Nancy Wilson, mainly known for her work as a jazz singer, put out an album in 1978 entitled Music On My Mind, which dabbled in funk and disco. One of the best riffs on Music On My Mind comes in the song “I’m In Love.”
Wilson’s vocals don’t quite match the instrumentation — she seems a little too breezy for the tightness of the groove — and the hook doesn’t build on the promise of the verses. But it turns out that the riff got a second chance when Erykah Badu sampled it for “Honey,” off of her New Amerykah Pt. 1 album. Badu’s version is an improvement; where Wilson is overwhelmed by the funk beneath her, Badu easily stays in control of the song.
I was also recently listening to an album by a group I’d never heard of — Ndugu & the Chocolate Jam Co. – and it turns out that Badu sampled one of their songs as well. Ndugu & the Chocolate Jam Co. was a short-lived project from Leon Chancler, a jazz and soul drummer. The group put out two albums, one in 1979 and one in 1980. The second, Do I Make You Feel Better, features a song entitled, “Take Some Time,” which rides a thudding funk rhythm that reminds me distantly of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s superlative “Love’s Holiday.”
Badu takes the heavy rhythm section and the descending plucked-string riff from Ndugu’s track and uses it as the basis for “Umm Hmm,” off her most recent album, New Amerykah Pt. 2. She also augments Ndugu’s hook with vocals of her own.