John Carpenter's 'Halloween' Theme was a Staple for Rap Replays and Samples

How Ivan 'Doc' Rodriguez, Ice-T, DJ Paul, Juicy J, Mannie Fresh, and countless others took the iconic composer and director's score from coast to coast.

John Carpenter needed objective input after completing his 1978 classic Halloween. Despite his best efforts behind the camera, a tepid and unenthusiastic first screening with a young 20th Century Fox executive left him rattled. With nothing to lose, he decided to focus his energy on the film’s music to bring it back from the dead.

Inspired by famed movie scores like composer Bernard Herrmann’s PsychoCarpenter hunkered down at Sound Arts Studios in central Los Angeles with a cast of collaborators to get the job done. Along with synth programmer Dan Wyman—who Carpenter later credited as a co-producer—stereo remix engineer Alan Howarth, and recording engineer Peter Bergren, he completed the score in mere two weeks.

In the end, both the movie and the accompanying music proved a massive success. Halloween grossed $70,000,000 worldwide on a budget just shy of $350,000.

Though “Rapper’s Delight” dropped just a year after the release of Captener’s iconic flick, the famed “Halloween Theme - Main Title” opening took a little while to work its way into rap music. Esteemed engineer, producer, and Power Play Studios mainstay Ivan 'Doc' Rodriguez helped put Carpenter’s score on the map for rap producers when he employed an inventive replay on Jaybok the City Ace’s 1987 12” selection “Hip Hop Phenomenal.”

Whether intentional or not, his decision to replay Carpenter instead of sample him proved to be a trend-setting moment, as the Halloween theme became a frequently tapped resource for both interpolation and sampling in the coming years.

Once Carpenter’s masterwork found its footing in the rapidly evolving world of rap records, it couldn’t be stopped. Two years after Rodriguez produced his crafty cut in New York, Miami bass pioneer M.C. A.D.E. sampled the scary Halloween sounds on “How Much Can You Take” from his debut record with the same name. A.D.E’s tripped out, computerized vocals are the perfect compliment to this uptempo old school gem.

Two years after Carpenter’s music went to Miami, Rhyme Syndicate cohorts Bilal Bashir and Ice-T interpolated his score to build a potent instrumental for the gripping O.G. Original Gangster prison narrative “The Tower.” Bashir and T’s Michael Myers-inspired beat provides the perfect backdrop for the song’s insightful and sobering lyrics, making it one of the standout tracks from the Los Angeles legend’s fourth LP.

Though many interpolations and samplings of “Halloween Theme - Main Title” rework the opening section, Houston production pioneer Egypt E—who first made his name as half of the Rap-A-Lot act The Terrorists—deserves credit for exploring different parts of the track. He blended various samples from the second half of the song with parts of Kraftwerk’s classic “Home Computer,” producing a unique and deftly executed instrumental. The end result is Ganksta N-I-P’s profoundly dark and violent “Horror Movie Rap” from his ‘92 debut The South Park Psycho.

With Egypt E leading the way, producers continued to innovate and expand the possibilities of what an artist could create with the Halloween theme as the foundation.

As Three 6 Mafia founding member DJ Paul crafted Gangsta Blac’s 1994 burner “Victim of This Shit,” he displayed some next level creativity and inventiveness by replaying Carpenter’s work over of beautifully slowed sample of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly’s “Woman Is a Wonder.”

As if that weren’t enough, he also worked in a chopped and screwed style sample of his own Vol.15 "For Them N***** W/ Anna" selection “Killaz Off South Parkway,” which sampled late collaborator Lord InfamousSolo Tape cut “South Memphis.”

Man, those Memphis guys were on some next level shit.

Replays of “Halloween Theme - Main Title” were a tool that became commonplace on both solo DJ Paul solo productions and songs he co-produced with fellow Three 6 Mafia member Juicy J. “Smoke A Junt” from Paul’s Vol.15 "For Them N***** W/ Anna" also features a somber, spaced out Carpenter replay that perfectly compliments the song’s otherworldly production.

