Slang is an important part of what makes our hip-hop culture impactful outside of just the music. It shapes how others view us and how we view ourselvs. The strangest thing is that we never stop to think where these words come from to begin with. Their orgins often date much further back than you could imagine, but just like the music, it’s about taking something old and flipping it on it’s head. Putting real perspective to some commonly used phrases, this week’s Food 4 Thought is a fun look back at how certain slang words worked their way into our culture.
“Whats that homie?! if you think im going dancing on a dime, your clock is ticking on the wrong time.”
No that’s not from Biggie’s “Ready To Die”, it’s a 1945 recording by a Jazz singer name Ella Mae Morse. It’s also the first documented use of the word “homie”, nearly 35 years prior to the invention of commercial hip-hop. It further serves as a reference point in how a regional phrase from a traditional era can seemlessly morph it’s way into the 90’s. All done through the power of music and a cultural phenoma that swept through the World at a blistering pace.
Although slang words in general are poorly recieved in academic circles. It was Mark Twain who first said “”always at the grind, grind, grind, on a salary–another man’s slave, and he sitting at home in his slippers, rich and comfortable.” Maybe his 1879 book “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” was the influence for Ice Cube’s “You Can Do It”, when he said “I’m on the grind baby, all the time baby”. Or maybe not, but just like “homie”, hip-hop has proved time and time again it has the knack of reclaiming words and giving them new meaning.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s latest single “Otis”, Jay raps “I invented Swag – proof: i guess i got my swagger back!”. Jay is reciting his own lyrics from a previous song in an attempt to claim 2011’s most recognisble hip-hop term as his own invention. By now, everyone from Soulja Boy to Odd Future may have Swagged us all out to death. But the truth is CS Lewis, the Irish author who penned the Chronicles of Narnia, is the king of swag. In 1958 he wrote ‘Some young hooligans…had already sold the SWAG, and some had previous convictions against them’. A close runner up would be “The Swag“, a magazine for Catholic priests and deacons of Australia. Which has it’s own rich history and claim on the word.
At the same time hip-hop created it’s own style of fashion, how you spoke became just as important. The legendary Big L. wrote a song dedicated entirely to slang. In this excerpt, he breaks down what each word means, simultaneously showing off a clever rhyming scheme:
“Check it, my weed smoke is my lye
A ki of coke is a pie
When I’m lifted, I’m high
With new clothes on, I’m fly
Cars is whips and sneakers is kicks
Money is chips, movies is flicks
Also, cribs is homes, jacks is pay phones……
Max mean to relax, guns and pistols is gats
Condoms is hats, critters is crack
The food you eat is your grub
A victim’s a mark
A sweat box is a small club, your tick is your heart
Your apartment is your pad
Your old man is your dad
The studio is the lab and heated is mad
I know you like the way I’m freakin’ it
I talk with slang and I’ma never stop speakin’ it”
– Big L. – Ebonics
When Big L. wrote Ebonics he was breaking down how slang was popular in New York. In the 00’s the Dirty South took it further with words like Bling entering into popularity. It wasn’t Lil Jon who started that movement though. It may surprise you that it was Dr. Seuss who first got Crunk in 1972:
If MTV is the yardstick on how you judge slangs impact on youth culture, we only need to look at past shows to leave us in no doubt of how the World went hip-hop:
“Yo! MTV Raps”, “Pimp My Ride”, and “Cribs” were all major hits for the station. “Pimp My Ride” was a blatant display of how the word ‘pimp’ was flipped and reinvented to mean something good. The same way DJ’s took obscure samples and created beats, fans and artists were breathing new life into age-old phrases.
Although it didn’t always work out. Sometimes slang terms clashed with pre-exsisting cultures. Will Smith, a family artist, was unaware of how UK & Ireland audiences might percieve his album title “Big Willie Style” differently to his fans in the States, creating plenty of problems for his label in the process. Even more controversy was caused by hip-hop’s frequent use of the word “Nigga” as a term of endearment. But remember, no matter how irrevrant hip hop slang can seem, most of these words exsisted before we said them. We just made you sit up and take notice of them. Now that’s hip-hop!……. my word is bond.