Tuesday, April 17, 2007

They Don’t Dance No Mo’ AKA The Weed Carrier Killed The Hip Hop Dancer

Back in the days (yeah, it’s another one of those) hip hop/rap groups consisted of emcees, DJ’s/producers, and dancers. MC Lyte had Leg 1 and Leg 2, Heavy D had The Boyz, Def Jef had the Soul Brothers, Kwame had A Sharp and Peekaboo, Big Daddy Kane had Skoob & Skrap Lover, De La Soul had China and Jet, and Queen Latifah had the Safari Sisters. Redhead Kingpin had The F.B.I., Vicious Beat Posse had Gumby and Pokey and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo had the TCF Dancers.

Not only would the dancers do the fly routines on stage but the emcees would jump into them during the song themselves on occasion. Most notably, Big Daddy Kane, Heavy D, Fresh Prince (Will Smith), MC Serch, Kid N’Play, Redhead Kingpin and MC Hammer, who ultimately took the dancing rapper to a level so high above what it once was the he contributed to it’s undoing. Some emcees would let their dancers jam for them...growing up in Boston I never saw any members of the Almighty RSO even contemplate jamming while the 9MM Dancers were going off.

Oftentimes, dancers ended up on the mic, take for example EPMD’s dancin’ machine Stezo (Fendi never made a joint), who ended up recording the classic LP “Crazy Noise” in 1989. Special Ed’s former dancers became Zhigge and Little Shawn. 2Pac used jam on stage with Digital Underground before spitting his first verse on “Same Song” in 1991. The UMC’s were a couple of hip hop and house dancing kids that also spit rhymes before dropping a couple of #1 hits in 1991. The crew Rumpletilskinz used to dance for Leaders Of The New School before dropping an album in 1993.

The Pharcyde and Black Eyed Peas (formerly the A.T.B.A.N. Klan) both started out as dancers before they got signed to group deals in 1992. Chubb Rock’s main dancer Hot Dog was put into the group The A.T.E.E.M. and he guest appeared on Black Sheep’s 1991 debut on the song “Pass The 40”. Skoob & Skrap and G-Wiz of The Boyz were both supposed to have albums released before they ultimately got scrapped by their labels. The last crew of dancers to form a group that was signed by a major label were the Mystidious Misfits, their album “A Who Dat?” was shelved in 1995.

The industry was a completely different animal back then. Pretty much all hip hop regardless of genre or region was considered dance music and it got played on the radio and jammed frequently at the club. There was a time when you could play Public Enemy, Nice N’ Smooth, N.W.A., EPMD, The Geto Boys, D.O.C., Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Ice T, Run DMC, King T, Ultramagnetic MC’s, Main Source, Above The Law, Gangstarr, Kwame, BDP, Heavy D & The Boyz, Run DMC, Queen Latifah, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Eazy E, Kid N’ Play, Brand Nubian, Doug E. Fresh, MC Breed, Compton’s Most Wanted, Monie Love, Three Times Dope, Chubb Rock, Niice & Smooth, Poor Righteous Teachers, Eric B. & Rakim, Slick Rick, Digital Underground and LL Cool J all behind each other at the club and the floor would be packed just like if the DJ was spinning New Edition, Keith Sweat, Guy, and Al B. Sure records.

People used to make up dance routines to records and dress like their friends to go out and jam at the next house/block party. Can you imagine that same thing going on this new era of “No Homo”? I can’t (even though one of the fathers of the phrase has engaged in some pretty suspect activity lately). Besides, the era of the hip hop dancer was soon about to come to an end.

Right around 1990, the influence of House music took a hold and bumped Maryland/DC Go Go music out as the next style that was blended with rap music. A long list of hip house songs, albums and artists came out between 1990-1992, most notably Technotronic, Soul II Soul, Royal House, Raze, Kyper, C & C Music Factory, Black Box, Dee-Lite, Kyze, Snap!, Mr. Lee, 2 In A Room, and several other groups began to make hits. The former straight up B Boy was now also a house dancer, rocking high top fades, gumbys, steps with blond dyed in the corner, print shirts, beads (they replaced the African medallion and the clock as hip hop accessories) dress pants and “mailman shoes”.

