It may not be the most sampled song of all time. James Brown's "Funky Drummer," Slick Rick's "La Di Da Di" and Lyn Collins' "Think (About It)" among others could all give Bob James' "Nautilus" a run for the money. Nevertheless there's no doubt that James' track has a signature freestyle jazz sound that has made it infinitely malleable for a variety of producers seeking a unique break for their tracks.
This list was fun for me to compile simply because so many of these songs sound nothing like each other. In the five minutes and change of "Nautilus" there are so many different changes in style, sound and instrumentation that any individual moment can make for a completely different experience. At the end of the list I'm going to include the original "Nautilus" just so you can compare it to the hip-hop songs in my top 15 just so you can pick apart the loops and samples that were used. While some songs like EPMD's "Brothers on My Jock" and Ghostface Killah's "Daytona 500" make it painfully obvious where they get their main sample from, you may be just as stunned as I was the first time I researched this Bob James song.
I periodically pull a famously sampled song out of the vault just to see how many classic hip-hop tracks I recognize, but when I listened to "Nautilus" in full I realized just how many songs I WASN'T crediting it to that I should have been.
1.) Eric B. & Rakim - "Follow the Leader"
2.) Slick Rick - "Children's Story"
3.) Run-D.M.C. - "Beats to the Rhyme"
4.) Ultramagnetic MC's - "Raise It Up"
5.) Jeru the Damaja - "My Mind Spray"
6.) Main Source - "Live at the BBQ"
7.) Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth - "Sun Won't Come Out"
8.) Organized Konfusion - "Stray Bullet"
9.) EPMD f/ Redman - "Brothers On My Jock"
10.) Tha Alkaholiks - "Daaam!"
11.) Onyx - "Throw Ya Gunz"
12.) Tim Dog - "I'll Wax Anybody"
13.) Threat - "Bust One Fa Me"
14.) A Tribe Called Quest - "Clap Your Hands"
15.) Ghostface Killah - "Daytona 500"
And now for comparison's sake here's the original track from Bob James.