Sister Nancy Singing

Sister Nancy performs at the House of Marley booth during the International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 9, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photo by Isaac Brekken/WireImage for House of Marley

The 10 Best Sister Nancy "Bam Bam" Samples

From Madlib and DJ Premier to Pete Rock and Lauryn Hill, hip-hop has given Sister Nancy and her seminal recording "Bam Bam" as many lives as there are producers still excited to chop the 1982 dancehall anthem.

There are only a handful of sample sources that have managed to thread multiple generations of rap production. Sure, there’s the “Funky Drummer” break and the countless variations of “Footsteps in the Dark” we’ve heard since Ice Cube counted his blessings on “Today Was a Good Day.” But you’d be missing a massive block in the source code of hip-hop if one of those slots wasn’t reserved for Sister Nancy and her best of dancehall hit, “Bam Bam.”

Initially released in 1982 as a 7-inch single for Winston Riley’s Techniques imprint ahead of her first and only solo album, “Bam Bam” spent the bulk of its first decade barely getting rotations (even in Jamaica). Much to her surprise though, by the end of the ‘80s both Muma Nancy and her fluttering frequency had been embraced as a vital and supernal sleeper in the crates of rap’s most imaginative selectors. These figures had instantly identified the kinship between a singer claiming “MC is my ambition,” and the rapidly maturing wordplay and cadences of modern hip-hop.

Perhaps they also sensed Nancy was effectively sampling in her own right. After all, “Bam Bam” is itself a product of careful sound-splicing, interpolating a hook from the 1966 Maytals song of the same name, and repurposing a well-known regional riddim (or backing instrumental) by Ansel Collins. Some might say it’s only right a song so seeped in the Jamaican sampling tradition would find a new audience among the diasporic community of producers lifting sounds across the five boroughs. You might even call it a full circle moment. However you choose to explain it, sampling has provided Sister Nancy and her seminal recording as many lives as there are producers still itching to chop it, helping her become a Jamaican music legend in the process.

In celebration of the track’s enduring resonance and Nancy’s upcoming show at Public Records — which Okayplayer is co-presenting — on Saturday, May 13, we combed the databases to present some of the best flips of “Bam Bam” to surface over the last 30 years. From Madlib and DJ Premier to Pete Rock, Kanye West, Miss Lauryn Hill, and well beyond, here are the best samples of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam,” the song of every summer since 1982.

10. Madlib - "Collie & Beer" (2001)

Three tracks deep on a short 2001 instrumental project that launched his Beat Conducta era, “Bam Bam” gets a proper Madlib treatment on “Collie & Beer,” insulating Sister Nancy’s vocals with slurring drums, a slivering Chick Corea synth line, and a mountain of hissing reverb. You won’t find it readily available on DSPs, but for those looking for more than the Adult Swim bumper version, the double-45 set it was initially issued on is still pretty affordable and more than worth a quick Discogs dig.

9. Choosey & Exile feat. Blu and Ana Tijoux - "Brown & Beautiful" (2019)

Not all “Bam Bam” flips date back to pre-social media civilization. From 2019, this Exile production via a collaborative album with Choosey, dots a sleek and sweet late-‘60s soul chop with Sister Nancy’s ever-resonant refrain. It’s not heavy handed or a complete reconstruction, but the LA producer’s use of Nancy’s vocals proves producers are still finding new ways to summon and celebrate the singer 40-plus years down the line.

8. Too Short - "Blowjob Betty" (1993)

On his eighth studio album, 1993’s Get in Where You Fit In, Too Short may have unintentionally bridged simultaneous developments in the increasingly entangled worlds of rap and reggae. Stateside, hip-hop was sharpening its edge by the day, which was mirrored in Jamaica with the rise of “slackness,” an equally gritty and sexually explicit sub-current of roots and dancehall that was conquering sound systems across the island. Rugged, raw, and categorically x-rated, “Blowjob Betty” probably seemed more like a concerted convergence than a coincidence.

But as far as the beat is concerned, the Dangerous Crew’s damn-near verbatim loop of the “Bam Bam” opening set against a Stanley Clarke break dialed down to a mid tempo shuffle, is a pretty pure extension of the Jamaican sampling ethos at work. (Which is also exemplified by Nancy’s own approach to the “Stalag 17” instrumental.)

