Monday, March 20, 2023

Sampling musicians spread Martin Luther King's American Dream

What does the music of Michael Jackson, DJ Quicksilver, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Bobo and Sabrina Setlur have in common?

All of them and many more artists have made songs in which they have made use of a famous speech by the U.S. civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Born in 1929, King was a spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement, an activism of African-Americans in the U.S., since the 1950s. He fought against racial segregation and, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, used non-violent means to do so. He had great success with his call to the black population to boycott public buses in Montgomery for one day. This call was triggered by criminal proceedings against the black civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who in December 1955 had violated a local regulation requiring her to make a seat available for white passengers and was therefore fined. The successful boycott of public transportation, which then lasted almost a year, made clear what King wanted to demonstrate, namely that entrepreneurs also depended on black customers to be successful. Under the impact of the boycott, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation on Montgomery public transportation unconstitutional.

On August 28, 1963, King held his world-famous speech in Washington, D.C., which has been sampled in many later pieces of music. It deals with injustices against black people, segregation and discrimination, and poverty.

King stated in his famous speech:


Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.


I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.


And this will be the day – this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

“My country, ’tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,

Of thee I sing;

Land where my fathers died,

Land of the pilgrims’ pride,

From every mountainside

Let freedom ring!”


And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Under the title "The American Dream" this speech was even published on a sound recording by Southeastern Recording Co. Of America as number 636A-7330.

Martin Luther King's moving speech, which quotes two old songs, has found its way into various pieces of music in the original sound. Especially in electronic music these samples are popular. Here we present a selection of these songs:

  1. We start our tour through music history in 1987 with "Refresh Yourself" by Three Wise Men, where at 4:37 we hear the "I have a dream" sample from Martin Luther King's speech, followed by more samples from the speech. The track closes with the conclusion of the speech and the words "Thank God Almighty, we're free at last". Three Wise Men was released on the British independent label Rhythm King Records, but nothing more could be found out about the artists.

  2. In 1988, Out Of The Ordinary used extensive samples from the speech in its electro piece "The Dream." Out Of The Ordinary was the stage name of German DJ Torsten Fenslau, one of the producers of Culture Beat, who had a big hit with "Mr. Vain" in 1993. That year, Fenslau died at the age of only 29 as a result of a traffic accident in which he had a momentary nod at the wheel of his car while not wearing a seatbelt.

  3. Also in 1988, the English electro formation Greater Than One used extensive samples from King's speech for "Now Is The Time." In particular, already the title line "Now Is The Time" is a sample from the speech. Greater Than One was a British music production team that was active between 1985 and 1995 and consisted of husband Michael Wells and wife Lee Newman. It made releases under numerous project names. It was best known for the track "I Wanna Be A Hippy" which they released in 1995 under the name Technohead.

  4. Not sampled, but re-recorded passages from King's speech were used by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five for the song "The King" which appeared on the album "On The Strength" in 1988. Best known is this formation for their 1982 track "The Message" about inner-city poverty.

  5. "A Better Land" is a song by Heavy D & The Boyz from the 1989 album "Big Tyme" that begins right away with a sample from the speech. In the song, rapper Heavy D, who died in 2011 at the age of 44, complains that the rich are getting richer while the poor remain poor. Something has to change about that, he says. The country must be made a better one.

  6. Very good ears has who hears already at the beginning of the track "As I Read My S-A" by Gang Starr that here is a sample from the recording of the speech, because it starts with an "I" repeated by scratching. However, this is not the voice of Martin Luther King, but that of the presenter who announces him ("At this time I have the honor to present to you ..."). Gang Starr is a US hip-hop duo that existed for 20 years from 1986. The song is from their second album "Step In The Arena", produced in 1990.

  7. "Free at last" and "Let freedom ring" are the samples that the British Jungle producer Rebel MC repeatedly refers to in "Set Yourself Free" from the 1990 album "Rebel Music". Rebel MC had a hit with Double Trouble in 1989 with the song "Street Tuff."

  8. In 1993, "Now Is The Time For Bass" was released by the Techno Bass Crew, consisting of Ivan Kopas and Robert J. Bartko. They are described by AllMusic as pioneers of bass music. This track, which contains only the phrase "Now is the time" from the speech, is therefore probably not one of the most creative tracks of the duo, because the melody of this track does not sound hitworthy. But also otherwise no chart successes of the duo are known.

  9. Take a sample from the King speech, then a large-scale sample from "Je t'aime.... moi non plus" by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg and then you have a track with the obscene title "Fickmusik" (German for: music for fucking) by The Speed Freak aka Martin Damm, released in 1993. The man changes his stage names as often as some change their underpants.