When Paul reunited with Gangsta Blac for his 1996 album Can It Be?, Halloween theme replays could also be heard on Juicy J co-produced cuts “Crank Dis Bitch Up” and “V-Dog & Da Gangsta.” The duo also continued to straight sample the song on numbers like Kingpin Skinny Pimp’s “Lookin' for Da Chewin'" from his ‘96 release King of Da Playaz Ball.

Paul and J weren’t the only artists in Memphis utilizing John Carpenter’s magic. Just as other sample staples like The Showboys’ “Drag Rapmoved throughout the city before working its way to New Orleans, the same sample trajectory seems to happen with the Halloween theme.

Gangsta Pat, another Memphis pioneer, mixed pieces of “Halloween Theme - Main Title” with his own live played elements to create the head-nodding, brawl-inducing title track from his seminal 1995 album Deadly Verses. His machine gun fire flow sounds amazing over the self-produced track.

The same year Gangsta Pat put together his low-tempo banger, super-producer Mannie Fresh demonstrated his ability to take any sample source and turn it into a bounce anthem on U.N.L.V.’s “N**** I'm Bout It” from their ‘95 LP Mac Melph Calio.

The following year Fresh, who was also highly skilled in the art of deft keyboard reworks of famous songs, replayed Carpenter on U.N.L.V.’s “Drag 'Em ‘N’ Tha River” from their early Cash Money release Uptown 4 Life.

Fellow legendary New Orleans label No Limit—a one time rival to Cash Money—also looked to John Carpenter’s spooky sounds as they composed the enduring anthem “Hoody Hoo” during the label’s heyday. Then Utah Starzz WNBA point guard Chantel Tremitiere and No Limit’s Beats By The Pound production team member KLC The Drum Major placed the sample throughout to perfectly compliment the call and response style chorus.

Taking things back to their place of origin, Dr. Dre bought the soundtrack back to the west coast that same year and employed the horror movie classic for his triumphant return The Chronic 2001. Much like Ivan 'Doc' Rodriguez, DJ Paul, Juicy J, Mannie Fresh, and many others, he chose to have the sample replayed—with musician Camara Kambon flexing his skills on the keys for the Hittman and Ms. Roq-assisted “Murder Ink.”

Interpolations and sampling of Carpenter’s famous number from his classic score slowed a bit in the 2000s, likely due to increasingly expensive and restrictive sampling laws. But you can still hear it sprinkled into many cuts from the past two decades.

On Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, and 808 Mafia member TM88’s 2016 record TGOD Mafia: Rude Awakening, TM88 dug into the archives on “Luxury Flow” for a well-crafted nod to Carpenter’s score as it approached its 40th birthday.

In a fitting bookmark to this story, his remiganing of the visionary composer and director’s music is a replay—just as it was when Ivan 'Doc' Rodriguez introduced “Halloween Theme - Main Title” to rap music nearly 30 years prior.

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Underground Memphis Rap Tapes, Gangsta Boo Verses, and Horror Movie Samples

The importance of horror movie scores in making memorable cuts from Gangsta Boo's massive catalog.

The varied use of similar sample sources in ‘90s underground Memphis rap tapes is a fascinating case study. Certain records seemed to catch on quickly and spread around the southern city like wildfire once they first appeared on record.

First their was The Showboys’ “Drag Rap” (often referred to as the “Trigggaman” or “Triggerman”), the beneficiary of a Linn drum machine crash and the accidental soloing of an 808 sequence. Though the record flopped at the time of its 1986 release, Memphis pioneer Spanish Fly put the 808 break to use on his 1990 song “Trigga Man” and it soon became a building block for Memphis rap and New Orleans bounce.

Soul records from Memphis label Stax also provided key elements to the development of the city’s vibrant underground scene. Selections like Isaac Hayes’ “Ike’s Mood I” from 1970 Stax release ...To Be Continued, which Spanish Fly also helped introduce with his cut “Gangsta Walk,” quickly became a familiar element thanks to Juicy J’s “Get Buck” (1992), DJ Paul and Juicy J’s “Smoke a Sack” (1993), Kingpin Skinny Pimp and 211’s “Don’t Fuck with Me” (1993), DJ Paul featuring K9’s “Chewin’ Ass N****" (1993), and countless other tracks.

