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More Contemporary Rap Should Sample Black Electronic Dance Music

More Contemporary Rap Should Sample Black Electronic Dance Music

WAP & Black Electronic Dance Music
Screengrab via YouTube

“WAP” is the latest instance of a rap song sampling the Baltimore house classic “Whores In This House,” and shows the value in repurposing Black electronic dance music as its contributions to the genre as a whole continues to be erased.

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion‘s “WAP” is pure, delightful horniness. For three minutes, the pair push each other to rap some of the most sexually explicit bars they’ve offered in their careers, making for a memorable and thrilling track that has brought immense joy to Black women, and anger to miserable Black men and conservative politicians.

What’s integral to the song aside from Cardi and Megan’s raps is the sample that starts it off — Frank Ski’s “Whores In This House.” A Baltimore house classic from the ’90s, “Whores In This House” leads the minimal, 808 bass-driven production of the track, which was handled by Ayo & Keyz. This isn’t the first time the track has been referenced or sampled in rap, from Juicy J interpolating it in “Hoes In This House” (1994) to The Pack sampling it. But “WAP” is surely the biggest rap song to sample Ski’s classic.

“WAP” is just latest example of a rap song that samples Black dance music. Black people are integral to the roots of EDM (electronic dance music), but those contributions are either erased or aren’t as well known as their white counterparts. That erasure persists to this day, whether that be drum and bass DJ Chris Inperspective calling out Hospital Records’ complicity in the whitewashing of drum and bass music in the UK, or Jersey Club King DJ Sliink speaking out against industry gatekeepers and streaming services’ lack of opportunities and support for Black producers creating Jersey Club, Baltimore Club, soflo (Florida) jook and other styles of dance music.

“My problem is with representation. I’m speaking for my people,” Sliink said in an interview with Billboard. “How can we be legends if they don’t give us a chance? How can the sound build if they don’t give us a chance?”

And although some white EDM DJs have used their platforms to champion and support Black EDM DJs of the past and present — Nina Kraviz has collaborated with Chicago ghetto house pioneers DJ Deeon and DJ Slugo, and has played the latter’s 1996 classic “Wouldn’t You Like To Be A Hoe” during her sets; Skrillex signed Sliink to his label OWSLA in 2015, as well as collaborated with him on the track “Saint Laurent” back in 2017 — the disparity between the two is still apparent.

Rap songs sampling Black dance music serves as a valuable way to combat this erasure, simultaneously rejuvenating an older song for a new generation and educating the masses of the song’s existence, too. Prior to “WAP,” the most notable example of this is Kanye West’s “Fade.” A standout from West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo, “Fade” owes itself to the Chicago house classic “Mystery Of Love,” made by Chicago house music pioneer Larry Heard — better known as Mr. Fingers — in 1985. “Fade” slows down the bouncy and syncopated bassline that defines “Mystery Of Love,” its already infectious melody even more resonant in West’s possession. As the most successful single off Life of Pablo — the track peaked at number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — “Fade” introduced “Mystery Of Love” to a mainstream audience for the first time in more than three decades.

“It was cool,” Heard said of West sampling the song for “Fade” in a 2018 interview with Red Bull. “There’s a rich heritage of… Sugar Hill Gang, that first big hit for a rap artist, that was a Chic backdrop. So there always has been this cross-pollination between dance and the hip-hop world.”

That cross-pollination has resulted in some of rap’s biggest hits. In 2005, Missy Elliott released “Lose Control,” the lead single from her sixth studio album, The Cookbook. The uptempo track sampled Cybotron’s “Clear,” an electro classic from their 1983 album Enter. Formed in Detroit by Juan Atkins and Richard Davis, Cybotron served as an early influence for the rise of techno in the city, with the former even considered as the godfather of techno.

Produced by Elliott, “Lose Control” not only borrows the rushing electronic beat of “Clear” but its frenetic synth melody, the immediacy of the track balanced out by Elliott’s cool and unhurried delivery. The single peaked at number three on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, received a nomination for Best Rap Song at the 2006 Grammy Awards, and is considered one of Elliott’s best songs.

Through “Lose Control,” Cybotron wasn’t only introduced to the mainstream, they were financially compensated too.

“I never got paid for any of the stuff until Missy Elliott recorded me,” Davis said in an interview with Red Bull. “That was the first time I ever got a halfway decent royalty check. I still have veterans benefits, or otherwise I probably would have starved to death.”

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But “Lose Control” isn’t the first instance of a Detroit dance track being sampled in a hit rap song. In 1992, Sir Mix-a-Lot released his hit song “Baby Got Back,” which sampled Channel One’s — one of Juan Atkins’ many aliases — 1986 track “Technicolor.”

The final version of “Baby Got Back” was much different than the original, which Mix has discussed numerous times. In a 2013 oral history done on the “Baby Got Back” music video, he recalled how Rick Rubin — the co-producer of the hit song — suggested that he speed up the song, considering the original was much slower. Ultimately, Mix ended up building “Baby Got Back” around a sample of “Technicolor,” which also marked a change in production style for him, considering that he hadn’t sampled other people’s music up until this point.

“It’s rare that a big hit hip-hop song is fast, but Rick fell in love with it as soon as he heard the revised track,” Mix said. “… As soon as he heard the finished track, he said, ‘People are gonna be talking about this twenty years from now.'”

Rubin was right. The song debuted at number 75 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart before making its way to number one, where it spent five weeks at the top of the chart. Since then, the song has appeared in commercials, movies, and, TV shows, and saw a resurgence back in the mainstream when it was sampled by Nicki Minaj in her hit song “Anaconda” in 2014.

When rap repurposes Black dance music it not only stands out more than the sounds and style commonly associated with rap, but helps keep the history of Black dance music artists’ contributions to the genre alive. Whether it be up-and-coming regional acts sampling freestyle dance music, Ty Dolla Sign sampling Ultra Naté’s “Free” on “Ego Death,” or “WAP” sampling Frank Ski, there’s still so much Black dance music that can be used to continue to push the sound of rap music, and highlight one of the lesser-celebrated and known music genres Black people created.

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