BOB JAMES / “Nautilus”

“My favorite break is ‘Nautilus’ by Bob James. And if I figure out a way to flip it again, I will.” —Evil Dee, of Da Beatminerz / Black Moon
The common definition of ‘friction,’ the one we all know, is ‘the rubbing of one surface against another.’ In the world of physics, ‘friction’ is defined more specifically. ‘Friction’ — from a scientific point of view — is ‘a force that resists the relative motion or tendency to such motion of two bodies in contact.’ In other words, ‘friction’ creates ‘stickiness.’ When two bodies make contact, they exchange bits of themselves, whether they intend to or not. Sampling – the act of lifting, splicing, cutting, scratching, looping or otherwise re-recording a previously recorded piece of music – creates friction. Lots of it. The first ‘body’ in question is Bob James’ "Nautilus." The second body is hip-hop. Hip-hop DJs and producers have sampled "Nautilus" many, many times. Each time hip-hop samples "Nautilus," friction is created — a piece of "Nautilus" is embedded in the body of hip-hop. But, friction is bilateral, it goes both ways — each contact also leaves a piece of hip-hop imbedded in "Nautilus." The concept of musical friction explains why hip-hop fans sometimes like the jazz, R&B and funk records that have been sampled by hip-hop as much as they like the hip-hop records themselves. We may be listening to a slightly schmaltzy Smooth Jazz instrumental, but what we’re hearing is hip-hop. bobjames.jpg So, for all you hip-hop fans who’ve never heard Bob James’ "Nautilus," I’d like to be sitting there the first time you do, just to see the look on your face. That, and I’d like to know which hip-hop song you first think of out of the probably 40 or 50 that have been blessed by this beat. And I have news for you: if you make it through the first 20 seconds of "Nautilus" without thinking of a hip-hop song, you can keep on calling yourself whatever you want, but you ain’t a hip-hop fan. SlickRick.jpg  For me, three records come to mind before any others. The first is Slick Rick’s "Children’s Story," mainly because the "Children’s Story" rhythm is the original, the first time anyone sampled the "Nautilus" bass line and drum loop. I thought. But when I went back to listen to "Children’s Story," I realized Slick Rick is rapping over a replayed version of "Nautilus" as opposed to an actual sample. If you’re in the habit of reading the fine print of your CD inserts, you’ll recognize that the "Children’s Story" rhythm is properly called an interpolation, not a sample. But it’s dope and Rick is a genius, so I’m going with it anyway. Ghostface Killah_200x250.jpg  The second song is Ghostface Killah’s "Daytona 500" because Raekwon (“index finger be sore, bustin’ these fly scripts”), Ghost (“the arsonist who burns with his pen”) and Cappadonna (“your out-of-order tape recorder can’t record my slaughter”) are so amped and because RZA took what is essentially a mellow, clean groove and made it sound aggressive, hype and very, very dirty. (I wonder if he used an old copy of the record. The cymbals sound like shit. In a good way though.) rundmc.jpg  The third record that comes to mind exemplifies one of the most beautiful-est things about sampling. (Extra points for recognizing the reference emoticon ). About 3 1/2 minutes into "Nautilus," as a lead-in to the bridge, Bob plays a two-note keyboard riff. Bob’s little riff is one of those ‘Blink And You’ll Miss It’ moments, a segment of sound no longer than a second (if that), but it was distinctive enough for Run-DMC to hijack and reuse it as the musical hook for one of their last singles still worth listening to after all this time, "Beats To The Rhyme." For a fan of Eighties- and Nineties-era rap music, listening to "Nautilus" is like listening to a hip-hop instrumental that should loop but never does. Instead, the opening bell-chimes (one familiar sample) drift into a drum break (another familiar sample) which drifts into a piano solo, which ends with that odd two-note figure (yet another sample), etc. For those who’ve ears have been tuned to pick out rap samples, "Nautilus" is a classic: a Smooth Jazz record that has come to suggest hip-hop without actually being hip-hop. —Mtume ya Salaam P.S. If anybody knows what the title "Daytona 500" has to do with the song, please click the ‘comments’ button and let me know.   Click here to purchase One  Bonus tracks: Slick Rick – "Children’s Story" from The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick (Def Jam, 1988) Ghostface Killah feat. Raekwon & Cappadonna – "Daytona 500" from Ironman (Razor Sharp/Epic, 1996) Run-DMC – "Beats To The Rhyme" from Tougher Than Leather (Profile, 1988)             I hate Smooth Jazz          …and that’s putting it mildly. When Mtume wanted to feature "Nautilus," I said to myself: you can listen to whatever you want but I will never sully my ears with that shit. Mind you, I know Bob James is an accomplished musician and has been a source-lode for many a fusion production in addition to all the rap sampling, still, a man has got to draw the line somewhere. Far as I’m concerned, Bob James is the Kenny G. of pseudo-jazz piano. Yeah, "Nautilus" has a catchy little melody. So what?  