The Gamble and Huff tribute is basically the best thing on the 4th of July festival lineup. (Sorry, Kidzbop.)
It’s so important that this is happening. It’s actually a shame this isn’t a larger tribute. Here’s who’s performing: The Intruders, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The O’Jays, and MFSB. That’s a short list when you consider how many artists Gamble and Huff penned hits for, and how many acts made hits off the Philadelphia sound.
This city has so much to be proud of thanks to that music. Some fans might talk about how Philadelphia perfected sweet soul. Some like to point out how many hits had positive messages, like “Wake Up Everybody” and “Love Train.” Others could talk for days about the instrumental lushness on many of the recordings. (We’re definitely in the latter contingent. The house band, MFSB, was so, so nasty.)
Hip-hop producers haven’t overlooked this genre. You’ve probably heard Philly soul in a lot of your favorite rap songs without even realizing it. We reached out to some local DJs and producers to compile a list favorite Philly soul samples, opening up the field to not only Gamble and Huff compositions, but also other accomplished songwriters from that era, like Thom Bell, Bunny Sigler, Dexter Wansel and more. Then, we reached out to Gamble and Huff and something crazy happened: They actually responded.
Here are 12 of the best Philadelphia soul samples.
Hip-hop head picks
The Delfonics “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)” 👉 Missy Elliott “Sock It 2 Me”
The Delfonics won’t be performing tomorrow. They worked primarily with Thom Bell, spawning hits like “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” In 2013, they made the coolest of moves and released an album with experimental hip hop/soul producer Adrian Younge. In an email to Billy Penn, Joe “JoeLogic” Gallagher, producer and engineer, Grammy nominated for his work on Jazmine Sullivan’s Reality Show, said of “Sock It 2 Me”: “[It’s] just the hardest shit ever. Even though it’s the influence for the Fugees song, the Timbaland and Missy flip was my everything when it came out.”
The Stylistics “One Night Affair” 👉 Little Brother “Lovin’ It”
Does another city produce better male singers with falsettos? Highly doubtful. The Stylistics, lead by Russell Tompkins, Jr., also worked with Thom Bell. “Break Up to Make Up” and “You Are Everything” are among their most popular songs. This is one our picks. The way producer 9th Wonder makes Tompkins sound like he’s humming, and how soulful the hums are… This beat. You can still make out what Tompkins is singing in the chorus, and sometimes it feels like a conversation with Phonte and background singers.
Billy Paul “Let’s Fall in Love All Over” 👉 Gang Starr “Moment of Truth”
Aside from “Me and Mrs. Jones,” much of Billy Paul’s songbook has been sadly overlooked. DJ Premier knew about this gem, though. “Genius level Premo,” writes JoeLogic. “I still don’t know how he heard this flip, and I’m listening to it right now… Genius… Plus, Billy Paul is one of the most underrated artists ever from this city (with the most badass album covers i.e. ‘War Of The Gods’).” Gamble and Huff produced this song, and the whole Ebony Woman album for that matter. Paul died this spring of pancreatic cancer. RIP.
The Intruders “I’ll Always Love My Mama” 👉 Raphael Saadiq & Q-Tip “Get Involved”
“Cowboys to Girls” was the Intruders’ first No. 1 R&B hit. This is their other best-known single, a cookout staple. Matt Law, an internationally touring DJ who is creator of the Friends and Fam party, picked this sample. “I love that record. To me it’s the perfect loop,” he said of “Get Involved” via text. “Those chords get me everytime.” The current version of The Intruders will be performing tomorrow.
Jerry Butler “No Money Down” 👉 The Game “Dreams”
Butler had already found success as a member of the Impressions, but his solo career was reborn when the “Ice Man” came to Philly, and started working with Gamble and Huff. Dan “Dilemma” Thomas, a producer, DJ and television music composer, said this was one of his faves in an email. “I love the feel and colors in this song. I never get tired of listening to it.”
The Delfonics “Walk Right Up to the Sun” 👉 Nas feat. Lauryn Hill “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” (1996)
We selected this because it’s ONE👏OF👏THE👏BEST👏HIP👏HOP👏DUETS👏EVER👏
Gamble and Huff’s picks
Gamble, Huff and Philadelphia International Records didn’t expand much on individual selections, but they gave us this statement: “As one most sampled and covered R&B/Soul catalogs in [the] world, coming from a catalog of about 3,500 songs, here are a few Hip Hop samples that stand out.”
Dexter Wansel “New Beginning” 👉 The Lox feat. Lil’ Kim and DMX “Money, Power & Respect”
Wansel’s discography is deep. He’s worked with The Jacksons, Jean Carne, Phyllis Hyman, The O’Jays, the list continues. His son, Pop Wansel, is half of the production Pop & Oak, who we can thank for Usher’s “Good Kisser.” This is one of JoeLogic’s picks as well. “When I first started making beats,” JoeLogic wrote, “I bought like a compilation vinyl of famous samples that had been used, and I used to try and remake the songs to like learn how to sample and arrange, and this was one of the first ones I remember doing.”
Patti LaBelle “Love, Need and Want You” 👉 Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland “Dilemma”
This song was also famously sampled on Big Boi’s GhettoMusick, from Outkast’s double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “I Miss You (Part 1)” 👉 Jay Z feat. Beanie Sigel and Scarface, “This Can’t Be Life”
This was a Billy Penn fave too. One of our favorite Teddy Pendergrass songs, for a Kanye beat, for a triumvirate formed by Jay, Scarface and Beans. All cherries on the slots.
Edwin Birdsong “Cola Bottle Baby” 👉 Daft Punk “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” 👉 Kanye West “Stronger”
Our reaction when we saw this pick:
Birdsong made funk and disco. “Cola Bottle Baby” came from Edwin Birdsong, his solitary release on Gamble and Huff’s label.
MFSB “Something for Nothing” 👉 Jay Z “What More Can I Say”
Most fans know that MFSB stood for Mothers Fathers Sisters Brothers. The insider name for the acronym was a series of curse words. This came from the band’s debut solo self-titled album.
Freddie Scott “You Got What I Need” 👉 Biz Markie “Just a Friend”
The Gamble and Huff-penned “You Got What I Need” reached No. 27 on the R&B chart, but didn’t cross over. Scott was a soul singer, originally from Providence. Gamble, Huff and Philadelphia International did comment on this pick, calling it “one the first songs sampled” of theirs. Dilemma selected this flip too: “Come on man, how can you not love this song. Storytelling at its finest with the perfect musical backdrop.”