Synth-heavy Southern bass sound lowers the boom


August 01, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Forget Janet Jackson. Never mind about U2. Don't even bother with Barbra Streisand.

Those names may mean a lot on the album charts, but if you want to know where the action is in the singles market, there's no point in looking to the superstars. Because this summer's hottest sounds are out-of-nowhere hits from three complete unknowns: Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)," 95 South's similarly titled "Whoot, There It Is," and Duice's "Dazzey Duks."

Granted, they haven't exactly taken the airwaves by storm. None of the three is a radio favorite, apart from urban or dance stations. Tag Team hasn't even put out a video yet, but that probably wouldn't make much difference, since neither MTV nor BET show the Duice or 95 South clips.

Sales are another story, however. Each of these singles is a million-seller, and none shows any signs of slowing. "Whoomp! (There It Is)" topped the Billboard sales chart for five straight weeks.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about these singles, though, is that not one is handled by a major label. Duice and Tag Team are distributed by the tiny independent Bellmark Records, while 95 South is handled by the equally small Ichiban Records. Neither company had so much as a Top-40 hit before now.

Who are these guys? Where did these singles come from? And how did they get to the top of the charts?

To answer the second question first, all three singles came out of Atlanta. "Dazzey Duks" was the first to drop, arriving in record stores last fall; "Whoot, There It Is" was released in February, with "Whoomp! (There It Is)" following a few months later.

What the songs have in common is their sound, a synth-heavy rap style known as Southern bass. As the name suggests, Southern bass emphasizes the lower frequencies -- particularly the deep-booming whomp! of a synthesized bass drum -- and its gut-rattling groove has long been a favorite in dance clubs down South.

Until recently, most of the bass action has been in Florida, where Miami bass acts like 2 Live Crew and D.J. Magic Mike have dominated the club scene for years. But apart from 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny," few of those records ever made it to radio.

"It was very popular, but it was so dirty," says J. McGowan of 95 South. "It was so risque that radio couldn't touch it. People wanted to hear it; I think bass music has probably been the No. 1 played music in the clubs, all over the country. But it has never broke outside of the club, because it was so nasty and so risque and so vulgar."

It didn't help, either, that radio and record companies felt the bass sound was too regional to translate to nationwide success. But then,as Bellmark President Al Bell explains, radio and record people have made that mistake before.

Bell used to be the head of Stax/Volt Records, the label that launched such soul stars as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes.

"At Stax, our product was deemed to be regional," he says. "As a matter of fact, they called it 'Bama music back then, and didn't think it would sell outside of the Mason-Dixon line. But we pounded away with the Otis Reddings and the Sam & Daves and all that kind of stuff, and caused them to happen."

So when Bell heard "Dazzey Duks" for the first time last October, he figured he could have a hit if he worked the single the same way he worked Stax product. "I knew, in listening to it, that it had the magic that you look for in hit records," he says. "And irrespective of radio's attitude, I knew that if the consumer got an opportunity to hear it in one fashion or another, the record would sell through and be a big record."

"Dazzey Duks" isn't typical pop fare by any means. Its chorus chant of "Look at them girls with the dazzey duks on" is not only hard to follow, but is likely to puzzle any listener who doesn't know that "dazzey duks" are ultra-abbreviated denim shorts. (The name derives from Daisy Dukes, the "Dukes of Hazard" cutie celebrated for her short shorts.) But the beat -- a briskly thumping blend of booming electro-drums and "Planet Rock"-style synth licks -- needs no translation at all, and that's what snares the listener.

"These songs have great, classic hooks," says James Bernard, senior editor at the hip-hop journal The Source. "It's very bouncy, catchy music. I think we're going to see more of this."

Indeed, Tag Team's D.C. the Brain Supreme admits that "Whoomp! (There It Is)" was inspired by the success of "Dazzey Duks." As he told Billboard columnist Danyel Smith, "I monitored Duice's 'Dazzey Duks' and asked myself, 'Why is this record so good?' . . . So we came up with something that would hit like that."

If anything, "Whoomp! (There It Is)" hit bigger. "It happened and exploded quickly for us, because basically we had done the groundwork and had oriented radio's mind to accepting this kind of music," explains Bell. "So we released Tag Team, and in four weeks it was gold, and in six weeks, platinum. Whereas it took us about eight months to reach platinum status on 'Dazzey Duks.' "

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