With every generation, there are a handful of artists whose talent, reach, and story mark themselves as timeless achievements and souls. Without question, Amy Winehouse is one of the 21st century’s most important exponents in this regard. Her influence ushered in revitalizations of vocal flair, vintage aesthetics, and raw, emotive storytelling and character portraits in popular music. The London singer encompassed so much: powerful songwriting, carefully crafted and intent-driven releases, production that is deeply appreciative of the wide-ranging musical canon, and a truly resonant voice in every way. So it’s no surprise that her love of hip-hop, and so many other genres, drove much of her artistry.
Furthermore, the culture certainly returned the favor, and continues to do so to this day. As recently as October 2023, U.K. rapper Skepta sampled Amy Winehouse’s vocals from her 2006 song “Tears Dry On Their Own” on his aptly titled house cut, “Can’t Play Myself (A Tribute To Amy).” So many rap subgenres and communities appreciated her work: classic boom-bap exponents, Atlanta trap pioneers, Long Beach genre-benders, and some of the biggest artists in the game in general. Across these six picks (in no particular order), the late legend’s legacy lives on through artists and art forms that she championed like few others.
“Tears Dry On Their Own” Dungeon Family Remix – Organized Noize (Released 2011)
Speaking of Skepta’s treatment of this Back To Black cut from 2006, frequent Outkast collaborators -– and some of the best producers out of the South -– also gave it a spin. Amy Winehouse’s vocals, instead of pairing with retro instrumentation with a peppier step, ride over heavy kicks, chopped-up piano melodies and background vocals, and sharp snares, crafting a DJ Screw-esque effect. Of course, this is exactly the type of beat that the Dungeon Family perfected back in the 1990s and 2000s. Despite the aesthetic change, the contralto vocalist’s croons and swells sound even more spotlit and passionate here.
Sure, the mixing quality of this version is a little off, probably because of how its distribution methods have aged. Big Boi originally posted this remix on a website after she passed, and YouTube re-releases of it hit your ears with a lot of fuzz. Bizarrely, though, it adds to the atmosphere of this Amy Winehouse reimagining in a contemporary context. Much like the soul and R&B that inspired so much of her greatness (and that she and frequent production collaborators Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi sampled), it sounds like an unearthed vinyl that becomes a gem for a crate-digger years later, crackling through the speakers with all the passion its performer holds.
“Kush Is My Cologne” – Gucci Mane ft. Bun B, E-40 & Devin The Dude (2009)
Moving over to one of the six-time Grammy Award winner’s most popular songs, Back To Black‘s opener, “Rehab,” is one of her most iconic hooks and instrumentals. Even Gucci Mane took a liking to it, and on his 2009 album The State vs. Radric Davis, he interpolated the chorus for one of his verse lines. “Kush, purp, strong dro, What I need cologne for? They tried to send me to rehab but I said ‘No, no I won’t go,’” he raps on the record. It’s certainly one of the most tonally conflictive but curious examples on this list.
However, we’d be remiss not to mention Jay-Z and Pharoahe Monch’s remixes of “Rehab,” each of which came out around 2008 and warrants a listen. Unfortunately, none of these tracks knew how Amy Winehouse’s career would tragically end. As such, it’s strong whiplash to listen to any version of this song today, yet it doesn’t take away from its potency, its resonance, and its quality as a composition and performance. Also, it’s a reminder that music can affect lives for many different reasons than why lives affected its creation, and few artists can ever transcend their context like this.
Here we have one of the most subtle instances of sampling on the list: a simple drum beat that’s distorted, echoed, and manipulated to make it a hazy, lo-fi driving force. Lil Ugly Mane doesn’t rap on “vpn,” as this is an album (2021’s volcanic bird enemy and the voiced concern) where he goes into more singing, trip-hop inspirations, and a lot of genre and timbre experimentation. So what’s the drum beat that he takes from? It’s from Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” (also off Back To Black), on which Homer Steinweiss is on the kit.
