“My Music” – Analysis of a SMASHING Soundtrack: Kapp’n’s Song

Track: Kapp’n’s Song
Remixed in: Wii U/3DS
Game of Origin: Animal Crossing and Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Arrangement Supervisor: Shohei Tsuchiya
Prominent Instruments Used: Electric Guitar, Electric Bass, Drum Kit, Brass Section, Vocals (Kapp’n’)

In the first post of this series, I analyzed my favourite arrangement from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Now, I’d like to take a look at my favourite new arrangement in Super Smash Bros for 3DS & Wii U: “Kapp’n’s Song”!

This remix draws from the various sea shanties that Kapp’n sings when ferrying the player character to and from the Island (known as Tortimer’s Island in New Leaf). They are simple songs sung by Kapp’n himself and accompanied by ukelele. The lyrics are often about Kapp’n’s life at sea, his poor luck with women, and other silly anecdotes.

Above: Kapp’n’s sea shanties are memorable for their humorous and often nonsensical lyrics

This arrangement is actually a combination of two of Kapp’n’s songs. The first is the tune from New Leaf, heard here. After this melody, the horns take over and play this version of Kapp’n’s song from the original Animal Crossing. You can hear Kapp’n’s regular speaking voice talking over top of this part – I think this is a reference to the fact that in New Leaf, Kapp’n stops mid-song to say a few things (you can hear that happen here). Then, in an really cool moment, the key changes and we return to the New Leaf Kapp’n’s song. At this point, the energy ramps up and the brass section goes full-blast. It’s really quite a treat to listen to.

This track really stands out to me for a number of reasons. The fact that the Smash developers chose to arrange this song was quite a pleasant surprise for me – I never would have guessed that Kapp’n’s song would get a full-out remix. The original song is just so simple, and isn’t really a video game song in the typical sense (ie: instead of being background music, it is an actual performance by a character in the game). It just personally struck me as an out-of-the-box, but also very creative, choice. I was quite excited when I first heard this remix in the background of the 4/8/2014 Super Smash Bros. Direct! Another reason it stands out is its genre. This song is arranged in a style that has not received much attention in Super Smash Bros.: ska! As it isn’t a typical genre for Smash, and may not be familiar to some, I’d like to briefly describe what “ska” is and look at the history of this genre. This will help us understand why this remix was created the way it is.

Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica around the 1950s. It is a precursor to later Jamaican popular genres such as Rocksteady and Reggae – it shares many rhythms, albeit at a faster pace, with the latter. It is primarily derived from a style of Jamaican folk music known as “mento”, as well as Caribbean calypso music, combined with influences from American jazz and R&B music (source). It has the “walking” bass of American jazz music and unique, punchy rhythms of other African-derived genres. Broadly speaking it is quick and upbeat, and is primarily characterized by it’s emphasis on the upbeat, or “off beat”. Without delving too deep into musical theory, this basically means that every other beat in the song is accented. This contrasts with most other musical genres which emphasize the first and third beats in a measure, or, the “on” beats. In ska music, the off beats are usually marked with a drum as well as a unique rhythm on the guitar known as the ska stroke, or “the skank“. This “choppy” style of strumming creates a bouncy and energetic feel, and is unique to ska as well as it’s musical descendants such as reggae.

Above: An example of a typical “skank” rhythm in which chords on the off-beat (beats 2 and 4) are accented. Source: Wikipedia

Typical ska bands feature guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and a prominent brass section. (source). Moreover, ska is often divided into three main periods, the first being the traditional Jamaican ska scene of the 50s and 60s (known as the “First Wave”), popular among the Jamaican “rudeboy” subculture (source). The “Second Wave” of ska saw a new variation known as “2 tone”, which became prominent during the genre’s revival in the 1970s. This style of ska became popular in Britain, and was infused with the punk-rock musical style and cultural attitude that was widespread in 70s Britain – this resulted in a genre characterized by more aggressive singing/playing, a faster tempo, and a more “electric” sound. Examples include popular UK groups such as The Specials or Madness. Third Wave Ska formed mainly in North America (particularly the United States) during the 1980s and 90s, and is often categorized as “ska punk”. Examples from this era include more modern groups such as Streetlight Manifesto, Reel Big Fish, and No Doubt.

There’s a lot more to be said about ska’s origins and cultural significance, but I’ll stop the music history lesson here. Where does “Kapp’n’s Song” come into this? Well, it displays many of the elements just discussed: it has a prominent brass section and the characteristic “skank” rhythm (listen closely to the rhythm guitar – there are sharp, punchy chords played on the upbeat). Stylistically it fits somewhere in the Second or Third Wave due to it’s high energy and slightly more punk-rock sound – it uses electric guitars and a rock drumkit, for example. Personally, I find ska fascinating as a genre, so I think it is pretty cool that Shohei Tsuchiya chose to take the arrangement in this direction. I think this genre was selected because it’s Jamaican origins, as well as it’s bright and upbeat sound, are thematically fitting for the tropical island that the original song is associated with. It’s also worth mentioning that Japan has it’s own sizable ska scene, called “j-ska“.

All in all, this is my favourite of the new batch of Smash arrangements because of how striking it is in so many ways. Experimenting with unique and atypical genres is something I’d love to see more of in Smash. That’s all for now folks! Hopefully it was an interesting read. For further reading on ska, check out some of the links I sourced throughout the post.


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