Best live basslines in hip-hop, drum 'n' bass and electronica

The Beastie Boys' late, great Adam Yauch was a dab-hand on the bass
The Beastie Boys' late, great Adam Yauch was a dab-hand on the bass (Image credit: Jerome Albertini/Corbis)

BASS EXPO 2014: The rhythm section is very much the centrepiece for many genres of electronic music, but some of the greatest basslines since the dawn of groove-based, electronically enhanced music have originated on electric and upright basses.

The criteria for this list is pretty straightforward: we've included sampled, replayed and original basslines, with the caveat that it has to have originally been played on strings and wood.

A Tribe Called Quest - Verses From The Abstract

Bassist: Ron Carter

Q-Tip and co broke musical boundaries with their pioneering jazz/hip-hop crossover album The Low End Theory. Many tracks consist of sparse backing tracks relying heavily on bass and drums. This track features jazz legend Ron Carter dropping a cool walking bassline over a straight two and four drum beat while Q-Tip waxes lyrical.

Roni Size/Reprazent - Brown Paper Bag

Bassist: Si John

Much like Tribe's application of jazz to hip-hop, nobody combined jazz tinged instrumentation with drum 'n' bass with as much conviction as Reprazent on the Mercury Award winning New Forms. Featuring the live beats of Portishead/Robert Plant drummer Clive Deamer, and Bristol upright bassist Si John, Brown Paper Bag demonstrates this mastery at its best.

The album version clocks in at just over nine minutes, with the bassline evolving from high register slides to a more framed pattern just before the tune kicks in proper with the full famous bassline. You'd kill to have written it, placated only by trying to learn it.

Portishead - Glory Box

Sample: Ike's Rap II by Issac Hayes

Bassist: Ronald Hudson

What defines a great bassline? Is it the number of notes played, or how easily it sticks in your head? We reckon it's the latter, which is why this sample of Isaac Hayes' Ike's Rap II from Black Moses was almost simultaneously lifted by two of Bristol's most famous trip-hoppers in the 90s (Tricky's Hell Is Round The Corner, and Portishead's Glory Box).

Portishead's offering remains the most famous, with its bluesy descent forming the bed for Beth Gibbons' haunting vocal track.

Sugarhill Gang - Rapper's Delight

Sample: Good Times by Chic

Bassist: Chip Shearin

Rapper's Delight may well be the scurge of the wedding band, but when bass players unleash those first three crotchets they know that most uncles in the room will be worming and robot dancing while attempting the "I said a hip-hop…" lyric.

Nobody can contest the genius Bernard Edwards bassline that originated from Chic's Good Times, which was replayed live for Rapper's Delight by the then 17 year old Chip Shearin. As well as having a pioneering influence on hip-hop, it transferred to rock music with Queen taking a little inspiration from the line for Another One Bites The Dust.

Snoop Doggy Dogg - Gz And Hustlas

Sampled: Haboglabotribin by Bernard Wright

Bassist: Marcus Miller

Long before Snoop grew up to become a lion and advocate of online finance comparison, this track from 1992's Doggystyle borrowed the groove from Bernard Wright's 1979 offering Haboglabotribin. The line is layered with guitar and piano, allowing renowned slapper Marcus Miller the chance to pop and accent his way around the groove with unmistakeable class, funk and tone.

Massive Attack - Safe From Harm

Sample: Stratus by Billy Cobham

Bassist: Leland Sklar

The perfect half-time funk groove for Massive Attack's Safe From Harm presented itself to the Bristol trip-hop crew in the form of Stratus by Billy Cobham. Originally played by Leland Sklar, this constant-sixteenths bassline drives the groove and has since become something of a showpiece for Sklar's brilliant clinics. Check YouTube for versions of it being jammed between Sklar and fellow Warwick players Steve Bailey and Jonas Hellborg.

Squarepusher - Iambic 9 Poetry

Nobody has incorporated the bass guitar - as in instrument to electronic music - like Tom Jenkins, aka Squarepusher. The frenetic fusion of jazz, drum 'n' bass, and ambient and electronica, has seen him create 15 albums of forward thinking music.

One of his most applauded lines is in Iambic 9 Poetry. Mixing fretted notes with harmonics, it creates a sublime melodic bassline that's joined by tripped out drum parts. If nursery rhymes were made by electronica, they would sound like this.

Lamb - Closer

Bassist: Jon Thorne

The 90s saw a raft of upright basslines meeting electronics, and while we've already featured a few in this list it wouldn't be complete without acknowledging the work of Jon Thorne on Lamb's output. Applying moody upright bass to Andy Barlow's programming and Lou Rhodes' distinctive vocals, there are loads of tracks we could have chosen, from Ear Parcel to Cottonwool and from Softly to Gold, but we've gone with Closer. Thorne's bassline adds a 21st century jazz feel to the skippy electronics and cool vocal hooks.

The Roots - Swept Away

Bassist: Leonard 'Hub' Hubbard

Setting the blueprint for Questlove's contribution to neo-soul in the early to mid 90s, Do You Want More?!!!??! is rammed with grade A live hip-hop. One of the catchiest basslines is Leonard Hubbard's simplistic root-fifth playing on Swept Away, which carries the groove through the tune and proves to its detractors that there's way more to hip-hop than lyrics about "bitches and weed".

Beastie Boys - Sabotage

Bassist: Adam 'MCA' Yauch

This track may be devoid of any real 'electronic' input, but it does take hip-hop on a rock adventure with as much power as any Rage Against The Machine song. The late Adam Yauch played the distorted strummed pedal tone bassline that still drives rock clubs as crazy now as it did back in '94.

Jamiroquai - Deeper Underground

Bassists: Stuart Zender

Behind every flamboyantly hatted, sports car driving eco warrior is a badass band of funkateers. At least, that remains true in Jamiroquai's case. Founding bass player Stuart Zender's last recorded stand with the band was this tune, which soundtracked the 1998 movie Godzilla. The main riff is layered with a buzzsaw synth and electric guitar, but you can emulate the whole thing with fuzz and octave or a synth bass pedal.

D'Angelo - Feel Like Makin' Love

Bassist: Pino Palladino

One of the most versatile and funky bass player of the last couple of decades, Pino Palladino's work with The Who, John Mayer, and now Nine Inch Nails is amazingly impressive. But it's his sparse and behind-the-beat swing that we're interested in here. Teaming up with J-Dilla and Questlove (among others), Palladino's contribution to neo soul and hip-hop is cemented on albums by Common, Erykah Badu, and D'Angelo's masterpiece Voodoo.

Feel like Makin' Love is a cover of a Roberta Flack tune, and Palladino's bassline provides the throbbing eighth-note pulse throughout the track. It's a deep pocket, big round tone and as funky as they come.

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.