The Story Behind The Song: Ini Kamoze’s ‘Hotstepper’ Heats Up Again In Starbucks Ad

Ini Kamoze

Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes The Hotstepper is heating up again in its 30th year since release. 

The song recently topped the US iTunes Reggae Songs chart for over a week, thanks in part to a new Starbucks commercial featuring the nostalgic hit. The 30-second commercial, titled “We’re On Summer Time,” began airing on May 8—watch it below. The song was previously featured in a JCPenny campaign in 2017 and an Evian Water commercial in 2013.

Here Comes The Hotstepper has also received a fresh take with a cover by French Electronic DJ duo Trinix and Jamaican singer Blvk H3ro, released last month via Warner Music France. Titled Hotstepper, the cover has so far racked up over 3.3 million plays on Spotify.  Trinix’s previous work includes a viral version of Rushawn and Jermaine Edwards’ Beautiful Day (Thank You For Sunshine), which has accumulated over 100 million streams.

The Story Of ‘Hotstepper’

Born Cecil Campbell, Kamoze began his career in the 1980s, collaborating with Sly & Robbie on his first three albums under Island Records.  The story of his biggest hit began in 1990 when he worked with producer Philip “Fatis” Burrel to create the original Hot Stepper, a Jamaican slang for someone who’s evading the law.  Then, in August 1994, after disappearing for three years, he re-emerged with Here Comes The Hotstepper, this time recorded in New York with Queens producer Salaam Remi and released under license to Sony Music’s Columbia Records.

“Met Ini in 1991,” Remi recalled. “Worked on music from 92-93, got offered deals but none stuck.  In 1994, I got to put Here Comes The Stepper on a compilation that Columbia Records was doing called ‘Stir It Up’.  Then I remixed it using Heartbeat to make it single-ready.”

Remi’s “remix” was called the Heartical Mix for its use of the drums/bass from Taana Gardner’s Heartbeat (1981), which was the most prominent of several samples he included in the song.  He shared an interesting family connection to that record via his father, a musician named Van Gibbs, who had worked with Gardner as an arranger. 

“When I was a kid. My dad Van Gibbs arranged Taana Gardner’s LP that Kenton Nix was producing. Pops said this track Hearbeat was one of the left over rhythm tracks he and his band had put together and that he made it jamming off of the Stevie Wonder-penned, The Spinners-sung classic, It’s A Shame,” he explained.  “So when I sampled it, he worked out a GREAT deal for US. And this became the highest grossing record that HeartBeat was sampled in and bigger sales and sync than the original itself.”

Salaam Remi

Here Comes The Hot Stepper also included the “na na na na na…” chorus from the Cannibal and the Headhunters version of Land of a Thousand Dances (1964), guitar notes from Isaac Hayes’ Hung Up On My Baby (1974), the “murderer” chant from Shabba Ranks’ Roots and Culture (1990), and other vocals/lyrics from The Mohawks’ Champ (1968), Bobby Byrd’s Hot Pants (1972) and Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s La Di Da Di (1985).

Remi said the combination of these elements was intentional: “It had ‘Land Of 1000 Dances,’ from my grandparents’ era. It had ‘murderer,’ the chanting part, which was very important for the reggae and West Indian commmunity — as well as the ‘Heartbeat’ sample, which made it appeal to my parents. At the same time, there was nothing about it that would make a young person say, ‘It sounds old,’” he noted in Fred Bronson’s “Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits.”  

When Columbia didn’t do much else with the song, Remi said he took the remix to Funkmaster Flex and Angie Martinez at New York’s Hot 97, who urged him to complete it and then “championed” it on the radio when it was done. “Hot 97 and The Box in Houston jumped it off,” the producer added.

Meanwhile, according to Kamoze’s bio, “Columbia was frantically trying to play catch-up, releasing it as the first single from the compilation. They had no plan in place to deal with the speed of this record as it climbed the charts.”

Here Comes The Hotstepper spent 30 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, including two weeks at No. 1.  It peaked at No. 4 in the United Kingdom and was a top-ten hit in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.  

The song, which already had a low-budget video, received a second music video after it was included on the soundtrack for Ready To Wear, featuring clips from the film. By December 1994, Hotstepper had been certified Platinum in the United States, having sold over 1 million copies. 

“Dozens of people and their lawyers came out of the woodwork to claim a piece of the song; among them Kenton Nix, Sugar Biscuit, Chris Kenner, West End Records, et al. According to the producers, one party had earlier agreed to accept $750 for use of the Taana Gardener’s Heartbeat track. This was never paid, so now they were demanding $750 thousand! iNi Kamoze had the #1 song in the world, no record deal, and all royalties frozen due to claims.”

Asked about his cross-over success, Kamoze told a journalist at the time: “Crossover?! Crossover to where? I was standing right here all the time, lots of awards and no rewards.”

Ini Kamoze at the ‘Ready To Wear’ film premiere in December 1994.

His bio notes: “Columbia head Tommy Motola, on hearing how much money Kamoze was asking, shouted, ‘Who does he think he is, Bob Marley?’ Kamoze was furious, ‘Naw I am not Bob Marley, y’all kill him already, you can’t try that with me.’ In the ensuing war of words, it was clear he wouldn’t be signed by Columbia.”

But with the track’s runaway success, Kamoze soon signed a multi-album record deal with Elektra Entertainment’s East West Records.  

Columbia, however, refused to allow Here Comes The Hotstepper to be included in his Elektra debut, Lyrical Gangsta. Instead, they scrambled to acquire rights to some of Kamoze’s older recordings with Sly & Robbie and rushed to release the 12-track compilation, Here Comes The Hotstepper.

The compilation, including the title track and the hit World-A-Music, was released in January 1995, one week before Lyrical Gangsta, much to the consternation of Kamoze and his new label.   “That phony Sony record is trying to rip off the buying public,” he reportedly told Vibe. “They’re digging up 12-year-old tapes and packaging them as new. Those vampires should quit trying to suck me.”

The ensuing marketplace confusion chilled the release of Kamoze’s Lyrical Gangsta, though the album’s first single, Listen Me Tic (Woyoi), did become his second song to enter the Hot 100, peaking at No. 88.  The album also included the songs Hot Steppa and Hotter This Year.

Here Comes The Hotstepper continues to find new audiences. It’s been featured in several TV shows and films over the years, including Me Time (2022), Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (2022), DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow (2022), Alex Rider (2020), Impractical Jokers: The Movie (2020), Everything Sucks (2018), Hawaii Five-O (2017), It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (2017), Everest (2015), Neighbors (2014), American Reunion (2012), and The Mentalist (2010).  

The song has also been sampled in over 30 tracks since 1994, including Nicky Jam and Daddy Yankee’s Muévelo (2020), Static & Ben El and Pitbull’s Further Up (Na, Na, Na, Na, Na) (2020), Dr. Dre’s Murder Ink (1999), and Ciara’s Supernatural (2009).