The tension between old and new is central to most great art. Many of rap’s greatest productions examine, interpret, and destroy the old to create something fresh — finding that balance between pioneering new sounds and remaining grounded in tradition. When 17-year-old Metro Boomin (real name Leland Tyler Wayne) convinced his mother to drive him eight hours from St. Louis to Atlanta to work with rappers, I doubt he had any concept of this. When you’re young, all you want to do is overthrow the previous generation and create something uniquely yours. And for the first few years of his career, he did just.
Since 2014, Metro has been trap’s go-to producer, and if “Bad and Boujee” is any indication, his place at the top has only become more secure. As he’s matured and collaborated with more artists, he’s evolved to stand out in a sub genre often flooded with imitators. One way is through his increasing use of samples. While it’s true that the sound bank of most digital audio workstations are made up of samples, trap producers rarely pull sounds directly from other songs. Sampling lies at the root of traditional hip-hop production, has fueled its development for the last forty years, and when done right can yield thrilling, unexpected results.
While it has been a steady progression for Metro, his sampling is adding depth to trap production by diversifying it. It seems like he’s finding his balance between new and old. He’s obviously been innovative with his 808s and kick patches. His moniker is derived from the onomatopoeia of the deep, thumping bass drum. But now, he’s dipping his hand into the past and experimenting with the same production tools that drew us into the sounds of J Dilla, DJ Premier, and Madlib. There’s a reason the ancient Chinese yin-yang symbol has a line weaving through its black and white halves. They thought that life was best lived on the line between order and chaos, the old and the new, soul samples and rattly hi-hats. I’ve traced his path down this line and highlighted five of his ventures into the sampling world. Hopefully Metro will stay balanced on that line and keep giving us music that pushes the sonic boundaries of trap. —Miguelito
Big Sean — “Hometown” (2010)
Metro began experimenting with sampling on Big Sean’s “Home Town” back in 2010. For this track he pulled the keys and vocals from Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” giving the sample a “chipmunk-soul” makeover that reminds me of early Kanye. While this Metro cut stands out from his early discography—when trap was at it most gimmicky—“Home Town” is by no means polished. At this point, Metro wasn’t known for his swallowing bass drums and you can hear it in this song’s production. The drums sounds flat compared to his recent work, with just a pitched clap forming the backbone of the track. Still, it shows us that even at a young age Metro has had a desire to blend the classic hip-hop tropes with “hot” sounds. “Home Town” is an anomaly in his early work and it would be five years before he’d release another sample-based song.
Travis Scott feat. Juicy J — “Wasted” (2015)
The next one appears on Travis Scott’s studio debut Rodeo. As the fourth track, “Wasted,” opens, we are met with a soft, entrancing woodwind sample. It’s taken from T. Zchien and the Johnny’s “Let Your Life Be Free,” which I’m convinced is actually a lost Doors song. This time he didn’t pull sounds from a pop star; he chose a song that barely has 7,500 views on YouTube in over five years (about fifty of which are mine). As Mark Ronson mentions in his TED talk on sampling, the keys to effective sampling are subtlety and ingenuity. You cannot “hijack nostalgia wholesale” because listeners will see the song as just a cheap imitation. A good sample involves taking a sound that resonates and “putting a twist” on it, whatever that may be.
In this case, Metro takes the woodwinds from an obscure song about wasting time and draws the listener into a party anthem that flips the “get wasted” theme on its head. Knowing that ‘wasted’ has a negative connotation in the original song gives Scott’s “Wasted” more depth. Instead of a simple “turn-up” song, he tries to show that the idea of “getting wasted” isn’t always romantic. You are lured into it much the same way Metro lures us into the song with the calming introduction. However, just as he ends the relaxation with sharp claps and crushing bass, “getting wasted” can cause more pain than you were initially escaping. While this theme could have been fleshed out without the sample, Metro aids Scott’s vision by reflecting it in the sonic composition.
