Any South African will recall 1976 as the year that black Soweto students protested the adoption of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in schools.
For the rest of the world, 1976 marked the release of American singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder's 18th studio album, a double album titled Songs in the Key of Life that would serve as a suitable soundtrack to life. Many music fans believe it to be one of, if not the best album ever recorded.
His two prior releases, Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale, were both huge hits that went on to achieve gold status and earn Grammy Awards for Album of the Year. Stevie believed he had nothing left to offer in terms of music. He made the decision to stop performing music because he was unhappy with the way his nation was being managed. He then made plans to travel to Ghana to work with disadvantaged children.
He changed his mind as a farewell show was being organised for him and re-signed with Motown for a seventh album deal worth $37 million, which at the time was the largest recording deal for any artist.
The agreement granted him complete artistic authority, which was crucial. Nearly all of the songs on the album were his own compositions, and some of them featured excellent session musicians like Herbie Hancock and George Benson. It entered the Billboard Album Charts at number one and took home four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.
We take a look back at some iconic songs that were sampled or covered from Songs in the Key of Life to honour this once-in-a-lifetime piece of art.
Hip-hop was created using samples, which are created by taking intriguing sections of an existing music and chopping them up to make an entirely new song.
Another method to honour a wonderful song is to recreate it in its entirety and cover it; you could make a few little changes to give it a more contemporary feel, but the essence of the song should remain the same.
Amazing samples and covers have appeared in Songs In The Key of Life. Stevie has always been in favour of sampling, whether it is from up-and-coming musicians using his songs or from him using the music of other artists he respects.
It's possible that his 1979 album Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants was the first to feature numerous samples. When Snoop Dogg copied Stevie's Have a Talk with God in 2006 for Conversations, Stevie consented to appear as a guest artist on the new song.
Stevie Wonder made a special appearance at Coolio and L.V's performance of Gangster's Paradise, which was taken from his Pastime Paradise, at the 1995 Billboard Awards. Even though Gangster's Paradise is arguably the most famous song to use Pastime Paradise as a sample, largely because it preserved the chord progression, the groove, and the chorus melody, it is not the first music to do so. It is the most sampled song on Songs in the Key of Life, having been used 25 times in total. Rap group Three 6 Mafia sampled it to create 3-6 in the Morning on their third studio album Chapter 2: World Domination, while singer Erykah Badu used it as inspiration for her song Drama on her first album Baduism, which she co-wrote with the illustrious Philly's Roots Crew.
Will Smith's decision to turn down the role of Neo in the Matrix series in favour of the film Wild Wild West, which is his lowest-grossing film to date, is one of the saddest Hollywood stories of the decade. In addition to Dru Hill and Kool Moe Dee performing the chorus again, Will Smith's cover of Kool Moe Dee's Wild Wild West was the soundtrack to the film. I Wish by Stevie Wonder was a sampled song by producers Rob Fusari and Mark Wilson. Sisqo by Dru Hill really uses the same melody as I Wish while singing new lyrics. Stevie Wonder appears in the music video as a cameo once more to express his appreciation for his songs being sampled.
Stevie's Pastime Paradise is sampled in Coolio and L.V's song Gangster's Paradise. It was first made for the 1995 motion picture Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. It was later included on Coolio's album that same year. It's interesting to note that when Coolio first heard what producer Doug Rasheed had done with the sample, he had never heard of Stevie's Pastime Paradise. As a result, the song was awarded the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
Carl Thomas' song "Summer Rain"
Carl Thomas, who was signed to the Bad Boy Records imprint run by P Diddy or Puffy Combs, released his self-titled debut album in April 2000. Summer Rain, a soulful song from that album, served as the lead single. Heavy D, a late rapper and producer, produced the song. Summer Soft by Stevie Wonder was sampled by him. Carl did an excellent job of preserving the summertime theme in his song. On the Billboard Hot 100, Summer Rain debuted at position 80.
Alicia Keys' song "Rock With U"
The CD is a combination of my classical training, things I listened to growing up, things I've been exposed to and drawn from, and my life experiences. Alicia Keys defined Songs in A Minor, her debut album, in that way. When Clive Davis signed Alicia to Arista Records, she had the good fortune to collaborate with renowned producers like Jermaine Dupree and Brian McKnight. They used a sample of Stevie Wonder's Ordinary Pain on the song Rock Wit U, which they co-produced with the Kerry "Krucial" Brothers.
A Tribe Called Quest's album Footprints
The late rapper Phife Dawg, co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and rapper Jarobi White made up the New York hip-hop collective noted for their love of sampling vintage jazz and soul songs. Q-Tip was the group's principal producer and rapper. The used Memory Band by the Rotary Connection as a sample for Bonita Applebum, Ronnie Foster's Mystic Brew for Electric Relaxation, Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed for Can I Kick It?, and Baby, This Love I Have by Minnie Riperton for Check The Rhime, among many more well-known classic tunes. They published People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, their debut album, in 1990. For the song "Footprints," they used a sample from Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke."
Donell Jones, Kevin Campbell, and Luther Vandross' "Knocks Me Off My Feet"
The most common song to be performed by other artists is Knocks Me Off My Feet, despite the fact that it was not included on the original Songs in the Key of Life release in 1976 but rather on the B-side release in 1980. It was the second single Donell Jones released from his self-titled debut album. It was created by Tevin Campbell for the soundtrack of the Martin Lawrence-starring motion picture A Thin Line Between Love and Hate in the same year. Also in 1996, Luther Vandross covered it for his album Your Secret Love.
As - Mary J. Blige and George Michael
The most famous Stevie cover is As, which Mary J. Blige and George Michael performed in 1998 for the album Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael. Because of some issues involving George Michael at the time, Mary J. Blige's company did not want the song to be released in the US, despite how highly received it was there.
Stevie is very amazing. Hip-hop will continue to be cherished for as long as it exists by discovering fresh methods to remix and remake some of his greatest compositions, especially these songs that are flawlessly sung in the key of life.