The hip hop/house dancer was everywhere. In videos, on stage with emcees, and on stage with R & B/pop acts (Lalah Hathaway’s “Baby Don’t Cry is a perfect example...I hope that joint is on YouTube for you that never saw it). Later on pop/dance based rap acts began to cross over into the pop charts such as Kid N’ Play, Salt N’ Pepa, Young MC, MC Hammer and most regrettably, Vanilla Ice...it looked like the hip hop dancer was here to stay...then the backlash happened.

The backlash against dance based rap began just as gangsta rap began dominating the charts. The entire climate of the music industry began to change slowly as rappers that purposely did commercially viable music began to be seen as sellouts and soft...even odder considering the fact that Hip Hop is, in essence, nothing more than party/dance music. Once MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Young MC, and several other acts had huge hits making poppier rap, record labels began looking for the next pop rap sensation...problem was that the music was often watered down and the lyrics often suffered. Even worse were when respected hip hop artists would make obvious reaches at a hit with pop rap singles...most of the time they failed miserably. MC Lyte made singles like “When In Love”, “Ice Cream Dream”, and “Poor Georgie” (even though they were hits, it wasn’t the Lyte fans were used to). Queen Latifah dropped “Fly Girl” and “How Do I Love Thee” from her “Nature Of A Sista” LP (these songs confused her fans). Other rappers followed suit and got clowned for it incessantly.

The other side of the coin was that MC Hammer began doing multiple endorsements in an age where a rapper was lucky to get ONE (usually for Coke, Pepsi or Sprite). MC Hammer began selling British Knights, Pepsi, KFC Popcorn Chicken and several other products. Not to mention, the fact that Hammer had any ARMY of dancers. Not two, not three...more like THIRTY. Vanilla Ice appeared in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel doing the cornball “Ninja Rap” and he began endorsing merchandise with his likeness on it to all comers for a check.

Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch scored a big hit with “Good Vibrations”, another hip house song. The fans became fed up with the crossover rap acts. It got so bad that MC Hammer eventually dropped the MC from his name because of the backlash he recieved from the rap community after the massive success of “Please, Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em”. Vanilla Ice was dissed publicly by damn near everyone, and had a foot put in his ass on national television by Arsenio Hall himself. If you were a rap group you began to pray that your first appearance on MTV was on Yo! MTV Raps and not The Grind. If it was Yo! you still had a chance with rap fans, if it was The Grind? That’s your ass Mr. Postman!

Hip hop fans were appalled at what was happening. They thought that if rappers/emcees began acting in movies, doing TV shows, having endorsement deals, going platinum and modeling in print ads hip hop/rap music would be on it’s way to becoming extinct (This really what people were afraid of almost 15 years ago...makes me wish I had a DeLorean with a Flux Capacitor for real).

This lead to a rise in hardcore music and artists publicly dissing hip hop/pop acts with dancers in order to rid the culture of the pop rap element that was once accepted, but now seen as dilluting the music and giving the public a false sense of what the music was about. Ice Cube said “but I don’t party and shake my butt/I leave that to the brothers with the funny haircuts” referring to Kid N’ Play who crossed over into superstardom with Salt N’ Pepa and starred in the film “House Party”..later Ice Cube would star in the film “Boyz N The Hood”, but not until after he helped put the nail in the coffin of the hip hop dancer. More and more aggressive music began to come out in the coming years and the music of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Cypress Hiill, The Geto Boys, Spice 1, DJ Quik, etc. began to invade the psyche of East Coast listeners.

The hip house/pop sound was crushed by a wave of new music at the end of 1991 leading into 1992. Little did hip hop fans/listeners know that they were entering the second Golden Age of hip hop (1992-1996). New albums by Dr. Dre, Redman, Das Efx, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, A Tribe Called Quest (“Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop!”), Ice Cube, Geto Boys, Brand Nubian, Scarface, Showbiz & AG, Spice 1, Compton’s Most Wanted, DJ Quik, Grand Puba, EPMD, and Gangstarr completely changed the direction of the industry.

While fans did dance to the music, no longer were they compelled to do the Running Man, the Wop, the Hype, the Biz Dance, the Steve Martin, the Pee Wee Herman, the Fila, the Smurf, the Jordache, the Mike Tyson, the Roger Rabbitt, the Happy Feet or hold one leg while jumping over the other with their remaining leg (If anyone tries that shit after reading this and busts their ass DON’T BLAME ME).

