Did you know Enya lives in a castle? True story. That might be because she’s one of the world’s most prominent and reclusive artists. The ‘Orinoco Flow’ singer has consistently outsold Beyoncé in key markets and has counted among her fans Paul McCartney and Pope John Paul II.
But the Irish singer’s music isn’t just reserved for ethereal healing ceremonies, papal vestries and The Lord of the Rings soundtracks.
Millions of R&B and hip-hop fans have heard her music because her tracks get frequently sampled. According to WhoSampled, she had been sampled 161 times at the time of writing. Those might seem like rookie numbers compared to ‘Funky Drummer’ or the ‘Amen’ break, but her track ‘Boadicea’ is the source of one of the most recognisable samples in popular music.
According to the Musiio AI, ‘Boadicea’ has a genre mix Ambient and Electronic, with elements of Jazz. Moods are Mysterious, Dreamy and Peaceful, with low energy. The AI also gives the track a Cinematic use case tag. These elements make it an unusual and distinctive sample for R&B and hip-hop.
Recontextualising Enya: The Fugees
The first act to have a big hit by sampling ‘Boadicea’ and bringing it to a new audience was The Fugees. The ominous minor key synth and ethereal vocals form a cinematic atmosphere that’s the perfect counterpoint to producer Salaam Remi’s hip hop beat.
And it wasn’t just ‘Boadicea’ that formed the basis of ‘Ready or Not’. The main vocal hook interpolates The Delfonics’ 1968 song ‘Ready or Not Here I Come’. According to AI, this parent track registers as Carefree, Uplifting, Heartfelt and Soulful.
Analysing ‘Ready of Not’, we can see the hallmarks of the lyrical hook’s origins; The Fugees track triggers Seductive tags with elements of Bold and Soulful moods. The hip hop beat lifts the energy levels, registering as Medium with the tagging AI. Genres, meanwhile, register as R&B and Hip Hop with elements of Smooth R&B and Dance R&B.
Unfortunately for The Fugees, despite landing a UK number 1 with the track, introducing Enya’s music to a new generation and making the sample a modern classic, they didn’t clear the sample (or give credit). The Irish singer and her team were understandably not thrilled, and the ensuing label wrangling saw Enya receive a large portion of that track’s revenue.
Diddy and Mario Winans go by the book
‘Boadicea’s legacy didn’t end there. In 2004, P. Diddy learned from The Fugees’ mistake. Instead, he called Enya’s team to clear the sample for his protogé Mario Winans. Thankfully, Winans’ clean-cut image as a gospel singer played well with Enya, who green-lit the sample’s use – reportedly taking a 60% royalty cut. The result was the R&B smash hit ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, one of Winans’ defining tracks.
The track’s sampling lineage differs from ‘Ready or Not’. ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ samples the outro beat from EPMD’s 1988 hip hop track ‘You’re A Customer’, for a straighter feel.
The resultant track tags up as Soul, R&B with elements of Smooth R&B and Neo Soul. In terms of sound, it’s more pop-leaning than The Fugees’ Ready or Not’. And, as far as moods go, triggers Optimistic, Chill, Warm and Soulful tags.
After 18 years, the sample returns
At the end of 2022, Metro Boomin reinvigorated the ‘Boadicea’ sample once again, tapping The Weeknd and 21 Savage to interpolate Winans’ track. This version lifts the chorus hook from ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, and uses some of EPMD’s beat but half-times the verse drum pattern to make space for The Weeknd’s mournful voice.
Even though its most prominent genre tag is R&B, ‘Creepin’’ is the most pop-sounding track the ‘Boadicea’ sample has been used on. Our AI tags it as Pop with 32% confidence.
We can also detect Alternative R&B (26%) and Electro Pop (21%), which fit with the use of arpeggiators and sub-bass synths.
Advice for music makers and sample libraries
Producers today can learn a thing or two here.
When ‘Ready or Not’ dropped in 1996, it sounded unique. Music makers looking for unique and ear-catching sounds can always be on the lookout for older samples to recontextualise for today’s generation. And they might be in the most unexpected places. Winans alleges he “first heard 'Boadicea' at the end of the movie Sleepwalkers”, a Stephen King B-movie from 1992, for example.
Beatmakers could also profit from looking outside their go-to sound palettes for samples. Cinematic vocals, for example, can work for R&B and hip hop. And combining these sounds with genre-appropriate beats can be a potent mix.
For composers or library music producers, there may be mileage in designing cinematic vocals with hip hop and R&B in mind. Likewise, sample library sites can find a new home for existing cinematic vocal samples by aiming them at beatmakers looking for the Enya effect.
Want to own your own castle? Enya’s approach demonstrates the importance of understanding music licensing and selecting the right opportunities. While she might not have approved The Fugees sample in the first instance, she (and her team) take sampling requests seriously and understand the legacy implications of saying “yes”. It can be a lucrative business.