“It was like finding pen pals,” Rita Ora tells Apple Music. “You had me in London, Imanbek in Kazakhstan, Gunna in Los Angeles, KHEA in Argentina and David Guetta, well, who knows where David is at any one time. It’s a global project that went beyond language and geographical boundaries but somehow stayed lovely and intimate.” Bang—recorded across a pandemic-hit 2020—might also prove the most important project of Ora’s career. After exploring pop’s borders across her boatload of hits, here she sounds liberated. It began with some lockdown me time. “I was listening to albums I hadn’t heard in ages,” she says. “And I was reminded of those classic artist/producer relationships—Aaliyah and Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell, Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. You felt like those artists lived together and lived their music. I wanted that.”
Some library-digging took Ora to the viral remix of SAINt JHN’s “Roses” and its Grammy-nominated Kazakh producer Imanbek. Messages were exchanged, translators employed, home mics purchased (“I’m very proud of what a nerd I’ve become”) and horizons broadened. “I needed to go beyond people’s expectations,” she says. “There’s Rita Ora, pop star. I wanted to be Rita Ora, creative.” The resulting collaboration—burnished by its international supporting cast—puts Imanbek’s enormous house basslines in lockstep with Ora’s joyous hooks for something of a coming-out party. “I’ve never married so many styles together,” she says. “This EP relit something in me.” Below, let Ora guide you through Bang’s four tracks.
Big (feat. Gunna) (Rita Ora, David Guetta & Imanbek)
“I messaged David to ask his opinion on something for the EP, and he replied, simply: ‘I know about this record and I have to be involved.’ I had no idea word had got out, but David knows everything. So he sent me a rough outline; Imanbek and I both loved it and changed a few things around; I added my vocal and sent it back to David before I decided it needed a rapper, so messaged Gunna. The song gave the project a life of its own. I’ve done a lot of collaborations and have learned when things feel right, you let it be. And this felt very right.”
“I was in such two minds about using the sample [‘Axel F’ by Harold Faltermeyer from Beverly Hills Cop]. I had a wariness around using something so iconic, that was such a moment in people’s youths. But I couldn’t resist—I thought it was genius, and so much fun. It reminds me of being a kid. Because I was alone in the recording process, I just had to trust my instinct. There’s the melody and a chord progression there which makes it much more than just that sample. You’re going to hear it, know it, and feel good.”
Mood (feat. KHEA)
“This is my vibe. It’s the swaggiest song on the record. I always feel I’m a secret rapper deep down, and when I was recording these songs I had to push myself to sing like I wouldn’t usually sing. My roots are in soul music and my love for force-of-nature women, from Janis Joplin to Cher, Debbie Harry and Madonna. I’m inspired by them because I feel I’ve had to fight for myself through so much. I realised I don’t always have to really sing and show off my voice at all times—sometimes it’s just about the vibe.”
“One of many things I love about Imanbek’s production is how distinctive his sound is. It’s entirely his own. This, for me, shows that sound off best. It’s got his ‘deep horn’, as I called it. He kept saying, ‘Rita, it’s not a horn,’ I’d apologise and we’d move on. It was supposed to be The Sad Moment on the EP, but he put this heavy club dance beat behind it and told me, ‘No sadness. We’re going to hit them hard.’”