(8) chumbawamba, "tubthumping" defeats (9) us3, "cantaloop (flip fantasia)" 131-84

Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/3.

Which song is the best?
(8) Chumbawamba, "Tubthumping"
(9) Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"

reed karaim on "tubthumping"

The first time I heard “Tubthumping” on the radio, I thought: Cool! Drunken British soccer hooligans have a catchy new party anthem! I pictured lots of shaved-headed guys in greasy working-class pubs sloshing pints as they raised them in the air to the triumphant chorus: “I get knocked down, I get back up again. Nothing’s going to keep me down!” Yeah, go Chelsea! Or Liverpool, or other semi-obscure British town that would eventually vote to leave Europe!
     The song, which felt like one of those anthems meant to be shouted hoarsely after your team has scored, or you have crushed a beer can against your head just for the hell of it, seemed a natural for the U.S., too. After all, we have sports teams we’re insane about, we almost certainly lead the world in smashing beer cans against our heads, and, more than any other country, we specialize in a kind of boastful defiance against the deeply buried insecurity that we’re not quite as great as we think. USA! USA! Nothing’s going to keep us down!
     I had hopes “Tubthumping” might supplant “We Will Rock You" by Queen as the song Americans stomped in rhythm to on football bleachers across America. “We Will Rock You” is a truly great song, but it’s 40 years old. [1] After all, if we’re really going to make America great again, shouldn’t we start by stealing a newer British song as our mindless party/sports anthem?
     Alas, that never happened, for several reasons. First, “Tubthumping” came out in 1997, before we had been informed we needed to make America great again. Second, the beat is a little too fast to stomp your feet to and, unfortunately, you have to be able to sing, at least a bit, to pull off the chorus. But the most significant reason the song never quite made it into the pantheon, and that Chumbawamba, the band that released it, were one-hit wonders in the United States, is that it was never the song we—or at least I—thought it was.
     Let’s start with the band. Chumbawamba sounds like: A. The name of a Star Wars character (probably a Wookie); B. A cute little Australian mammal distantly related to the koala bear; or C. Something a British soccer hooligan mumbles just before he falls off his stool. But what it actually was, was an anarchist-punk collective band that was a lot more interesting than any of those things.
     Chumbawamba (the name remains purposefully obscure. The band gave multiple explanations of how they came up with it, and freely confessed that all of them were lies) burned with a kind of anti-capitalist, anti-power-structure, leftist working-class ire that is largely unknown in the U.S., where working-class ire most often takes a Fox News inspired rightward turn. The band had a caustic sense of humor, but they were the real-deal when it came to their politics. They reportedly turned down $1.5 million from Nike to license “Tubthumping” for an ad campaign during a World Cup. They did accept $100,000 from General Motors for use of the song “Pass It along,” but gave the money to the activist group CorpWatch and the Independent Media Center, which used it for an environmentally-based campaign against GM.
     TubThumper, the album that included “Tubthumping” is considered their most user-friendly, mainstream work, even a bit of a sell-out among the take-no-prisoners part of their fan base, but it includes songs that address the Liverpool dock worker’s strike, homelessness and consumerism, all from a leftist, anarchist viewpoint that could easily tip over into tiresome demagoguery if they weren’t redeemed by their tunefulness and Chumbawamba’s always present sense of irreverence. They seem to be having fun, even when raising a middle finger toward everything from Tony Blair to the status obsessed British middle class (perhaps the same thing, I admit). Still, these lads and lasses were serious enough about their politics that they even did an album with Noam Chomsky for God’s sake, which, since it means surrendering any chance anyone will actually listen to your album, has to count as taking a genuine stand for your principles. [2]
