Singles

Rapsody’s Herbie Hancock-sampling song “Whoopi” Deserves a Closer Look

Sampling is an art form that has been the backbone of hip-hop music since its inception. And despite the slow decline in the prevalence of sampling in mainstream hip-hop due to factors like stricter copyright laws, the most skilled producers of today still sustain the technique in great and inventive ways.

I’m kind of a sucker for eccentric, borderline-crazy instrumentals, especially when they’re driven by distinct samples — not only because of the incredible sounds they both utilize and create, but more so because of what those instrumentals end up telling us, the listeners, about the the artists. For example, Danny Brown’s song “Ain’t It Funny,” from his acclaimed 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition, features a super-uptempo, zany beat powered by a sample of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason‘s song “Wervin’,” which really helps accentuate Brown’s drug-induced downward spiral of self-destruction that he describes so poignantly in the song’s lyrics.

As I was listening to Rapsody‘s most recent album Eve — which is excellent, I might add — I experienced a similar feeling when I encountered “Whoopi,” a song whose off-kilter beat stands out amongst the tracklist and brings out a side of Rapsody listeners don’t often get to see.

Going along with the overall theme of the album — which is a celebration of various black women, past and present — the song itself is a reference to Whoopi Goldberg, the renowned actress/comedian known for her roles in movies like The Color Purple, Ghost, and Sister Act, the latter of which Rapsody makes a lyrical reference to on the hook (“They gon’ make a sister act up / turn my attitude back up“).

The song’s instrumental, produced by esteemed North Carolina producer Khrysis, features a loop of the opening to Herbie Hancock’s composition “Watermelon Man” from his jazz-funk fusion classic Head Hunters; the sampled portion of that song itself was actually another sample: the Hindewhu Whistle Solo by the Ba-Benzélé Pygmies of Central Africa. (Hindewhu is the whistling you hear in the loop.)

While this sample used in “Watermelon Man” is a lot slower — around 70 beats per minute — Khrysis speeds the Hancock sample up to over 120 bpm. This gives the originally funky song a rather manic, somewhat cartoonish appeal.

And from there, we ultimately hear a side of Rapsody she doesn’t often reveal. Rapsody generally is level-headed and cool when she raps — confident and skillful, but mostly very chill. But on “Whoopi,” she plays into the frenzied nature of the track by emphasizing her seemingly hidden belligerence: besides the repeated “They gon’ make a sister act up” refrain, she makes references to “blowing the whole car up” like Angela Bassett’s character from Waiting to Exhale, going “Left Eye with the matches,” “going off like Cardi,” etc.

According to Rapsody, this truculence is a side that only a few people know about. In a pre-release interview with NPR, Rapsody discussed the lyrical content of Whoopi, saying, “When people meet me, they see I’m cooler and chill. But some people [see] the rowdy-rowdy side, if you rub me the wrong way. It takes a lot for me to get there, but I’ll go there. And people need to know that’s a part of me. Like, yo, don’t push my buttons too many times. You gon’ make me act up.”

The Herbie Hancock flip provides the perfect space for Rapsody to “act up”; conversely, Rapsody’s lyrical aggressiveness and Kendrick Lamar-like vocal experimentations make perfect use of Khrysis’s excellent sample flip. The result is one of the most thrilling moments on the entire album.

Listen to Rapsody’s album Eve in its entirety and enjoy!

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