In our first edition of this series, we dissected multiple takes on Lee Morgan’s “Shady Blues,” which ended up mostly amounting to various MCs rapping over the same instrumental. In this latest edition, we take a look at “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players, one of the foundational sample sources of West Coast hip-hop, typifying the G-Funk sound popularized in the early ’90s, heavy on synths and a slower, funkier bop.
Inspired by the “Funky Worm’s” recent use on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, we dive down the wormhole and see how some other artists have tackled the the legendary, often-used sample (over 50 times, according to the-breaks.com, not including Kendrick’s recent addition and countless other unlisted renditions).
And we’ve doubled down, with 14 different songs using the same track in vastly different ways. Who did it best?
Hit “next” or click the pictures to read on…
The Sample: Ohio Players – “Funky Worm”
“Funky Worm” is pretty quirky record in and of itself. We’re not sure what made them a) have a grandmother character basically narrating the track or b) have the Moog synth they used on this track take the figurative role of a worm, funking it’s way in and out of its hole. Whatever their motivation, this track has so many unique elements in it: the random twinkling synths, the bright Moog, the grandmother’s odd lines. The Players’ peculiar composition catapulted “Funky Worm” to the top of the Billboard R&B charts in 1973 and to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
As you’ll see, smart samplers snapped up bits of this to not only lightly accentuate their productions, but create whole new soundscapes based on the track. Get familiar with it and we can move on.
14. Ice Cube – “Wicked”
To kick off our list, Ice Cube’s “Wicked” introduces one of the most common “Funky Worm” flips, the signature Moog synthesizer. Ice Cube (who produced the track) used a small fragment of the “worm,” pitching it up and dropping it through the track like an eerie siren or wail. Was this track any better because they snagged it from “Funky Worm?” Probably not, but the noise gives the track character.
13. MC Breed – “Ain’t No Future In Your Frontin”
Flint, Michigan’s MC Breed was one of those artists who has a lot of critical acclaim, and this is a classic in his back catalog. He flips two bonafide West Coast staples: the bass from “More Bounce To The Ounce” and the Moog from “Funky Worm,” and there’s no way to deny this track. There are better uses of “Funky Worm,” which you’ll find on this list, but Breed used this before a lot of other MCs did, so credit to him for getting on it early.
12. Redman – “Cosmic Slop”
Taken from Redman’s sophomore album, Dare Iz A Darkside, this is from Red and producer Erick Sermon’s era of sampling all kinds of funk tracks—the title pays homage to a Funkadelic song of the same name. Redman and Sermon were big into manipulating all of those sounds in the early ’90s, and this track was no exception. The use of “Funky Worm” is found at 1:49 in the track, and is part of the lighter “twinkling” sounds from the original. With so many other sounds going in there, from multiple Redmans to all of these other cosmic sounds, the sample gets lost in the mix, but being a “slop” of sounds, it makes sense that such a familiar sample would be mixed into the soup Red and crew are cooking up.
11. Murs & 9th Wonder – “Cigarettes & Liquor”
Have to applaud 9th for this one. He took the same “twinkling” sound familiar to many uses of “Funky Worm,” but flipped it in a different way. He keeps the funky, back-porch vibe in tact with a tighter snare, breathing new life into a well-known sample, further showcasing why he’s still one of the best working producers.
10. Masta Ace Incorporated – “Born To Roll”
This is an odd entry, as “Born To Roll” is an undeniable classic, primarily for its trunk rattling bass—something for the Jeeps with the proper speakerboxes. Thing is, the “Funky Worm” used in here is grandma’s brief “aw, get it baby,” which drops at random intervals throughout the track. Would the track miss it if it wasn’t there? Probably not. It’s quirky enough to make us crack a smile when we hear it, though, and sometimes it’s all about those little details.
