The famous bass line on A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 breakthrough hit cost the rap group a lot of money.
‘Can I Kick It’ is built around a handful of samples, but most recognisable is the sliding bass part from Lou Reed’s 1972 Transformer classic ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, played by Herbie Flowers. According to Phife Dawg, when the group asked for permission from Reed to use the sample, he agreed – with one condition.
“I remember with [record label] Jive, there was a problem with the sample being cleared,” Phife told Rolling Stone. “I don’t think they cleared the sample, and instead of Lou Reed saying, ‘You can’t use it,’ he said, ‘Y’all can use it, but I get all the money from that.'”
Reed took all of the royalties and publishing, says Phife, and “to this day, we haven’t seen a dime from that song.” He doesn’t seem to mind, though.
“I’m grateful that [the song] kicked in the door, but to be honest, that was the label’s fault,” the rapper says. “They didn’t clear the sample. And rightfully so. It’s his art; it’s his work. He could have easily said no. There could have easily been no ‘Can I Kick It?’ So you take the good with the bad. And the good is, we didn’t get sued. We just didn’t get nothing from it.”
As the magazine points out, Reed was a hip-hop fan from the start, once inviting Run-DMC to perform on his episode of MTV show Rock Influences. The late Velvet Underground frontman was also a massive fan of Yeezus.
The album that produced ‘Can I Kick It?’, 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, has just been reissued in a 25th anniversary edition along with a covetable vinyl 45s box set.