6 of Music’s Most Controversial Samples

Today marks a momentous occasion in the history of pop music: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, she who can do no wrong, admitted to doing something wrong. “XO,” a track off of Queen Bey’s recent surprise album, features about six seconds of audio from a NASA public relations officer narrating the 1986 Challenger explosion. Apologizing for the perceived insensitivity to ABC news, Beyoncé wrote: “My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster…The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten.” The mega-star is hardly the first to provoke a backlash with sampled material, however. Here’s our list of clips that ruffled a few feathers.


Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves”

Sampled Track: Nina Simone, “Strange Fruit”

It’s a song that distills the horrors of lynching and racial violence into one unforgettable metaphor, reinterpreted as a soundtrack to Kanye’s girl problems. Some critics thought the combination of personal with political, and the dissonance between them, was the whole point of the Hudson Mohawke-produced track. Others found the juxtaposition of Simone’s searing Billie Holiday cover with Kanye’s comparison of separating his wife and mistress to apartheid distasteful. The “Blood on the Leaves” debate was yet another skirmish in the Yeezus wars, with the Simone sample playing a starring role.