Arabian Prince is the first person to admit that JJ Fad can't rap. "We got them to rap for us and it was pretty bad," recalled the onetime N.W.A member in an interview with Red Bull Music. Fortunately, Juana Burns and Dania Birks - girlfriends of Prince and Dr. Dre at the time - remained eager to rhyme on their pre-gangsta electro-rap beats, and the Compton musicians finally relented after hearing the duo fool around with jumprope rhymes.
The original JJ Fad was a five-piece female hip hop posse, featuring emcees Juana Burns, Dania Birks, Anna Cash, Fatima Shaheed and Juanita Lee. They released a sole diss track in '87, targeting battle-hardened East Coast staples Roxanne Shante and The Real Roxanne, who had recently squared off in one of the culture's first true feuds. Though Arabian Prince fought to include "Supersonic" on the b-side, it made little difference: the single bombed, and three of the five woman group unceremoniously quit the same year.
Prince recast JJ Fad as a trio, bringing in emcee Michelle Franklin-Ferrens to round out the rappers. They were joined by MC Ren's childhood friend, Clarence Lars, who went by the name of DJ Train and contributed scratching to the group's inoffensive routine. Prince acted as producer, his hit-friendly approach offering a more palatable sound for the upbeat emcees. Dr. Dre contributed production to the album's rap-heavy b-side, whilst DJ Yella was also credited for contributions throughout the LP. The rest, as they say, was history: Prince re-released "Supersonic" as a single, which peaked at #30 on the Billboard 100 in June 1988. The album itself landed at #49 on the Billboard 200, marking the first real success of N.W.A.
Whilst hardly a great album, JJ Fad's Supersonic is significant in many ways. It was the first album dropped on Ruthless Records, released the same year as N.W.A's blockbuster debut and Eazy-E's solo outing. "Supersonic" went gold, making it the first Ruthless offering to gain certification, and the track was later nominated for the inaugural Rap Performance Grammy, a first for a female rap group. It's even possible that the money from the hit record helped bankroll the production of Ruthless' 1988 efforts: The LA Times claims that "Supersonic" cheques led Eazy-E to open his first bank account.
It's interesting that their decisively non-threatening brand of electro-doused hip hop paved the way for some of the most violent, socially contentious music of the era. Indeed, it's a story so odd that it's often ignored altogether: whilst Supersonic is testament to the lasting impact of both JJ Fad and Arabian Prince, you won't find either of those N.W.A satellites in the gangsta rap group's multi-million dollar biopic. In an effort to right this wrong, we're breaking down the samples throughout JJ Fad's dance-rap hit, Supersonic, and looking at why one of the most essential gangsta rap records isn't gangsta rap at all.
The album's lead single and defining hit, "Supersonic" is the crowning achievement of both JJ Fad and fleeting N.W.A member Arabian Prince. An electro-dance producer, his expertise failed to abide with N.W.A's hardcore brand, and he left the group before their released their blockbuster debut. He produced the final track on that LP, the jarring and clearly singular "Something 2 Dance 2."
The hits the punctuate the "cut and scratch" lyric at 1:46 is courtesy of Italian disco master Cerrone and his 1978 live version of "Rocket In The Pocket."
This live rendition of the track was included on a number of influential break compilations, including Super Disco Brake's and Ultimate Breaks and Beats, and has since been featured in almost 200 tracks.
There are two samples on Beside's "Change The Beat (Female Version)" on Supersonic, which comes as no surprise seeing as the sample is one of the most common of all time.
The vocoder vocals at the close, provided by Fab Five Freddy, have become a popular scratching phrase due to their interesting tones. The malleable sounds have appeared on over 2,200 tracks in the years since.
One of the more bizarre parts of the song only makes sense when understood as an interpolation. The beatbox-giggling at 2:21 makes reference to "Def Fresh Crew," a 1986 collaboration between mid-'80s emcees Roxanne Shanté and Biz Markie.