And while it may be an oversimplification to say that Memphis rap in the ‘90s as a sum total had a dark sound and disturbing lyrical content, there was certainly a fair amount of sinister production and lyricism. Much like “Drag Rap” and “Ike’s Mood,” horror movie scores quickly became popular breakbeats within the community, with John Carpenter’s hastily constructed Halloween score finding its footing early on as a choice selection for aspiring producers.

The iconic “Halloween Theme (Main Title)” has been sliced and diced a million different ways ever since DJ Paul layered elements of it into an insane rework for Gangsta Blac’s 1994 cut “Victim of This Shit.” Paul wasted no time sampling the song again the very same year for the Lord Infamous-assisted “Smoke a Junt” while Gangsta Pat provided his own visionary reimagining of Carpenter’s work for the title track from his celebrated 1995 release Deadly Verses.

By the time Gangsta Pat dropped Deadly Verses, any horror score was fair game. When Paul sampled J. Peter Robinson’s “Nosebleed” from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare for Lil’ Fly’s (later renamed Playa Fly) ‘94 banger “Funkytown’s in My Brain,” it quickly became a staple within the Three 6 Mafia circle. Paul and Juicy J went back to the song a year later on Part 3 - Spring Mix, further adding bells from Robinson’s “Script/Freddy’s Attack” for the menacing Crunchy Black and Gangsta Boo assisted “I Thought You Knew.” Boo—a Memphis pioneer and former member of Three 6 Mafia and affiliate ensemble Da Mafia 6ix—was a mere 15-16 years old when they recorded the track, yet she sounds as comfortable as a seasoned veteran on the mic.

This early demonstration of masterful rapping over horror movie samples proved an important moment in her evolution as an MC, as producers revisited haunting sounds several times throughout her career. That said, though Boo remained active throughout the mid and late-90s, it was a few years before she dropped additional verses over horror movie laced beats.

1999 saw her make an empathic return to spooky scores with her blistering guest verse on Project Pat’s “Ballers.” The DJ Paul and Juicy J co-produced beat takes the famous “breathing” sounds from Harry Manfredini’s “Friday the 13th Original Theme,” puts them in a blender, and transforms them into an insanely hype number where Pat and Boo sound like a rap match made in heaven.

The following year Boo, DJ Paul, and Juicy J were at it again, this time with Koopsta Knicca bringing additional lyrical support. Paul and J sourced sounds from composer Dennis Michael Tenney’s work on the effective but lesser known score for 1993’s Witchboard 2: The Devil's Doorway. Once again creatively rethinking a film’s beginning, they flexed their production finesse by taking the track “Opening Credits” and transforming it into “We Ain’t Playin’” from the album Hypnotize Camp Posse. Boo takes on the lion’s share of the rapping here, expertly spitting the first two verses with pitch perfect intensity and sounding right at home over the somber sonics.

The following year also saw Gangsta Boo annihilating yet another DJ Paul and Juicy J co-produced, horror score-inspired gem—this time on the La Chat and Project P-assisted posse cut “Mafia” from Three 6 Mafia’s LP Choices: The Album. Paul and J lean on a haunting number from the late-80s horror classic Child’s Play, a film greatly enhanced by the musical work of Joe Renzetti. Using “Child's Play End Title : When the Composer Sings,” they create the perfect vibe for an extended Three 6 Mafia family party.

Boo’s 2001 sophomore effort Both Worlds *69, released about a year before her departure from Three 6 Mafia, gets even more obscure with its horror influences. Here Paul and J dug in the archives for the 1977 Italian giallo film Sette note in nero, piecing out parts of a score composed by Franco Bixio, Fabio Frizzi, Vince Tempera. The eerie strings and chimes in “7 Note” provide the ideal pocket for Boo to flow over, as she sounds equally at home by herself on “Victim of Yo' Own Shit” as she does the aforementioned collaborations.

