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Who Flipped It Better? Skepta vs. Lil Herb & Lil Bibby

The Sample: Corey Hart – ‘Sunglasses at Night’ (1983)

This week on ‘Who Flipped It Better,’ a Canadian dude sings about wearing sunglasses at night, a British guy samples it, and two kids from Chicago strip it down and take it’s money.

Corey Hart comes from Montreal and is known mostly for his 1983 hit ‘Sunglasses at Night’ (it has 3 million more plays than his second-most popular song on Spotify). It’s uptempo but far from EDM — think The Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ but creepier. Multiple times throughout the song, he has to tell a girl to chill on whipping out the switchblade on him — he’s just the guy in the shades! Is this white patriarchy’s gaze in action, or does this guy just have an extreme sensitivity to light?

The synth that circles the beat helped make it a staple of new wave music in the early ’80s — hence the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack to ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,’ an oasis of cocaine music in video game form. It also sounds like the sample for Drake’s ‘I’m Goin’ In’ from ’09. According to Wikipedia, the video for ‘Sunglasses at Night’ “reflects the original vision of a ‘fashion’ police state,” and if that’s true I want jack s–t to do with some white guy’s artistic statement on fashion in the ’80s. Just the song will do.

Flip 1: Skepta – ‘Sunglasses at Night’ (Prod. by Skepta) [2009]

Skepta has been a problem in the UK for years, and whether Americans ever come around to his music without a hit single in the U.S. is up to us as individuals, though I doubt there’s any hope. Unless stuff overseas puts us or our money in danger, we tend to ignore it until it falls out of the sky and craters our beaches. It seems oddly fitting, then, that Skepta sampled Hart, who found success in the U.S. with his debut album but sold wood in his home of Canada for some time. It’s likely that it’ll forever be the opposite for Skepta, but if he ever sells out, you can bet America will have its tongue out, waiting to lap up the cache of coolness that emanates from the grime scene.

Listening to grime is very much like visiting overseas – you don’t know what you’re missing until you experience something different. The energy of grime makes U.S. rap music sound like Patty Cake. It’s exhilarating, thrilling, energetic; it simply has more life than rap in the States. Danny Brown has done the best job of channeling grime’s raw vitality, and it’s helped him stay on the cutting edge of music as a whole.

Perhaps Skepta’s biggest U.S. break came on his appearance on Blood Orange’s latest album, ‘Cupid Deluxe,’ for a song called ‘High Street.’ The production helps, but it’s really Skepta’s voice and style that arrest you. He can harness the tempo of any song and become it’s master with his calm delivery. One verse on ‘High Street’ about his come-up as an artist becomes one of the most memorable points of the entire album.

‘Sunglasses at Night’ comes from Skepta’s second studio album, ‘Microphone Champ,’ which he mostly produced himself. Any fan of rap who either loves the scene today or finds themselves jaded by the whole thing should spin it. Grime has singlehandedly revived a lot of the frenzied rap fandom that the genre used to generate in the U.S., and it’s thanks to albums like ‘Microphone Champ.’ ‘Sunglasses at Night’ was the second single from the album and gave the Hart original some dance flavor to optimize for the clubs. When Skepta spits, it’s as though his words are dancing on the beat, but he only drops one verse; the majority of the song wants to hook you with Hart’s chorus and sped-up footwork drums under the synth.

Flip 2: Lil’ Herb & Lil Bibby – ‘At Night’ (Prod. by WDTH?) [2014]

Chicago’s own Lil Herb and Lil Bibby take a different approach to the sample, flipped by WDTH? ‘At Night’ popped up in March without a project to call home, yet it’s one of the strongest songs that either artist has released so far. The high-speed energy, the dance drums, the club atmosphere — all that is drained from ‘At Night’ and replaced with a slow crawl of terror, the kind that may haunt kids like Herb and Bibby on the streets of Chicago as they evade death daily.

WDTH grabs the glassy synth that presides over the beat, but also employs the guitar to add tension. It works for Herb and Bibby, who sound like they rap with one hand on a snub nose. Strings heighten the drama, but the beat stays suspended without ever really “dropping.” Instead of sunglasses, they’ve got their pistols at night. They’re not dancing, and they’re not looking for girls, at least not on this song — they’re just surviving.

It’s tough to say which flip is better without feeling like one type of music is getting promoted over the other. Both flips are equally dope – one just uses it to make dance music while the other is filled with dread. As dope as Skepta’s song is, I have to go with WDTH? for going against the uptempo grain of Hart’s track to extract a more brooding mood. It’s one thing to ride the momentum of ‘Sunglasses at Night,’ throw some faster drums under it and put a grime MC on it. That makes sense. What’s a lot harder to imagine is slowing the song down and taking it away from it’s pop roots to a much darker place; perhaps it’s natural in as troubled a place as Chicago right now, but they’ve got art like this to be proud of.

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