     They had another minor hit in the U.K. and released quite a few albums that evidently did all right. But “Tubthumping” was really Chumbawamba’s fifteen minutes of fame. When they finally gave up the ghost in 2012, they went out with one of the more charming farewell notes in pop/rock history: “That's it then, it's the end. With neither a whimper, a bang or a reunion. Thirty years of ideas and melodies, endless meetings and European tours, press releases, sing-along choruses and Dada sound poetry, finally at an end . . . Thirty years of being snotty, eclectic, funny, contrary and just plain weird. What a privilege, and what a good time we've had." [3] 
     Listened to in the context of the band’s expressed ideology and other work, “Tubthumping” becomes something more and less than it seems. The upbeat chorus, which could be taken as a simple chant of working class defiance, is balanced against a second gentler refrain, in which female band member Lou Watts sings about “pissing the night away.” The melancholy tone of the line, sung in a sweet pure soprano, undercuts the song’s bravado, as if to acknowledge that the rest could be just an empty boast. Yes, we talk about taking a stand, but at the end of the day, we’re just as likely to end up getting pissed in a pub as we are to actually do anything. There’s a kind of quiet understanding and acceptance of human nature in that single line that puts “Tubthumping” up there with “Born in the USA” as one of the more misinterpreted rock anthems of all time. [4] It also explains why Chumbawamba never followed it up with something in the same vein. They were always more complicated than their one big hit appears on the surface.
     I have no idea how “Tubthumping” was viewed in England, but in America it faced an uphill struggle to ever connect in a larger socio-political sense. Is it possible for an upbeat-sounding, tub-thumping song actually named “Tubthumping” to carry a political message in the ruthlessly commoditized market of American pop? Can most any pop song manage that feat without being almost instantly subverted by its own success in the marketplace? Yes, Beyoncé pulls off the balancing act, selling millions of records while releasing songs that combine the personal and political in a way (partly through their video presentation) that conveys an ideological message, which resonates with a large audience. Numerous Rap and Hip-hop artists have also managed the feat. But Beyoncé simply defies all the rules, and Rap and Hip-hop have protest written into their very American DNA. If they have crossed over into commercial success, they still carry those roots with them and will until America is a very different country.
     But most American pop goes pop! and is gone. If it has even a bit more substance or staying power, it’s quickly remade as just one more gear in the great consumerist machine. We live in a capitalist system that took the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” originally written for a special worldwide BBC broadcast to celebrate the unity of all humankind, and turned it into an advertisement for disposable diapers: “All You Need is Luvs.” [5]
     Even if “Tubthumping” had come with Cliff Notes explaining the band’s politics and the history of British working class struggle, along with an addendum on the context of the melancholy secondary refrain, I’m not sure it would have made any difference. There’s something self-aware about this pop anthem that seems more distinctly British than American. We may be pissing the night – and the day – away in America, but we’re too busy shouting loudly at everyone around us that it isn’t the case, or if it is, it’s the fault of urban elites, immigrants, or someone else, to acknowledge our own self-defeating instincts. There has never been much room for a secondary, introspective refrain in America, and there is even less today.
     On the album, “Tubthumping” begins with a brief snippet of dialogue from a British movie, Brassed Off, which dealt with the closing of coal mines in England through the lens of a company band at one mine. The line is spoken by the band director, who has been obsessed with the band above all else until near the end. He says, “I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.” I can’t remember ever hearing that snippet on American radio, but I wish I had. But then again, “Tubthumping” aside, Chumbawamba was never really our kind of band.