And even though Boo does not have a song that samples John Carpenter’s Halloween (at least to my knowledge), she did make use of one another famous score from his lengthy and impressive catalog. Both Worlds *69 selection “Mask 2 My Face” sees Boo ripping verses of Paul and J’s rework of “Arrival at the Library” from 1981’s Escape from New York. Meanwhile, the Boo pays homage on the hook to Memphis MC Lady Bee’s underground classic “Mask to My Face.” In another horror inspired moment from Both Worlds *69,Good & Hi” makes use of Jerry Goldsmith’s Deep Rising soundtrack.

Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz must have been taking notes to the first six years of Gangsta Boo’s career when they enlisted her help on their late-2004 record Crunk Juice. Jon and Young Snipe wisely sampled Philip Glass’s score from Candyman for the drug anthem “Da Blow,” a song that sounds custom made for Boo and features just one of many impressive cameos from her 25-year career.

There are still more Gangsta Boo tracks that use of horror movie scores for their instrumentals, but these tracks make up just a tiny fraction of her massive discography. Whether rhyming over DJ Paul and Juicy J’s take on horror samples or a Jazzy Pha production—or her lengthy discography with other producers—her rap resume speaks for itself.

From memorable Three 6 Mafia guest spots as a young teenager before the group’s official formation to classic Outkast cameos to her recent work with Beatking, Gangsta Boo is in a class of her own.

For further proof just check the credits.

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Rap Samples and Unexpected Replays in Video Game Scores

A look at the art of sampling and interpolation in computer and video games. Jet Grind Radio: Unknown: Video Games

I’m currently working on a deep dive article for Reverb about Memphis underground rap tapes from the 1990s. I also interviewed brainorchestra. recently about his The Wizard's Scroll album (interview coming soon), which was inspired by the 1990 SEGA game The Immortal. In the process I’ve become even more obsessed with tracing the origin and evolution of sample sources in recorded music.

Shortly after speaking with brainorchestra., I started researching video game scores for a separate article idea. Video game music is a fascinating rabbit hole of discovery where I’m admittedly somewhat of a novice.

One aspect of video game music that I’ve found especially interesting is the amount of interpolations and samples of early rap records. Many composers also have an ear for popular sample sources and iconic breakbeats. For context, check Naofumi Hataya’s work on “Stardust Speedway (Present)” from the 1993 game Sonic CD. Over a replay of Shakatak’s Walk the Walk,” he squeezes in a sample of Kurtis Blow’s 1984 DJ tribute “AJ Scratch” intermittently throughout the song. This is just one of several references to hip-hop culture from his extensive catalog.

Listen closely and you’ll also hear a single hit from T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s 1984 classic “It’s Yours” in “Wacky Workbench Present” (also from Sonic CD), Tone Lōc’s voice on “Tactics Preparation” from the 1994 SEGA Mega Drive game The Hybrid Front, and heavy usages of The Winstons’ classic “Amen, Brother” drum break in “Rival Battle: Metal Sonic ‘Stardust Speedway’” from 2011’s Sonic Generations.

Like Hataya, Hideki Naganuma is another video game composer with an ability to embed classic breaks and samples into his scores. He worked fragmented pieces of The Treacherous Three’s 1981 sample goldmine “Feel The Heartbeat” into the excellent “Humming The Bassline” from the turn of the century Dreamcast game Jet Set Radio. Interesting rap-related samples like Flavor Flav’s voice can be found on several other songs throughout the soundtrack.

Prior to the release of Jet Set Radio, Naganuma utilized the three most-sampled songs of all-time on one track, taking bits of The Winstons’ “Amen, Brother,” Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It),” and Beside/Fab Five Freddy’s “Change The Beat (Female Version)” to create “Drive Me Mad for Select” from 1998’s Sega Rally 2. “Amen, Brother” is also featured on several other songs from the game.

