The Sample: Gary Burton - 'Las Vegas Tango'

The vibraphone. An instrument so seductive it’s both stunning in effect and somewhat rare to find played. Lionel Hampton was one of the first to ever bring the vibraphone to wider audiences in the late 1920s and early '30s, and greats like Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, and Roy Ayers would continue to popularize it’s distinct sound throughout the century. Played like a xylophone with the deep texture of piano and guitar, it sounds like what you’d hope to hear if you could play water.

Gary Burton was another player who lengthened the vibraphone’s legacy, and in 1970 he released a jazz/funk album called ‘Good Vibes’ on Atlantic. Included was a cover of a song that Gil Evans had made in 1964 (around the time that he and Miles Davis were working closely together) called 'Las Vegas Tango' that was included on an album called ‘The Individualism of Gil Evans.’ Listening to the two renditions beside each other, the Evans version has a freer feel to it, with legendary jazz players like Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones, and Ron Carter contributing, as well as Kenny Burrell on the guitar. With the vibraphone, Burton modernizes the tune and makes it less of an exploratory song and more of a contained groove. That’s probably why it’s been sampled so many times throughout hip-hop history.

Flip 1: Schoolboy Q's 'Blind Threats'

Big Pun, Cypress HillCommon, Black Moon – all have sampled the Burton tune (though No I.D., to his credit, flipped a loop towards the end of the song instead of the usual intro for the beginning of ‘In My Own World (Check The Method)’ by Common). The latest producer to utilize 'Las Vegas Tango' is Lord Quest, and it comes in the middle of ScHoolboy Q’s latest album, ‘Oxymoron.’ It lands at a crucial part in the album, when ScHoolboy has quickly exhausted many of his boasts and becomes reflective of his crimes. The Burton sample here is “spooky,” it’s “haunting,” it’s all those over-used words that punk writers like to incorporate now, but it’s more than the sum of those terms, too. It evokes a specific time (after 3 a.m., for sure), a moment of stark realization regarding spirituality, religion, and what those have in common with real life, if anything. In the wake of Q’s cynicism, it’s as though the vibraphone becomes heavenly in it’s simple, enlightening beauty.

It’s not the most complicated flip, though. DJ Muggs used it in a similar fashion for ‘Illusions’ from 1995, lazily letting a few bars of the intro play and just looping it back without a real chop job. Lord Quest uses two big chunks of the sample, but Havoc took a different approach on 'Can't Get Enough Of It' from ‘Hell On Earth,’ clipping a small sound from the start of the original and fitting it neatly into the beat’s larger structure. ‘Blind Threats’ samples several seconds of multiple instruments – percussion, vibraphone, bass line – while Havoc isolates one specific part of the Burton track and folds it into the beat's framework.

Flip 2: Mobb Deep's 'Can't Get Enough Of It'

Here's the trick: It’s hard to tell where exactly Havoc chops the sample. At first it seems like he samples the very first thing you hear on 'Las Vegas Tango,' the opening guitar chords, but when you hear 'Can’t Get Enough Of It' he’s also using that triangle (?) sound from 0:03 and 0:07 at the same time as the strings, which have been slightly truncated and sped up. Maybe he uses sounds from two different parts of the original at once on the Mobb Deep record? Did he splice separate string chords together to make the final riff? A producer could probably pinpoint the exact sampled moment in a second, but the simple fact that it’s not that easy to find makes Havoc’s effort stand above Lord Quest’s.  It’s one of those records where you hear the manipulated sample, and then you hear the original, and you sense they have a sonic kinship but you can’t trace how one morphed into the other. That’s how you flip a sample.