[1] If you doubt the persistence of “We Will Rock You,” here’s what is these days considered an unimpeachable source, a random page I found on the internet: http://www.complex.com/sports/2013/10/greatest-stadium-anthems-all-time/.

[2] No, I haven’t listened to it either, but the tracks on side one are all Chomsky and the first three have these titles: “Destroying American Industrial Unionism,” “Corporations: Unaccountable Private Tyrannies,” and “The Business Press Explains.” These do not seem like danceable tracks, although number six, “Tyranny is Pure Freedom,” does sound like it has possibilities as a heavy metal tune if turned over to Megadeth.

[3] That is only the start and finish of a longer goodbye note that manages to make the case for the band’s philosophy and approach without sounding either pretentious or somber. You can find it here: http://www.chumba.com/

[4] My once-upon-a-time punk younger brother refused to listen to Springsteen for decades because he mistakenly connected “Born in the USA” with Reagan-era celebrations of American military might and strutting stupidity. Now entering his 50s, he has come to a belated re-appraisal and appreciation. Pretty much the same thing happened to me with Jane Austen.

[5] Yes, this really happened. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X79emCApQX4.)

Reed Karaim is a writer and journalist living in Tucson. He is the author most recently, of the novel, The Winter in Anna, published by W. W. Norton & Co.

steven church on "cantaloop (flip fantasia)," us3, and the third way

If jazz is the first way, and hip hop is the second way, then Us3 is the third way! Geoff Wilkinson

Jazz as jazz—jazzy jazz—is pretty well finished. The interesting stuff is all happening on the fringes of the form where there are elements of jazz and elements of all sorts of other things as well. Jazz is a trace, but it’s not a defining trace. Something similar is happening in writing. —David Shields, Reality Hunger

Groovy groovy jazzy funky pounce bounce dance are the first words you hear, exhaled as much as sung by a honeyed euphonious voice, and the 1993 one-hit wonder, “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” does dance and groove from the get-go. But before these lyrics drop, you also hear a familiar bouncy piano riff, drums and bass, all of it borrowed heavily from the Herbie Hancock jazz standard, “Cantaloupe Island,” released in 1964 on his album, Empyrean Isles. That song, the old song, becomes a shell that the Us3 hit inhabits; and thus “Cantaloop” sounds both old and new, both classic and revolutionary at the same time. The song becomes the British jazz-rap group, Us3’s manifesto for the third way, for the fusion of hip-hop and jazz, and with it they claimed rights to the first big American hit in this hybrid genre of music. “Cantaloop” reached as high as number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the Hand on the Torch certified Platinum in 1994.
     It’s hard to say for sure where I first heard, “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” but it wasn’t in London, where Us3 was born and the song earned its first audiences as an early demo. Undoubtedly I found the song in Kansas where I was studying philosophy, working in a basement records vault on the University of Kansas campus and painting houses in the summer months—work that was regularly accompanied by a steady diet of college radio. It was rare those days that I even paid attention to anything resembling a Billboard hit, but somehow this song and Us3’s first album, Hand on the Torch, found its way into regular rotation at that house where I lived with three friends, that slab-house on the corner of Sunset and Crestline with the standing water in the air vents and the living room where we rolled joints and blunts, cut pictures from magazines to make poster-board collages and where we colored large posters of jungle scenes--all of our various crafting activities regularly accompanied by bands like Jamiroquai, A Tribe Called Quest, The Beastie Boys, De La Soul, and—at some point—Us3. That’s the house, the room where we once attempted to remove a hide-a-bed couch by trying to chop it in half with an axe, that same house where we wiled away hours in the driveway kicking a hacky-sack in the air and imagining our future as a farm-themed hip-hop group called FFA and our debut album, “Straight Outta Kansas.” It was either that or tag-team professional wrestling.
     Ah, the 90’s...when we dreamed big and aimed low. And played hacky-sack.
     Hand on the Torch was the first Platinum selling album for the iconic jazz label, Blue Note Records, a label always known for its aesthetic more than its sales but still easily one of the most influential recording companies in the history of jazz and, thus, in American music. Think about that twist for a second. It wasn’t Miles Davis or Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, or Art Blakey who shattered sales records for Blue Note. It’s wasn’t the icons, the jazz geniuses and impresarios. It wasn’t even Herbie Hancock, but instead a re-recorded sampling of Hancock’s song that blew up big enough to be called a one-hit wonder. Commercial success for the consummate American record label came from the British producers behind Us3 and “Cantaloop,” Geoff Wilkinson and Mel Simpson. It would be sort of like if Limp Bizkit scored the first big hit for Sun Records or maybe, to be more generous, if Lauryn Hill had the first Platinum album for Motown; or perhaps I’m just exaggerating the oddity a bit to consider the wonder of this song.  
     “Cantaloop”’s popularity was helped (or perhaps hindered) by the nearly incomprehensible MTV Buzz Bin video that, in addition to casting local London strippers (one of whom appears to be rubbing her bottom on a spinning drum of some sort) and two older black men pretending to play instruments, also includes a bizarre shot of a white man sitting in a red chair piloting a remote control helicopter that blurs in and out of the frame. Wilkinson hated the video, believing they’d totally missed the point of both the song and of Us3. Instead of making jazz seem cool again, they’d resorted to the tired trope of the old black man in a suit and tie wailing away on the trumpet or rat-a-tat-tatting on the drums. The whole thing is a mess of stereotypes and music video tropes thrown together haphazardly and bathed in shadows and ochre colored light.
     This song was the song that sold the album that propelled the group to new heights and depths. This song and the subsequent video mark one of the last (or only) public appearances of the rapper/lyricist, Rahsaan Kelly, who appears in the video and who lent the song it’s laconic voice and beat-poetry vibe with lyrics like:

The way I kick the rhyme some will call me a poet
Poem steady flowin', growin' showin' sights and sounds

