The History of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” Goes Way Before JAY-Z’s “Bam”
The most sampled, remixed, and versioned reggae record ever
After weeks of a mysterious and omnipresent ad campaign, the world has finally been blessed with JAY-Z’s new album, 4:44 (or at least those within Tidal or Sprint kingdom walls). Obviously, there’s a lot to unpack with the project, but one thing that definitely stands out is “Bam,” the Damian Marley-featuring cut that leans on a sample of the enduring 1982 roots reggae tune by Sister Nancy, “Bam Bam.”
Producer No I.D. flips the unforgettable vocals in numerous ways throughout the four minute track. Nancy’s voice is dubbed out and transformed into a floating mist, chopped into a percussive element, pitched up and dropped low in the mix as a sort of backing vocal and then screwed for the same purpose. And then, of course, the accompanying horns of Winston Riley’s “Stalag Riddim” are looped throughout as JAY and Damian go through their motions.
No I.D. quite possibly has created the most involved flip of Nancy’s vocals to date, perhaps because he knows he’s got plenty of competition. Just last year, his student Kanye West used the sample on “Famous,” the first single off The Life of Pablo. JAY-Z’s use of “Bam Bam” is just the latest in a decades-long history of remixes, repurposings and renditions that span eras, genres and regions. It’s a story that even begins before Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” with a 1966 Jamaican festival song by Toots and the Maytals of the same name. Many deejays (as dancehall vocalists call themselves) would repurpose those lyrics over the years. Nancy’s vocals are part of that tradition of using Toots’ hypnotic phrase “bam bam,” but she takes them in an entirely different direction.
Her immediate inspiration to sing them on this record was hearing Yellowman and Fathead record their own version of “Bam Bam” over the “Taxi Riddim” in another studio just weeks before her own recording. The “Stalag Riddim” was also adapted from another earlier tune, Ansel Collins’ 1977 funk reggae instrumental “Stalag 17.” Riley would go on to use the “Stalag Riddim” over and over again for years, but no version ever topped Nancy’s.
Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” wasn’t even a hit when it dropped as the final track on her album One Two, and it would take years to catch on. But once it did take root, it was unshakeable, as Hov’s most recent use of the vocals proves. Beyond the countless performances, radio plays, forwards and bedroom mood settings, her influence is possibly best gauged by how many other artists have revisited the song for influence of their own.
In an attempt to quantify that impact, we’ve collected a pretty extensive list that goes all the way back to 1991, not including tracks referencing “Stalag” without Nancy. It starts with Main Source and continues throughout ’90s New York rap, including acts as diverse as Kris Kross and Lauryn Hill. There was even a Cali rapper in the early ’90s who was with it, when 2ruff sampled her on “Ruff Is the Way.” Diamond D sampled her twice. Terror Squad replaced the words “Bam Bam” with “What about Pun.” There was a little bit of a gap until the late 2000s. when New York rap returned to Mama Nancy. Even Cam’ron had a cut named “Bum Bum,” and reggaeton started to pick up on the influence around this time with Kat Deluna.
By the 2010s, nearly every genre had caught on. There was moombahton remix by the Netherlands’ DJ Fasta, more reggaeton versions appeared, and of course Jersey Club picked it up for a remix. In 2013, British dancehall artist Stylo G actually invited Sister Nancy to sing the vocals on his track “Badd,” the only artist to ever do so (which she has asked other artists to do, rather than sample her). A couple of dancehall artists like RDX even made new versions this year.
But of course rap never lost sight of Nancy throughout the decade (think Kanye), and JAY-Z’s “Bam” will likely only ensure that her words spread even further.
To make it possible for you to listen through all of this (which we highly suggest you do, because it’s mad fun) we’ve created a list of 29 versions below. It’s our ambition.