We broke down a recent classic from Usher and discovered a hidden gem.

About a week ago, I went to the amazing city of New York to celebrate a friend getting his masters from Columbia and the turn was in full effect. The day after, lead me to Brooklyn where myself and 3 friends took time to grab brunch at a spot called Brooklyn Moon. Over mimosas and food we all talked about the night prior and our next moves when we all suddenly found ourselves vaguely humming to a familiar Stevie Wonder song.
Stevie Wonder is one of the greatest musicians of our time. He is a musician , singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Stevie is responsible for classics like Superstition, I Just Called to Say I Love You, and Ribbon in the Sky to name a few of his monstrous hits. As the refills flowed, we began to sing along to Living in the City.
Living in the City was a single from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions album. As we ate, and drank, and sang along, I paused and told everyone you know this is the song they sampled for little freak right? Shock and awe covered the faces at the table.
This song flipped by the legendary Polow Da Don, who while still producing, has been a bit more hands off in the industry as of late. From 2006 to about 2012, Polow was producing many of the songs you hear on the radio. Whether his production was a chopped sample or completely original, Polow had the radio on smash.  
Lil Freak was a song off of Usher’s Raymond Vs. Raymond album, which in my opinion had a few solid offerings with Lil Freak being one of them. What makes this song and sample so interesting is that the two songs are on completely opposite end of the spectrum in terms of subject matter, artistry, and production. Living for the City focuses on the struggles of a man during the civil rights era working to fight adversity in the name of success, while Lil Freak is exactly about that.


Polow genuinely unites the multiple instruments from the Stevie track (which may have been recreated to better blend in with his production) and places synths, hats, claps, and 808s, around the sample. The result is a modern but very clever and impressive twist on a classic song. Usher further refines the production with lyrics catered to our generation. A guest verse from Nikki Minaj also adds a nice touch to the overall song.

Production wise this is one of my favorite songs. The sample of the song isn’t revealed until the hook and Polow takes his time to start the beat, slowly adding the drums and melody until he builds up to the samples and additional elements of production. Lil Freak is one of the textbook examples of sampling and working to make a song of old into something interesting and new. Check out both songs in their entirety below.


 

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