Beyond samples, it’s also really fun to explore all of the different interpolations and replays in computer and video game scores over the years. On the 1984 Commodore 64 game Lazy Jones, composer David Whittaker pulled off a sly replay of Nena’s ‘83 hit “99 Luftbaloons” around the 1:30 mark of this video. 15 years later Zombie Nation replayed elements of Whittaker’s original score for the massive hit and pro sports arena anthem “Kernkraft 400.”

Finally, one of the most well-known pieces of video game music ever created—famed composer Koji Kondo’s “Super Mario Bros. Underworld Theme”—is actually a replay from the opening of Friendship’s Don Grusin-produced 1979 track “Let’s Not Talk About It.”

Who knew this was a replay from somewhere else? I had no idea.

In addition to the thousands of samples you’ll find on video game soundtracks, rap producers have also gone to video games a frequent sample source for decades.

But that’s another story for another day.

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The Current State of Micro-Chop: An Update as I Begin Year Five of This Crazy Journey

During the summer of 2016 I decided to give a career in writing a serious go. I was 32 at the time, about to turn 33 in August. I started Micro-Chop as a way to organize my self-published work as a music journalist.

As I grew my name and my resume bit by bit, I published pieces with sites like HipHopDX, Passion of the Weiss, and At the same time, I noticed that Micro-Chop was turning into a main draw for my writing instead of a casual side project. It become a thing.

I interviewed Easy Mo Bee. People from Red Bull Music Academy discovered me through my Micro-Chop pieces. I connected with producers and music enthusiasts from all over the world. I built an amazing community on Twitter that continues to grow every day. I also switched Micro-Chop’s main platform, moving from Medium to Substack in July of 2019 after a series of financial disasters left me in need of more sources of income.

When I started my Substack newsletter I committed to writing three articles every single week. In the beginning it felt like the sky was the limit and my free and paid subscriber lists grew consistently. I saw a modest but steady stream of money coming in from my work.

Right before the pandemic hit, the growth started to flatline and open rates for my newsletter weren’t quite so high. Six months later and my growth still isn’t great and neither are the open rates. There are still some pieces that seem to draw people in, but it feels like the three pieces per week model ran its course in terms of effectiveness. The reasons for this are likely varied and complicated, but the numbers don’t lie—some kind of change is needed.

I turned 37 on August 16th and it felt like a good time to pause and reflect. I also realized some additional reflection would be a good thing for the long-term health of Micro-Chop.

Having said that, here’s the plan moving forward.

  • First, immense gratitude and thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read any of my work or subscribe to this newsletter. Your support means the world to me and I’m so grateful for it.

  • Second, I’m taking the less is more approach for the next little while. I will publish one article per week for the foreseeable future. Some weeks I will publish two article if time permits. I’m returning to school as a full-time teacher soon and I need to make sure I’m 100% emotionally and mentally available to support my students in what will no doubt be a uniquely challenging year.

  • Third, I will invest more time in the coming months in my writing for places like Ableton, Reverb, Roland, and other venues. I hope this increased exposure on bigger platforms can boost my name a bit more and help Micro-Chop grow in new and exciting ways.

  • Fourth, I understand if this change of pace may be frustrating for people who signed up as a paid subscriber expecting three articles per week. I’m hoping the change will provide greater quality even if the quantity is less.

  • And fifth, I will take some of this additional time to reflect on what is and isn’t working with Micro-Chop. A pivot or change of direction might be necessary to keep things fresh and keep people engaged. I’m exploring some options and will use this time to assess what makes the most sense moving forward.

Thank you so much for your continued kind words and support. Hopefully I can keep this thing going for another year and beyond.

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Leon Sylvers III Interview Part 3

Reflections on The Sylvers' catalog as a frequently used sample source.

Click here to read for Part 1 of my conversation with Leon Sylvers III. Click here to read Part 2.

Little did The Sylvers know at the time, but the 1973 release of Foster Sylvers’ “Misdemeanor” coincided with a burgeoning cultural force that was developing on the other side of the country in the Bronx borough of New York City. As the siblings found their footing in the music industry, DJ pioneer Kool Herc used two turntables and a mixer to isolate and extend various breaks in his record collection at now legendary block parties. His innovation led to the widespread popularity of DJs repeating their favorite breakbeats as way to heighten crowd energy during performances throughout the 1970s and beyond.

