Countless solo artists and bands over the years have inspired new music – but have you ever wondered which artists are the most influential? To gain a better idea of this, we’ve analysed the discographies of thousands of American artists and ranked them according to who has been sampled, remixed, and covered the most by other commercially released songs.
- James Brown is the most influential US artist of all time
- James Brown is the most sampled US artist
- Frank Sinatra tops our ranking of the most covered US artists
- Janet Jackson is the most remixed US artist
- Artists from the state of New York have influenced songs the most
- Drake is the most influential artist in modern music
- America’s most popular artists are most likely to sample the Notorious B.I.G.
- Modern artists are most likely to cover tracks from the Beatles
- David Guetta has inspired the most remixes by modern artists
As the music industry has evolved over the decades with new trends, production styles, and technology, it’s no wonder that old songs often serve as a direct inspiration for new and emerging artists.
You don’t have to look further than the charts to find a piece of music that echoes another in tune, lyrics, or composition. In fact, the all-time most streamed song on Spotify as of June 2021 (‘Shape Of You’ by Ed Sheeran) even reuses the melody from the 1999 TLC track ‘No Scrubs’ – released nearly two decades before Sheeran’s smash hit.
Some of the best-selling singles of all time are also directly influenced by earlier music. Whitney Houston’s 1992 hit ‘I Will Always Love You’ sold 20 million copies and won multiple awards on its release – and also happens to be a cover of the 1973 Dolly Parton song of the same name.
If we crunch the numbers on every sample, cover, and remix that has appeared in commercially released music, who comes out on top as the most influential artist in American history?
James Brown is the most influential US artist of all time
Based on the number of times his music has been remixed, covered, and sampled, we can reveal that the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown by far tops our ranking of the top ten most influential US artists of all time. The legendary funk artist’s music has been used 8,535 times in remixes, covers, and samples – more than any other solo artist or band in our analysis. James Brown’s most sampled work is his 1970 single ‘Funky Drummer’ (and its famous drum break); his most covered is ‘It's a Man's Man's Man's World’ (1966); and his most remixed is ‘Can't Get Any Harder’ (1993).
The six-piece funk and soul group the Winstons rank in second place, with 5,352 instances found in our analysis of samples, covers, and remixes of the band’s music. In particular, drummer G.C. Coleman’s drum solo midway through the 1969 B-side track ‘Amen, Brother’ has been sampled widely in electronic and drum and bass music. Also appearing in our top ten ranking are Michael Jackson, Public Enemy, and Lyn Collins.
While our combined ranking gives us an overall picture of the most influential artists, we also wanted to break down the most influential artists by the way their music is transformed by other musicians; either by sampling, remixing, or by being covered.
Here’s what we found out…
James Brown is the most sampled US artist
James Brown’s music has been sampled 8,224 times, which is more than any other US artist in our analysis. His most sampled music includes the 1970 single ‘Funky Drummer’ (the powerful drum break of which features in many hip hop tracks including 1989’s ‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy), ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ (1976), and ‘The Payback’ (1973).
Frank Sinatra tops our ranking of the most covered US artists
Our analysis found 1,851 covers of Frank Sinatra songs, ranking the Rat Pack singer first in our list of the most covered US artists. We counted 149 cover versions of his 1969 hit ‘My Way’, making it his most covered song – but classics such as ‘It Was a Very Good Year’ (1965), ‘That’s Life’ (1966), and ‘Strangers in the Night’ (1966) have also seen their fair share of covers.
Janet Jackson is the most remixed US artist
Janet Jackson tops our ranking of the most remixed US artists. We found a total of 383 remixes of the pop star’s music, with ‘All for You’ (2001) and ‘Got 'Til It's Gone’ (1997) two of the most remixed. Her brother Michael Jackson and Madonna also feature on our list.
Artists from the state of New York have influenced songs the most
If we analyse the birthplaces of the 1,000 most influential American artists, the state of New York comes out on top as America’s most influential, thanks to the combined number of samples, remixes, and covers of songs by artists from there that have appeared on other commercially released music.
Our analysis so far has focused on music throughout the decades – but we wanted to build a picture of the most influential artists on modern music. To find out, we first compiled a list of every artist that has appeared in the top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart over the last ten years, then searched for the singer or band most remixed, sampled, and covered by those artists who have appeared in the modern charts.
Drake is the most influential artist in modern music
We discovered that the Canadian hip hop and R&B artist Drake takes the top spot in our combined ranking. Overall, Drake’s work has inspired more recently charted artists to reuse his work than any other musician; we found 14 artists who had made Drake covers, 9 who had made remixes, and 81 who had made songs using Drake samples.
Kanye West comes in second place, having inspired 86 artists to reuse his music. Rihanna, Jay-Z, and the Weeknd also feature highly in our ranking.
America’s most popular artists are most likely to sample the Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G.’s music has been sampled by 83 artists who have appeared in the top US charts in the last ten years. That’s more than any other artist in our analysis. Drake and Jay-Z tie in second place in our ranking, both having influenced 81 US chart-appearing artists (each) into sampling their work.
Modern artists are most likely to cover tracks from the Beatles
Our analysis reveals that the Beatles have been covered more by recently charted artists than any other solo artist or band. In total, we counted 38 artists who have made covers of the Beatles’ music, beating out Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.
David Guetta has inspired the most remixes by modern artists
The music of French DJ David Guetta has been remixed more times by recently charted artists than any other solo artist or band in our analysis. We counted 23 modern artists who have remixed Guetta’s music. Also featured in our remix ranking are Major Lazer, Rihanna, and Steve Aoki.
Our research began by collating a seed list of notable artists from the USA. Our sources were LastFM and WhoSampled. We then scraped WhoSampled.com to see how many times each artist has been sampled, covered, or remixed.
For our analysis of modern music, we collated a second seed list of all artists who have appeared in the weekly top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the last ten years. We then used WhoSampled.com to find out which artists have influenced the most amount of modern artists into making samples, remixes, and covers of their music.
Our index of influence on modern music is determined by a scoring system. Each artist is scored on where they individually rank on the number of modern (charted) artists who have sampled, covered, or remixed their work. The higher they rank for each individual measure, the higher their overall rank of influence is in the index.