Kanye West — “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” (2016)
Perhaps it was Metro’s work on “Wasted” that caused Kanye West to use his talents on “Father Stretch My Hands.” The sample that opens the track is taken from Pastor T.L. Barrett’s gospel song of the same name and it laments the condition of the world while claiming that divine intervention is the only escape. Although Kanye chooses to find liberation by other means in his retelling, Metro’s production echoes the original emotion of the song, with some dark twists. As the track unfolds, an organ joins the sample, but this is no ordinary church hymn. Metro quickly reminds us that we are worshipping in the trap house once his tag drops and he brings in fast-paced hi-hats and his signature 808s. While Barrett’s original features a choir and a somber organ to stir reflection, Metro’s retelling includes buzz synths and upbeat keys that induce an ecstatic fit.
The kicks pop out with force, making this appearance of the Holy Spirit more threatening than the original. While it’s likely that Kanye was the one who pulled this sample, this doesn’t detract from Metro’s contribution and his development as a sampler. Working with an artist as prolific and established as ‘Ye provides Young Metro with resources, connections, and, above all, production wisdom. Feelings about his personal conduct aside, Kanye knows how to pair a sample with the right sounds. He recognizes talent in others and uses it. He knew that Metro’s bass would invigorate this gospel classic, making it sound more appropriate in a primal drum ritual than a quiet sanctuary.
Future — “Benjamins Burn” (2016)
Future is often criticized for his repetitiveness with each new mixtape, but “Benjamins Burn” from last summer’s Project E.T. provides relief from the monotony. One of only two tracks that feature Metro’s production, “Benjamins Burn” finds the beatmaker placing a haunting vocal sample behind Future’s typical crooning. Despite much research—and reaching out to Young Metro on Twitter—I can’t tell you the origin of this sample. Regardless of where it came from, this song shows that Metro has found the sampling approach that best suits his other stylistic features. He’s not a “boom-bap” producer; his generation points to Shawty Redd and Drumma Boy as their fathers. The vocal sample isn’t very intelligible; it acts more like an instrument, used to set the relaxed tone of the track.
By matching his synth pattern with the sample, he further blurs the line between speech and sound. Metro is working sampling into his repertoire on his own, without the watchful eye of Kanye or Mike Dean. While I enjoy the beat and think it’s a step in the right direction, the fact that we don’t know the sample’s origin works against it because we can’t see what musical tradition he’s furthering. I’m not rigid though. I’ll be willing to compromise my obsessive desire to know every sample if it means more diversity in trap beats.
Lil B — “My House” (2016)
Metro’s most recent sampling appears on Lil B’s “My House” from his upcoming Black Ken tape. He takes the synth pattern that opens “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and pitches it up, giving it a lighter tone. The five unique voices of our favorite Cleveland rap group are replaced with multiple versions of Lil B’s vocals, layered throughout. If Metro’s work on “Wasted” causes sober reflection, this flip does the opposite. It uses parts of a somber track that honors dead friends to give the Based God space to invite women back to his crib.
You can take issue with the reason for the flip, but after playing “My House” you’ll be happy with Metro’s execution. He takes the highest point of the synth and loops it slowly, because naturally time operates differently in Lil B’s house. It echoes around the hole left in your speaker from the bass. Metro also dips into another classic production element by scratching over his production tag throughout the song. I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard scratching on a trap beat. He’s no DJ Premier, but this scratching shows he’s expanding his musical palette. Much like Mike WiLL Made-It’s rework of “La Di Da Di” on Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” Metro pulls a classic sound to make a fun track and, in the process, we get to see him playing with elements that date back to hip-hop’s foundation.
Metro’s journey into sampling didn’t happen overnight, nor has it always been refined. Still, his willingness to experiment with traditional themes of hip-hop production signals his importance in the grand scheme of music. By taking trap sounds and expanding them with sampling, he helps legitimize a sub genre that’s often criticized for not holding true to hip-hop standards. As Future says on “Benjamins Burn,” he gets back to the source. Support Metro Boomin in any way you can. It’s a lot easier to clear samples with a few more zeros added to your net worth.