Foreign Gists

The story behind Jay-Z’s ‘The Takeover’ sample


Since Kanye West’s meltdown earlier this year, Jay-Z has returned to his status as the wealthiest man in hip hop. As a businessman, entrepreneur and music maker, the rapper (real name Shawn Carter) has come a long way. However, that’s not to say there haven’t been hurdles.

Born and raised in the drug-infested Marcy Projects, a public housing scheme located in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn, Carter was raised by his mother. As an adolescent, Carter was a crack dealer, of his own admission and wasn’t getting far in rap.

However, upon making it in 1995 alongside Damon Dash with their label Roc-A-Fella Records, Jay quickly rose to the top. However, the young rapper got cocky and, by 2001, was taunting other rappers by gloating and speaking down on them. One of these rappers was Nas.

A natural extension of the Brooklyn vs Queens beef that already existed in New York. In 2001 on his album The Blueprint, Jay-Z took aim at Queens crew Mobb Deep as well as Nas. Furthermore, Jay-Z didn’t just fire a few shots. He sought to name, shame and destroy, resulting in the ‘Takeover’ vs ‘Ether’ diss track exchange. 

Most hip hop fans agree that Nas won the battle with ‘Ether’. However, ‘Takeover’ is arguably a more complete song that has certainly aged better over time. Similar to the ‘Shether’ vs ‘No Frauds’ diss track exchange between Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj. ‘Shether’ absolutely won. However, ‘No Frauds’ has aged better. 

Jay-Z’s legendary ‘Takeover’ track was produced by the problematic yet ingenious Kanye West and featured an obscure sample used exceptionally cleverly. West used the 1968 track ‘Five To One’ by The Doors for this track. The 1968 track is considered a seminal track in the development of metal rock. 

The Doors were quite controversial during their time. Formed in Los Angeles, the band was considered both controversial and influential due to their erratic yet appealing on-stage personas. The Doors played a large part in rock’s 1960s counterculture movement that saw the squeaky clean image of acts such as Elvis Presley thrown in the bin and rebelliousness hailed. This coincided with the ’60s drug and sexual revolutions. 

‘Five To One’ began with a simple drum pattern laid down by the band’s drummer, John Densmore. According to an unnamed individual present in the studio, the band’s lead singer Jim Morrison was drunk when he recorded this song in an L.A. studio. 

It is widely believed that the song’s title was named ‘Five To One’ to highlight the injustice white America was inflicting on the world because ‘Five to one’ was the approximate ratio of whites to blacks, young to old, and non-pot smokers to pot smokers in the U.S. in 1967. It was also the amount of Vietnamese to American soldiers in Vietnam.

The song was recorded in the ’60s when the civil rights movement was at its height, when the Vietnamese war was at its worst and when the drug revolution was commencing. The Doors made many songs that were highly politically charged during their time.

Kanye’s use of this song was ingenious, and the beat was so good it was used not once but twice in hip hop. The first time by Jay-Z for his diss track and then by Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) for his track ‘The R*ape Over’, which consequentially got him blackballed and accused of antisemitism, racism and more. 

Below you can hear the original track, the Jay-Z track, and finally, the Mos Def cover.