7. Gang Starr - "Mostly Tha Voice" (1994)

Leave it to DJ Premier to treat a well-circulated sample like an MCU easter egg. You won’t hear the iconic horn line or hook on Gang Starr’s “Mostly Tha Voice.” But if you’re attentive, that quarter-second sliver of the opening riff to “Bam Bam” will only become more apparent in repeat rotations. Though it’s not a wholesale lift or even readily identifiable if you’re not deliberately seeking it out, Preemo’s sly hits, tucked into an ice-cold collage already densely-stacked with varying components (from a psyche rock break to a repurposed bebop bass line), is precisely what makes the Gang Starr producer one of the best to ever touch a sampler. Blink and you’ll miss the subtle brilliance.

6. Shadz of Lingo - "Different Stylez" (1993)

If this list factored in more than the song’s use, there’s a solid chance Shadz of Lingo wouldn’t be much of a consideration here. But Diamond D’s service of the Sister Nancy classic, which was steadily becoming a ubiquitous source by the time the Richmond rap group was readying their first and only album’s release in 1993, has earned its place in the “Bam Bam” sample pantheon. In the capable hands of the D.I.T.C. producer, Nancy’s vocal treatment is a weightless sprite, grazing unruly saxophones and an essential Willie Hutch break, providing limitless clearance for the group’s steel-toed bars and percussive patois.

5. Kanye West - "Famous" (2016)

At the time of its release(s), The Life of Pablo was about as chaotic of an album campaign as we’d seen from the artist formerly known as Kanye West. Then you hit play, and it’s almost immediately clear the controversy-chasing Chicago rapper was in his most flagrant form to date (again, a transitive phase, which would only be eclipsed with each subsequent album). In retrospect, “Famous” is probably not as early of an indicator as we’d like to admit of just how much more volatile West could get. But after all of the divine posturing and down-punching on a certain pop darling, the messiness dissolves into something close to transcendent, as Nancy’s pitched-up hook collides with frigid drums, baroque organs, and Swizz Beatz’s punctuating whoops and hollers.

4. Run-DMC feat. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - "Down With The King (Ruffness Remix)" (1993)

By 1993, a Pete Rock remix was an uncommon but increasingly coveted phase in the life cycle of a song released by a rapper in or around the five boroughs. As the producer who helped ground Run-DMC in a modern and mature local sound – not to mention deliver their biggest hit since “Walk This Way” – Pete was the only man for the job of recalibrating the title track of the group’s 1993 studio outing, Down With The King. Released a few months after the album, the remix finds the producer revisiting “Bam Bam” with surgical precision, slicing and staggering the horns into a new riff over a muscular break, and reconnecting regional royalty with a culture that had almost lapped them in the years between chart appearances.

3. Main Source - "Just Hangin' Out” (1991)

Two months before splitting rap’s molecules on their debut album in 1991, Main Source broke both “Bam Bam” and a 17-year-old Nas in one colossal 12-inch single. While the B-side will probably (and rightfully) be regarded as a precious artifact for the early glimpse at an urgent and fierce rap legend, what Large Professor does with the dancehall standard in its inaugural use by washing the horns over a smokey late-night funk break and forming a full and lush hook section, marks a seismic shift in the sophistication of beat-making. It fundamentally altered the way sample-based producers approached composition for years to come.

2. Pete Rock & CL Smooth feat. Heavy D, Rob-O, and Grap & Dida - "The Basement" (1992)

Just a year after Large Professor and Main Source effectively broke the seal, the gifted son of a working Jamaican DJ elevated both “Bam Bam” and the bar for East Coast rap production in one triumphant collage of borrowed sounds. Commencing the closing act of Mecca and The Soul Brother, his debut album with CL Smooth, Mt. Vernon producer Pete Rock layers the opening horn hits of the Ancel Collins instrumental and the singer’s buoyant hook, over a self-stitched break pulled from The Backyard Heavies’ “Expo 83’,” and jabs of Mike Bloomfield’s hand scraping across the neck of a six-string. It’s a neck-aching masterclass in SP-1200 sequencing, not just serving as one of the best beats to sample “Bam Bam,” but one of Pete Rock’s best beats as well.

1. Lauryn Hill - "Lost Ones"

While it’s not technically a sample in the ways we’ve come to understand the process, “Lost Ones” owes a lot to Sister Nancy (and, maybe more specifically, the singer’s hometown of Kingston). Not only is the melody of the hook an interpolation of “Bam Bam,” but the track was completed in Tuff Gong Studios with members of The Wailers on-hand, drawing a direct throughline from the legendary house that Marley built on Hope Road, to hip-hop’s brief but fruitful and hit-heavy infatuation with reggae and dancehall in the late ‘90s.