Well, in addition to drawing a line, Nuyorican Soul has me admitting another 'sometimes,' i.e. sometimes a man got to admit his limitations. When I hear something like "Nautilus," what I hear is overlooked/ignored Ramsey Lewis, who could do that shit in his sleep, and at a far, far hipper level. I hear a funky jazz pianist like George Duke. Who? Many of you are probably saying that without realizing how many times you have heard George Duke’s keyboard work without knowing it was George Duke because George was working as an unlisted sideman (which is just the way it is in popular music, where, unlike in jazz, the sidemen seldom get listed). When I listen to stuff like "Nautilus," I don’t just hear what is, I also hear what is not sounded/acknowledged. So, anyway, I don’t have a rational response to "Nautilus." To tell the truth I don’t believe I’ve ever consciously listened to it all the way through. MastersA Work.jpg And then here comes Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez and ‘Little’ Louie Vega (collectively known as Masters At Work), the founders of Nuyorican Soul, and they drop their version of "Nautilus" (retitlted "MAWtilus"). What can I say? I can’t say nothing. This shit is the bomb! I guess if Trane could re-make “My Favorite Things” into something definitively hip, then why couldn’t the Masters take "Nautilus" and do something truly funky with it? Which in fact, has always been the way of Black music, i.e. take shit and turn it into sugar. Check out the fatback drumming of Vidal Davis (even though the drums are way forward in the sound mix, this doesn’t sound like a dance record. It’s the use of a real drum kit that make this more of a jazz influenced tune rather than a hip-hop influenced tune employing a drum machine). Yeah, a combination of real drums and the use of real strings gives a jazz flavor to the proceedings, even though the production is decidedly influenced by hip hop. And by the way, that’s Peter Daou on Fender Rhodes, Vince Montana Jr. arranging and conducting the strings, and that's me in the corner nodding my head like a junkie smacked out on some uncut Afghanistan horse — yeah, I know, that’s a terrible simile, but that’s how much this twisted version has upset my head. When it’s correct like this, all you can do is nod and admit how much you dig it. By the way, Nuyorican Soul is a classic album all the way through. It’s not to be missed, especially the track featuring George Benson — hell, we’ll drop that one too, so you can see what you’re missing and see I ain’t joking when I recommend this as a must have addition to any collection of classic funky jazz, or jazzy funk classics, or whatsoever you call the instrumental stuff you nod to. —Kalamu ya Salaam Click here to purchase Nuyorican Soul              Hearing the same thing differently          Ears, ears, ears. It’s funny how we can hear the same records so differently. The reason, I think, is because we’re not listening to the same thing. Hell, we’re not even talking about the same thing. Aside from his records that have been sampled (the other notable one being “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”), I don’t know anything about Bob James and I can’t honestly say he’s on my shortlist of artists to learn more about. I don’t consider Bob ‘the Kenny G of pseudo-jazz piano,’ but it isn’t because I have a different opinion about Bob James, the truth is, I don’t have any opinion about Bob James. When I listen to or talk about “Nautilus,” I’m not listening to or talking about Bob James; for that matter, I’m not really even talking about “Nautilus,” per se. What I’m actually listening to and talking about are the sounds encoded in “Nautilus,” sounds which have taken on added meaning, sounds which have shifted in context because they have been re-recorded and re-contextualized into music that I love. Bits and pieces of “Nautilus” have become part of the fabric of hip-hop – not unlike bits and pieces of a shirt or curtain might become part of the fabric of a favorite quilt. The shirt has significance, but only because it is a part of the quilt. The difference being, in the case of music, the ‘shirt’ isn’t destroyed in the process; it survives, still whole. It’s “Nautilus.” Anyhow, I like the Nuyorican Soul version of “Nautilus” a lot, but the way I hear it, it sounds like a hip-hop remix—not really a remake—of the Bob James version. “Nautilus” is a light jazz tune with an odd arrangement; I would expect a remake of it to have the same hook and changes, but little else. But the Nuyorican version repeats the quirks of the Bob James version turn-for-turn. They even replicate the little piano thing Bob did on the original. What’s different is the production quality and instrumentation. As any beat-miner knows, almost all pop and jazz records that were recorded during or before the mid-Eighties have a thin, light sound. (Of course, this is true only in retrospect. In 1974, the production quality of “Nautilus” wouldn’t have sounded ‘thin’ at all. It would have sounded ‘normal.’) Primarily due to the influence of hip-hop, most popular records today have a thick, bass-heavy sound. (This is true even of records that would seem to be out of the realm of hip-hop’s influence: jazz, country, soundtrack recordings, what have you. Everything sounds ‘boomy’ these days.) The biggest difference I hear between the Bob James version and the Nuyorican version is the heaviness. Nuyorican’s sound is thick, full and bass-heavy—their record sounds like a good hip-hop record should. BTW, I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard the Nuyorican version because of a funny thing that happened while I was listening to it. Late one night, Kalamu stopped by to give me a stack of new CDs to check out (something he does all the time — I don’t know where he finds the time to listen to all the music he listens to); the next morning, I popped the Nuyorican Soul in my CD changer, skipped straight to their remake of “Nautilus” and started driving. I was on the highway, doing 70, when they got to the part where Bob would do his little Run-DMC “Beats to the Rhyme” bit. I thought: “I know they’re not going to do it. That was just a little throwaway thing that people remember only because Run-DMC happened to sample it. They’re going to play right through it.” But sure enough, they did it! I hit the roof, literally. I was bouncing in my seat, laughing out loud. I couldn’t believe Nuyorican actually put that little bit in there. As soon as the song was over, I reached for my cell phone to call Kalamu. But before I dialed, I realized there was a problem: there was no way Kalamu would know what I was talking about. For us to talk about Nuyorican’s little ‘tribute’ to Run-DMC/Bob James, he would have to know both “Beats to the Rhyme” and the original version of “Nautilus.” It would be like telling a joke I knew he wouldn’t get, then trying to explain the punchline: the more I explained, the less funny