The fact that Nicki Minaj‘s latest single, “Truffle Butter” with Drake and Lil Wayne, reached the top spot on Billboard’s Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay Chart last week was no surprise: few MC’s can match Minaj’s ability to create a smash. But the rapper’s latest No. 1 is more than just another entry in an endless parade of her hits — the track demonstrates the continued crossover value of mixing hip-hop with house music.
The current iteration of this genre combination may have started with Kid Ink‘s “Show Me,” released towards the end of 2013. That song, written by the R&B singer Jeremih, DJ Mustard, and others, is based on the stern, ping-ponging synth riff that turned Robin S.‘s Show Me Love” into a vocal house classic in the early ’90s. The new version of “Show Me” went on to set a record on the rap airplay chart. Since taking a dance hit from two decades ago and transposing it into the contemporary era worked so well, Jeremih and Mustard did it again for “Don’t Tell ‘Em.” This time they borrowed the template from next-wave euro-disco (the 1992 Snap! hit “Rhythm Is A Dancer“), resulting in another Hot 100 success.
“Truffle Butter” is not simply another attempt at recycling the Jeremih-Mustard house/hip-hop hybrid. Instead, Minaj’s song samples a 2010 dance track, the English dance producer Maya Jane Coles‘ “What They Say.” This suggests an increasing acceptance of the house template in the rap world: it’s no longer necessary to spruce up the skeleton of a hit that has already crossed over.
The end product adheres more to the rules of house than hip-hop. A lot of that has to do with the drums. Almost every hit on rap radio — and plenty of pop hits as well — relies on the machine-gun hi-hats of trap or a syncopated combination of shouts and snaps. If you watch the video below, you see DJ Mustard take the skeleton of “Show Me Love” and add snaps, claps, and 808s. These serve to code the track as hip-hop, even though it’s lifted straight from house. “Truffle Butter,” by contrast, ignores trap percussion and rhythmic barks, preserving much of the itchy, nervous momentum of the sample source.
“Truffle Butter” was produced by Nineteen85 (real name Paul Jefferies), who is affiliated with Drake’s label, OVO Sound — which has displayed an interest in house music on several occasions. The title track off the Toronto MC’s 2011 album Take Care features the sort of keyboard riff that powered plenty of post-disco club music. (Like “Truffle Butter,” that track was buoyed by a sample from a contemporary English dance producer — a Jamie XX remix.) The solo work of Majid Jordan, the OVO duo best-known for helping Drake and N85 put together “Hold On We’re Going Home,” also shows a flair for vocal house.
N85 tells Billboard that he listens to lots of dance music, but he encountered Coles’ original by chance. “I found ‘What They Say’ on what I call the right side of YouTube,” he remembers. “That right column of YouTube that just keeps suggesting more songs for you to listen to. As soon as I heard it, I knew I had to change up the rhythm to make it bounce more.”
The beat came together during the Nothing Was The Same sessions a few years ago. “I’ve really got to give Drake the credit,” N85 explains. “We had been talking about something that had that kind of energy to close out the album, so he started recording it right away, but we didn’t finish it in time.”
Although Coles has used samples to build dance tracks and her own work has “been unofficially sampled loads,” she still found it “surreal” to hear the N85 beat. “I often hear bits of my tracks in other people’s music,” she says, “some in a real blatant way, others slightly less recognizable.” But N85’s reworking — which Coles approved — still surprised her. “I never thought the type of genre I grew up with during my early teen years would merge with something I created within my house or techno style.”
This mixing of genres seems like a fixture in a modern world where sonic boundaries are becoming increasingly porous. But it actually has much older roots. Hip-hop and house weren’t far apart when the genres developed in the ’80s; at least in America, both were beat-heavy, predominantly urban musical forms. Todd Terry is credited with inventing the genre hip-house in the late ’80s. Into the ’90s, club remixes of rap hits weren’t uncommon. The 12″ of Chubb Rock‘s “The Chubbster” contained several “Haus” mixes; Jive Records released a 12″ of Tribe Called Quest‘s “Luck Of Lucien” featuring a pounding 7 minute version of the title track.
After rap moved into the mainstream, the two genres spent decades working apart. But now they appear to be creeping back together like reunited siblings. “I think both genres can be very hook based,” Coles says, “so it just makes sense.” She also points out that this process “works both ways” since “tons of house producers sample the crap out of R&B and hip-hop records;” it’s logical that the reverse would also occur. Nineteen85 lays it out in even simpler terms: “the great thing about house is that when you slow it down, it still makes people want to dance.”