliced bacon that all those bacon lovers are always reppin’. Bacon has its moments. Now I’m just rambling. On to the Jam.



The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Method Man — “The What” (1994) (Prod. by Easy Mo Bee)


Avalanche — “Overnight Sensation” (1976)

Leroy Hutson — “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” (1974)

Ready to Die, Biggie’s overwhelmingly respected debut album, had a gang of great songs. There are the hit singles of course: “Juicy,” “One More Time,” “Big Poppa.” But every single track on that album is truly a hit. Legendary. You’ll find casual listeners and professional musicians alike that have very different ‘favorite’ songs from it, because all the songs are really that good.

“The What” is the only track on Ready to Die to feature another rapper, and is one of the — if not THE — smoothest song on the album. It’s not one of the ‘bangers’, but damn it’s good.

It features two of the coldest (read: meanest) lyricists collaborating on a song to describe why you shouldn’t fuck with them. Fun stuff.

The story goes that despite some of the Wu-Tang Clan not ‘liking’ Biggie, Method Man just couldn’t help but chop it up with the man. Meth and Biggie knew of each other because of how connected and prevalent the rap game was in NYC in the 90’s, but apparently once they got linked up the two dudes really got along.

They were both goofy but hard, chill but brainy, and… blunts. Lots of blunts. Makes sense.

Biggie wanted Meth on the album. Meth didn’t even question it, and the two were brought to the studio one fateful night where the gods of flow chose to unleash a magical ensemble.

Easy Mo Bee, a wily ‘regular’ in mainstream rap those days with experience working alongside other legends (Marley Marl, Miles Davis, Big Daddy Kane) was the producer. He produced a big portion of the songs on Ready to Die. He’s the producer behind this beat. Soothe that into my ear any time of day and I’m feeling good.

The sampling technique used in “The What” truly reflects what an experienced producer Mo Bee was even back then, and what an amazing ear he has. He fused sounds from “Overnight Sensation” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” to create a smooth, groovy but simple beat for Meth and Biggie to unleash on.

The minimality was key to engage and maximize the power of the lyricists. But the way he chose the sounds is far from what I would describe as minimal.

The kick-drums he grabbed from “Overnight Sensation” are pretty straightforward. It’s easy to hear in both songs. But the kick-drums on “The What” and “Can’t Say Enough About Mom” sound fundamentally different, something is off.

That’s the magic of the “Can’t Say Enough” sample. That spacey, wobbly sound throughout “The What” right on top of the kick-drum is what Easy Mo Bee grabbed from that song.

“Can’t Say Enough” is a six-minute song, and the sample doesn’t appear until about the last ten seconds. Peep right around 5:45, there’s a synth riff that Easy Mo Bee smoothly mixes in with the kick-drums from “Overnight Sensation.”

That synth sample makes “The What” great. Visualizing those two sounds together far before putting them together is some visionary shit (audiolizing should be a real word).

Easy Mo Bee displays the genuine talent behind sampling, how to hear different, opposing sounds and have the intuition to play with them together. He’s a very talented producer. This crew was destined to make a jam that night.

Method Man and Biggie chopped it up for a bit, heard the beat, and then got to writing. They both wrote their verses together that night. You can tell because their verses overlap and actually feature each other.

You can also tell it was done fast because the lyrics aren’t particularly baffling. The metaphors are there, but they’re simple. That’s okay with these two. There are some legendary lines regardless, but this song is really all about the flow.

These two had style. They had character. That has always shown in their music. They knew how to drive a line, and how to make you laugh because of it. Their rapping was engaging.

That to me is what makes this such a memorable and delicious cypher. The producer made a beat to ooze the smooth yet violent tendencies out of Biggie and Meth. The two lyricists reciprocated and went-off. The timing and the way Method Man delivers this line in the song says it all (1:07):

 Hey I’ll be kickin’, you son, you doin’ all the yappin’

Actin’ as if it can’t happen…

He’s feeling the beat, he tailors his lines to fit in with the rhythm. It leads perfectly into his last six bars and into the hook. That’s no accident. That’s flow. If you can rap like Yoda talks and keep my head bopping the entire time you’ve got talent, son. *Method Man voice*

Biggie, of course, is right on par. The man is flow. He was so capable of finding odd, unique ways of saying straight-forward things, making it all fit into the rhythm of the song flawlessly. He summed that all up for us in “The What” with his ridiculous and now-legendary line (2:33),

I used to do stick-ups

‘Cause hoes is irritating like the HIC-cups

Excuse me, flows just grow through me.

He flows. He couldn’t even help it. RIP, love. *Biggie voice*

The atmosphere in NYC in the 90’s was thick. It’s fascinating to think about how many veteran talented producers were out there collaborating, talking, sharing ideas, and bringing up young rappers. The amount of talented, intelligent young rappers surrounding all these producers was magical too.

What modern-day city is the equivalent? What city today has that many experienced and knowledgeable producers working with fresh blood, young rappers with fresh ideas and talent? Can’t wait to see if there’s ever another situation as powerful.

