Last month, SisQó appeared on a remix of his 2000 hit "Thong Song." The new iteration, produced by Norwegian trio JCY, was shiny, bouncy, and EDM-heavy, a stark contrast to the original—it was R&B, pop, hip-hop, maybe even a little classical. The video for the new version also differed from the first, in that the women featured skewed to the white/light side, while the women in the original video were more... colorful.
Full disclosure: I did not see it for the remix, musically or visually. And I was vocal about my opinion. So vocal that SisQó reached out to tell me his side of the story. "The article seemed like it was insinuating that I needed to put out my most popular song again to somehow get back in the mainstream, like I was strapped for cash," SisQó told me over the phone. "It made it seem like I was thirsty, and that's quite contrary. I'm not strapped for cash, and I'm not in a position to beg any radio station to play any music. I just play it cool, because it makes literally no difference to my bank account. It doesn't matter to me."
According to SisQó, in order to understand how the new version came into existence, you have to understand the background of the original.
So, let’s talk about the “Thong Song.” Can you give me some background on how the original came together?
I wrote and co-produced it with the producers Tim & Bob. The guys who wrote “Livin’ la Vida Loca” got credit because I sing that small part in the song. At the end of the day, it’s par for the course for samples. I thought it would be all said and done after doing the original “Thong Song” video. But after that, the song had such great success that I was approached by my label, and they asked me to do a “Thong Song” remix. “Thong Song” had become the highest-selling song in Def Jam history, and that’s saying a lot.
The whole sing-rap thing I did on the song, I helped pioneer a new standard of R&B. We don’t even get to sing no more. Dru Hill sang, Boyz II Men sang, Beyoncé still sangs, but we don’t get to sang no more. It's sing-rap. What “Thong Song” was is now mainstream R&B: Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Rihanna—it’s all derived from that. I learned it from listening to artists like R. Kelly. I helped pioneer it, but I did not start it. But “Thong Song” is the most popular example. So after it got big, [the label] wanted a remix, and I didn’t want one. I didn’t think it was necessary. They wanted to do a remix with Foxy [Brown], for the Nutty Professor soundtrack. I didn’t even want to do that, because I felt like “Thong Song” was sexy, but tongue-in-cheek. It was just cool enough that I was on the NSYNC tour and soccer moms were giving a black man in America a pass. I didn't wanna push it, and I didn’t think the Klumps were sexy.
I had a lot to say about how the original video came together. In the video, I was doing cartoon stuff like walking on people—I actually got that idea from Bugs Bunny. In the new millennium, I was one of only [a few] people to do that type of stunt. Then the No Strings Attached album came out. I didn’t take it personal because I didn’t patent flying around on wire. Like, Michael Jackson patented the lean forward. It just became one of the things that people started doing in their shows. I’m not talking about the '70s, and Jackson 5—I wasn’t fucking born then. I didn't invent it. But when “Beauty” came out, we were the only ones doing it. Nobody was taking a flying rig on tour, it was too expensive. Even Hammer had a jillion people on stage, but not a flying rig.
So I did the remix for Def Jam because I had a joint venture with Def Jam when I was with them. Any time you see an artist with another artist, the labels have to agree to sign for the artist to work with another artist. I had written the hook for “How Many Licks” for Lil Kim. Back in the ‘90s, there were pretty much four premier female rappers—Da Brat had worked with Dru Hill. Eve, who had Nokio in her first single “What Your Name.” Then the others were Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. There were really no other R&B artists who had done a song with both except for myself. In order to give me permission to be in Lil Kim's video, I did an industry favor. I did the DMX song “What These Bitches Want” and the “Thong Song” remix. One hand scratching the other; I do this for you, you do this for me. Unfortunately they had a Foxy album coming out, and me and the label started bumping heads so I wasn't in the video. The only reason I mentioned it is because it was part of the black list that started me and my label not seeing eye to eye. I felt like I did my part, then when it's time for them to do their part, niggas got amnesia. So I was like, “I guess we're at odds.” And that's around the time I fell off face of earth.