The interpolation is a diss to the NYC rapper, who'd already been through hip hop's first true beef. The A side to "Supersonic," "Anotha Ho," was also a diss of both Roxanne Shante and The Real Roxanne.
A simple, dance-oriented track that's light on lyrics but heavy on catchiness, "Way Out" was the second single released from Supersonic. The track peaked at #61 on the Billboard 100 on the week of October 15, 1988.
In keeping with their fun-loving demeanour, the emcees interpolate the melody from a 1965 episode of The Flintstones.
"The Masquerades," which originally aired on 26 November, 1965, finds Bedrock purportedly invaded by a group of aliens known as "The Wayouts." The storyline was inspired by Orson Welles' infamous War Of The Worlds radioplay, which 'struck terror' into listeners in 1938.
The lick that enters at 0:18 and the subsequent riff that underpins the verses are lifted from The Monkees' 1966 track, "Mary, Mary." The track was included on the boyband's sophomore effort, the aptly-titled More of the Monkees.
"Blame It On The Muzick"
The first track on the album produced by Andre Young, who would soon define the West Coast as G-Funk originator Dr. Dre, "Blame It On The Muzick" features just a single substantial sample from a mid-'80s techno jam.
The pulsating electronica that underpins "Blame It On The Muzick" is the handiwork of Juan Atkins, the Detroit-born father of techno. Atkins released "Time Space Transmat" under the alias of Model 500, and it was included on 1985's "Night Drive" 12".
"In The Mix"
The penultimate track on the A-side, "In The Mix" is credited to all three N.W.A producers, a rarity considering Arabian Prince's early exit from the outfit.
The electronic instrumentation that underpins the entire track is a looped sample of Willesden Dodgers' "122 BPM." The group released four records, three of which were DJ tools - records used to help DJs cut their teeth. The titles of the tracks refer to their beats per minute.
Interestingly, the album features some barebones covers - "101 BPM" is a cover of Grandmaster Flash's "The Message."
The digital, electro-pop ready percussion is courtesy of none other than Kraftwerk. The influential electronica pioneers have been called one of the most influential groups of all time.
The percussion is sampled from "Musique Non Stop," a track from their 1986 LP, Electric Café. That effort was amongst the bands less successful, both critically and commercially, and was the last they released until 2003.
The "get down!" vocal sample that first enters at 0:34 is lifted from Vaughan Mason and Crew's "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll." The 1979 track, as seen in both the title and the album art, catered to the roller disco craze of the era.
"Eenie Meenie Beats"
Placed at the close of the A-side, "Eenie Meenie Beats" is a remix of the album opener, "Supersonic." It incorporates new lyrics but recycles the same basic elements of the original track. This beat track falls in the middle of the album because it's an end of sorts: the end of side A, billed the "Pop Side" on vinyl releases of the LP.
"Eenie Meenie Beats" is a remix of the group's lead single and biggest hit, "Supersonic."
"Supersonic" has been sampled just 15 times, though it's still featured on a number of high profile releases including Eminem's "Rap God," Fergie's "Fergalicious" and Metal Fingers' "Jasmine Blossoms," which was utilised on DOOM's own 2004 Mm.. Food single, "Hoe Cakes."
At 0:30, there's an interpolation of a traditional children's rhyme, "Eenie Meenie Sicileeny." Interpolating the entire rhyme is little more than a fun, juvenile showing of verbal dexterity.
This specific variant of the popular rhyme has its origins in 1980s New York, which suggests that the rhyme was less likely a childhood exercise and more likely a fleeting fad. Ironic, right?
"My Dope Intro"
"My Dope Intro" falls in the middle of the album for good reason: it's the intro to the second side of the album, billed the "Hip-Hop Side." This cut is produced by DJ Yella, Arabian Prince and Dr. Dre, the latter of whom is far more active on the second half of the LP.
