Our final installment of frequently sampled songs looks at a deep cut from the 1980s: "Who Do You Love" by Bernard Wright. Wright, a fusion keyboardist, merged jazz and R&B to create funky hits. Hip hop artists rediscovered his music in the 1990s, and several tracks featured key riffs from tracks such as "Spinnin'" and "Haboglabotribin'," but "Who Do You Love" has proven to be his best-known tune, sampled by such artists as LL Cool J and Shinehead.
The Queens-born Wright started out as a musical prodigy, earning a gig touring with drummer Lenny White at just 13 years old. Tom Browne ("Funkin' for Jamaica") later recruited the now 16-year-old keyboardist; by 1979, the funk and jazz musician garnered enough buzz that he signed with the GRP label in 1981. His debut album, 'Nard, failed to significantly chart, but Wright gained a devoted R&B and fusion fan base. Years later hip hop artists would dig deep into its grooves, most notably raiding the bass and horn lines from "Spinnin'" to create Skee-Lo's "I Wish." 1983's Funky Beat followed, and Wright clearly sensed the growing popularity of breakdancing and hip hop. The title song became a minor R&B hit, and the album track "Video Generation" provided robotic beats to dance to. Both captured the burgeoning fascination with video games and computers.
When Wright released his 1985 effort Mr. Wright, he clearly desired for more mainstream success. This time he included more tracks with his vocals, and recruited mentor White to assist with percussion. The lead single "Who Do You Love" incorporated 1980s dance beats, thumping bass, and Wright's jazz-kissed keyboards into an incredibly catchy yet funky track. Its music video attracted some attention with some then-unusual effects; Wright and the actress continually roll on the ground, presumably in a large tube. Somehow the sequence adds a festive air to the upbeat tune, and helped propel "Who Do You Love" to number six on the R&B charts and number 44 on the Dance charts.The clip was also featured in the opening titles of the groundbreaking New York show Video Music Box, widely cited as the first program to air hip hop videos.
Though Wright released two more albums, he could not recapture the success of "Who Do You Love." Now based in Dallas, he has transitioned into an in-demand session musician. His skills have graced works by such artists as Cameo, Bobby Brown, Pieces of a Dream, Marcus Miller, and Miles Davis. In 1996, LL Cool J sampled the track for his hit collaboration with Total, "Loungin' (Remix)." Peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and four on the R&B charts, it finally earned Wright some much-deserved recognition for his 1980s work.
Besides the interesting video, "Who Do You Love" excels due to its driving beat, bass, keyboard break, and Wright's clear, bright vocals. The chorus is the true killer, with Wright and a backup singer trading lines: "Who do you love?" she asks. "Girl I'm in love with you," he responds. "Are you sure?" she sings silkily. "Sure as the sky is blue," he replies. While these lyrics may not sound original, the banter enhances the song's playful nature. The bridge features more give-and-take, eventually returning to the chorus.
Overall "Who Do You Love" is a charming slice of old school R&B, with Wright demonstrating how he could transform his musical abilities into something highly accessible and memorable. Will more artists draw from Wright's limited releases? If their sampling will expose Wright's stellar funk to wider audiences, let's hope so.