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Bobby Caldwell, the talented American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, recently passed away at the age of 71.
While Caldwell’s musical career spanned over five decades, he gained immense popularity in the 1970s and 1980s for his unique blend of R&B, soul, and jazz music.
Over the years, Caldwell’s music has been sampled by various artists, from the The Notorious B.I.G. to 2Pac, who have paid tribute to his legacy by incorporating his melodies and lyrics into their own compositions.
Sampling (also referred to as flipping) is the process of extracting a portion or section of an existing recording and incorporating it into a new composition, with the intention of modifying and repurposing it to suit the artist’s creative vision. This approach has played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of hip-hop music, and it continues to be a prevalent technique used by producers today.
In this article, the Euronews Culture team has picked out some of their favourite tracks which have sampled Bobby Caldwell and explore how his music has influenced the modern music industry.
From hip-hop to R&B, these songs showcase the timeless appeal of Caldwell’s music and the enduring impact he has had on music lovers worldwide.
The Notorious B.I.G. – Sky’s the Limit
Bobby Caldwell’s imprint on hip-hop remains his most sampled song ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ (which has been sampled countless times), but my favourite is the sampling of his song ‘My Flame’ on the late Notorious B.I.G.’s single ‘Sky’s The Limit’ from arguably his best album, 1997’s ‘Life After Death’ – released the same year he was shot and died at the age of 24. Rumour goes that the groove was passed on by both Jay-Z and LL Cool J before Biggie took it on and made it nothing short of an inspirational anthem. ‘Sky’s The Limit’ keeps the percussion-heavy intro from ‘My Flame’ and keeps its classy rhythm running throughout. Thanks to this smoother-than-Obama-sucking-on-a-cough-drop percussive repetition, the song truly shines and stands to this day as one of Biggie’s most uplifting tracks. It finds Biggie reminiscing on his pre-fame hustler days, and the soulful groove lifted from ‘My Flame’ adds to the sentiment decrying from the song that the rapper was at his happiest before becoming notorious, when he still had aspirations and goals to accomplish. The video for the song saw Spike Jones cast and film young children to play the roles of Biggie, Lil Kim and Puff Daddy, highlighting this innocence and the dreams waiting to be reached. Moreover, the song took on new meaning and mood posthumously, like a self-penned eulogy that wouldn’t have sounded half as poignant had it not been for the sampling of Caldwell’s gorgeous song. David Mouriquand
Common – The Light
This 2000 release has aged like a fine wine and is rightfully hailed as a true hip-hop classic. From the impeccable flow and lyrical storytelling of Oscar and Grammy-winning artist Common, to the masterful boom-bap production of legendary producer J Dilla, every element of the track is perfectly crafted. Common has acknowledged that the song, which features on his ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ album, is essentially a love letter to his former-girlfriend and fellow ‘Soulquarian’ Erykah Badu (who funnily enough also sampled Caldwell in her song ‘Searching’). The heart of the song lies the soulful and heartfelt voice of Bobby Caldwell, whose sample from his 1980 track ‘Open Your Eyes‘ adds a crucial emotional dimension to the track. It’s a true masterpiece and one that deservedly received a 2001 Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance. I’ll certainly be listening to it for the rest of my life. Theo Farrant
Aaliyah – Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number
Looking back at the time Aaliyah sampled Bobby Caldwell, it’s hard not be overcome by sadness. The child-star’s first album ‘Ain’t Nothing But a Number’’s title single is the unmistakable result of her relationship with R Kelly, the songwriter and producer on the album. At the time, Kelly was 27 and Aaliyah was 15. Shortly after the album’s release, the pair’s marriage certificate surfaced. Aaliyah’s parents had the marriage annulled, but it’s clear that Kelly spent a significant amount of time in a romantic relationship with her before that. Aaliyah’s story is tragically punctuated by her untimely death in a plane crash at 22. It’s a terrible shame because jaw-dropping lyrics aside, ‘Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ is a great RnB song. Its vocal interpolation of Caldwell’s ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ gives the tune a romantic groove and Aaliyah’s voice oozes with personality. Jonny Walfisz
Ella Mai – One Day
What do The Notorious B.I.G. and Ella Mai have in common? They’ve both got Bobby Caldwell’s ‘My Flame‘ in their samples collection! In her hit track ‘One Day’, the British Grammy Award-winning R&B singer takes Caldwell’s smooth chord progression and spices it up with a pulsing synth bass, modern trap drums, and gorgeous vocal harmonies, creating an absolute bop. Whether you’re crying or dancing, this track is perfect for anyone who’s currently got a case of the feels over a former flame. Mai’s lyrics offer a relatable reflection on heartbreak and the complexities of relationships. ‘One Day’ is a testament to the art of sampling, showing how artists can revive old songs and give them a fresh, contemporary spin. Plus, it’s a fitting tribute to Caldwell’s enduring legacy and how he continues to inspire a new generation of artists from all over the globe. Theo Farrant
2Pac – Do For Love
Joining another gone-before-their-time musical heavyweight, Bobby Caldwell will be now forever linked with iconic rapper 2Pac (or Tupac Shakur). 1998’s ‘Do For Love’ – originally titled ‘Sucka 4 Luv’ – was released posthumously after Tupac’s murder two years previously. Caldwell’s lyrics from ‘What You Won’t Do For Love‘ feature heavily throughout ‘Do For Love’ and add extra soul to the mellow rap masterpiece. The music video is well worth a watch too; 2Pac, who was killed at just 25, is depicted variously as animated, anime and clay figure and it’s a feast for the eyes. The song is a real tribute to Caldwell’s talent and, although it was certified Gold a month after its release, it only reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and number 12 in the UK chart. Like ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’, it stands the test of time and is a must (re)listen for fans of 2Pac and Caldwell alike. Saskia O’Donoghue
Flamingosis – Down For The Fifth Time
It’s not just hip-hop and R&B where Caldwell’s buttery smooth vocals have been sampled. Take this lo-fi, future-funk bop by New Jersey’s very own dance music wizard, Flamingosis for example. When I hear this song, I picture myself in the 90s, skating down Venice beach promenade with a beer in hand. Too bad I was born in the year 2000 and I can’t actually skate. But, hey, that’s not stopping my imagination from running wild. Flamingosis seamlessly weaves Caldwell’s classic track ‘Down For the Third Time‘ into the fabric of this modern-day bop, creating a wonderful and nostalgic infusion of the past and present. Thank you Bobby, you will be greatly missed! Theo Farrant