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The story behind Ice Cube’s sample of The Isley Brothers


(Credit: Alamy/Hip Hop Hero)

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Ice Cube, along with Ice-T, was a pioneer of gangsta rap and one of the founding fathers of hip-hop in California. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Ice Cube was the face of LA hip-hop and made several hits. From ‘F*k Da Police’ to ‘Check Yo Self’, the rapper was unmatched in his city. 

Although the Compton rapper is known and loved for his edgy, raw gangsta lyrics, that is not to say the rapper (real name O’Shea Jackson) didn’t have some more benign songs. In fact, one of his most well-known songs is highly introspective and peaceful. That song is ‘It Was A Good Day’. ‘It Was A Good Day’ is the second single from the rapper’s third solo album, The Predator, released in 1993. Containing a sample from The Isley Brothers’ single ‘Footsteps in The Dark’, the single is slow and smooth. The song was intended to be a contrast to the other songs on the album, which was recorded in the wake of the 1992 LA Riots.

Formed during the mid-1950s in Cincinnati, Ohio, The Isley Brothers initially comprised of brothers O’Kelly Isley Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley. Shortly after, Vernon Isley joined the group. However, only years after his arrival, Vernon passed away, prompting the group to relocate to New York.

The Isley Brothers’ first successful single came in the form of ‘Shout’, which became their first track to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. The group didn’t land a record deal instantly. Instead, they acquired small single deals with several different labels during the 1960s. Hits that the ensemble made during the ’60s include the likes of ‘Twist and Shout’ and the Motown anthem, ‘This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)’. However, the outfit’s most extensive breakthrough was with their Grammy Award-winning hit, ‘It’s Your Thing’, which the Ohio group released on their label, T-Neck Records.

The ’60s trio (comprised of O’Kelly, Rudolph and Ronald) turned into a six-piece during the ’70s with the addition of Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley and Rudolph’s brother-in-law Chris Jasper. ‘Footsteps In The Dark’, the song sample that appears on Ice Cube’s ‘It Was A Good Day’, was released in 1977 as a B-side single for their album Go For Your Guns — recorded in Bearsville Studios in the remote village of Bearsville in upstate New York. The song didn’t make it on to the charts but grew popular with hip-hop producers.

It was not only sampled for Ice Cube’s 1992 track, but also featured on Slum Village’s 2005 self-titled album on the track ‘Call Me’. It also appeared on J Dilla’s album The Shining. The original track was produced by The Isley Brothers. The version Ice Cube used for ‘It Was A Good Day’ was produced by DJ Pooh.

When talking about the inspiration behind the song, the rapper stated, “The inspiration was my life at the time… I was at the top of the rap game. It was the summer of ’92, and I was in a hotel room, really in a state of euphoria. I had all the money I had dreamed of. I was in a good frame of mind. And I remember thinking, ‘Okay, there’s been the riots, people know I will deal with that. That’s a given. But I rap all this gangsta stuff – what about all the good days I had?”

An extremely popular song, ‘It Was A Good Day’ is a dreamy ballad of optimism. One of the rapper’s pivotal songs, the track has aged beautifully, and a lot of hip hop fans have found they appreciate it more in hindsight. ‘It Was A Good Day’ was Ice Cube’s way of trying to remedy the dystopian sentiments that arose in LA after the riots by reflecting on all things positive. Hip-hop embraced the song, produced by DJ Pooh, considering it a breath of fresh air and a much-needed break from the violence and aggression gangsta rap exuded. 

You can listen to ‘Footsteps In The Dark’ by the Isley Brothers and ‘It Was A Good Day’ by Ice Cube below.