The group released four LPs between '79 and '84, though only two of their tracks have been sampled. Of their sixty samples, fifty-nine are from "Get Up And Dance": it's featured on cuts by Grandmaster Flash, Ultramagnetic MCs and Marley Marl.
The instantly recognisable break at 3:00 is the work of the Incredible Bongo Band, a short-lived early '70s percussion outfit. They released two albums, 1972's Bongo Rock and 1974's Return of the Incredible Bongo Band.
"Apache" is one of hip hop's most famous samples, allegedly amongst the three spun by DJ Kool Herc when he conceived of linking breaks in 1973. It's since appeared on over 500 tracks.
"Let's Get Hyped"
"Let's Get Hyped" contains an impressive 14 samples, a hallmark of a Dr. Dre production. Indeed, Dre is the only credited producer for both of the album's most sample-heavy cuts. 11 of the 14 sampled within were sampled by Dr. Dre on his later work with N.W.A and their associates. Our breakdown of Straight Outta Compton, their sample-rich debut, can be found here.
The instrumentation that complements the funky drummer's beat is courtesy of Wilson Pickett's "Get Me Back On Time, Engine Number 9." The oft-sampled track, released in 1970, hit #14 on the Billboard 100.
The lyric "super big beats" at 0:16 signposts the entry of another sample. The hard-hitting, deep drum that pulses throughout this section is lifted from Billy Squier's "The Big Beat," an American rock track turned producer favourite.
"The Big Beat" never charted, but still managed to work its way into hip hop history. It's been sampled more than 280 times, later featuring on N.W.A cut "Real Niggaz Don't Die."
The new drums that enter at 0:26 are lifted from the opening break in The Honey Drippers' "Impeach The President." That 1973 song was released in the space between the breaking of the Watergate Scandal and the pre-impeachment resignation of Richard Nixon.
A bizarre three-way sample of all N.W.A's 1988 efforts, "Let's Get Hyped" samples Eazy-E's "Ruthless Villain" by way of N.W.A's "If It Ain't Ruff."
The sampled lyric - "alright, bet" - is an edited sample of a "Ruthless Villain" lyric, though the edit is clearly identical to the one sampled on "If It Ain't Ruff" later in the year. Bizarrely, these tracks were released in reverse order: first "Let's Get Hyped," the "If It Ain't Ruff," and finally, "Ruthless Villain."
The break that helps bring in the chorus at 0:47 is the work of soul-funk outfit The Headhunters. Their 1975 track, "God Made Me Funky," has appeared in an admirable 278 songs, mostly due to the drum break at the opening.
The clearly-sampled male voice that says "drop" at 1:29 belongs to JJ Fad contemporary King Tee. The West Coast emcee was one of Compton's early hip hop stars, and at one time, Biggie called Tee his favourite emcee.
The single, blink-and-you'll-miss-it electronic hit at 1:30 is taken from the opening of Hashim's "Al Naafiysh (The Soul)." The release was one of just five by Hashim, real name Jerry Calliste Jr., who worked in-office Tommy Boy Records at the time. He's since become a music industry veteran.
The track, sampled more than 100 times, hasn't featured on any N.W.A material, including solo work by Cube, Dre, Eazy and Ren.
An impressively cursory sample comes from Z-3 MC's 1983 single, "Triple Threat." The track was the Baltimore trio's only release, and featured hard-hitting beatboxing, a craft which peaked in popularity throughout the late '80s.
The sample doesn't take from their beatboxing - it's the "yeah" at 1:30 that's pulled from the opening of the track. Similarly, "c'mon, yeah" is sampled throughout N.W.A's "Real Niggaz Don't Die."
The powerful "you got it" at 1:32 belongs to none other than Bobby Byrd, and was originally featured on one of his biggest hits, "I Know You Got Soul." Byrd, the James Brown collaborator who first discovered the funk master, recorded this 1971 cut alongside the J.B.'s.
