This Sound Is All Over Hip-Hop Today—And It Comes From an Unexpected PlaceAugust 10, 2018 / No Comments
There’s a sound that you’ve heard countless times on songs throughout the years. It appears seemingly at random, and yet sounds familiar every time it pops up. It’s embedded in the work of some of the most influential producers of hip-hop’s past and present, from Timbaland to Zaytoven—and trust me when I say you’ll know the sound when you hear it. It’s easier to just listen than it is to describe, so hit the YouTube embed below:
It’s a pitched-up voice that is singing a short note almost operatically, for around a full second. Depending on how you choose to listen, it could either be an “Ohh!” or “Oww!” or “Aaaah!” The sound is referred to as “Aaaah! (169).” The reason? That’s the description and number of the sound on the place it originally appeared, the Roland M-DC1, a device introduced in 1995.
“Aaaah! (169)” was a “patch,” or sound, made for the machine—just one of over 250 different sounds for users to experiment with. You can see the complete list here. “Aaaah!” comes in the middle of a batch of similar sounds—it’s followed immediately by “Ahoo Yell” and “Oohh!!.”
According to WhoSampled, “Aaaah! (169)” has been used in at least 135 songs to date. It’s peeked its aural head up in tracks by well-known names like Travis Scott (“3500”) and Nicki Minaj (“Want Some More”), and by rising artists like Rich the Kid (“End of Discussion”) and Maxo Kream (“Capeesh”).
One of the earliest and most distinguishable examples of the sound being used on a record is Playa’s 1998 single “Cheers 2 U.” Co-produced by Timbaland and the late Static Major, who was a part of Playa, the song literally would not have existed without that sound; it’s used liberally throughout and serves as an integral part of the foundation. When I reached out to Timbaland, he said via email that Static came up with the concept. “I just pieced it together,” he said. “Just being creative. I just knew I wanted it to feel like a celebration.”
Looking back on his early use of the sound versus how it’s used presently, Timbaland said he felt the contemporary usage was inspiring to see. “I think it’s dope,” he said. “I think you can manipulate it a lot easier now.”
Easier is debatable, though the sound’s appearance is unquestionably more widespread in hip-hop today. But what the hell is it, exactly? Roland Corporation’s vice president of global marketing, Paul McCabe, explained via email that the M-DC1 synthesizer sound module was originally promoted as an instrument for dance music.
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