If you're a hip-hop fan, chances are the percussion break from "Apache" will be something that you've heard used a million different ways. Another part of the song was used by the Sugar Hill Gang for their hit single "Jump On It", which was forever immortalised in "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air". What this documentary aims to do is show you the nameless musicians behind the now famous track that's been sampled to death.
Well, technically it aims to show you the origins of the band that recorded the specific version of the song. The Shadows, who wrote the original version of the track, get only a brief mention. Instead, the focus of the film in the Incredible Bongo Band. A bunch of session musicians who were assembled by movie/music producer Michael Viner. He was a former employee of Robert Kennedy who, after the assassination, decided to get into the music game despite not being able to play an instrument himself. He assembled The Incredible Bongo Band to soundtrack a film he was producing and the band recorded an album of covers, including the aforementioned "Apache".
The band would be lost to the annals of music history if not for the burgeoning hip-hop scene in New York in the late seventies. Guys like DJ Kool Herc were hosting block parties and trying to find music that people would never have heard, but would get them up to dance. "Apache" was one of those records and the section of the record that Herc sampled became the trademark sound of the era and has since become a cornerstone for many hip-hop classics.
What I've given here is merely a brief synopsis. The backstories of the band members of The Incredible Bongo Band and their ambitious producer in the form of Michael Viner is what makes up the real meat of the piece. It's ably narrated by Gene Simmons, and features some talking heads in the form of MCs and DJs who were on the ground floor when the movement was starting, and they talk about the influence of the song on their culture. There are some fascinating stories along the way, including a notable run-in with Charles Manson, and the film should give the viewer a new found appreciation for session musicians whose names only ever become footnotes.
The film is not without its flaws, though. While the focus was always going to be on the musicians and the producer, we get no real insight into what they actually thought of the influence that the song had on the hip-hop movement as a whole. Even more so, at least one member of The Shadows certainly deserved to have some kind of input into the film. These are just minor quibbles as the film goes by very quickly, clocking in at a lean 90-ish minutes and all the interviewees are fascinating subjects who could each warrant a film of their own. Worth a watch, especially if you're a music fan.
Small Screen Saver Score: 3.5/5
"Sample This" is now available to stream on Netflix UK and Ireland.
*Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and for this I avail of complimentary Netflix subscription. However, all opinions are my own. Information about films available on Netflix is correct at time of publishing.