A brief history of whispering in rap and hip-hop

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Although released back in April, Ariana Grande’s “Problem” continues to burn up the airwaves and will apparently be performed on Saturday Night Live’s season premiere on September 27. Interweaving vocals from three different artists, the song includes a memorable whispered verse from Big Sean—”I got one less problem without ya”—that’s become the husky catcall of the summer.

“Problem” is something of a messy breakup song, or, as Grande put it, a song about a “relationship that’s gone sour.” The song dropped just as Big Sean’s whirlwind engagement with actress/singer Naya Rivera imploded. No matter how you slice it, that’s rough. (There’s been something of a happy ending since Big Sean has reportedly started dating none other than Ariana Grande herself).

In honor of Big Sean’s low-decibel diss, let’s look back at some recent songs that have harnessed the eternal power of the whisper. 

The intimate whisper

The Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait” is a song built around the power of whispered sexual innuendo (isn’t that the sexiest kind?). How better to communicate a potent mix of desperate longing and hormonal bravado?

“Wait” fits into a long tradition that includes a whispered verse in Tony Parker’s “Balance-Toi.”

Even if what’s being whispered is heard by millions, your brain can’t help but think that the words are provocative and dangerous…and meant just for you.

The call and response

J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” revs up the whisper principle by turning it into an irresisitible chorus: “everybody in this bitch getting tipsy.” Since whispers usually denote something illicit or urgent, this line works as a kind of hip-hop Rosetta Stone. Yes, you say to yourself, everybody in this bitch is getting tipsy—and that’s the key to something, surely.

In a library

Okay, you got me, this one doesn’t have to do with Big Sean, Ariana Grande, or even Iggy Azalea, it’s just funny to see that Bubba Sparxxx, the Ying Yang Twins, and Mr. Collipark all respect the most sacrosanct library law. Sometimes whispering isn’t sexy or dangerous—it’s just common courtesy, ya’all.

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