  10. "Now Is The Time" is also an electronic music track by The Crystal Method, who used the corresponding sample from the speech in 1994. Originally, The Crystal Method was an electro music duo from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, formed in 1993, consisting of Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan. The latter retired from the music business in 2017, leaving Scott Kirkland to continue on his own. "Now Is The Time" was also found on the soundtrack of the video game "Gran Turismo 2" as well as on The Crystal Method's successful debut album, "Vegas," from which more songs have made it onto movie or game soundtracks.

  11. Also called "Now Is The Time" is a track of the genre Happy Hardcore by Scott Brown Versus DJ Rab S from 1995. Apart from an alienated sample of this title line, the track contains no elements from the speech. Scott Brown is a British music producer who goes by numerous aliases. DJ Rab S is backed by Scottish DJ and producer Robert Simpson.

  12. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, used samples from King's speech at 3:40 and 3:54 in his 1995 song "HIStory" from the album of the same name. The song ends with a sample from the moon landing.

  13. DJ Quicksilver used the lines "I have a dream" and "I still have a dream" for the track "I Have A Dream". It appeared on a single together with "Bellissima" in 1996. DJ Quicksilber is the German DJ Orhan Terzi born in Istanbul. According to Wikipedia, he derived his stage name from a barometer of success, a column of mercury that shot up when he was applauded at a DJ competition.

  14. The "Let freedom ring" sample was also used by Sabrina Setlur in the song "Freisein" (German for: being free), which ends with the "Free at last" sample. The song appeared on the album "Die neue S-Klasse" in 1997. A version with a video clip was produced for the single with which the label 3p introduced a singer from the group Söhne Mannheims, Xavier Naidoo, as a solo artist. The single stayed in the charts for 17 weeks.

  15. Rappers Against Racism made a song called "Key To Your Heart" in 1998, which also featured the sample "I have a dream". The song made it to number 79 in the German charts. Part of the Rappers of Racism formation included the hip-hop duo Down Low and Trooper Da Don, a German rapper from Lüneburg who, along with DJ Tomekk and Lil' Kim, scored the hit "Kimnotyze" in 2002.

  16. In 2001, the German pop duo Modern Talking, consisting of Dieter Bohlen and Thomas Anders, made a song called "America", which appeared on "America - The 10th Album." It begins with the national anthem of the United States and then plays the "I have a dream" sample as a reference to the "American Dream." Modern Talking's best-known hit was "You're My Heart, You're My Soul" in 1984; they split in 1987, but then reunited for the period from 1998 to 2003.

  17. "We've got a long way to go / It's beyond Martin Luther / Upgrade computer" are the lyrics of the song "Long Way To Go" by Gwen Stefani, the front woman of the pop-rock band No Doubt, and Andre 3000, a member of the group OutKast. The song is the closing track of the 2004 album "Love.Angel.Music.Baby."

  18. Opening with a sample from King's speech and various other samples is a French hip-hop track called "Je suis" by Explicit Samouraï from the 2004 album "La danse du sabre." Explicit Samouraï consists of Leeroy Kesiah, Specta and DJ Eddy Kent. The former two are also members of the Saïan Supa crew, which has already collaborated with the Berlin formation Seeed, namely on "Thing", the English version of the 2006 hit "Ding".

  19. "I have a dream, I still have a dream" are King's words cut together, which DJ BoBo uses at the beginning of his 2005 track "Give Peace A Chance." The title sounds like a cover of the song of the same name written by John Lennon, but it is not. Rather, the Swiss DJ, whose real name is René Baumann, raps an independent song. The chorus is partly sung by a woman who is not named in the credits. Without a doubt, this is one of the most melodic tracks on this listing.

  20. Another track worth listening to from the genre of hip hop is "A Dream" by Common, an artist from Chicago, Illinois, whose real name is Lonnie Rashied Lynn Jr. The chorus is sung by, who is known as a member of the group Black Eyed Peas. The video clip also features clips from the video recording of King's speech. The song appeared on the soundtrack to the movie "Freedom Writers" in 2006.

  21. Unity Calling was a project of British DJ John Edward with his friends Jaywes and Deeko. Edward wanted to focus on creating music with a deeper purposeful meaning. The result was the album "History" in 2007 which in its second track, "I Have A Dream", samples from King's speech, including at the beginning "Free at last".

  22. Florian Arndt understood "Let Freedom Reign" (instead of "Let freedom ring") and named his 2007 track accordingly. His house track picks up various samples from King's speech. The record also features a version of the same name together with Mike De Ville, a German trance producer whose real name is Michael Schuessleder.

