In May, the Colombian singer Karol G released “Mi Cama,” a pinging, propulsive single that offers one potential path for getting over a two-timing ex-boyfriend. “My bed sounds,” Karol G announces (in Spanish), “and your memory fades.” The hook is made up entirely of a sample that evokes squeaking mattress-springs … connect the dots.
Earlier this month, a very similar sample resurfaced in a markedly different context: “Tempo,” the new single from the nine-member Korean pop group Exo. This track is set in the infatuation phase of a relationship, rather than the vengeful aftermath, but the squeaks are just as frequent, lurching suggestively as the band sings, “don’t mess up my tempo.”
Both these songs are big hits. “Mi Cama” went Top Ten in multiple countries, and it has amassed nearly 600 million views on YouTube (when you count the remix); “Tempo” debuted at Number Five on YouTube’s Global Chart, and in South Korea, it became the group’s fourth consecutive Number One (as measured by Billboard’s K-Pop singles chart). The two tracks’ success represents a new level of global reach for the squeaky mattress sample, which has a brief but vital — and, of course, bawdy — history in American hip-hop and R&B.
The first thing you need to know about this sound effect: It might not be a mattress, or even a sample. The commonly cited ground zero for salacious squeaking in hip-hop is Trillville’s “Some Cut,” a 2004 crunk landmark produced by Lil Jon. “We were in the studio, I was making a beat with my boy Craig Love, who plays guitar, and Le Marquis Jefferson, who plays bass,” Jon remembers. “I’m rocking back and forth in the chair as I’m making the beat. Craig’s like, ‘you hear that?’ ‘What you talkin’ about?’ ‘The chair is squeaking on the beat.’ ‘Holy shit!’ So we mic’d up the chair, I put on headphones, rocked back and forth and we recorded that and put it into the track.”
When Trillville produced the video for “Some Cut,” the rappers engaged in a bit of artful misdirection about the source of the sample: The first shot in the clip shows the springs compressing underneath a bouncing mattress. The searingly carnal lyrics further cemented the connection between the sample and acrobatic sex. Taken together, “Some Cut” made an undeniable impression, reaching Number 14 on the Hot 100 in 2004.
One way to measure a song’s impact is through chart position; another is through the amount of tributes it inspires. Kelson Camp and Tiara Thomas were aiming for Trillville’s “wiki-wiki” sound when they started the track that eventually became “Bad,” a Top 25 hit for Wale in 2013. “[Thomas] wrote an original thing on top and weaved it in with ‘Some Cut,'” Camp explains.
When the song got picked up by Atlantic Records, the label didn’t want to pay for the rights to Trillville’s original, so Camp had to get creative. “Only a few people know this, but I was like, I have a bed sound, because I have a certain home movie on my computer, wink wink,” the producer says. “I went through the audio, found a little [makes creaking noises] and chopped it up.”
Funnily enough, Camp is not the only producer who claims to have used his own love life as the source of a new squeaking-mattress sample. A year after “Bad,” Ty Dolla $ign released “Or Nah,” a blunt, quadruple-platinum sex-instruction single that appears to use a very similar sound to “Some Cut.” Camp thought they might have sampled the sound he made from his “wink wink” videos. “Their [squeak] is way down and filtered, the top end has been rolled off, but it sounds like my sample,” he says.
But according to Mike Free, who co-produced “Or Nah,” that’s not the “Some Cut” sample or the “Bad” alternative. Like Camp, Free says he used his own sources to find the proper “wiki wiki” noise. “It was a direct recording from my personal videos,” he explains. For the record, that’s not his mattress.
The bedspring sound from “Some Cut” keeps on bouncing. That’s what producer Nash B. was channeling when he layered juicy springs under the ecstatically harmonized outro of Jacquees’ “B.E.D.” remix. (The original is spring-less.) “It’s a great texture to add to a song,” Nash B. says. Apparently Bruno Mars thought the same thing — Camp points out that if you listen to the instrumental version of “That’s What I Like,” you’ll hear a squeak on the track, though no sample is officially credited.
The producer J. White nodded to “Some Cut” this year as well when he made Tinashe’s “Ooh La La.” “Lil Jon was killing everything back in the day,” says White, best known for his work on Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” “Then I heard [the mattress sound] on the Wale record. I was like, this is annoyingly amazing — let’s bring it back again.” He found his squeaking bed in an online sample pack. “My bed don’t squeak,” he jokes. But, “something about that sound makes the whole record.”
Since K-Pop borrows heavily from American hip-hop and R&B, it’s perhaps not surprising that the noise of a reverberating mattress made it to South Korea. Jamil Chammas, who writes frequently for K-Pop acts (he’s had success Stateside with tracks like Khalid’s pop radio hit “Love Lies”), is partly responsible for exporting U.S. bedsprings to the Asian market. He noticed the ubiquity of the sample around 2014 and looked for a version online to add to his arsenal. “I tweaked it so it sounded better — after so many people sample a bed-squeak, it gets kind of messed up,” Chammas says.
He started using the effect in K-Pop sessions since it “wasn’t a thing out there.” You can hear it in NCT 127’s “Baby Don’t Like It,” Exo’s “They Never Know” and Shinee’s “Prism,” all of which Chammas co-wrote. He has a credit on Exo’s “Tempo” as well. “If I ever need a section to feel like it’s going, put the bed-squeak in it and it just kind of goes,” he says.
The origin of the squeak in Karol G’s track is more surprising. The single’s producer, Andy Clay, wasn’t paying homage to “Some Cut;” instead, he hoped to evoke “old-school reggaeton.” During a demo session in Madrid, Clay, his co-producer Rayito and co-writer Omar Koonze stumbled across their “wiki-wiki” sound in a library of 8,627 samples housed in the audio production program Native Instruments. Clay later played the resulting track for the bachata singer Prince Royce, who demanded in turn that he play it for Karol G. She liked it enough on first listen that she asked Clay to put the track on hold. When Karol G won Best New Artist at the Latin Grammys earlier this month, she performed “Mi Cama” in glaring yellow fringe with a raucous all-female band.
Clay has a theory about why the squeaking effect, popularized by a producer in Atlanta 14 years ago, is still spreading to Seoul and Madrid and Medellín. “It doesn’t matter if you speak Chinese, Spanish or English, you can still understand the bed sound,” Clay says. “And at the same time, it’s funny.”