Who is Sister Nancy – the reggae artist sampled by Jay-Z and Kanye?

The singer's 1982 track ‘Bam Bam’ is arguably the most sampled and remixed reggae record ever, but who is the woman behind it?

As if Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’ had smoked a sackload of medicinal ganj and babbled its way into the background of every record going, Sister Nancy’s 1982 roots reggae classic ‘Bam Bam’ is everywhere. A mainstay of the Glastonbury Green Field late bars, it’s been sampled by everyone from Lauren Hill to Cam’ron, Alicia Keys and Madlib (among dozens of others) and turned up as the perfect soundtrack to Donald Trump’s waxwork arse on Kanye West’s ‘Famous’ last year. Now it’s cropped up again – mixed, mangled, chopped and screwed into ‘Bam’ from Jay-Z’s new album ‘4:44’. But how much do we know about Sister Nancy herself? Here’s the low-down.

 

 

Where is Sister Nancy from?

Born Ophlin Russell in Kingston Jamaica in 1962, Nancy grew up rebelling against her conservative Christian roots by getting into dancehall and often running away from home for months on end to follow local DJs around the island, inspired by her DJ brother Brigadier Jerry. In her mid-teens she took to the decks herself and by 1980 she was already the first Jamaican DJ to tour internationally and began releasing her first singles ‘Papa Dean’ and ‘One Two’, exhibiting early signs of her conscious and spiritual lyrical leanings and rolling vocals.

 

Was ‘Bam Bam’ an instant hit?

Nope. Emerging on her 1982 debut album ‘One Two’ the song, a cover of a Toots & The Maytals tune from 1966 restructured around Ansel Collins’ 1977 ‘Stalag 17’ instrumental, loitered uncelebrated on the end of the album for some years before the hip-hop world began plundering its compulsive summer hookline – in 1991 Main Source sampled the song, the first of an estimated 73 uses of the track. In the meantime Nancy toured with the Jahlovemuzik soundsystem before dropping out of music to become a bank accountant in New Jersey.

 

 

And that was that?

Luckily not. As the sample became more ubiquitous, she was drawn back into music to re-record her ‘Bam Bam’ vocals for a drum’n’bass remix by RCola and to make a second album ‘Sister Nancy Meets Fireproof’ in 2007. It wasn’t until the song appeared in the film The Interview and on a Reebok commercial in 2014, though, that Nancy realised she was missing out on major bunce and hired a lawyer to get her 32 years’ worth of royalties. She managed to secure ten years’ worth and 50 per cent of the song. In 2016 she retired from banking to concentrate on music again, proving the old adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, get lawyered up and get damn well paid’.