Though most famously sampled on Eric B. & Rakim's 1987 song of the same name, it's featured on almost 150 different tracks.
The horn riff ushered in by the three emcees is taken from Kool and The Gang's "N.T.," a track originally included on their 1971 live album, Live at P.J.'s. Their second live album, the record also doubled as their third LP, an unorthodox approach.
The second drum break to be taken from a politically-minded funk cut, the sampled percussion at 1:51 is sourced from James Brown's "Funky President (People It's Bad)." The track, released in 1974, refers to the incredibly un-funky Gerald Ford.
The riff that underpins the verse from 1:51 is a sample of the Wild Magnolias' "Soul, Soul, Soul." The Wild Magnolias were a singular act - a New Orleans-based Mardi Gras tribe and occasional bayou funk outfit, they released 6 albums over their three-decade career.
The track was most popular as a sample throughout the late '80s and early '90s, though it's been sampled just 8 times.
There's a sly Public Enemy sample at 2:20 on JJ Fad, though you'd be hard pressed to identify it on your own. The riff that underpins Flavor Flav's exclamations on "Rebel Without A Pause" is the same that underpins JJ Fad's hook on "Let's Get Hyped."
As an outfit, JJ Fad seemed out for blood - their debut single, "Anotha Ho," took aim at two legends of the East Coast. On album track "Now Really," the trio clap back at a diss from short-lived rap duo Sugga & Spice. The duo attacked JJ Fad for two reasons: firstly, to leech fame off the more popular group, like JJ Fad themselves did to The Real Roxanne and Roxanne Shanté, and secondly to retaliate on behalf of their label, Dream Team, to whom the trio were signed before aligning with Eazy.
The drums and melody throughout the track is sampled from Pleasure's "Bouncy Lady." An underground R&B act from Portland, Oregon, they released their debut - on which "Bouncy Lady" was included - in 1975.
The male vocal sample at 1:01 - "wicky-wicky-wack!" - is lifted from Boogie Down Productions' "My Philosophy," the lead single from their 1988 sophomore album, By All Means Necessary. We did a breakdown on that album for its 30th anniversary earlier this year.
The phrase at 1:47 - "yes we can can" - is lifted from another 1988 female hip hop cut, Sugga & Spice's "Yes We Can."
They followed up that 12" single with a second and final 12", Boyz Just Wanna Get Skeezed!. That record included "That's Funky," a savage JJ Fad diss track. JJ Fad had departed the label on which S&S recorded - Dream Team - to join Ruthless and achieve financial success.
"Time Tah Get Stupid"
Another exhibition of Dre's sample-rich approach to production, "Time Tah Get Stupid" borrows almost exclusively from hip hop itself, with seven of the nine samples within sourced from the preceding decade of the culture. What's more, of the nine samples on the track, four are courtesy of East Coast rap legends Public Enemy.
The track opens with a blatant and bizarre interpolation of an American Christmas carol.
Whilst "The Little Drummer Boy" is something of a traditional Christmas carol, it was only written in 1941, and was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers ten years later. It's since been sampled just 17 times, but has been covered a hefty 92 times by acts such as Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.
The "here we go" vocal sample at 0:14 is sourced from the titular refrain in Run DMC's "Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)," a track recorded live in New York City. Though it was recorded in '83, it was included as a track on the 1986 compilation record, Rap 2.
Though recorded prior to the release of their self-titled debut, the track was released the same year as their third effort, Raising Hell.
The subdued "yo!" at 0:26 is another titular sample, this time sourced from Public Enemy's "Yo! Bum Rush The Show."
The title track to their acclaimed 1987 debut, it was later sampled on a swathe of the group's own tracks, including their 1989 hit, "Fight The Power." Self-sampling was a staple of PE production team The Bomb Squad, with whom Ice Cube worked after leaving N.W.A. Dre later sampled the song on N.W.A's "8 Ball (Remix)."