it would get. Anyway, my point is this: Nuyorican’s inclusion of that Run-DMC sample isn’t a coincidence. The way I hear it, it’s a wink and a nod to hip-hop—just a little something from Kenny Dope and Little Louie to let us hip-hoppers know that we’re all on the same page. Then again, it occurs to me that the remake itself is no coincidence. If rap DJs and producers had never sampled “Nautilus,” there’s an approximately 0% chance that Masters At Work would have remade it. They weren’t remaking a Bob James song — they were recreating/remixing/updating a hip-hop sample source. And like Kalamu said, they did it correct. —Mtume ya Salaam             Timing is everything          But, of course, now we are having a real conversation about Black music. Check this: I have a poem I wrote (but which has never been committed to paper) called “words have meaning but only in context.” That poem reflects a concept I hold as key to an African Aesthetic. Another example: in the Richard Pryor movie Jo Jo Dancer, the character Billy Eckstein plays tells the young up-and-coming comic that “timing is everything,” which I hear as another way to express the primacy of context. The primacy of context does not negate the importance of content, but rather indicates that content is not solely self-referential, i.e. what something means is not just what it says it means but is also a function of how it says what it means and when and where it says what it means. Which, I guess, is why “Nautilus” (a piece of music which neither of us are overly impressed with in and of itself) can generate this extended philosophical discussion. As Mtume noted, we’re not talking about the same thing because we’re not talking about a particular piece of music, per se; rather, we are each, from our individual perspectives, focusing on the context within which we know that particular piece of music. But better than this abstract philosophical-speak, I like your reference to quilting, i.e. taking a piece of a shirt and weaving it into the overall quilt. The impact of a shirt fragment in the quilt is not due simply to the impact of the cloth sample in its original state but rather to the artful juxtaposition of that piece of cloth into a new context. Moreover, not only is the quilt more interesting than the original cloth and even often of higher overall quality and utility, but indeed the quilt is also of more lasting importance to future generations. Thus, you can say you have no interest in Bob James even as you could talk about "Nautilus" for days, citing when, where and how James’ recording was used. I guess as a non-recovering jazz addict, I remain interested in the back that bore the shirt, and in the tailor of the shirt, and not just interested in a use of a piece of the shirt in a quilt. Or, to put it another way, a quilt is not a shirt, and while I dig quilts (I mean, really dig quilts), I also harbor an interest in shirts. “Nautilus” as a shirt holds no interest for me. One other quick response (then I want to get out the way and hear what others have to say). You correctly note that the sound quality, the mix, has changed how we hear songs, what we determine as a 'normal' way for a song to sound when reproduced. Really, there is no 'normal' in an absolute sense — but that’s another story. The drums up front, the dominance of rhythm in the mix, yes, that is a major hip hop contribution. However, the dominance of rhythm in determining the character of the music is as old as Black music in America and before and beyond that. Generally speaking, people don’t know that when recordings were invented the first thing they did was get rid of the drum sound as the musicians were making it. The drummer had to hit on wood blocks rather than the whole drum set. It took us damn near 100 years to get the drum sound on record. Up until recently, the technology itself couldn’t accommodate what we were doing, what we were hearing, the sounds we were making. Negroes beating on shit pushed the needles into the red, caused reproduction equipment to melt down. There is the story of a Pharoah Sanders recording session. After the first take the musicians were ready to hear what they had played, feeling like it was a great take. The engineer had to admit, the machines couldn’t handle it and that they would have to do it over with some, ah, 'adjustments.' Rhythm. Rhythm. Which leads me to a distinction. We jazz heads hear rhythm organically. Hip-hop heads hear rhythmic mechanically. And that is not a good vs. bad distinction, but rather a simple recognition of the difference in the way the music sounds when made by musicians who interact with each other in the process of playing, as compared to the sound of a producer patiently layering the music using computers and machinery (drum machines, samplers, etc.). Each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses, its own dominant characteristics. It’s own feel. I continue to enjoy organic interaction even as I have learned to hear compositional authority in terms of computer-produced beats. My personal prejudice is towards interactive improvisation, and thus I am less impressed by that which is unchanging, but my stance is also a limitation which makes it difficult for me to get excited about and be aware of the possibilities inherent in a piece like “Nautilus.” The organic interpretation of “Nautilus” is why I was so impressed with what Masters At Work did. As much as I dig and use digital technology, I still prefer organic music — but I also uphold another impulse, the need for more than me to thrive in this world. I am diminished when I refuse to recognize the other, whosoever the other be. The beauty of the present time period is that we can have both without sacrificing the strengths or potential of either. Thus, I am willing to discuss contemporary uses of Bob James’ “Nautilus” at length even if I remain unwilling to listen to the original recording all the way through more than once. —Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 17th, 2005 at 12:01 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

