Hip-pop redux

Hip-hopped-up hits from Deborah Harry to Gwen Stefani
By KEN MICALLEF  |  June 20, 2006


HOLLABACK GIRL: Gwen Stefani's irresistible mash-up.

Nelly Furtado’s not the first pop diva to embark on a lucrative hip-hop detour. Neither is there anything new about white singers appropriating black culture and music. But in the era of sampling and the DJ remix, reinterpretations and collaborations take on new meaning. One hand washes the other, whether it’s Deborah Harry exposing Blondie’s new-wave audience to the sounds of New York street rap two decades ago in “Rapture” or Gwen Stefani hiring the best of West and East Coast hip-hop production talent for her 2004 solo albumLove, Angel, Music, Baby (Interscope) and its spinoff “Hollaback Girl.” Hip-hop dictates practically every mainstream single these days, and often in the most subtle of ways. Boom-bap beats, sampling, and an entire production æsthetic have been adopted from hip-hop by rock, R&B, and even country artists. So don’t be surprised if that next Loretta Lynn single sounds oddly like OutKast. Here’s a little history of the game . . .

Blondie , “Rapture” | It’s 1981. Charles and Lady Di just got married, new president Ronald Reagan trades arms for hostages, MTV debuts on cable, and Blondie are part of a music revolution that will be felt for decades to come. Over chiming church bells, chicken-scratch guitar, and a polka-dot bass-and-drum beat, Harry sings a honeydew intro before launching into a nimble rap about “Fab Five Freddie, Flash is cool, the man from Mars, eating cars, ‘and you don’t stop,’ he shoots you dead, and he eats your head, face to face, cheek to cheek.”

Mariah Carey , “Fantasy” | Building on a sample of the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” dynamo pop vocalist Mariah Carey proved she was prescient back in the mid ’90s with “Fantasy” (from her sixth album, Daydream ) and its follow-up remix by Wu Tang Clan’s now deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Mariah’s vocals and the bubblegummy Tom Tom sample drive the single; Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s odd rantings take the remix to the hip-hop masses.

Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine | The controversy over Apple’s 2005 album began when the brooding alt-rock diva ditched savvy pop producer Jon Brion for the tempered hip-hop styles of Mike Elizondo (50 Cent, Eminem). Not that the album is hip-hop by a long shot. But in subtle ways — a bracing beat here, a slapping sample there, a more up-front piano sound — you know Apple is onto something good. And Extraordinary Machine turned out to be a critical fave that’s given her career a new lease on life.

Dido & Eminem, “Stan”  | Sweet Dido never knew what hit her. The London singer, former violin prodigy, and veteran of UK dance band Faithless struck out on her own to record a lush trip-hop confection of melancholic melodies and lazy grooves for 2000’s No Angel . It dropped like a stone. That is, until Eminem built a tale of fan obsession, paranoia, and suicide over Dido’s “Thank You,” an emotional ode to puppy love. The result? Dido became an international success whose debut went on to sell millions worldwide.

Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl” | An irresistible mash-up of what sounds like a Suzanne Vega guitar sample, pizzicato keyboard riffs, and Gwen Stefani’s perpetually sunny delivery, “Hollaback Girl” was written with the Neptunes but has the No Doubt singer’s Froot Loopy signature all over it. A massive wallop of a street-parade beat creates the groove over which Stefani purrs “Uh huh, this my shit” and “B-A-N-A-N-A-S” as her all-female posse mirrors her every move. Stefani also embraces hip-hop on Love, Angel, Music, Baby with Andre 3000 in “Bubble Pop Electric” and Dr. Dre in “Rich Girl.”
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