Soul Samples: A Complete Guide to Digging for Soul Music


When you think of iconic hip-hop beats, you immediately think of 70s Soul and classic breaks. (There’s something about chopping up your favorite soul records that sample packs can’t replace.)

So, if you’re looking to produce soulful beats, then keep reading to learn how you can find Soul samples to incorporate into your productions.

An overview of Soul music

Soul music is deeply rooted in hip-hop. It emerged from African American gospel, rhythm and blues, and blues traditions, and blends them together to create a sound that is both powerful and intimate. The combination of heartfelt vocals, expressive melodies, and infectious rhythms makes Soul music the perfect genre for sampling.

With soul samples, you can capture not only the rawness and authenticity of the original recordings, but  you can also tap into the emotions they convey. Whether you’re looking to incorporate Otis Redding’s passionate delivery, or Stevie Wonder’s unforgettable melodies, every element in a Soul song has significant sampling potential.

Before digging for Soul music, it’s helpful to understand its various sub-genres.

The Motown sound represents an iconic era in Soul music that emerged from Detroit in the 1960s. It has catchy melodies, infectious grooves and a polished production quality.

Southern Soul, on the other hand, is gritty and raw, with bluesy instrumentation. Artists like Al Green and Aretha Franklin exemplify this style with their powerful performances.

Neo-soul is a contemporary take on Soul music that emerged in the 1990s. It combines elements of traditional Soul with hip-hop and modern R&B. Artists like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu popularized the genre and continue to inspire new generations of musicians.

Listen for soulful instrumentation

When digging for soulful sounds, always pay attention to the instrumentation.

Drum breaks are one of the most valuable types of Soul samples. They consist of short segments within a song where the drums take center stage. Many classic Soul tracks contain exciting drum breaks that are perfect for slicing up and using as the foundation of your own beats.

One notable example is James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” which features a classic drum break performed by Clyde Stubblefield. This particular break has been sampled countless times by hip-hop producers and has become one of the most recognizable and influential drum breaks in music history.

Other important elements are brass instruments, like trumpets, saxophones, and trombones. The energetic and soulful performances of these brass sections can bring a sense of power and emotion to your productions. You can use these samples as background textures, horn stabs, or even as the main melodic element in your composition.

Listen for rich vocal performances

When searching for Soul samples, pay attention to the vocal performances in the songs you come across. Look for singers who possess powerful and expressive voices, as well as those who convey a raw, heartfelt quality in their delivery.

Take Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” for example, which was sampled in Kanye West’s “Otis”.

Soulful performances like this can inject Soul and emotion into your music.

Final tip: As you listen closely to each vocal performance, consider elements such as tone, vibrato, phrasing, and dynamics. These nuances contribute to the emotional impact of a song and can inspire you when crafting your own music.

Embrace the imperfections of Soul recordings

Don’t be afraid to incorporate the raw imperfections of Soul music into your tracks. Vintage soul records often include the distinct sound of vinyl crackles and pops. And while some producers may see these as flaws that need to be removed or masked, embracing these imperfections can actually enhance the authenticity of your sample-based music.

Old soul records may also have other background noises like room ambience or faint chatter from live performances. These subtle sounds can transport listeners back in time and evoke a sense of nostalgia. Instead of trying to eliminate every background noise, consider incorporating them purposefully into your samples. They can give your production a unique atmosphere and contribute to the overall vibe you want to create.

As you search for soul samples, pay attention to moments when performers go off-beat or add their personal touch. These off-beat sections are gold mines for swing and emotion in your track. Tap into the soulful energy by highlighting those moments, whether it’s a singer ad-libbing between verses or a drummer adding fills that deviate slightly from the grid.

Pay attention to the intros and outros

Soul tracks often have signature intros or outros that create a distinct mood or vibe.

For many Soul tracks, intros are carefully crafted to establish an emotional foundation for what’s to come. They often feature simple chords or melodies played on piano, guitar, or other instruments, creating a raw and intimate atmosphere.

J Dilla was a master at flipping Soul samples into completely new compositions. For his song “Don’t Cry,” he incorporated the mesmerizing intro from The Escorts’ “I Can’t Stand To See You Cry.”

Another example is Kanye West, who sampled the intro from Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” in his song “Touch the Sky”.

Explore online music databases

One of the easiest ways to discover Soul samples is by using online music databases. Websites like Discogs and AllMusic are treasure troves of information on Soul musicians, popular releases, and influential albums. Take advantage of their search functions to to find Soul music to sample.

When using these websites, start with well-known artists within the genre. Look up iconic figures like Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, or Stevie Wonder and explore their discographies.

As you dig deeper into an artist’s catalog, pay attention to the musicians they worked with or the producers behind their albums. This can lead you down a rabbit hole of interconnected artists and bands who contributed to the sound you’re after.

Dig into lesser-known artists and B-sides

While Discogs and AllMusic are excellent resources for mainstream Soul records, finding rarer samples may require some dedicated digging.

Digging into lesser-known artists allows you to discover sounds that haven’t been overused or exhausted by other producers. It’s like finding a hidden treasure that has yet to be fully appreciated. These artists may have been relatively obscure in their prime but possessed immense talent that resonated with a select group of fans.

To find obscure Soul samples, use the Crate Stash database to find online sources that curate obscure music. Using Crate Stash allows you to tap into a community of dedicated sample hunters who have spent years uncovering hidden gems in record stores around the world. Simply search for Soul samples, filter the results based on your desired criteria, and explore the wealth of options.

Check out compilation albums

Another option is to dig for compilation albums. These albums usually feature multiple artists and tracks from a particular genre or era of music. When it comes to Soul music, there are countless compilation albums out there that have done the work of curating the best songs for you.

Local record stores often have sections dedicated to compilations where you can find various genres including Soul music. Browse through these shelves or ask an employee for recommendations based on your specific interests.

Alternatively, platforms like Spotify and YouTube offer vast libraries of compilation albums ready to be explored with just a few clicks. Use search filters or recommended playlists to narrow down your options based on factors such as time period or location.

Remember, finding the perfect Soul samples requires patience, an open mind, and a willingness to explore different avenues. Don’t limit yourself to the most popular choices – take the time to dig into various sources, both well-known and obscure, and pay attention to the underlying elements. With practice, you’ll be able to find Soul samples effortlessly.

Avoid This Common Mistake…

The last thing to remember is this:

You can learn all the skills, tactics, and tools in the world…

But nothing will save your beats if you choose the wrong samples.

Too many producers struggle because they try to make beats with limited inspiration. This causes them to force sounds that don’t belong.

That’s why it’s crucial to dig for the right samples.

This training shows you a simple test you can use to uncover the perfect samples in 30 seconds or less.

It’s perfect for sample-based producers of all experience levels.

Click here to find out how you can explode your creativity with better sampling material.

Don’t miss your chance to overcome this common mistake.