Every fan of the steelpan knows there is one universal problem with how it’s perceived in popular culture: it’s seen as a novelty. Not that using it in the context of the Caribbean is bad, but considering the endless possibilities the instrument is capable of, using it ONLY in that vain inhibits growth.
In the hopes that the instrument is gaining traction in popular culture, we researched the best examples of pop tunes that creatively feature the instrument, either with an electronic sample or the real thing. Here are the 10 best examples of how modern pop is featuring the steelpan.
- I’m Not You by Clipse – Following in the footsteps of artists like 50 Cent and Soulja Boy, this personalized jam utilizes a steelpan sample in a catchy way to open the tune and drops bits of it throughout.
- The Knife by Kyla La Grange – Perhaps the most creative use of pan is in this emotional ballad that evokes memories of passionate ballads like Toto’s Africa. If this song is any indication, La Grange may have a bright future ahead.
- Lucifer’s Eyes by T.O.L.D. – Using an echoey reverb effect, this Cold Play-esque piece is memorable both for its strong opening riff and humable melody.
- All Under One Roof Raving by Jamie xx – Used more as a supporting instrument, the steelpan sample in this hip hop hybrid works well to engage the listener and bridge sections.
- Close by Nick Jonas – Straight off of his latest album, “Last Year Was Complicated,” this timely pop ballad uses a pan sample at its core in place of where a piano would typically be used. Not only does it work, it makes you wonder if this is the beginning of a trend.
- It’s That Time of Day by Kenny Chesney – Although it’s pushed back in the mix along with other percussion instruments, pan is used in this mellow country groove to help set the mood, and works quite effectively at that.
- Me & The Rhythm by Selena Gomez – This bubbly pop jam boasts a good melody and would work well in a club setting, not to mention it starts out with perhaps the clearest recording of a tenor pan on this list. The instrument peaks in the intro but comes through periodically as a supporting instrument.
- Rum is the Reason by Toby Keith – As far as throwbacks to Jimmy Buffett go, this one takes the cake considering steelpan legend Robert Greenidge does the honor of providing pan on this comical country groove.
- Say You Do by Sigala – Using a bouncy beat and plenty of reverb, this fun-filled track works well with pan, even when it changes feel to double-time half-way through.
- When the Beat Drops Out by Marlon Roudette – Holding down both a riff and chord structure works well for pan in this straight ahead dance mix. Oddly enough, pan is more of a centerpiece than drums, which only appear when most needed.
A complete list of these songs is available on Spotify under the playlist titled, “Steel Drum Pop”.