Nowadays, it seems as if bass is a mandatory element that must be included in all hip hop music. However, it wasn’t always as prominent or present as it is today. Nowadays, our headphones are bass-boosting, our speakers are bass-heavy, and everything seems to revolve around the bass.
This is something that developed over time, and it is actually something that began in more than one place. With regard to US hip hop, the appetite for bass can, for the most part, be traced back to the south. More specifically to the emergence of crunk and the electrification of hip hop.
The emergence of crunk saw the electronification of hip hop, and more and more people began looking to the south for their hip hop. With sampling becoming less common in hip hop as funk’s popularity began to decline, by the early 2000s, with the death of Tupac and Biggie, G-funk and boom-bap hip hop were basically dead. Although artists like Kanye West were still sampling, there was undeniably an electronification of hip hop that was happening, and West helped cement this with his two albums, Graduation and 808s and Heartbreak.
In fact, before Kanye even released the latter, producers in the south had been using 808 bass kicks for years with their more digital production. When Kanye released the latter in 2008, 808s became much more popular in hip hop, and by the year 2012, when an off-shoot of crunk music known as trap came out of Atlanta, the south began to hold the torch for hip hop. Trap saw hip hop evolve and modify, becoming less soulful and more electronic.
Now, trap is the sound of hip hop, with people not even considering it trap music, merely hip hop, because it is so present in the mainstream it has overshadowed and obliterated other forms of hip hop. Trap is an Atlanta-born sound, birthed from crunk and is bass-heavy.
New York hip hop had sampled funky bass riffs from bass guitars, and so had G-funk (which mostly sampled P-funk). However, crunk leaned towards bass-heavy synthesizers and pitched 808 kicks, creating a euphoric yet impactful bass swell.
In the UK, our love for bass is a musical taste imported from Jamaican dub music, a reggae subgenre that depleted the number of melodic instruments included (i.e. the trumpets, pianos, organs and acoustic guitars) in order to make space for more prominent, aggressive drums and basslines. This bass-heavy Caribbean style of music production influenced the young and was then used in other Black-British genres such as UK garage, grime and dubstep, all of which are centred around the bass.
Below we have listed what we believe to be the five best hip hop songs with no bass. Check it out and see if you agree.
Five amazing hip hop songs with no bass:
5. ‘The Potion’ – Ludacris, The Red Light District, (2005)
The Potion’ was the fourth single released for Ludacris’ 2005 album The Red Light District. Also featured on the Step Up 2: The Streets soundtrack, ‘The Potion’ instrumental was originally offered to Jay-Z for his 2003 album The Black Album. However, Jay-Z chose the beat that ended up being ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’.
‘The Potion’ was produced by legendary Virginia producer Timbaland, and unlike other beats he has produced, ‘The Potion’ is devoid of any bass whatsoever. The drum has some low frequencies. However, the kick drum is not an 808 and does not produce anything that could be classed as sub-bass.
4. ‘Slight Work’ – Wale ft Big Sean, Ambition, (2011)
Produced by Diplo, this track is most definitely on the more experimental side of hip hop. However, irrespective of its experimental sound, it is most definitely a hip hop record and features no bass.
Sampling the sound of police sirens, the song features elements from Jersey club music with regard to its drum pattern and lack of snare during the verse, but for a song with no bass, ‘Slight Work’ is most definitely a good one.
3. ‘Tipsy’ – J-Kwon, Hood Hop, (2004)
Known as somewhat of a one-hit-wonder, J-Kwon’s 2004 track ‘Tipsy’ was a club anthem when it was released and is one of the most renowned hip hop tracks that does not feature any bass. Apart from a stuttering synth melody that comes in for the chorus that may contain some low end but really doesn’t, ‘Tipsy’ is driven solely by its drum pattern.
Its famous drums are reminiscent of other tracks, such as The Clipse’s ‘Grindin’ in the sense that they are incredibly simple repetitive and undeniably catchy. The lead single of J-Kwon’s debut album Hood Hop, ‘Tipsy’ is about the only J-Kwon song that ever moved the needle. The US market bought the album as it peaked at number seven on the Billboard 200. However, overseas in the UK, the album peaked at number 84.
2. ‘Blue Magic’ – Jay-Z, American Gangster, (2007)
Produced by Pharrell, this track goes extremely under the radar as an amazing track with no bass. Similar to ‘The Potion’, ‘Blue Magic’ drums have some low frequencies. However, the kick drum and accompanying bongos are not 808s and do not produce anything that could be classed as sub-bass.
The style of drums used by Pharrell and Timbaland in hip hop (in production) are often referred to as “Virginia Drums” because they are both from Virginia and have a similar inclination with regard to the drum samples they use. “Virginia Drums” are usually extremely boxy sounding and extremely hollow sounding. “Virginia” drum arrangements often include bongos, djembes and other African drums, as well as metal percussive elements such as cowbells and triangles.
This track was the first single from Jay-Z’s tenth studio album, American Gangster, with the title referencing the brand name Harlem gangster Frank Lucas used for his heroin in the 1960s.
1. ‘Grindin’ – The Clipse, Lord Willing, (2002)
This song by The Clipse is iconic for its stripped-back minimalistic beat that had school kids across America banging on the lunch tables and slamming their metal lockers. Produced by The Neptunes, the beat is sparse and made history with its slamming sound and was one of the first breakthrough hip hop songs that didn’t feature any bass. It was beyond catchy, and the way it was so easy to imitate made it fun for the youth.
Music magazine Pitchfork ranked the song at number 27 in their “Top 500 of the Tracks of the 2000s” list, and truthfully, it could have ranked even higher than that. The song is a classic, with Pusha T most definitely doing the beat justice.
The song was so popular it even warranted remixes and had two official remixes. The first remix featured a new verse from Pusha T and included Malice, N.O.R.E, Birdman and Lil Wayne. The second remix, a dancehall remix, featured artists Sean Paul, Bless and Kardinal Offishall.