Where to even start with The Supremes? The legendary group have done nothing throughout the years but produce classic Motown records, influencing a myriad of different musicians within different genres. When Diana Ross left The Supremes in the pursuit of a solo career, Motown founder Berry Gordy decided on her replacement after seeing 24-year-old Jean Terrell perform with her brother Ernie in Florida, subsequently leading the new Supremes group with Jean as the lead vocalist. They found some success through their first Jean Terrell-led studio album Right On (1970), but it wasn’t until half a year later when they released their second studio album New Ways But Love Stays (1970), that they really grew artistically. The record was produced by Frank Wilson and featured one of their most successful and popular singles “Stoned Love,” which was a controversial record due to its reference to drug use. It thus didn’t get the radio play it deserved when it was released, and the album itself didn’t exceed its true potential in terms of global reach.
They have been sampled to death by hip-hop producers throughout the years, but one song in particular off that album captured the ears of legendary producer DJ Premier. “It’s Time to Break Down,” the second track on The Supremes’ critically acclaimed album was sampled by Preemo for Gang Starr’s fifth studio album Moment of Truth (1998), on a cut titled ‘JFK 2 LAX.’ Flipping the sample beautifully, the raw aesthetic of the original is translated on the Gang Starr classic. The concept of this song is heartbreaking as much as it is inspirational, as Guru raps about being arrested on gun possession charges at JFK Airport in New York, and reminds the youth of how to retain a positive outlook on life and progress.
Years later, Madlib took the same Supremes sample, and flipped it himself, in a way remixing the Gang Starr original with a track called LAX to JFK as Quasimoto on his 2013 album Yessir Whatever. Madlib’s emphasis on the heavy drums on this song mean that the sample is more subtle and subdued compared to Preemo’s flip, which took more of a direct sampling approach with the original, making it more of a central feature on the classic song. To me, while Preemo’s sample sticks closer to the sample itself, really reinventing it and bringing it to life in a grittier soundscape, the heaviness of Madlib’s version is what makes it more of a song I would return to for the production alone. You can listen to Madlib’s version as Quasimoto below.
You can find purchase information for The Supremes’ New Ways But Love Stays (1970) here via Discogs.com.