  23. "Now Is The Time" is also the sample that the two Austrians from Discotronic, Stephan Deutsch and Thomas Greisl, chose in 2007 for their track from the genre Hands Up and added more vocals: "Now is the time, here is the place, cut the midrange, drop the bass." In 2006 Discotronic had become known with their hit "Tricky Disco". With it, they had landed a club hit throughout Europe. In Germany, the single had reached the top 5 of the dance charts.

  24. "Impact avec le diable" by MC Solaar picks up the sample "I have a dream that one day ..." among others. The song appeared on "Chapitre 7" in 2007. Fittingly for a song that is about the devil, a sample from a speech by Adolf Hitler was also included. MC Solaar was born in Dakar, Senegal in 1969 and moved to France with his parents when he was still a baby. MC Solaar achieved fame beyond France thanks to his collaboration with American rapper Missy Elliott in the song "All N My Grill" in which he took over the French rap part in 1999.

  25. Polish DJ Matush, real name Tomasz Matuszak, used "I Have A Dream" and other samples from the King speech. This track from the genre of progressive house was released in 2008.

  26. A song by Guns n' Roses also joins the list, namely "Madagascar" from the 2008 album "Chinese Democracy". The song was first played live by the band in 2001 and has been performed frequently at their concerts ever since.

  27. An electro-house version is the one by Y&D called "I Have A Dream" from 2009 which contains other phrases from the speech besides the "I have a dream" sample. Behind Y&D is the Swiss duo Dan Daniel & Ivan Lujic.

  28. The Italian label Sunflower Records released the house track "Let Freedom Ring" by Counterfiters in 2008. This track also contains various samples from King's speech. It is not known who is behind Counterfiters.

  29. In 2010 Tiger and Dragon came around the corner with "The Dream" whose original club mix appeared on "Tunnel Trance Force Vol. 54". Tiger and Dragon is a project of German house and techno producer Dietmar Otter aka Deat Marotta. In 2009 Tiger & Dragon, this time spelled with ampersands, had released a cover version of the iio hit "Rapture".

  30. Dutch DJ Lodewijk Fluttert, known as Bakermat, achieved great success with the use of King's speech. "Vandaag" was the name of his track in 2012, which means "today" in Dutch. It made it into the top 10 in Austria, Belgium, France and the Netherlands. In 2014, the track then appeared again under the title "One Day (Vandaag)" after licensing with Sony. A video clip was then also released for this and the song celebrated success in other European countries, including number 4 in Germany.

  31. In 2013, Californian rapper Jayceon Terrell Taylor, better known as The Game, used a sample from the speech for the beginning of the song "Life Is But A Dream" in which he features R&B singer Elijah Blake.

  32. In 2014, the Wu-Tang Clan took on the speech. "Never Let Go" from their sixth studio album "A Better Tomorrow" samples from the speech. In Germany, Wu-Tang Clan is best known for the success of its single "Gravel Pit" in 2000.

  33. "Blancos y negros somos uno" (Whites and blacks, we are one) was sung in 2020 by dance-hall artist Abel Xanders, who was born in Havana, Cuba in 1990. In 2019, he collaborated with Daddy Yankee as a percussionist and keyboardist on concerts. With that, we end our ride through King samples.

So we have a whole selection of different tracks with different melodies, all sampling the same speech. However, there are a larger number of other tracks that could be mentioned here. WhoSampled even lists a total of 129. However, not only samples are counted there, but also newly recorded or performed sentences from King's speech.

The protests initiated by Martin Luther King were one of the reasons why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 officially abolished racial segregation. But King did not only make friends and was threatened for his commitment as well as his family. The Civil Rights Act was not the end for him either because real differences between blacks and whites, especially economic ones, continued to require commitment against racism. On April 3, 1968, King went to Memphis, Tennessee for the Poor People's March, a protest movement for social justice, where he gave a speech. The following day, he was shot and killed on a motel balcony. A perpetrator was caught and convicted for the assassination, but it is still disputed whether it was a contract killing by parts of the government for whom King's involvement was a thorn. Martin Luther King Jr. reached the age of only 39.

The cause of fighting against unjust discrimination is still relevant and perhaps always will be. There will probably always be people in power who try to oppress certain segments of the population, and numerous followers will then make this possible.

Therefore it is good and important that musicians have taken up the speech of Martin Luther King and thereby reminded of his important concerns. It should only not result in a commercial exploitation of his fight against racism.


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