24 Responses to “BOB JAMES / “Nautilus””

Nadir L. Bomani Says:
July 18th, 2005 at 3:00 pm

When i listen to Nautilus
the songs that come to mind are in this order:
1. THE CHOSEN ONE’s "the mic is on fire"
2. GHOSTFACE KILLAH’s "daytona 500"
3. an ICE CREAM TEE song produced by DIAMOND D (sorry the title escapes me)
4. ERIC B & RAKIM’s "let the rhythm hit em"
5. an ORGANIZED KONFUSION song off their first album (escapes me too)
6. RUN DMC’s "beats to the rhyme"

i know a jazz enthusiast (one in particular) who wouldn’t use a Bob James CD as a coaster, but my hip hop homies would let Nautilus lead of their mix cd. Hey, shit can be good fertilizer too.

Daytona 500 has no relevance to the content in ghostface’s song. i mean we’re talking about ghostface! relevance is often substituted for "fly sounding shit" when it comes to "pretty tony’s" catalog.

I remember Louis Vega’s production from Latifah’s debut "All Hail The Queen." So mtume, your analysis is on point when it comes to the nautilus remix, because Vega was influential in the queen’s "flavor unit" sound in 1989. man i’m gettin’ old.

Mtume says:                                                         

Nadir, you got me on #3, but #5 has to be "Stray Bullet." (Haven’t heard it in a while, but I think that’s the one.) 

AumRa Frezel Says:
July 19th, 2005 at 3:48 pm

Rap became the foster parent of many genres of music that were starving for attention. The Nautilus recording is not a classic. It is arguable that there would be anything about Bob James worthy to discuss here had it not been for this one cut. The use of the essential parts of Nautilus by others is innovative.

This music situation is kind of like how soul food utilizes those leftover parts of the pig. If the rooter and the tooter is all you got access to and you clean it real good, season it well, then cook the shit out of it, then people might eat it. Hell, they might even develop an appetite for it. However, in the long run this devitalized staple will not sustain health.

After years of not selling jazz records the industry became desperate. The factors contributing to jazz fans’ inability to locate their music were several. One of the industry’s responses to this situation was to utilize FM radio as a vehicle to infect, what was considered at that time, the “record buying public” with this hybrid. The genres ‘smooth jazz’ and ‘fusion’ were created to sell a specific product to a specific demographic. Now I’m not saying the music industry creating smooth jazz or fusion is a comparison to putting lipstick on a pig. It’s like a musical organ donor program or perhaps more like applying Soylent Green technology in order to control the population’s consumption of pop music and thereby, controlling the population. Long ago George Clinton said that America eats it young.

I tend to look for innovation and true innovators will always emerge in most any situation. There is a big difference between Bob James’ Nautilus and trendsetters like Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. One recording was thrown under the ‘classic’ banner because the gods took dormant organisms, extracted strands of relevant DNA and recreated life. Otherwise, this is just some dead shit that could not survive in the wild on its own. The other is a classic whose music, in its original state, will forever stand on its own and stand the test of time. I know this brother who doesn’t even hear Bob James when he listens to this music or any of them other joints that appropriated bits and pieces from Nautilus. He be like, "Bob who? Oh snap!" This Nautilus situation speaks to the resourcefulness of the producers and dj’s of rap music. Anyone who can make a delicacy out of pig’s intestines has got to be a genius. There is the familiarity of the beat with just a sample of the melody; it is almost subliminal. While feasting on chitterlings the subconscious palate may become intrigued after tasting the faint essence of corn once digested by the dearly departed pig. I understand that there are certain components to a well-balanced diet but if all that you have access to are pig scraps then you may want to try and find a meal that doesn’t consist of second-hand protein. (Check Aceyalone’s use of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman on the track Book of Human Language.)

Bob James might be a great hip hop trivia question. But the Nautilus recording itself is not a classic.



