Behind the Meaning of the Classic Hip-Hop Song “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” by Us3

The British hip-hop group Us3 released one of the catchiest, most significant rap songs of the 1990s in 1993: “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia).”

Videos by American Songwriter

With its blend of jazz, samples, smooth rhymes, and buoyant flare, the song is a classic. You could put it on right now and dance around your kitchen with ease, joy, and exuberance.

Founded in London in 1992, the group’s name was inspired by the Horace Parlan album, Us Three, which was produced by Alfred Lion, the founder of the American jazz label Blue Note Records. So, it makes sense that Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” includes samples from Blue Note albums. In fact, on Us3’s debut LP, Hand on the Torch, which featured “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” the group used Blue Note samples exclusively.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of the 1984 Queen Classic “Radio Ga Ga”]

The single at hand features a sample of the great Herbie Hancock song “Cantaloupe Island.” And the resulting rap single, from the album Hand On The Torch, hit No. 9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

American Songwriter caught up with Us3’s Geoff Wilkinson to talk about the origin of the song, why it worked, and much more. Check out that conversation below.

American Songwriter: What do you appreciate most about the relationship of jazz and hip-hop?

Geoff Wilkinson: The thing I like most about jazz and hip-hop is that both genres liberally borrow from other styles in order to grow and develop. That’s what keeps things fresh and interesting.

AS: What was the origin of the partnership between you and Blue Note Records?

GW: We sampled a Blue Note track on an earlier independent release and that got their attention. When I first met them, I didn’t know if they were going to sue us for an unauthorized use or if they liked it. I had a carpe diem (seize the day) moment in that first meeting and suggested to them that if they let us use the Blue Note back-catalog as a sampling resource we could create the ultimate fusion of jazz and hip hop. To my surprise they bought into the idea.

AS: What was the initial moment of inspiration for creating this song?

GW: There were several flashbulb moments actually. One was seeing Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny perform a really funky version of “Canteloupe Island” in London, and one was seeing LL Cool J perform “Mama Said Knock You Out” on MTV Unplugged. Hip-hop with a live band was very unusual then. It took a while before the two things merged inside my brain, but when I met the Blue Note people it just seemed obvious to me.

AS: What was it like to make? Were there lots of samples or lots of musicians recreating the samples?

GW: Lots and lots of samples. We didn’t have anyone recreate anything, although we did have a lot of great young British jazz musicians playing on [the album] Hand On The Torch. I like the idea of blending samples with live playing. It was probably a bit controversial at the time but to my mind it didn’t matter, it’s all music. All we were doing was using the technology that was available then to create something new from something old.

[RELATED: Behind the Meaning of Charlie Puth’s TikTok-Activated “Light Switch”]

AS: Did you ever speak with Herbie Hancock—did he ever talk about a rejuvenation that this song gave him?

GW: Of course, we met Herbie several times, he was always very complimentary. Equal parts amused and bemused I think. I’m sure “Canteloupe Island” got quite a boost from us sampling it. There have been tons of cover versions of it since we sampled it. It has become a bona fide jazz standard now, and I don’t think it was before.

AS: When you first heard the lyrics on the beat you made, what did you think?

GW: I always thought Rahsaan sounded great on it, absolutely perfect. “Scribble drabble scrabble on the microphone I babble, as I fix the funky words into a puzzle.” I love that.

AS: What was it like to have a hit song under your belt? Where was the most surprising place you heard it along the way?

GW: To be honest it was a bit disorientating for a while because it changed my life in many ways. I’ve heard it come on several times in different nightclubs really loud and seen people scream and go crazy to it. I was dancing too, but every single hair on my body was at 90 degrees to my skin.

AS: What do you love most about the track today? 

GW: We are definitely best friends.

Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

Behind the Song Lyrics: “That Smell,” Lynyrd Skynyrd

Bret Michaels, Travis Tritt and Peter Frampton Honor the Late Gary Rossington