Flip the Sample: “Walk On By” / “Warning”

Still Flippin’ Samples. Flip yeah. Today we have a great series of songs that utilize a slow moving bassline that created three classics. The songs are overall pretty different — they all fall under separate genres — but the similarities, the sounds sampled, are very evident. These tracks are excellent, really fun jams to listen to. Enjoy!



The Notorious B.I.G. — “Warning” (1994) (Prod. by Easy Mo Bee)

Hooverphonic — “2Wicky” (1996) (Prod. by Hooverphonic)


Isaac Hayes — “Walk On By” (1969) (Prod. by Isaac Hayes)


Alright so I already misled you. That’s what’s tough about the vernacular of sample flipping, or actually defining an ‘original’ song versus a ‘remix’ or ‘cover’. Isaac Hayes didn’t actually produce “Walk On By.” Hayes’ version is a cover of a song composed by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. There are 12 different covers of the song by David and Bacharach, released in 1964. My personal preference led me to Hayes’ version. It’s the most similar to, and flows best with “2 Wicky” and “Warning.” For the sake of keeping this letter short and sweet, and not going through 12 different samples, we picked these three great jams. That being said, take the “original” label with a grain of salt.

Hayes released a 12-minute ballad of “Walk On By” on his groundbreaking Hot Buttered Soul LP, and it’s a beautiful, groovy song. It’s an excellent, intricate composition and a staple of the amazing music released in 1969. It’s emotional and very thick.

“2 Wicky” is a perfect example of the trip-hop, electronic experimental movement from Europe in the ’90s. It has a grungy sound mixed in with electronic samples. In this case, it contains a lot of Hayes’ jam, like the spacey guitar and smooth bassline. It has the hazy, emotional female lyrics and hooks classic to that genre. There are gems from European bands like Hooverphonic splattered throughout the music-sphere.

The lyrics in “2 Wicky” are arguably in-line with Biggie’s “Warning.” They both have an overall theme of people trying to hurt you. I see similarities. The big difference, though, is the absolutely flabbergasting poetic lyrical destruction that Biggie lays down in “Warning.” The lyrics in “2 Wicky” are pretty simple. The rapping in “Warning” is everything but simple.

The intro to “Warning,” a single off of Biggie’s Ready to Die, is a quick indicator that Biggie is about to go on a rant, he’s about to tell a story. It’s a very simple kick-drum beat and a slow, simple bassline taken directly from “Walk On By.” That bassline is the heart, or main sample, in these three songs. It’s very similar, if not identical, in all three. The kick-drum beat is also there, but each producer changes the sound.

In Biggie’s version, Easy Mo Bee turned the drums up way louder than in the other songs. It’s a way for the producer to leave the song up to the lyricist. Those cracking drums help us concentrate on what Biggies says.

And thankfully Mo Bee did turn them up, because Biggie goes off! The way the story starts and unfolds is hilariously creative. One of Biggie’s good friends pages him *early in the morning* to let him know he’s got some enemies looking to bring him down. And so the story unfolds…

In the first verse we’re introduced to the problem, and a quick back story. The smooth way of saying simple things is evident throughout:

Now they heard you blowin’ up like nitro,

And they wanna stick the knife through your windpipe slow.

Then in the second verse, Biggie has another very unique way of flexin’ for the folks. He indirectly tells the listeners how B.I.G. he really is, and how much he’s accomplished. He talks about the money, the cars, the drugs, and the watches, but in HIS way of doing it:

They heard about the Rolex’s and the Lexus with the Texas license plate, outta state

They heard about the pounds you got down in Georgetown,

And they heard you got half of Virginia locked down.

Not only is his lyricism one-of-a-kind, but the way he delivers the message is great. Such a Biggie Smalls way to tell the world how raw he really is. He takes on the character of his friend on the other end of the phone, and ‘humbly’ tells us all how successful Biggie Smalls is. I love that about Biggie. Creative mind, man.

At the end of the song, he wraps up the story by telling us how he’s going to solve this problem. He tells his enemies what he’ll do to them. But it’s the perfect example of Biggie’s ability — intelligence, really — to tell stories and say things through clever poetry that makes you laugh, but cringe in fright too:

There’s gunna be a lot of slow singing,

and flower bringing,

if my burglar alarm starts ringing.

Or you could say, “Trespassers will be shot.”

And I feed ’em gun powder,

so they can devour,

the criminals,

trying to drop my decimals.

Hahahaha. Such a perfect example of his uniqueness, and masterful ability to bleed his personality through the lyrics while maintaining an immaculate flow and perfect rhyming. He truly was at the top of the game. R.I.P, the rap game definitely missed your talents.

There are similarities in these three great songs, and all stem from the same foundational beat. The similar inspiration of the producers led to very different songs, in different genres, that actually inter-connect and, for some not fully understood reason, make listening to each more enjoyable.

Tell us about your favorite sample flip. For us, there’s nothing better than diving deeper into the music that moves us.