Mtume says:                                                        

AumRa, let me say that your entire response, particularly the last paragraph, is itself a classic. That said, before we go any further, let us define the word ‘classic,’ thereby (hopefully) advancing this conversation past the stumbling block of semantics:

There are three major definitions of the word ‘classic’ (as it is being used in this conversation):

    1. Belonging to the highest rank or class.

    2. Serving as the established model or standard; a classic example of colonial architecture.

    3. Having lasting significance or worth; enduring.

AumRa and Kalamu appear to be using definition #1 almost exclusively, with a bit of definition #2 thrown in here and there. I believe all three definitions are valid, including the last, and it is under the last definition that "Nautilus" falls. (And one might make a good argument for definition #2. E.g., "Nautilus" is a classic breakbeat. Hard to argue that it isn’t, given that it’s still being sampled / covered / collected today, some 30-plus years after Bob James initially recorded it.)

Second (although I’m sure this will do nothing to appease the righteous indignation of jazzheads Kalamu, AumRa, et al), lightning in fact struck twice: Bob James’ version of Paul Simon’s "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" is another of hip-hop’s most-sampled records, the most notable example being Run-DMC’s "Peter Piper."

Third (and I can’t believe I’m putting myself in the unenviable and tenuous position of defending Bob James), even without either "Nautilus" or "Take Me To The Mardi Gras," Bob James would/should be considered a significant contributer to Black music via his participation in recordings by artists such as Ron Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Quincy Jones, Stanley Turrentine, Deodato, Hubert Laws, and (a personal favorite) Idris Muhammad on Idris’ 1974 album Power Of Soul.

Fourth, the spite and vitriol leveled at Mr. James is indicative of feelings that run far deeper and wider than anything James may or may not have done. If jazzheads are angry at what the system has done to jazz (as I am angry about what the system has done to hip-hop), said jazzheads should feel free to rant and scream and cry on the floor like babies, but, as they do so, they should remain cognizant of their own prejudices, biases and predispositions. Remember: Kalamu wrote his first response to my "Nautilus" post before he even listened to the record. Is it possible for a hardcore jazzhead to listen without prejudice to Bob James? Just wondering.

Finally, in closing, allow me to quote literature critic John O’Brien, from his essay, "Milan Kundera: Meaning, Play, and the Role of the Author." Mr. O’Brien writes: “Always there is an inherent contradiction in these kinds of critical analyses that take pages upon pages to argue that a novel does not mean anything.”

AumRa Frezel Says:
July 20th, 2005 at 1:14 pm

AumRa: “Kalamu, throw yo pen in the air and spit bile like you just don’t care. Nah when I say music, you say Black.”

AumRa: “music”

Kalamu: “Black!”

AumRa: “music”

Kalamu: “Black!”

AumRa: “Nah when I say Bob James, you say whack”

AumRa: “Bob James”

Kalamu: “Whack!”

AumRa: “Bob James”

Kalamu: “Whack!”

AumRa: “Bob James Bob James Bob James Bob James”

Kalamu: “Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!”

AumRa & Kalamu: “Nah somebody… scream!”

Mtume: “AAAHHHhhhh!”

Damn, my bad Mtume. I didn’t mean to get you all riled and the bold print; nice touch. But man, be honest. Your thing is based mainly on romanticizing the past about how it was when you first heard that 12 note break beat than it is about Bob James’ alleged significance. And, I ain’t gon even lie, if I hear that shit right now I might even bounce to it provided it was in the context of some break beat. However when placed in the broader context of Black music Bob James is a gnat on the ass of a cow when you are in a car rolling down the highway at 70 mph. (thanks Danny Glover). This ain’t the image awards. I can say what I wanna. That’s the beauty of music; it subjective.

For the record, I never said that Bob James was not a contributor to Black music but since you brought it up we can document me rat nah, “Bob James is definitely not a significant contributor to Black music.” Damn, I thought I implied that when I said, don’t make pork a significant part of your diet. You know how many good musicians, Black, European, Asian, hell I even know a dead space alien from Saturn, who’d be way up there before ‘let’s make a buck Bob’ could crack this list? I don’t know that I would use terms prejudice, bias and predisposition (not really sure of the meaning of the last word since I’m not inclined to use dollar words in .50 cent conversations). I guess I would prefer less provocative terms, simple ones such as likes and dislike.

I like Nautilus samples in the context of rap music and dislike Bob James music otherwise. Lightning could even strike a third time and Bob James still would be just as obscure as when you scrolled all the way down to that third definition of the word classic. If you got to reach that far, then cool. Way to go, Bob! I can’t believe you brought up Paul Simon. His career was garbage until he traveled back across the Atlantic and ‘discovered’ Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Finally, Eumir Deodato is not Black; he’s just non-white. But hey, if you want, we can try to pick him up in the next draft – provided that Joe Zawinul is not still on the board.



