Sublettian Cuban influences on popular music

In class on Thursday I mentioned that an overwhelming majority of hip hop, and consequently, popular music in general over the past few decades, has rhythmic patterns that can be traced back to the Cuban influence on pop music that Sublette identifies in the essay we read. While a genealogical mapping of that influence from the nineteen sixties to today is a topic too vast for a single blog post, I thought it would be useful to look at the current top ten singles on the Billboard charts through the lens of Cuban rhythm. Of course, all of this is entirely speculative and up for debate.

#1. Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra)”

While the rhythmic patterns here are more reminiscent of Brazilian genres, we can still here the influence of the habanera beat and the interplay of various percussive parts common to Afro-Cuban music.


#2. Fun, “We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monae)”

Check out the son clave rhythm in the snare before the verse kicks in. It continues in the kick drum throughout, more or less.


#3. The Wanted, “Glad You Came”

Like a lot of techno, nearly everything in this song except for the four-on-the-floor bass beat has the syncopated feel of the son clave.


#4. One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”

There’s the cyclic chord progression Sublette identified in Louie, Louie, as well as the cowbell and the clave beat in the bass drum.


#5. Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend”

It’s subtler here, but listen for the groove in the syncopated bass drum and the electric tom toms.


#6. Flo Rida, “Wild Ones (feat. Sia)”

Right away the piano is playing a form of the bossa nova clave beat, and this syncopation is picked up by various synth sounds throughout.


#7. Nicki Minaj, “Starship”

There’s the bossa nova clave again. The son clave shows up in the chorus (“meant to fly,” “touch the sky,” etc.).


#8. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

While we didn’t immediately find anything in this song when we listened to it in class, it’s possible that the strings in the chorus could be playing the distant cousin of a clave beat, and the lead guitar lick in the chorus is very similar to the bossa nova clave.


#9. Kelly Clarkson, “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”

Not much here. Pretty straight ahead disco rhythms, although the rhythm guitar lick that pops up just before the bridge shares traits with the  tumbao.


#10. Katy Perry, “Part of Me”

This song is overwhelmingly a hybrid of rock and house, and the influence of Cuban music is less apparent, since syncopation has been wrested out almost entirely.