A brief history of "The Champ"

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Between the onetime robustness of Detroit's music industry—which has since collapsed, along with pretty much every other industry in the city that isn't crack dealing or scrapping—and the castoffs from all the hippies who've come through Ann Arbor over the years, the thrift stores and used record shops of southeastern Michigan contain a seemingly endless bounty of rare and obscure vinyl. Yesterday I was hanging out at my friend Jeremy's place in Ann Arbor—you may have seen the amazing cover he designed for my recent John Carpenter story—and he and his wife had just finished celebrating their wedding anniversary with a record-shopping expedition to Detroit.

The massive, drool-worthy stack of vinyl he'd come home included a repress, presumably bootleg in origin*, of a song called "The Champ" by the Mohawks. The Mohawks were a band of British session musicians, including session legend Alan Hawkshaw, who released an album, The Champ, in 1967. You may not be familiar with the Mohawks or know "The Champ" by name, but you've definitely heard it. According to one of my favorite websites, WhoSampled.com, the song has been sampled at least 140 times—and that's only including legitimate releases, not underground records and mixtapes. In fact it's been sampled so many times that it's taken on an identity as a sample that's completely independent from the song—sampling "The Champ" is as much a nod to the many previous songs that have sampled it as it is a nod to the quality of the original. The list includes cuts by EPMD, Slick Rick, the Prodigy, and A-Trak, as well as (obviously) Onyx's "Slam."

"The Champ" is, by the way, an extremely funky jam in its own right. Hit the jump to listen.

*Speaking of bootlegs I highly recommend you check out Eric Harvey's excellent essay on the Dylan Great White Wonder bootleg as the Vinyl Age grandfather to the Internet leak, which Pitchfork posted today. And if Eric's article makes you curious to hear war stories from the Dylan fan who released GWW and sort of accidentally started the entire bootlegging industry in the process, you can read the interview I did with Ken Douglas for Vice a while back.

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