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In 1998, Goodie Mob lamented that people don’t dance no mo’. But last month, the first-ever BET Hip-Hop Awards included a category that has never been featured on any of the many different award shows hosted by the network—“Best Hip-Hop Dance.” And the nominees were:
Shoulder Lean, a self-explanatory move executed by Atlanta rapper Young Dro, with assistance from T.I.; Hyphy, a Bay Area herky-jerk; the Motorcycle, a handle bar-twisting maneuver popularized by Yung Joc and Diddy, the Chicken Noodle Soup, a spastic bit of choreography introduced by Harlem’s DJ Webstar and Young B, who have a single by the same name; and Snap, the oldest of the dance crazes, which actually includes multiple variations on the same basic dance. The winner was Snap, but crowning any single dance movement as the best of this year matters less than the fact that there were enough dances to inspire any sort of competition.
Blogger and XXL.com contributor Byron Crawford has dubbed the trend of dance-driven rap “minstrel show rap.” He was the first to point out that the smash “Chain Hang Low,” by Missouri rapper Jibbs, big-ups flashy jewelry over the melody from “Turkey in the Straw,” also known as “Zip Coon,” a 19thcentury minstrel-show favorite. Crawford has lumped “Chicken Noodle Soup,” as well as other tracks that seem to be built around present-day shuckin’ and jivin’ (such as “Fry That Chicken,” by cross-dressing country pied piper Ms. Peachez), in the same category. “[R]ecord labels are rushing out to sign the most coon-like negros they can find,” Crawford laments in a post called “Black People: WTF?” Earlier this month, the Baltimore Sun ran a piece on dance rap called “Can Blackface Be Far Behind?”
Others don’t believe the dance-rap trend to be quite that insidious but think it lacks substance and is contributing to the long-predicted death of hip-hop. On his acclaimed disc Fishscale, Ghostface takes a shot at the club track “Laffy Taffy” from break-out group D4L (My arts is crafty darts/While y’all stuck on Laffy Taffy/Wonderin’ how did y’all niggas get past me”). On “It’s Okay (One Blood),” the first single from Game’s Doctor’s Advocate, he, too, takes a swipe at snap music (a knock, it should be noted, that he omitted from his performance at the BET Hip-Hop Awards).
Whether you believe that songs like “Chicken Noodle Soup” are dangerous, buffoonish contributions to rap or see the trend as merely the newest nail in hip-hop’s coffin, your argument is fundamentally flawed. Those songs shouldn’t be debated in the context of hip-hop, because they aren’t hip-hop—they’re dance music. Offensive dance music, maybe. Mindless dance music, perhaps, but dance music nonetheless, songs whose only connection to hip-hop is the fact that its artists tend to rap rather than sing.
That’s not to say that “dance rap shouldn’t be scrutinized by hip-hoppers if it drops the “rap.” Its social implications still impact hip-hop, but it shouldn’t be discussed from a position of ownership.
In fact, relabeling dance rap as simply dance is in the interest not only of people who hate the stuff but also of the offending artists themselves. For instance, Diddy’s latest, Press Play, is an abysmal rap album, but it’s pretty damn good as far as dance records go. His big smash, the Pussycat Dollnfeaturing single “Come to Me,” is sugary and overdone by rap standards, but damn, can it fill a dance floor.
Even better, artists who are blasted for making the most ignorant, base records imaginable might find a more welcoming community within dance. Dance artists get away with offensive lyrics all the time in the name of making the club (or, more specifically, the strip club) jump, while hip-hop is held to a higher standard of accountability. Ever heard of “ghetto-tech” faves “Ho’s Take Your Clothes Off” or “Ass-n-Titties”? Probably not—explicit dance music isn’t popular enough to inspire hand-wringing; Bill O’Reilly and Oprah couldn’t care less about Disco D or DJ Assault. Dance is played in clubs—not on popular radio stations—for the enjoyment of adults. No one cares about the music’s social impact—dance doesn’t have a huge political past to live up to, and its stars aren’t heroic role models with movie gigs and clothing companies. Look at Uncle Luke—his Miami bass raunch only became banned in the USA after it was branded rap.
The problem, of course, is that separating dance rap from the rest of hip-hop could decimate already weak hip-hop sales (see sidebar). This year, “Laffy Taffy” set a new record for one-week sales of a single download. If the fluff of D4L were categorized as dance rather than rap, it would make the relative commercial failures of albums like Fishscale, and by extension poor sales across the board for much quality hip-hop, all the more apparent. Although it makes more sense to compare the success of D4L to dance-inclined R&B artists such as Ciara or popsters such as Gwen Stefani, lumping dance rap in with hip-hop has extended hip-hop’s chart dominance—even if only on paper.
Still, for the long-term good of the genre, it’s time for hip-hop artists, critics, and fans to start handling their business like their rock counterparts do: Whenever a new strain of music crops up that they don’t like, they isolate it, ostracize it, give it a name that completely distances it from rock, and then proceed to ignore it. If that fails, there’s nothing wrong with a little shifting of blame. Vapid tracks such as “Chicken Noodle Soup” should be pop’s problem. They’re used to dealing with that sort of thing.