By Sarayu Pai
By now, you must have heard the song “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes. During a Saturday brunch at Wilbur, while walking home from a late night study session at Green or through your own headphones at Nearillaga, the song is as omnipresent and invasive as the smoke that made us scramble to Vaden to grab N-95 masks.
The rap song mainly describes the acquired fame and wealth of rapper Sheck Wes and mentions the song’s titular hero, Mo Bamba, along with the usual motley assortment of buzzwords and cuss words typically found in hip hop music. The song came out around a year and a half ago, but its popularity only began to pick up in the past couple months, making it a “sleeper hit” (a song that only becomes popular after a good deal of time has passed).
Mo Bamba, short for Mohamed Bamba, is a pro basketball player for the Orlando Magic while Sheck Wes, the stage name for Khadimou Fall, is a currently burgeoning rapper. The two are childhood friends, and as the story goes, Bamba requested for Wes to mention his name in a track. Wes agreed, and the rest is history. If you didn’t know already, the crux of the song lies in the succession of three expletives in the middle: “fuck, shit, bitch.” The words were actually inadvertent. When Wes was recording the song, the background music track finished playing, and he cussed out of frustration.
It might be surprising (or maybe simultaneously unsurprising) that Bamba and Wes are around the average age of a Stanford student (about 20 years old). What makes the song appealing is likely its irreverence to modern society and the feeling of confident haughtiness that Wes exudes when he spits his lines. Through music, we can frequently step into another person’s shoes. Not many of us are likely to go into the rap music industry, but for a brief four minutes, we can experience the seemingly wild life of a rapper. With the pressure and work involved with school, we are literally dormant volcanoes, waiting to erupt.
“Mo Bamba” is also inexplicably catchy because it has a simple three-phrase hook which runs throughout the entire song. Virtually anyone can remember it. Another imperative component is the trap beat, complete with high hats and snare. Yet another signature quality of the song is the way in which Wes elongates all of the words with his raspy voice. The ad libs (sounds and phrases that the artist(s) improvise in the background) further contribute to the braggadocious spontaneity of the song, making it more appealing to a younger generation that follows the theme of living life for a good time and not a long time.
There are a variety of opinions about the song’s quality.
Jack Golub ’20 argues that Sheck Wes is a joke because he needs to claim he’s not a joke. However, Golub maintains that the greatest rapper of all time is Rakim, whose work includes the famous “I ain’t no joke,” thereby rendering Golub’s original point dubious at best.
David Jimenez ’22 posits that “Mo Bamba” is a “party song,” and its purpose is mainly to excite people. Salil Pai, a sophomore in high school, believes the song is good for dances but is otherwise questionable.
The song’s popularity isn’t limited to Stanford’s campus. At Cal Poly SLO, students seem to enjoy the song as well. Sachin Shenoi, a senior at SLO, who attended a Sheck Wes concert before Sheck Wes experienced a boom in popularity, says that the song is “not the best in terms of content, but brings energy to any situation, and people unite over it.”
In reality, the song’s backbone and the instrumentals are the most crucial component. By the time everyone is dancing to the song at the party, no one can really understand what anyone is shouting above the din of party noise, other than the fact that people are shouting. I believe the producers and Wes have done their job of skillfully meshing a strong trap beat with a damn catchy hook. The syncopation continues throughout, helping form the song’s backbone. Hip hop songs are known for having the feeling of being “groovy,” and this is largely due to the presence of syncopation.
The song will inevitably fall out of popularity, as did songs like “Call Me Maybe” and “Somebody That I Used to Know,” but I believe it will forever stay in the back of our minds, whether it be held in positive or negative regard. Sheck Wes may end up being a one-hit wonder, but “Mo Bamba” is timeless.
Contact Sarayu Pai at smpai918 “at” stanford.edu.