Have you ever heard a new song on the radio and thought that it sounds familiar? It's not actually a cover of an old song, but maybe it used a famous bass line and reworked it into a new arrangement like Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" borrowed from the classic by Ben E. King's "Stand by Me." Another famous instance is how Vanilla Ice used the bass line from Queen as well as David Bowie's "Under Pressure" for the hip hop song, "Ice Ice Baby."
Or maybe it's less obvious than that. A hit song could have taken a drum sample from a less familiar, 40-year-old funk recording. Indeed, this is the case for almost thousands of songs, largely from the hip hop and rap genres, which owe much to the drum break from 1969's "Amen Brother," a B-side track from a group called the Winstons. Another of the most sampled pieces is the drum break from James Brown's 1970 song.
But it's often not just a case of recording a drum break and simply dumping it into another song. It'll frequently involve taking a section of the drum break -- even just a few beats of the snare drum -- and repeating it or the sampled section again and again to form a "loop." For example, LL Cool J looped a part of the drums from "Funky Drummer" in his 1990 song, "Mama Said Knock You Out." Talented artists can use more than one song at once. That same LL Cool J song, for example, also happens to sample other tracks, such as a loop of background vocals from 1967's "Trip to Your Heart" by Sly and the Family Stone. Sampling can also include creative manipulations, like changing the speed or pitch of the sample.