9. Above The Law – “Black Superman”
“Black Superman” dropped in 1994, when the “G-funk” sound was firmly established, and is a great example of how the West Coast rap scene was built on sounds like “Funky Worm.” Playing a backwards loop of the main Moog bit from “Funky Worm,” ABL crafted a pretty familiar West Coast tale. Breaking this track down, from the sleigh bells to the vocoder bit in the hook, you basically have a generic G’d up track, but that “Funky Worm” piece elevates it.
8. Masta Ace Incorporated – “SlaughtaHouse”
Masta Ace was born in Brooklyn, but this track flips two distinctly West Coast sounds, taking a snippet from the “twinkly” synth on “Funky Worm” and pairing it with the heavy bass of Roger & Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce” (iller than Breed did), at least for the beginning. The marriage of both of these sounds forms a hypnotic mix, an intriguing interpretation by producer Uneek (whose limited production credits consist mostly of Masta Ace songs) that brings the West Coast east for a bit of hip-hop satire.
7. Xzibit – “Shroomz”
This is from way back when we loved hearing Xzibit rhyme. 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz had X crafting the kind of drug tales you really don’t appreciate until you’re riding around in a cloudy whip with the track turned all the way up. We revisit the “twinkly” part of “Funky Worm,” which makes sense considering that the track’s all about doing hallucinogens. You’d think Xzibit dropping so many bars over that unadorned sample would be frustrating, but it works very well, especially with the way different sounds accentuate his story.
6. Kendrick Lamar – “m.A.A.d City”
You almost wish that Kendrick and West Coast vet MC Eiht would’ve spit over how this was flipped, but when that Moog creeps in at the 5:24 mark of “m.A.A.d City,” it feels like the culmination of so many things, both within the track and at it’s place within the album. It’s so short but it had to be done, and has a West Coast gangster rap symphony feel to it.
5. Sublime – “Garden Grove”
Anyone who’s rocked Sublime knows that they had a deep appreciation for hip-hop. Elements of their music incorporated the sounds that made hip-hop what it was, and they were never afraid to blend things like never before. Around the 1:23 mark of “Garden Grove,” they actually recreate the “Funky Worm” Moog synth, which works so well over the slower, more dub-wise groove that was their trademark. No, it’s not the same exact sample, but that makes it that much cooler. It’s paying respect while also putting your own spin on a classic sound.
4. Kriss Kross – “Jump”
Smirk all you want, but this jammed when it dropped, and while the production is dated, it’s still fucking slick. Flipping The Jackson 5 and the Ohio Players? Yes, the bright “Funky Worm” Moog is only rocking during the hook, but that hook NEEDED that worm. Act like you know!
3. Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Serial Killa”
Taken from Doggystyle, this was a pretty massive Dogg Pound/Death Row gang bang. Produced by Dr. Dre and Daz, the Moog from “Funky Worm” gets utilized nicely, pushed to the back of an intense bassline, crisp drums and an eerie organ, pairing up with the murderous imagery on this track. It’s another one of those instances where the “worm” isn’t running rampant throughout the track, but when it shrieks through the chorus, it’s both perfect and necessary.
2. De La Soul – “Me, Myself & I”
De La was known early for utilizing a number of different samples, with the grandmother from “Funky Worm” sitting as one part of the five different samples used to make this classic. Blending their humor with the wall of sound created by their multiple samples, the grandmother from “Funky Worm” shows as an inventive way to call upon sounds we’re accustomed to in an entirely different context altogether.
1. N.W.A. – “Dopeman”
For their tale about the local dope man in Anytown, USA, N.W.A. used that Moog from “Funky Worm” over such a huge, classic drumbeat, it’s almost what people remember when they think of the “Funky Worm.” And it’s barely even used in the track. Cube spends most of the song detailing what the dope man means to the community, and the “worm” is used as sort of a refrain, to give people a breather before we dig deeper into the harsh realities being relayed. It’s an intense way to flip the lighthearted jam, and with the drum machine churning out double and triple snares over it, Dr. Dre’s production laid the raw foundation for the G Funk sound he in particular would hone over the subsequent half decade.