          Kalamu says        

i know it’s hard, aumra, but the fact of the matter is you’re talking jazz, mtume is talking hip hop.

mtume, to be clear, i wasn’t writing a review of "nautilus" without hearing it—indeed i heard it when it first came out, i just didn’t "listen" to it nor take it seriously (and still don’t, for that matter). however, your insights with regards to how the record was used in the world of hip hop were right on so i listened to you and then went back to try to listen to nautilus in that context—and still couldn’t "listen" all the way through.

as a jazz record, it ain’t squat. as a hip hop source record, it is a classic. simple as that.

and one more thing. once we open our eyes and ears to the spectrum of our music, we see that this is not a new pattern. sure we didn’t have sampling and such, forty or fifty years ago, but what we did have is billie holiday being presented with the dregs of then popular music and she turning that stuff inside-out to weave a resplendent sonic quilt. indeed, aumra, as you well know, a major part of the history of jazz is black musicians taking lame-ass tunes and turning them into hip numbers. who would ever want to travel down green dolphins street were it not for miles’ midnight amble?

i’m saying: taking whatever america leaves and making it much more than what we received, is one of the chief characteristics of black music in general and jazz in particular. and don’t get me started on the song that was written by a slave ship captain thanking god for sparing his ship in a storm, i.e. "amazing grace." and by the way aumra, i know you dig zawinul’s version of duke’s "come sunday" that zawinul did while he was with cannonball, mercy, mercy, mercy!

blackness for me is about color, culture and consciousness, with the color (or biological element) being the least important of the three. just like blacks, such as leontine price, singing opera don’t make that music any less a european artform, whites, such as bob james (playing ability aside) composing and recording nautilus don’t make jazz any less a black artform, nor does elvis redux, aka, eminem, mean that rap is any less… but yall understand.

to respect another person’s point a view, even if they totally disagree with you, in no way diminishes your own point of view, indeed, when you can see it your way and another way, you see a lot more than…

ok, i wasn’t going to go all the way there, but check this out yall: all three of the featured cuts deal with amalgamation—sociologically speaking, "racial purity" is a myth. nautilus is a bedrock of rap. bowmboi used a classical string quartet as the sole instrumentation. and paula lima, with her bad self, is singing a glenn miller chestnut. is that white/black/mulatto enough for you? 

mistacee Says:
July 22nd, 2005 at 12:51 pm

I am a 29 year old Hip Hop DJ have been spinning for about 15 years (But listening for a lot longer) and this is my favourite track of all time.
I do not claim to be an expert on Jazz even though i own a few thousand Jazz records covering many different styles. I dont understand the hate Bob James gets but i guess im not meant to. I love his work as much as I love the work of Sun Ra or Pharoah Saunders. I love what Hip-Hop has opened me too and made me aware of musically.
‘Nautilas’ is a track I can listen to forever and never get bored.

Great site by the way I’m glad i found it.

Sean Lytle Says:
September 26th, 2005 at 1:44 pm

I believe that music is universal. I don’t care what background or ethnicity you’re from, you are playing or singing something to make me think, feel good plus, it just sounds good, I’m all for it. Wheather it is Bob James, Rick James, or Etta James. It’s all good to me. FYI folks, the first time I heard a Nautilus sample was in 1986. The song was called “Bait” by the Ultra Magnetic Mc’s. And the best use in my personnal opinion was 1991 underground hit by King Sun called “Big Shots”. I think there were lot a great analog keyboardists in 1970’s and 1980’s but Mr. James put’s you in a place of mystery. It takes a good imagination and skill to pull off what he has. Think, a pianist who paints words on your brain with tones of hammers striking wires of a Fender Rhodes or ARP synthesizer which I happen to be very fond of, and placing images to go with it. Just thought I would add my two cents.

Chris Defendorf Says:
April 9th, 2006 at 12:55 am

least-known use of “Nautilus”- the classic minor/major seventh flute thing, backwards, in “Anti-N@#$%^& machine”.

Victor UVE Velasco Says:
May 19th, 2006 at 7:43 am

What I love about sampling is the fact that you’re not just capturing the music as it refers to the composition; you are taking the atmosphere and the intensity of the musicians. Is like taking all that context you talked about and repositioning it. So the resulting music is dealing with a lot of parameters that a simple interpolation wouldn’t do.

I speak spanish so it’s hard for me to explain it fluently. Anyway, I think that the way DJ Premier flipped the drums of “Nautilus” in my favorite “Nautilus” sampled track, Group Home’s “Inna Citi Life”, is a good example. It would be easy to do the same drum programming with a beat box, but what is really great in that track is the manipulation of the original atmosphere of the recording.

King Sun’s “Big Shots” is my other personal fav too.

What a great discussion here. Peace.

black Says:
July 21st, 2006 at 12:20 am

when ghost face titled the song daytona 500 he was making reference to the beat and the lyrics. They where rapping fast and the beat was just going and going as though there was no break in the song. Is it by happen stance that the video he did for the song was the cartoon speed racer? That was the feeling that was projected in the song. That’s what makes pretty tony a hot artist. Not only does he rap off hot beats, his unique flow fits the beat and he translates that into an experience. No joke, when I hear daytona 500 I am compelled to put the pedal to the metal. If my car could do 200mph, I would do it to this song. It has that effect on me and I am sure that most would agree.

trp Says:
December 15th, 2006 at 10:24 am

in case this hadn’t been mentioned already, clipse re-used the ghostface killah version on “We Got It 4 Cheap: Vol 2”.