Eventually, heads were just nodding their heads and jumping up and down thanks to Kriss Kross and House Of Pain. The hip hop crew had already undergone several changes in the past. No longer was the DJ the focal point of the group as they were in the past. The DJ used to pick his emcees, or the emcees would search for the illest DJ. The industry made the MC the focal point and built from there. The MC now had a DJ/producer...and that was it. No more beat boxers, and no more dancers....although, this doesn’t explain Arrested Development or the Lost Boyz AT ALL. Where once we saw acts on stage with dancers, they began to dial it down and focus on the beats and lyrics.

The Native Tounges and their affiliates even dropped their dancers from their crews. Not only were they seen as an unnecesary expense given the changing climate of the industry , but if they couldn’t contribute...they were cut loose. This turned many former dancers into hype men or full time emcees...or in some cases, telemarketers, security guards or office temps. After the huge success of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic Album”, “40 & A Blunt” rhymes popped up everywhere...weed references were all over rap records now.

Kids were wearing Phillie Blunt and weed T shirts on the streets now. Weed was the new in thing and artists that once smoked it on the low were free to admit they puffed too. All of a sudden, Branson’s name appeared in liner notes and referenced on records, it even appeared in The Source on occasion. It became obvious that there were folks moving more trees than the Department of Parks & Recreation in the world of hip hop to even the casual listener. Mad heads got them idea to get into the herb dealing game (no Nancy & Conrad).

The artist couldn’t afford to be the guy holding the weed...what if he got busted? Everyone’s meal ticket...I mean, the head of the crew and the main source of income for everyone including the label could get locked up. Therefore, the weed carrier was born. The first case of a weed carrier spittin’ on a track was when J Swift (the former producer of The Pharcyde) received his deal for Fat House on Tommy Boy Records. His roster consisted of his sister’s group Jazzyfatnastees (now on Okayplayer), The Wascals (Buc Fifty’s former group), and Quinton The Chronic Man. You may remember his name being mentioned on “A Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde” in a skit. He spit some pretty half ass rhymes on his single (yes, it had a video) “Quinton’s On His Way”. However, the title of the B side explained it all to the listener...it was called “I’m Not A Rapper”...no shit.

Weed carriers have been spittin’ half ass rhymes in crews and getting solo deals ever since. Some of them still get their dance on, shit, Young Dro just recently had the world doing the “Shoulder Lean”. The end result is that in the modern era of hip hop emcees take themselves so seriously that none of them would dance on stage and most of them only use dancers in special performances. Which is a good thing nowadays, considering that the best dances a rapper can come up with is the “Young Joc” dance. I never thought I’d be ending a blog with this sentence, but thank God for Diddy. One.

Originally posted on October 14th, 2006 on AllHipHop.com and Spitkicker.com for my State Of Hip Hop blog series. One.


superscaryclub said...

man recently I've been really into dance/party oriented rap/hip hop. I'm kind of tired of the conscience rapper now-a-days. You aught to post a mixtape along with this. All I gotta say is that Whoop There It Is! is classic.

alley al said...

once again dart- another thick ass post with quality content. props.

lyntonbb said...

Thanks for the knowledge Dart.
Hip Hop just like the other big musical movements (Jazz, Rock & Roll) all had their emerging popularity tied to dancing. Seems like you just can't keep a good crowd down. And one that is bursting with hormones and the urge to have a good time is fertile soil for the seeds of something new. Hip Hop has moved on from all of this, as you say Dart. I can reminisce and get all misty eyed about the Golden Eras but I won't. Just as with Jazz and Rock, Hip Hop will evolve; artists like Miles and Coltrane will emerge and push it along technically and artistically, but as a movement the party is definitely over. Hip Hop can refine its boundaries but its not going to break any. I'm gonna respect the past (props on awesome blog that is doing just that but without the BS) but look to the clubs for the next big thing that's gonna shake it up.

Anonymous said...

I've always loved the dancers behind the rappers in the videos, especially during the spandex era of hip-hop in the late 80s/early 90s. A good example of excellent dancing is in MC Lyte's Stop Look Listen video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl-YR0JRnGY