Mura Masa, the U.K. producer whose namesake might or might not be the famous seventeenth century Japanese sword smith whose blades impelled their wielder to kill, collaborated with A$AP Rocky back in September 2016. He's worked with and remixed songs by Childish Gambino, Travis Scott and Ed Sheehan. His latest song, though, is the best example of the recent invasion of steel drums into pop music.
The single that came out of his work with A$AP Rocky, "Love$ick," starts with a funky drum beat that leads into some poppy piano. When it rolls into the first chorus, the song switches out the piano for a steel drums.
The steel drums exactly copy the piano loop that underlines most of the song. Their sound doesn't have any of the island vibes that are usually associated with steel drums. The drums in this song give Mura Masa the same range of notes as the piano, but also offer a sound that's different enough to stand out. Steel drums aren't exactly a go-to instrument in pop music, right?
In 2016, that seemed to change.
Mura Masa released "Love$ick" on September 30, but months before that, Nick Jonas found himself singing along to steel drums in his song, "Close."
The drums are the first instrument we hear and set the melody that Jonas sings in every chorus. "Close" peaked on the charts at #14 in July and Mura Masa's single made it to #18. Another huge hit in 2016 rose even farther.
Chance the Rapper's streaming-only "Angels" peaked at #4 and is another example of steel drums where they usually aren't.
The drums play a call-and-response game with the voice in the chorus and while they might usually stand out in a hip hop song, they actually blend naturally with the trumpet in Chance's song.
Late 2015 saw Selena Gomez using the drums sparingly in her song, "Me & The Rhythm." And no one can forget that 2007 classic, one of the most famous appearances of steel drums in a hip hop song: "Crank That" by Soulja Boy Tell'em.
They've always been there, in more places than you might remember. But 2016 featured a noticeable spike in pop and hip hop artists using steel drums to diversify the sound of their hits. It's unclear who started the trend or if it will continue, but maybe it's not such a stretch to expect even more of the instrument in pop music this year. You can almost hear the phone call underway: from his boat somewhere in the Caribbean, Jimmy Buffet on the line with A$AP Rocky.