The next in this long line of vocal samples is "hold it now," which appears at 0:45. It's lifted from another contemporary American Christmas tune, though this one's a more uniquely hip hop approach to festivity.
Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" was released in '79, and is amongst the first-ever recorded hip hop tracks. It was Blow's first single, predating 1980's "The Breaks," which was hip hop's first gold record.
The second Public Enemy sample appears at 0:49, when an easily identifiable Flavor Flav screams "get that--!" The vocal is taken from the opening of "Terminator X Speaks With His Hands," a turntabling showcase from the group's 1987 debut.
The quiet riff that underpins the verse from 0:50 onward if taken from Average White Band's "School Boy Crush," a track included on their 1975 LP, Cut The Cake.
The funky track has since been sampled on almost 150 tracks, perhaps most famously featuring on Eric B. & Rakim's "Microphone Fiend." The distinctive percussion later appeared on Nas' classic Large Professor-produced cut, "Halftime."
The electronic voice the interjects with "fresh!" at 1:02 belongs to Fab Five Freddy, and is famed as one of the most sampled phrases of all time. The close of 1982's "Change The Beat (Female Version)" has featured on over 2,200 songs.
This specific sample is a unique one, as it's uncommon that one is able to make out the word itself - as a sample, the vocoder-heavy vocal is usually reserved for scratch-heavy manipulation.
The overly-exuberant "yeah!" at 1:04 could only belong to one man: the original hypeman, Flavor Flav. Chuck D's offsider, the Public Enemy member was wearing clocks around his neck far before he made it a golden age stereotype.
The large sampled phrase at 1:09 - "it's time to get stupid, here we go again, c'mon!" - is lifted from a more esoteric Public Enemy cut, 1987's "Raise The Roof."
An album track from their debut, which was just one year old when Supersonic dropped, "Raise The Roof" has been sampled just nine times. It never reappeared on any work by N.W.A or the individual members within.
"Is It Love"
The third and final single from Supersonic, "Is It Love" was bundled with album track "My Dope Intro" as a b-side. "Is It Love" finds the trio considering true love, lamenting the effects that their new man has on them. The single peaked at #92 on the Billboard 100 on Christmas Eve, 1988.
Supersonic remains JJ Fad's definitive effort. Their sophomore album, 1991's Not Just A Fad, ironically proved that their success was fleeting: none of the singles from the album charted, nor did the album itself, and the group split soon after it released.
DJ Train, the turntablist who backed the group, was a member of short-lived N.W.A affiliate Capital Punishment Organisation, or CPO. He was featured on both JJ Fad records, and scratched on CPO's sole LP, 1990's To Hell And Black. Train's career was tragically cut short in 1994, when he died of smoke inhalation in a house fire - according to his brother, he re-entered the house having already saved the lives of family members. The surviving members of JJ Fad, including Arabian Prince, reunited in 2009 and took to the nostalgia circuit.
The group's legacy continued via a number of notable samples. In 2004, "Supersonic" was sampled on MF DOOM's "Hoe Cakes," the JJ Fad-laden instrumental from which was later released as "Jasmine Blossoms." The melody and cadence from "Supersonic" was later interpolated by Fergie on her #2 Billboard 100 hit, "Fergalicious." This sample was a source of conflict when, in 2009, Arabian Prince sued Fergie's label for owed royalties, alleging that onetime JJ Fad manager Jerry Heller and Ruthless Records refused to pay him.
Despite their relative obscurity, JJ Fad remain an important element of the N.W.A story. Though unheralded by 2015's big-budget biopic, the work that the group did on Supersonic presaged the techniques Dre used on both Straight Outta Compton and Eazy-Duz-It. What's more, the record showcases the work of Arabian Prince, a fleeting but essential inclusion in the infamous gangsta rap posse. Ultimately, however, JJ Fad is a pop-rap crossover event in its own right, an example of the palatable genre-melding that helped hip hop break into the mainstream throughout the late '80s and early '90s.