On April 15, American rapper and songwriter Doja Cat dropped a one-minute teaser of her new song, “Vegas,” which she recorded for the upcoming movie “Elvis.” After debuting “Vegas” during her Coachella performances in April, Doja Cat unveiled the music video for her new single on June 3. Although “Vegas” is for the biopic’s original soundtrack, the song samples the original version of “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton, paying homage to the late R&B singer-songwriter.
If you’ve ever listened to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s music, you’re probably familiar with his song “Hound Dog.” However, many people are unaware of the fact that Elvis Presley’s version was essentially stolen from a Black woman named Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton. Big Mama Thornton originally recorded the hit song in August 1952. The song, which was written for her, was a big hit for Big Mama Thornton, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1953.
Several musicians recorded their own versions, but none had as much success as Elvis. His 1956 version of the song climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for 11 weeks, helping to launch his career. Partially because he was a white man, Elvis could get his version of “Hound Dog” to wider audiences, which caused many to forget that the song wasn’t even his to begin with. Although Big Mama Thornton’s work has been forgotten by some, people have recognized her music’s impact on Elvis and American popular music as a whole, most recently thanks to Doja Cat’s “Vegas.”
Doja Cat’s meaningful, symbolic music video for “Vegas” has received praise from many — especially the Black community — for paying homage to Big Mama Thornton. While Elvis’ version of “Hound Dog” uses the term more literally, Big Mama Thornton’s version of the song emphasizes the frustration of coping with a boyfriend who is also dating someone else. Not only do the lyrics of Doja Cat’s “Vegas” stay true to Big Mama Thornton’s version of the song and its original meaning, but they seemingly call out Elvis as well: “I’m losin’ my patience/ This ain’t stayin’ in Vegas/ There’s more sides to the story/ I’ma tell everybody.” This can be interpreted as Doja Cat exposing the truth about Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” through her song, which is that he took it from a Black woman and profited off her. This is even more symbolic considering that the song is the lead single for Elvis’ biopic.
Doja Cat also does a great job pairing historical content with modern music, putting her own unique twist on the classic and making it relatable for her audience. Doja Cat’s fans say that she isn’t afraid to explore new sounds, which is why every song she’s released is better than the one before — and this song is no exception. Besides Doja Cat’s lyricism and range, the music video shows Black people expressing themselves through song and dance, recognizing their rich history and culture. The video for the single also features a cameo by Shonka Dukureh, who plays Big Mama Thornton in “Elvis.” The movie and its original soundtrack came out Friday, June 24, and hopefully, the lead single will bring Big Mama Thornton closer to the fame and recognition she deserves.