Perhaps the most important thing to remark about “vpn” as it relates to “You Know I’m No Good” is how it’s able to communicate the slightly despondent, melancholy, yet hopeful tone of the original. Lyrically, both artists play a lot with how their inner demons inform their relationships, and they make you feel that push-and-pull with their deliveries. Amy Winehouse’s contributions are as musical as they are personal, as many saw their own troubles reflected in her confidence and honesty. There’s also a great remix of the original featuring Ghostface Killah, which should be another gem for you to add to your queue.
“Half-Time” – Flatbush Zombies Ft. A$AP Twelvyy (2015)
Coming off the New York trio’s non-streaming 2015 EP expansion, Day Of The Dead, this track samples Amy Winehouse’s “Half Time,” released posthumously on the 2011 project Lioness: Hidden Treasures. With glistening keys, an easy-going but crisp drum beat courtesy of none other than Questlove, and dense staccato bass, this is a classic East Coast boom-bap treatment. Each MC on here flows incredibly well, and the dreamy instrumental evokes the original’s themes of a passion for music. We’re repeating ourselves here, but it’s the truth: few artists could represent this fervor more than the Frank superstar.
Not only that, but this is also one of the most musically complex examples on this list, albeit a simple technique in the grand scheme of things. “Half-Time” switches between loops of two different parts of “Half-Time” to build its progression. A slowdown towards the end makes the dream feel even woozier, and it makes us wonder what amazing collaborations could’ve come from Amy Winehouse and the contemporary lane of sample-based and genre-fusing hip-hop artists. Like everything that was ever great, it leaves us wanting a little more.
Now, for what might be the most unique sample choice here, we have Vince Staples’ excellent and experimental 2017 album, Big Fish Theory. On the frantically percussive but atmospherically calming cut “Alyssa Interlude,” the Long Beach MC -– rather, the track’s producer “Zack Sekoff” -– samples an Amy Winehouse interview with Tim Chipping from 2006. “That’s like a real drug, isn’t it?” she says of love. “So when it -– when it didn’t come together, I was just like… you know? It really hurt. But I needed enough distance from it so that it wasn’t, like, raw emotion anymore. But not enough -– enough distance that I’d forget. I’m quite a self-destructive person, so I guess… I guess I keep giving myself material.”
Emotionally, this is a powerful moment considering the English icon’s personal struggles with addiction and mental health. It also means a lot to Vince Staples, as she inspired his 2016 EP Prima Donna and uses this interview to complement his romantic feelings for someone who is no longer there. “A true artist can make you feel both their sorrow and their happiness,” he said of Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, one of his favorite albums, during a TIDAL Magazine interview. “You feel all of these emotions back to back and transform them into these stories without noticing the shift. Definitely someone who was gone too soon. R.I.P.”
“Cherry Wine” – Nas Ft. Amy Winehouse (2012)
Yeah, we know this isn’t a sample, but we can’t talk about Amy Winehouse and hip-hop without bringing up her strong bond with Nas. He was her crush, as portrayed in her track “Me and Mr. Jones,” and they met up thanks to the producer of “Cherry Wine” and collaborator-in-common, Salaam Remi. This cut, released on Esco’s 2012 album Life Is Good, resulted from a lot of back-and-forth work together, of which they had a lot before she tragically passed. Eventually, the “Valerie” hitmaker’s demo vocals for the song surfaced (which technically makes it a sample), and the Queens legend could pay fitting tribute to his birthday twin. They were born on September 14 exactly a decade apart.
What’s more, is that she had previously sampled his 2002 song “Made You Look” on her 2003 release “In My Bed,” both produced by Salaam Remi. Back to “Cherry Wine,” though, Amy Winehouse longs for her soulmate (whom many interpret to be the Illmatic lyricist), as he goes over what he wants in a woman. It’s tender, soulful, well-paced, sonically pristine, and an evocative display of chemistry and appreciation. Nas told Power 106 in 2012. “We’re just so thankful that her people were so understanding that, you know, this was our homie,” Nas told Power 106 in 2012. “They let us rock out with her music on the album. So, we got love for Amy forever. That’s our sister. Love her.” We’re forever thankful for what these artists did to honor Amy Jade, and even more thankful for what she saw in hip-hop.