Top 10 Rap Basslines
Our top 50 basslines-list featured a few weeks back was, for all its impressive bass-thumping powers, slightly inadequate. Notably absent: all rap music, aside from a mid-90s Diamond D track featured at #50. For the genre that brought you the cliché “bass! How low can you go?” this was a vast oversight. Therefore, to make things right, I have compiled a list of ten hip-hop basslines.
At first, I thought this top ten would be simple, but as I dug in, I confronted more questions: should I follow the rap canon, follow the pop canon, or avoid canons completely and dig for the forgotten songs of bassline utopia? Considering the New York-centric focus of rap historicism, should I take special care to include work from Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Memphis, Los Angeles, and the Bay? If a sample is a straight lift, not altering the original sample in any noticeable way – does the song deserve a spot on the list?
I decided, in keeping with the spirit of the original list, to avoid obscurantism. While I do acknowledge many tracks from outside the usual New York “jazz-rap” early 90s canon, I attempted to let the importance of the bass part to the song predominate my decision-making. This seemed preferable to any sort of geographic affirmative action, the kind of thing that ends up overloading mental circuits when all you want to do is list ten tracks anyway. When I was done, it ended up damn NY-centric anyway, but as far as I am concerned, this just leaves more space open for people to create their own top ten lists. I tried to list songs with unique bass parts, parts that had a singular effect on the track and made the song, ultimately, what it was. Finally, I think sampling is barely an issue here; even one-track-jacks were permissible if the context changed in some way.
10. Eric B. and Rakim – Don’t Sweat the Technique
Rakim’s best tracks often relied on distinctive basslines; my other nominations included “Paid in Full” and “Microphone Fiend,” both of which have immediately recognizable bass melodies, but nothing matches the urgency and intensity of this track. The bass hits immediately, a terse sample looped for a breakneck effect.
9. Masta Ace – Born To Roll
This was back when everybody hated on 808s in NYC, but Masta Ace knew better. The bass rolls over the twin turrets of 808 stomps while Ace spits the proverbial fire, a rumbling, jagged trunk-banging anthem. A perhaps unintentional production influence on:
8. Dead Prez – Hip Hop
You know it from the Dave Chappelle show! And what a thunderous buzzzz it is, quaking and spinning about unexpectedly with bouncing rhythm. Dead Prez certainly are not dead, but this is the best song they have ever made. Do not forget to check out their track “Get Up” with the Coup for more bass-blasting action, a subwoofer test if there ever was one.
7. Notorious B.I.G. – Juicy
Runner-up was “Hypnotize,” with its throb-throb-windup-throb-style, but “Juicy” just rips off Mtume, so really “Hypnotize” did not have a chance. When you hear those rubber band bass snaps enter under Puffy’s encouraging interjections you know immediately what track you are pumping. Thanks to its popping bass part, “Juicy” is the sound of nostalgia.
6. Digital Underground – The Humpty Dance
OK this was unavoidable – easily the most noticeable aspect of this cut’s production is the swooping bass part, which simultaneously tests your secondhand speakers and gets that wedding reception/ class reunion/ family gathering grooving.
5. EPMD – It’s My Thing
How many rappers ripped this loop? Did EPMD even do it first? I doubt it. But when you hear those chopper blades whirring in the intro (sampled from Pink Floyd!), you know what’s coming next – the block-rocking bassline from “Seven Minutes of Funk.” EPMD own that bass part. So many other artists rip it too: Jay-Z on “Ain’t No Nigga” with Foxy Brown, one of the best-known examples, or more recently, the NYG’z, for whom Premier chopped the bass sample all over the place. But really, nothing touches the classic.
4. Newcleus – Jam On It
Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions “Jam On It”? Probably the helium-voiced “wicky wicky wicky!” Second, undoubtedly, is the bass part, one of the most distinctive zapping melodies ever forged in the electro-mountain caverns of early 80s dance music. Runners up include Mantronix and Bambaataa.
3. Dr. Dre – Nuthin’ But a G Thang
The alternate for Dre was “Deep Cover,” which certainly deserves its respect. But it was this, Dre’s biggest track, the basis on which his career so firmly rests, that won out. The reason: the sample is so subtle, a stop-start slab of funk that may not have defined the song – that role belonged to the whining Ohio Player-style synths screaming above – but was clear evidence of Dre’s genius. The song is constructed, top to bottom, steeped in funk, emphasizing each individual element of sound. The bass part, its understated loop loping behind in the background, instantly cut short accusations that Dre was a hack for ripping off George Clinton and put him in a class of his own.
2. Jay-Z feat. DMX – Money Cash Hoes
Swizz gets a bad rap from production heads, and not always without reason. On this track, however there was never more evidence of the man’s talents. Never had a producer really fulfilled the cliché of accomplishing “so much with so little.” No old records needed; just a Casio harnessed into a crashing, cinematic gutter masterpiece of stomping bass blasts, street subwoofer explosions. DMX sounds appropriately wild over the apocalyptic eruptions, but Jay-Z is eerily confident, like the Devil on the earth’s final days.
1. Busta Rhymes – Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See
Bass parts in rap are often very rhythmic, never more so than in Busta’s best single. If it were not for the clipped grace notes at the beginning of this melodic-rhythmic motif, one would be forgiven for calling it a ‘beat’ rather than a ‘bassline.’ Instead, the notes change, briefly, turning an almost tribal drum rhythm into a bassline, one that works best if you sing along while pounding the beat across your desk in 5th period, just as the kids did when I was in high school. What’s more hip-hop than that?
By: David Drake
Published on: 2005-10-14