The twentieth anniversary of “Cantaloop” in 2013 brought fans and critics out of the woodwork, all of them seeking a new angle on the story of the song; and everyone wanted to ask the “Where are they now?” questions, particularly of Kelly, who supposedly hailed from Brooklyn, and was (as the story goes) just visiting someone in London when Wilkinson roped him in to rap and provide the lyrics for “Cantaloop.” Kelly stumbled unwittingly into a starring role in a one-hit wonder and promptly vanished from the public eye.
     A Spin Magazine piece on the 20th Anniversary of “Cantaloop” says, “What gave the result its edge was Kelly’s mellifluous flow—with lyrics that mostly described his mellifluous flow.” But Kelly’s performance on “Cantaloop” is one of only a handful of Us3 songs on which he appears. He officially left the group in 1995; and according to the most recent reports, Kelly has disappeared completely and is currently “unreachable.”
     Another wonder. Another oddity. Another loss.
     And our final player in this one-hit drama, the teenage trumpet virtuoso, Gerard Presencer, offers an another layer to the story. Discovered playing jazz clubs in London by Wilkinson at the age of 18, he was recruited to record the trumpet tracks for “Cantaloop”—most of which are essentially covers of Hubbard’s original trumpet tracks on “Cantaloupe Island” and close enough to the originals that Hubbard initially thought Wilkinson had used outtakes of his tracks without permission. In any case, Presencer’s new tracks were then mixed with the samples of Hancock’s song; and the trumpeter’s playing does give the song a kind of warm nostalgic glow as well as that distinctive feel of free-form jazz improvisation. 
     When “Cantaloop” blew up Presencer demanded to be named an equal partner and producer on any future albums, claiming his trumpeting created the iconic Us3 sound for the song, that without him, there was no third way, no real fusion of hip-hop and jazz. Presencer was quickly dropped from the group, and the one-hit wonder curse claimed another victim. Though Presencer would go on to have a long career in jazz (mostly as a session musician), this was really his only hit song. He said in a Spin Magazine interview celebrating the 20th anniversary of the song:

There was something about the chemistry of that song: this rapper who we can’t find anymore and my 18-year-old, confident trumpet playing. It’s not been recreated. So I think there was just something special about it. I’m quietly proud of it.

In his less-than-humble moments, Geoff Wilkinson will not only credit Us3 (and thus, himself) with being not the original [1] but the best at mixing hip-hop and jazz, but, doubling down on the bravado, he’ll also claim credit for the popularity of Hancock’s original tune:

"Cantaloupe Island” has sort of become a jazz standard now, and it wasn’t before. I don’t know if we’re the first kind of act to make an obscure track become a jazz standard...but in my mind, “Cantaloupe Island” wasn’t a jazz standard. You didn’t have lots of people covering it, but now you do.

It’s true that somehow “Cantaloop” taps into a thread of influence that runs from the 90’s all the way back to the 60’s; but to claim that its one-hit wonderness had the power to elevate a jazz classic like Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” to a jazz standard, a song covered and played over and over again today, seems to be a bit of a reach to me and an overestimation of a one-hit wonder’s powers. But maybe I’m not giving the song enough credit. When you listen to both songs—Hancock’s and Us3’s--you can hear them talking to each other. It’s as if you’re listening not so much to an overly mixed and dubbed version of “Cantaloupe Island,” but rather to an early example of a music mash-up, where you’ve got two songs in conversation, playing simultaneously, almost jamming with each other. Hancock himself has even given the song his stamp of approval, saying, “Cantaloop” gave my composition new life, and it still sounds hot.”
     “Cantaloop” is a song that is essentially about itself and its iconic sound, participating in the age-old hip-hop tradition of self-aggrandizement. Still, it felt refreshingly unique at the time it was released. It was different—smarter, cooler, wiser, and less pretentious. As opposed to the violent misogyny, homophobia, and drugs that featured prominently as subject matter in a great deal of other early 90’s hip-hop, “Cantaloop” was about the 3rd way; it was about the groovy, funky, experimental blend of jazz and hip-hop. It was a song about the art of hybridity and the blurring of boundaries. Sure, one could argue that all hip-hop and rap music is partakes in this same hybridity, but to me there’s a difference—perhaps a small one--between the kind of appropriation at the heart of sampling and the collaboration and conversation that occurs in other hybrid forms of art. As David Shields argues, more and more artists are trying today to figure out ways to smuggle reality into their work; and Us3’s great genius might have been their ability to smuggle classic Blue Note jazz into a contemporary hip-hop song.
     Wilkinson and Simpson were less authors, songwriters, or musicians as they were curators of sound, makers of audio collages and conversations where their artistic talent was often expressed through the smoothing out of seams between individual pieces. A song like “Cantaloop” thus becomes a kind of hermit crab essay, a song that takes on the form of Hancock’s original tune and inhabits the shell as a way to explore new ideas and frontiers. Wilkinson described the Us3 blueprint to me in an email:

There were basically 3 elements to an Us3 song. Firstly the jazz sample, secondly the use of hip hop rhythms and a rapper, and thirdly we always had a younger jazz musician soloing on the track too. By doing this we were acknowledging (& paying homage to) the past, staying firmly rooted in the present, and also looking forward to the future.