December 19th, 2006 at 4:58 pm

thank you BOB JAMES for your inspirations.

lover of life Says:
January 13th, 2007 at 3:26 pm

Wow.. a lot of very good writing in this discussion, Hats off to everyone there.

As I read through this thread, I kept on getting this uncomfortable feeling that I’ve had before but couldn’t place it. Then it finally hit me. It was the same feeling I get when I hear (mostly white) people’s subtle discrediting of black basketball players by saying something like, “yea he was a great athlete and sure could jump, but nobody had as high a basketball IQ as Larry Bird”.

It’s a little different, but some of the polite, subtle, thoroughly argued, discrediting of Jame’s stuff seem a bit like too much. Meaning that bigger issues about race and music are being broached but not addressed directly.

I feel like someone wants to say “Bob James is a white dude, and as far as I am concerned they hardly, if ever, make something worth listening too. So I refuse to do so.” Of course that might come off as a mildly bigoted or at least unfairly generalizing statement so instead we get really elaborate rationalizations of that sentiment.

I don’t begrudge anyone for filtering what they’re willing to listen too, no matter how they do it, be it by genre, period, or even racial categories. I don’t find the statement “I don’t really listen to white artists because I personally never head one that did much for me so I just focus on X type of music”, to be offensive at all. But if that is how someone does in fact feel, than i think it is misleading to others to be putting these elaborate rationalizations out there which discredit an artist when the author has actual dismissed them apriori. It would be like some classical only fan writting an essay on why “Paid in Full” doesn’t hold up as a classic. Abit of an extreme example, but done for emphasis.

Note these are thoughts from feelings I got while reading these posts. I am not accusing anyone directly because I don’t know any of you. I just thought I should put it out there.

Ruff Rob the drumgoblin Says:
April 15th, 2007 at 7:57 pm

The Ice Cream Tee song that samples Bob James’ ‘Nautilus’ is entitled ‘Keep Hushin’ & appeared on the now officially reissued Strong City Records 4 song 12-inch. PEACE!!!!

August 26th, 2007 at 3:35 am

everyone is mentioning "Beats To The Rhyme" by RUN D.M.C. for sampling the song BUT forgot that "Peter Piper’ by RUN D.M.C. was buit entirely on the song Nautilus!!

Give Bob James his respects, the same that you give all the other artists that you’re comparing him to. Oops, too late, he already got mad respect globally because of the multiple sample uses!!

          Mtume says:           

I think you meant to say that Run-D.M.C.’s "Peter Piper" is based on a sample of Bob James’ version of "Take Me To The Mardi Gras," not "Nautilus." There aren’t any "Nautilus" samples in "Peter Piper." Those famous bells (which, as you say, have been used many, many times in hip-hop) are from "Mardi Gras."

MIchael.Warrick Says:
March 11th, 2008 at 4:43 am

How can you say that song is not a classic? So many tracks in Hiphop are based off of Nautilus.

“I could have made my double LP, just by sampling different parts of Nautilus” – Nas

Tracks Below All Sample Nautilus:

A Tribe Called Quest – “Clap Your Hands”
Alkaholiks – “Daaam!”
All Natural – “Think Again”
Basement Khemist – “Correct Technique”
Camp Lo – “Black Nostaljack”
DJ Food – “Spiral Dub”
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – “Jazzy’s Groove”
Dream Warriors – “Voyage Through the Multiverse”
EPMD – “Brothers on My Jock”
Eric B & Rakim – “Follow the Leader”
Eric B & Rakim – “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em”
Freestylers – “Warning”
Geto Boys – “Snitches”
Ghostface Killah – “Daytona 500”
Group Home – “Inna Citi Life”
Ice T – “?”
JCD and the Dawg lb – “Over *****”
Jeru – “My Mind Spray”
Joe Budden – “Yo, Yo, Yo”
Jungle Brothers – “Book of Rhyme Pages”
K-Solo – “Everybody Knows Me”
Keith Murray – “The Rhyme”
King Sun – “Big Shots”
Kruder & Dorfmeister – “Original Bedroom Rockers”
Large Professor ft Pete Rock – “The Rap World”
Leaders of the New School – “Show Me a Hero”
Lord Shafiyq – “My Mic is on Fire”
Lyrical Prophecy – “You Can’t Swing This”
Main Source – “Live at the Barbecue”
Mary J. Blige – “Just Mary”
Mary J. Blige ft Nas & DMX – “Sincerity”
Mekon – “Phatty’s Lunch Box”
Mike Zoot – “Scene”
Naughty by Nature – “Cruddy Clique”
Nice & Smooth – “No Delayin'”
Onyx – “Throw Ya Gunz”
Onyx – “Black Vagina Finda”
Pete Rock & CL Smooth – “Take You There”
Pete Rock & CL Smooth – “What’s Next on the Menu?”
Pete Rock & CL Smooth – “The Sun Won’t Come Out”
Poison Clan – “Paper Chase”
Poor Righteous Teachers – “Word is Bond”
Public Enemy – “Anti-****** Machine”
Puff Daddy ft Busta Rhymes and Notorious BIG – “Victory”
Queen Mother Rage – “Slippin’ into Darkness”
Red Myers – “Shoplifter”
Run-DMC – “Groove to the Sound”
Run-DMC – “Beats to the Rhyme”
Salt-N-Pepa – “Doper than Dope”
Slick Rick – “Children’s Story”
Soul II Soul – “Jazzie’s Groove”
Tame One – “Torture Chamber”
The Roots ft Mos Def – “Double Trouble”
Threat – “Bust One Fa Me”
Tim Dog – “Bronx *****”
Tim Dog – “Low Down *****”
Tim Dog – “I’ll Wax Anybody”
Ultramagnetic MC – “Moe Love on the One & Two”
Ultramagnetic MC – “Ced Gee (Delta Force One)”
Ultramagnetic MC – “Raise it Up”

