Jamaican Music

Did You Know This Song by Sister Nancy Is the Most Sampled Reggae Song in History?

Sister Nancy

“Bam Bam,” which was recorded by dancehall artist Sister Nancy in 1982 has been sampled more than 100 times, making it the most sampled reggae song of all time. “Bam Bam” was recorded at the Channel One Studios and released under the Techniques Records label. It was produced by Winston Riley and written by Riley and Ophlin Russell. In 2015, the song topped the reggae charts at iTunes.

Jamaica’s sampling culture has made it possible for artists to repeatedly repurpose sounds to share a cultural identity. The use of sampling has been likened to the oral tradition of “call and response” activities inherited from Africa.

The phrase “bam bam” entered the music scene in 1966, introduced by the reggae band Toots and The Maytals. Its catchy and hypnotic nature ultimately surpassed roots reggae in popularity, and it was incorporated into the growing dancehall music genre by vocalists and deejays. According to Mike Steyels, Sister Nancy was inspired to sing the phrase after hearing Yellowman and Fathead record their version of “Bam Bam” in another studio just before making her own recording. Sister Nancy sampled the tune over the Stalag riddim rather than the Taxi riddim used by Yellowman.

Sister Nancy did not know of the success of “Bam Bam” outside of Jamaican until she emigrated to the United States in 1996. However, her producer knew how popular the song was because he traveled the world after the release of her “One, Two” album, and after Sister Nancy heard the song in the film “Belly” she realized its impact. She also realized she had not been credited or received royalties for the song ; her efforts to meet with her producer were to no avail, and she believed he avoided her to keep from paying what she was owed.

In 2014, Sister Nancy’s daughter heard the song on television in a Reebok commercial, and she decided to get legal advice about obtaining the rights to her own music. She did not receive any royalties for 32 years, and the settlement she received from her legal efforts did not provide compensation for these lost royalties, she did receive compensation for the past decade and 50-percent of the rights to “Bam Bam.”

In 2016 Billboard magazine called Sister Nancy’s song possibly the most sampled reggae tune of all time. When she was asked what she thought about the many songs that have used her voice over the years, Sister Nancy said none of them were her favorite, and that despite the fact that other artists know she lives in the US, no one contacts her to perform the song in person. She said that if they asked her, she would do it for them live, and then she would have a favorite.

Artists who have sampled or interpolated “Bam Bam” include CL Smooth and Pete Rock on the 1994 song “The Basement”; Lauryn Hill in her song “Lost Ones” from “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Groove Armada on the 2001 song “Fogma,” Chris Brown’s recording of “Bomb” featuring Wiz Khalifa in 2011, Kat DeLuna on her 2015 song “Bum Bum,” and Kanye West on the 2016 song “Famous” that featured Rihanna. Beyoncé used a sample interpolated with her live performance of “Hold Up” in 2016 on the album “Lemonade,” and Jay-Z used it on “Bam” on his 2017 album “4::44.” Lizzo also sampled the song in 2017 on her “Truth Hurts.”

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Stephanie Korney