WNXP is debuting a new weekly series called Free Samples. Sampling has always been a part of hip-hop creativity and culture; people borrow from the classics to create new work, and pay homage and situate themselves in stylistic lineages in the process. In that spirit, we’ve asked an array of Black music-makers, who’ve done a lot to define the sound of Nashville, to speak about the musical sources, influences and experiences, the predecessors, peers and collaborators that have enriched their work. Whether they’re talking about literal sampling or using that as a metaphor, they’re going to help us hear meaningful connections and give credit where it’s due.
Shannon Sanders, a figurehead of R&B, hip-hop, gospel, blues, pop and country music-making, the industry around it and organized efforts to elevate Black talent and labor within it, laid out how his song “In My Mind” has lived on through Heather Headley’s version and the countless tracks that sample it:
“My name is Shannon Sanders, and I’m a songwriter and producer. I grew up here in Nashville. I went to Hillsboro High School. I was the producer component in one of the first hip-hop groups to put a record out in Nashville history. I was 15, 16 years old. You talkin’ 1986, ’87. I’ve been making hip-hop records in Nashville that long, and it’s been an amazing creative journey. I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of the city’s top notch hip-hop talent.
“So fast forward to 1999 when my own solo R&B album came out. It’s called Out of Nowhere. ‘In My Mind’ was on that album. It’s a song that I wrote and produced with my partner, Drew Ramsey. It was a special recording, and we knew it, just the session itself. Then fast forward to 2005 and we redo it for Heather Headley. It goes crazy for her. What she did was made it part of classic R&B radio. So fast forward to now. Producers that grew up on the song go straight to the end with these ‘yeahs’ and they chop them. It’s amazing how many ways it’s been chopped, but hey, I’m looking forward to see how many more ways it can be chopped. The most recent one of those was Nicki Minaj ‘Seeing Green,’ featuring Drake and Lil Wayne.“
Mike Floss, a music-maker and community leader who helped establish the standard for what independent hip-hop hustle looks like in this city, praised his artist peer Chuck Indigo for writing righteous lyrics that inspired him to pen an empowering message of his own for Black Nashvillians:
“I’m Mike Floss. I’m a hip-hop artist, producer, fashion connoisseur of sorts from Nashville, Tennessee, one of the homegrown artists here in the city. Man, a big influence for me right now, I got to say, is Chuck Indigo. Chuck is an incredible artist here in the community, from the Ville too. And he had this song called ‘C.A.N.T. Chronicles.’
“I’m a community organizer with the Black Nashville Assembly. One of the main things we do is organize Black folks to identify issues, discuss solutions, and figuring out a plan of action for the things that face our community the most. Chuck came through and lent his talent to the Assembly. He did a song called ‘C.A.N.T Chronicles,’ and I’ve been knowing ‘C.A.N.T. Chronicles.’ When he performed it, the way the energy in the room shifted, the way people connected to every word he was saying, and the passion and the intensity behind the language, I just noticed how it moved the people. I took inspiration from that, and I paralleled it with the politics of the Black National Assembly. And I made this song called ‘Together.’
“It was originally called ‘Together Chronicles.’ I wrote it. I recorded it as a voice note on my phone. I sent it to Chuck, like, in the middle of the night. And I said, “Bro, I know this is the same type of style as ‘C.A.N.T. Chronicles.’ Give me your blessing on this. I’ll put this out. I feel like it’s important.’ He just texts back ‘Incredible.’ So I’m like, ‘Okay, cool. So I put it out on Contraband. I really appreciate Chuck for creating that and also being cool with me, you know, translating it over into something new. I think that’s how hip-hop works. And especially keeping it all in the city is very important to me. So yeah, man. Shout out to Chuck Indigo, Nashville’s own.”