For clearance, you had to go through Def Jam, then me. Now I'm the administrator of the “Thong Song,” so you have to ask me for permission. These cats from overseas sent me their version of the track with my old vocals on it. I don't know a lot about EDM, but I thought it was cool under one condition: we have to make a brand new master, to have technically a new song, with no third party. So we made a fresh record, all the vocals I sang all over. I thought it was well done.
How did the new video come together? Did you have any input there?
JCY hit me up, like, “People are really digging this record. Would you mind being in the video?” At the time, I had just injured myself; I had three ribs dislocated. I don’t remember how it actually happened, it was one of them flips. I wasn't 100 percent, and I hadn't had time to learn the routine, so they wanted me to just show up and do a little in the video. I liked the song, and I was flattered when people liked the new version. I don't know who it's for but I like it and you're telling me people like it, cool.
So I went to the studio for one hour to learn the routine. The next day, we shot the video. The only say so I had in the video was how I looked. How we were shooting, how I was dancing. That was my concern: how am I being represented? I liked the vocals, I liked the song. That was all the say so I had, versus the other two where I had most of the creative control. That's why it's completely different. It's JCY’s video. It's their beat. I'm SisQó. It's like a DJ Khaled video: people think it's a Rihanna song. But he's an urban producer, so the video would come out like you would expect. They shot the video how they wanted to. I'm on it and wrote it and I'm a partner, but it's them sampling it. The only difference is I sang the sample over instead of them getting permission from the label. I like it, I thought the track was cool. That's the real story. My videos, the ones I produced and co-directed and came up with a treatment from scratch—those are my babies.
when anybody says anything about me selling out, you don't see me in mainstream because I didn't sell out.
In your interview with BuzzFeed, you mentioned other people have approached you in the past about remixing "Thong Song." Can you say who they were?
I didn't even know the names of the people because we just got a submission from from a bunch of people for permissions, for licenses. I didn't even know it was in Pitch Perfect 2 until it was the No. 1 movie for three weeks. Then the lawyers called like, “Guess what?” The process comes down to me and a yay or nay scenario. With the JCY version, I like the chord progression. As a musician, it comes down to melody. Can you see yourself singing this? I just thought it was dope, the way he sampled the new vocals to make it sound like the old vocals. It's almost identical to the original.
The facts are, when anybody says anything about me selling out, you don't see me in mainstream because I didn't sell out. I'm one of the ones that went to the top of the mountain, got the jewels and brought it back to the hood. And I got back with the group because I wanted to—not because I had to.
What do you have to say to fans like me who don't see it for this version?
Everybody's entitled to their opinion. I saw Baby Driver the other day and they played “Easy (Like Sunday Morning),” but it sounded like a Caucasian lady was singing it. It felt like that version fit for this movie. At the end of the day, if you don't like it, you can always listen to the original. They played both versions—the Commodores and the other one—and it worked. Like me, I prefer the soulful version, but the new one fit the moment they put it in. Can you imagine the original “Thong Song” with the new video? It wouldn't fit.
Who are you listening to right now?
I like what Childish Gambino is doing. That boy never ceases to amaze me. When I heard his album, I was like, “Who is singing this? They getting it!” I'm proud of us. You got him, you got Jamie [Foxx]. Back in the day, it was very seldom to see someone actually act and do a good song, to actually do both instead of as a favor to someone. You had Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, where it was a music movie (The Wiz). I didn't expect really good actors and actresses to do good art from all sides of the spectrum.
The kid from Cartoon Network, he's super wild—Tyler, the Creator. I heard one song, but I want to delve more because the one song I heard was dope. Drake always catches you off guard with hits. You can't not say Drake. He got the formula, he's doing it. West Coast, “Sit down, be humble.” Kendrick, he's killing ‘em. Of course, Hov just did it again. I do the best I can to listen to what's poppin’.