Aone Says:
April 4th, 2008 at 12:49 am

Great discussion here arguments on both sides are compelling… but………… I gotta ride with my man Bob James on this. His minimalistic style was outstanding on those CTI albums. People either forget or don’t know that Quincy (le Q!) Jones is the man that discovered Bob and co-signed him to the rest of the jazz establishment. I’d find it pretty hard to believe that folks like Ron Carter, Sarah Vaughn (for whom he arranged for 5 years) Idris, Eric Gale, Benson, and many others think of him as some sort of jazz hack (Kenny G).

KDG Says:
November 13th, 2008 at 4:30 pm

This is a great conversation, one of the many fine examples why the internet is such a defining tool of our times.

I found this site because for about two weeks now I have been listening to a new mix tape by DJ LRM which features a song called “Its Like That” by D-Block f.k.a. the Lox. And of course I recognized the sample used for it immediately however I too had no idea what song was being sampled. The first song that popped into my mind was “Brothas on my Jock” by EPMD. One of the two songs on the ‘Business As Usual’ album that featured Redman before his first solo album was realeased, by the way (the other was Hardcore) . I love that song. I know Red’s verse by heart but will spare you all a rendition.

Anyways, so about a week after listening to this LRM mixtape and really digging it, I approached one of my co-workers who is also a huge hip-hop fan and asked him if he knew the original sample. The only other song we could come up wth was “Daytona 500”. That provoked me to look up that song on which listed “Nautilus” as one of the sample sources. I plugged that information into google and found you guys here.

I am so glad that I did. It is amazing that I am catching up to a conversation that began over 3 years ago and still has relevance.

I am going to now do two things
1) do some reasearch on Bob James
2) began to add this website into my cycle of regularly visited places.

Thank you all for your contributions. As an enterprising DJ and musician I look at everyday as a learning experience because the more I look and dig and investigate, the more is revleaed to me. Thanks for helping to continue my education.


Rohan Says:
December 22nd, 2008 at 12:06 am

Nautlius is a classic tune. Just listen to it, loud, on good monitors. Close your eyes. It will take you to a mysterious, deep, slightly paranoid place. Its mood is magic, its melody infectious. The composition is excellent and I always get sad when the track fades out, hoping that it would just go on forever. If you don’t get it then you don’t get it, maybe it is not classic to you, but the fact that so many have found inspiration from it surely speaks for something.

jalabi Says:
March 16th, 2009 at 12:19 am

I dislike puritanism and closemindedness in hip hop, in jazz and in life. I dislike people dismissing musicians outright because of their race, or because of the genre of music that they play. If sampling (like imitation) is the sincerest form of flattery, Bob James has been flattered more than almost every other musician, save James Brown.

lover of life, above, said it best. The hate that people have for Bob James is entirely misplaced, as well as irrational. Quincy Jones is no hack and he brought Bob James to prominence. I think that says it all to me.

Thank you to Michael.Warrick (above) for producing that list of tracks that sampled “Nautilus”, and if you want to hear a new interpretation of the song, go to YouTube and search for Nicolay.

Just gotta say Says:
May 14th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Nuyorican Soul’s version of Nautulis is not even worth listening to. Cmon now. Lets be real and stop trying to be all underground and cool. Theres absolutely nothing special about it besides a slightly different drum pattern.

DarkerThan Says:
May 22nd, 2009 at 8:15 pm

“Bob James is definitely not a significant contributor to Black music.” -AumRa

You might want to do a little research…


I guess you’re right AumRa, he’s not a contributor, just the victim of thievery. Without others people’s music to use what would those “artists” put their amazing beats and rhymes over.

I say that in a semi-joking fashion but in all seriousness can you not acknowledge the source material?

errol barnes Says:
May 25th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

lol im 27 and i remember i hear the bob james original first, a long time before i hear the hip hop stuff who sampled it.


Leopold Stotch Says:
June 15th, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Great article.
Besides the all the numerous sampling of Nautilus, there’s plenty of good great cover versions of it too..

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