The eventual advent of DIY sampling techniques like pause tapes in the late-‘70s and ‘80s, looser sampling laws, and increasingly more affordable sampling technology led to an explosion of game-changing production techniques throughout the 1980s. With rap music an established cultural and commercial force as the decade came to a close, “Misdemeanor”—which first began with Leon’s bass/footstomp Sanyo tape demo—started to find a new listener demographic fourteen years after its initial release.

Foster Sylvers’ hit had already been covered, with pianist Ahmad Jamal recording a beautiful take on the track for his 1974 LP Jamalcaa cover version that would later become an important sample source in its own right. Grandmaster Flash, however, was the first to sample “Misdemeanor” by employing an interesting, fragmented style on “Tear the Roof Off” from his 1987 Ba-Dop-Boom-Bang album.

British rap pioneer Derek B and legendary Juice Crew MC Big Daddy Kane soon followed suit, with their tracks “Success” and “On The Move” each taking tiny bits of “Misdemeanor” in a more subtle, understated style. But it was Dr. Dre’s booming, obvious use of the tune on The D.O.C.’s 1989 single “It’s Funky Enough” that was a true breakthrough moment.

In the 31 years since “It’s Funky Enough,” The Sylvers’ albums have become beloved and well-worn source material for producers—with beatmakers dipping into their collective archives countless times. Leon, who seems to have a positive view of sampling, believes that the popularity The Sylvers’ catalog amongst producers has something to do with the group’s youthfulness during their early years of success. “We were teenagers, so everything was new and fresh at the time,” he says.

He believes this fresh, youthful energy was captured on the group’s recordings and later transmitted to new generations. “Most people that sampled us were young,” he says. “It was always the same age as we were or three to four years older, you know what I'm saying? Hip-hop came out and that was another time where young people were into music and they went back and sampled and listened to certain things they picked up on.”

Sharing a label (Pride) with the Incredible Bongo Band also likely played a role in The Sylvers’ growing popularity as a sample source. Not only was Incredible Bongo Band’s 1973 version of “Apache” a favorite of the aforementioned Kool Herc and DJs the world over, the song has also been sampled well over 600 times.

Leon thinks DJs and producers started to seek out labelmates of the “Apache” creators as the record’s legend grew. “They recognize that Pride record logo,” he says. “So everybody looked for that and we were the only other artists on Pride. When they found us, ‘Misdemeanor’ took another level. That's how the process of music works—the ear connects into the next year, then the next ear.”

It’s a fascinating connection to consider, especially because the Incredible Bongo Band’s founder Michael Viner was instrumental in the release of “Misdemeanor.”

The track “Only One Can Win” from The Sylvers’ 1972 debut is another memorable Sylvers song that traveled from ear to ear. Though the specifics of the recording session have faded a bit with time, Leon rememembers The Sylvers co-producer Keg Johnson’s respect for the group’s original creations as being instrumental to the development of the song. He also recalls feeling a special fondness for the record as the group recorded it. “It was one of my favorites, ‘cause I liked the harmony,” he says.

Though just five artists have sampled “Only One Can Win,” the late J Dilla’s legendary Donuts rework “Two Can Win” is so powerful it will no doubt remain the industry standard on trying to do something new and unique with the original. Leon’s son Leon Sylvers IV, who is also an accomplished producer, introduced his father to Dilla’s famous instrumental.

Remarkably, after having such a profound influence on recorded music as a bass player, multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer—an influence that today’s generation of producers continues to turn to for inspiration—Leon Sylvers III shows no signs of music industry fatigue.

In fact, he’s still listening to the world around him for new ideas and inspiration. “I'm always listening, ‘cause it's a life thing,” he says. “Songs come from episodes and escapades in life, you know, and the more you get close to that, the more identifiable the song is.”

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