     I first discovered the Us3 album and “Cantaloop” at around the same time that I discovered an album called Jazzamatazz, Vol. 1 by the rapper and producer, GURU (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. This was the year after my brother was killed in a car accident, and in a short period of time I’d gone through a whole spectrum of musical interests—moving from the Grateful Dead and “classic” rock, to “college” rock bands like Superchunk and The Pixies, punk bands like Fugazi and Bad Religion, metal with Metallica and Seattle grunge rock with Soundgarden and Mudhoney mixed in with a heavy Nirvana phase.
     Maybe there are phases of music that correspond to phases of grief. I don’t know for sure. But I knew then that I was moving through bands and musical genres like they were dishes on a buffet, tasting whatever seemed good on a given day and made me feel better or at least a little less sad and anxious. My playlists were an odd collage of styles and emotions; and they still are today. Perhaps my inevitable move into hip-hop and jazz, as well as into the blurry boundary areas between the genres, marked a slide away from the angst and anger of those years into something like acceptance of the loss that would come to define much of my life. Or perhaps it was a move away from provincialism and compartmentalized thinking and into something more penumbral, more focused on liminal spaces of thinking and experience.
     A few of my peers had grown into Gangsta Rap fandom and I followed somewhat reluctantly, focusing mostly on pretty much the only thing white middle-class college kids in Kansas had in common with gangsta rappers—marijuana—but my friends and I also found ourselves embracing hip-hop artists of a different aesthetic, groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, The Brand New Heavies, and The Beastie Boys (after they’d abandoned the sexist party personas from their first album, License to Ill), groups who mixed funk, soul, scratching and mixing, with what might be called self-consciously positive and socially conscious lyrics that felt a little like a contemporary version of the 60’s inspired classic rock we’d grown up on.
     Around the same time that I was burning through my grunge phase and drifting into hip-hop and jazz, my friends and I also became devoted listeners (as most young people in Lawrence, Kansas do) to the award winning college radio station, KJHK, The Sound Alternative. Their DJ’s, much as our drug dealers did, introduced us to novel experiences, new highs and surprising sensory indulgences. Every morning, KJHK featured a jazz show and I’m pretty sure they also had a hip-hop show, though it’s a little hard to remember. My best guess is that it was the DJ’s on this show that first exposed me to GURU and Us3, though I can’t really be sure.  It may have just been one of those things where a friend says, “Hey, you’ve got to listen to this.”
     For GURU, a founding member of the seminal rap group Gang Starr, Jazzamatazz was a side project, and “experimental fusion of hip hop and jazz,” and GURU was one of the first to use a live jazz band and acclaimed jazz musicians like Branford Marsalis and Donald Byrd on his album. He was creating new original music in the studio and live onstage by combining jazz solos and jams with drum beats, loops, samples, and rapping.  While GURU and Gang Starr continue to garner respect—with the new TV hit, Luke Cage, using Gang Starr songs as titles for each of their episodes—Us3 has largely faded into obscurity, even if they have continued to produce albums and tour widely.
     If there’d been musical justice, the first jazz hip-hop mega hit of the early 90’s probably should’ve come from GURU, one of the early pioneers of this hybrid genre, and a man who was not only the DJ and producer, but also the lyricist and vocalist on many of the songs for Jazzamatazz. GURU was one of the first pioneers of the third way and thus, one of the first to reintroduce classic bee-bop and hard-bop jazz to a new generation of American music fans. Wilkinson admitted that GURU “probably softened up the market” for a song like “Cantaloop;” but it’s more than that, in my humble opinion. GURU’s flow and his mixing and looping on a song like “Loungin” is irrepressible and unmatched, quite frankly, by anything “Cantaloop” can even approach.
     Wilkinson started out working as a DJ in dance clubs in England in the 80’s and 90’s and regularly mined the discount crates at record stores for tracks he could sample for his live show. He started working in samples from classic Blue Note recordings and one of his songs became an underground hit, eventually making its way into the rotation of local radio station, drawing new fans to Wilkinson, but also drawing the attention of Blue Note’s parent label, EMI Records. 
     In what must have been both a dream come true and something of a nightmare, Wilkinson saw his song suddenly making some real noise on the local scene. He was poised for stardom, but at what cost? He received a phone call from representatives at EMI Music summoning him to their offices in London for a meeting. EMI had heard the radio single and knew that Wilkinson had broken the law and violated their copyright to the Blue Note recording; but they also knew that he might be on to something big.
      Wilkinson has admitted in interviews that he didn’t know for sure what to expect when he made that visit to EMI, but he must have had his suspicions. After all, if they’d wanted to sue him or threaten him, they could’ve just sent a letter or had a lawyer call him. No, this was something different. As it turned out, EMI didn’t want to stop Wilkinson from sampling their Blue Note recordings, they wanted to enable him. They offered to give him exclusive access to the entire Blue Note catalog if he could prove he knew how to handle the responsibility.
     Thus was born Us3 and, in particular, the “try out” demo, “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” which was as much a sales pitch to EMI as it was a manifesto on itself and this “new” bold blend of hip-hop and jazz. The song became a one-hit wonder—but as so often happens, this rapid unexpected success came at a cost. Wilkinson said in an interview:

To be honest I have bittersweet memories of that time. The fact that we were being pulled from pillar to post, took its toll in terms of personal relationships. At the end of ’94 I had split from my production partner Mel Simpson, and my personal relationship had broken down too. There was a lot of pressure that came with the commercial success.

“Cantaloop” was Presencer’s one hit and his last collaboration with Wilkinson and Us3. It was Us3’s one hit, Blue Note’s one hit, maybe even jazz-hip hop’s one big hit, and the sole hit song for the production team of Wilkinson and Simpson; and what emerges in this story is something we see in so many stories of one-hit wonders—that dizzying swing to the heights of popularity combined with seemingly inevitable pain, struggle, and loss of most of that popularity.
     But was it really a one hit wonder? “One hit” suggests a kind of transience that probably applies here. “One hit," by definition, means the near total absence of other hits or of any sustained success as a band or musician. And it’s true: very few people I’ve asked have any recollection of “Cantaloop” or Us3 at all. They’ll sort of tilt their heads and squint as if they’re reading a distant sign. They might say, “I bet I’d know it if I heard it,” but I’m not so sure. The term “wonder” is different, though. It complicates things, suggesting a miracle or at least something awe-inspiring, memorable or sublime. A wonder incites wonder in the listener—or it should—and implies that it’s not a song you’ll soon forget. Thus, “one hit wonder” can also suggest a staying power, a lasting significance and resonance in the cultural consciousness or personal memory. Herein lies one of the other great contradictions of the one-hit wonder—the strange mix of permanence and transience, which is perhaps the perfect way to describe the 90’s.
     When I contacted him for this essay, Wilkinson bristled a bit at the idea of “Cantaloop” being considered a one-hit wonder, saying:

As for being a one-hit wonder, I guess technically that is correct; there was only one giant commercial hit. But I made 9 albums over a 20-year period and toured with an 8-piece live band all over the world throughout that whole period. How many other “one hit wonders” have done that?

That’s a good question. I’m guessing quite a lot of the one-hit wonder bands from the 90’s went on to have long, if not necessarily wildly successful, careers. But how many of them are still making music today, still releasing albums and touring? “Cantaloop” partakes of one-hit wonderness in undeniable ways; but it’s also a song that bucks against the one-hit stereotype. “Cantaloop” is not an old school track trotted out today by DJ’s to hype-up the club crowd. It’s not a song they play at weddings, possessing the power to pull mom and dad and even your creepy uncle onto the dance floor. It’s a song that lingers around in your half-memory. You know it if you hear it, but you can’t recall the words. “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” remains for me a song for chillin’ and rollin’, smokin’ and cleaning that dirty slab rental you shared with your roommates because it’s always Sunday in 1993 and Sunday is cleaning day and on cleaning day you all need something mellow and groovy, jazzy, funky, something that bounces and pounces and transports you to another day, or another time between days. Because Sunday is a good day for the third way.

[1] Wilkinson himself credits LL Cool J’s epic MTV Unplugged performance of “Mama Said Knock You Out” with a live funk band as being a major inspiration for Us3.

Steven Church is the author of five books of nonfiction, most recently One With the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animals, and the collection of essays, Ultrasonic. He's a founding editor and nonfiction editor for The Normal School and teaches in the MFA Program at Fresno State where he is the Hallowell Professor of Creative Writing. 

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