Juicy J, ‘Hot as Hell’ | Music Theory Behind Pop
“Hot as Hell” is one of the standout bangers from ‘Rubba Band Business,’ the highly-anticipated comeback album by Juicy J. In regards to its music theory, what makes this minimal gem so cool?
“I’m hot as hell (I’m hot as hell), I’m hot as hell (I’m hot as hell) / I’m hot as hell on these streets, I’m hot as hell (I’m hot as hell).” BANGER! Musically, what makes “Hot as Hell” truly hot as hell? Overall, this Juicy J record from his 2017 album, Rubba Band Business, keeps things minimal, like much of urban music. Even so, it’s clever harmonic choices that really make this banger bang. But before exploring the music theory behind the bulk of the record, let’s revisit how I evaluated this fresh banger in my review of the album.
“Hot as Hell” is indeed hot as hell, at least the vibe. The hook is simple, but gets stuck in your head the instant you hear it. The piano loop is hypnotizing, while the bass-heavy, trap percussion goes H.A.M. This is a perfect example of a banger with ‘little substance’ that’s simply irresistible because it’s just that good.
Ah, there’s little substance perhaps, but musically, it’s more intriguing than you might think.
Key, Bass, and Melody
First of all, “Hot as Hell” is set in the key of E major, which has four sharps in its key signature (F#, C#, G#, D#). A major scale has seven pitches (notes), so an E major scale looks something like this: E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#. On this particular record, the melodic loop (likened to an ostinato in classical music), coupled with the bass notes, truly determines the harmonic scheme. There are some chordal moments, but more often than not, its melody and bass.
E Major Triad
The two main chords used on “Hot as Hell.” The first is the most sensible, E major. The second is more ‘out of character,’ C augmented. We’ll try to keep things as logical and simple as possible. “Hot as Hell” is in the key of E. Naturally, the key of E uses an E major scale, as aforementioned. Each member of that scale gets a number, called the scale degree. E, the starting pitch, is naturally 1. An E major triad (tri– as in 3) has three notes, and is spelled E-G#-B. This chord instead of being labeled with “1,” we’d notate in Roman numerals as “I.” The I chord, also known as the tonic chord, feels (sounds) like home.
Throughout most of the record, we audibly perceive the “I” triad inverted (second inversion), with “B” serving as the bass note (B-E-G#). More often than not, even though “Hot as Hell” can be best described as being in the key of “E” and spends most of its time using an “E” triad (home), it doesn’t feel completely like home. A chord, inverted as we perceive it, normally resolves to a V chord, also known as the dominant. What note would the dominant be in the key of E? E (1), F# (2), G# (3), A (4), and B (5)? The answer is B major, which is spelled as B-D#-F#. What does B-E-G# and B-D#-F# have in common? “B” as the bass note. That’s a main reason why our fine-feathered E triad in second inversion should technically resolve to a B triad.
C Augmented Chord
BUT that’s not what happens, which is part of the reason why “Hot as Hell” is indeed hot as hell. This is where we get this funky chord – C augmented. A C augmented triad is built on C-E-G#. Two of the pitches in the triad are also part of our E major scale (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#). One pitch, the bass note, C, isn’t part of E major whatsoever. C#, one half-step higher, is part of an E major scale/key, but C (natural) isn’t. When we hear the shift from E major to C augmented and back to E, we get this exotic sound.
If we pretend there are no accidentals (sharps in this case), we know that “C” is the sixth-note of an E major scale. Normally, the sixth scale degree of a major key/scale is a minor chord (dark). The chord should be C#-E-G#. Instead, it’s C-E-G#. This functions in sound sort of like a unique classical music chord called an augmented sixth. This IS NOT an augmented sixth because (1) we’d need a fourth note in the chord and (2) we’d need more altered pitches outside of the key. BUT, there are some similarities, which you can read about below.
Relation to Augmented Sixth…
There are three versions of an augmented sixth chord: Italian, French, and German. Here’s what that would look like hypothetically.
Ger+6: C-E-G (natural)-A#
Again, this particular augmented sixth doesn’t quite fit our scenario, particularly given how melodic our harmonies are on “Hot as Hell.” Normally, the German augmented sixth resolves to a cadential chord, aka our “I” chord in second inversion. That’s what sort of happens musically on “Hot as Hell.” We have our “home” chord (E-G#-B) but it’s inverted (I , spelled B-E-G#). Instead of going to the chord it should (V, spelled B-D#-F# or V7, spelled B-D#-F#-A), it makes a detour and goes to an uncharacteristic augmented chord (C-E-G#), which resolves back to the inverted home chord (I , spelled B-E-G#).
Pretty complex, right? Ultimately, the simplest explanation is to label the “C” as a nonharmonic tone, particularly given the melodic nature of this record. That was a lot to take in for a simple flex-fest rap song. Did the producer Deedot Will have music theory in mind as stitched up this sick beat? Highly unlikely. But, there’s clearly a musical explanation for what makes this record sound ear-catching, two chords or not.
Photo Credit: Columbia