Waiting for the drop is a mid-club pastime particularly familiar to drum n bass fanatics, but fans of all kinds of dance music will be able to relate. Whether it inspires you to switch up your dance moves or to pause with astonishment, the drop has become a true clubbing staple.
But how long has “the drop” been a thing? We look back at some of the earliest drops of all time in search of its origin point.
One of the first mentions of a bass drop in music literature comes from a 1990 issue of Spin magazine. The issue had an article called “Pump the Bass” which chronicled the Miami hip-hop scene at the time. With special mention of the group 2 Live Crew, the article describes Miami as “a boom town”, with a boom that comes “not from cocaine money, shady real estate deals and questionable banking institutions, but from the kick drum on the Roland 808.” According to Spin, “that bass drop is the core of Miami rap, and in Miami that boom makes or breaks a record.”
Though it’s talked about using the same language, the bass-driven sounds of 90s Miami rap do not really have a “drop”. The 808 kick drum is present throughout the track; it doesn’t appear after a build-up or a beat switch, and it doesn’t accompany a tempo change.
Bass drops as we know them in dance music seem to be rooted in the early days of the underground electronic scene. Several websites cite a track called “Dorian” by a DJ called elleboss as the first example of an electronic music drop. The story goes that they played the track at a club in Paris in 1993. Strangely enough, though, absolutely no more information exists on the artist or the song.
It is possible that bass drops as we know them did originate around this time, as this is when they did slowly begin to become prominent. When TQD spoke to UKF about the evolution of bass drops in the UK Garage scene, the group cited the track ‘True VIP’ by Youngstar as one of the first major examples of tracks with a drop. They describe the track as ravey and drum n bassy at the same time with a calm introduction that makes the drop completely unexpected.
This is absolutely the kind of drop we are familiar with. Appearing out of nowhere at around the one minute mark of the three minute track, this drop changes the entire sound of the song. It is a beat switch, it has a buildup, it has all the hallmarks of the bass drops that would become even more exaggerated in dubstep, drum n bass, and the popular EDM style epitomized by perhaps the most well-known bass dropper at the moment: Skrillex.
But doesn’t it seem like dropping the bass would be older than 17 years old? As we’ve seen, it’s already very difficult to pinpoint the first time the bass was officially dropped. But maybe it’s more than difficult to do this. Maybe it’s completely impossible.
Perhaps we’ve been looking at bass drops the wrong way. So far we’ve looked for individual tracks with drops within them, but this might be misguided. If a drop is simply a change from a lighter, more upbeat piece of music to a heavier, slower section piece of music with more focus on bass and drums, there is no reason this transition has to exist within one song.
For decades now, DJs have expertly curated playlists to entertain the crowd, build up tension, and release it. To clubbers in the early days of DJing, those releases would have been experienced almost exactly like the drops of today. A DJ in the late-1970s post-Disco era spinning Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, followed by slower, heavier Funk track by, say, James Brown, will have given the audience all of the emotions associated with bass drops decades before we began to use the word.
Because of this, there is nothing we can really do to pinpoint the first bass drop of all time. All we can do is wait for the next one.
Main image: YouTube.