Hip Hop History, Bible Deep Cuts, and Naming

After being out last term with injuries and candidacy exams, I’m getting back into moving this semester and taking Hip-Hop class once again with my friend and colleague Quilan ‘Cue’ Arnold who’s in the MFA program here. I’m playing along in one of his beginner classes because it worked in my schedule, I’m super rusty, and hey–everyone needs to work on Foundation.

Tonight he did a free-writing activity before we got moving to contextualize the dancing in a larger Hip Hop culture. The students volunteered a lot of great stuff, talking about the need to express oneself, the idea of sharing art and creation socially, and even talking a little about the economic desires that sometimes drive Hip-Hop (and other) creators.

One dude even knew about DJ Kool Herc, (one of the founders of Hip-Hop culture as we know it) which I was surprised and pleased by. To round things out, Cue mentioned the five elements of Hip-Hop (Breaking, MCing, DJing, Graffitti, and Knowledge). In explaining how they came together, he said (roughly)

“another guy, Afrika Bambaataa, was really the one who codified those together and named them–he was kind of the Adam of Hip-Hop.”

I think that pretty much went over their heads, but I loved it. Later, I said it was like Bible Deep Cuts–like a reference to an album not everyone’s listened to carefully.

If that reference went over your head, too, here’s the context. In the Old Testament creation story, God doesn’t want Adam to be lonely. So, first the animals are created, and when none of them are suitable companions, only then Eve enters the scene. In between, Adam has the task of giving names to all the animals.

19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:19-20)

This idea of the power of the word–of naming–is brought up by philosophers and critical theorists as a starting point for their investigation of language and its role in our experience of the world. The example is usually either the gospel of John:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

or the idea of Nommo. Nommo is central to afrocentric theorizations; it is “the generative and productive power of the spoken word,”(Asante 17).* In other terms, it is the naming of a thing which makes it itself.

So, when Bam and others gave name to Hip-Hop, and called out its constituent parts, it solidified as a culture, as a thing with a name that could be recognized, circled around, and even pushed back against. And that tent is held up by the five pillars, the five elements of Hip-Hop**.

I’ve always found the Eden story fascinating, and the naming in particular. Before I came to grad school and read Derrida or Asante, I wrote the poem below, “Pantoum for the End of Eden” which features the Adam-naming-things scene. A pantoum is a poetic form defined by a constant repetition of lines from previous stanzas. It’s not quite MCing, but let’s say I hit three of the five pillars today–dancing, lyric, and dropping science. Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.

Pantoum for the End of Eden

For awhile, Adam sat around naming
Things to entertain himself,
Starting with the animals: dog,
Kangaroo, puffer fish, viper.

Just to entertain himself.
But after a while he ran out of things to name;
Fruitless kangaroo, puffer fish, viper.
He wandered until Eve cracked his ribs.

After awhile he ran out of things to name. Fruitless,
He peeled his skin
And wandered, until Eve cracked his ribs
And made apple pie.

Eve peeled his skin;
Took the first train out of Eden and headed west.
Before she left she made apple pie,
Now knowing she was naked.

Eve took the first train out of Eden and headed west
To Paris for a suit that befitted a first lady,
Now knowing she was naked.
But there was no steam engine, and no one to mine the coal.

To Paris for a suit that befitted a first lady; she went alone—
Adam was too weak, what with his unprotected lung,
And there was no steam engine, no one to mine the coal;
There was no one else around.

Adam was too weak, what with his unprotected lung;
There was no one to take her ticket—if she had had any money to buy it—
And there was no one else around.
When no train came, she picked up her snake skin valise.


[She took an apple out of her snake skin luggage and took the third bite. It was juicy, crispy, and sour, like she liked it—a bright green Granny Smith. In fact, she liked green apples more then the majority of other foods in Eden; she had been eating them from the moment she woke up for the first time and she had been hungry, lying at the side of a strange man massaging his side in pain. She found the apples one day walking in the garden, but she hadn’t said anything about the tree to Adam or to the serpent.]

There was no one to take her ticket, if she had had any money to buy it,
So she went home to her king, determined.
Yes, when no train came she picked up her snake skin valise;
To get out of Eden she would become her own midwife.

She went home to her king, determined;
Nursed, weaned, and waited.
To get out of Eden she became her own midwife, and
Thousands of years later she packed a spare set of grape leaves.

She nursed, weaned, and waited, and
Closed on the estate and gardens.
Thousands of years later she packed a spare set of grape leaves,
And walked to the station.

She closed on the estate and gardens,
Starting with the animals: dog,
And walked to the station.
For awhile, Adam sat around naming.

*Asante, Molefi Kete. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1998

**The five elements of Hip-Hop mirror the Five Pillars of Islam, an important religion in the foundation of Hip-Hop culture and philosophy. Read more about this connection here.


In an attempt to circulate good things in the world, publish more frequently here, and in turn get more traffic which in turn helps the above, I’m starting a category I’m going to call “OMG! FYI:” which will be brief posts featuring informal musings on things I like, and am not necessarily thinking critically about (although we should always be thinking critically).

For today, that’s this excellent feel-good vid, Nigerian-born singer Asa’s “Why Can’t We.” I’m so behind the times, it came out in May, but a friend just turned me on to it as a pick-me-up, and boy was it effective. …and affective. [Read about affect basically meaning emotionally impactful, here]. I didn’t know about Asa at all before today but you can read about her, as I did, on her Facebook page or her website. Can’t wait to find out more about her and her team!

Asa: “Why Can’t We”

Things That Are Awesome about This Video: (aka, why I picked the tags I did)

  • The color!!! What a gorgeous palette. On close inspection you can see the majority of the frame is filled with greys and neutrals, but it’s the pinks and yellows that really stay with you! (one could say they pop! haha, get it? Also, actually, just noticing this now, very similar to this blog…)
  • The song. It’s happy sounding. I’m trying to learn more about music so I know why it’s happy sounding, other than the lyrics. I think it has something to do with what I associate that instrumentation with, as well as the overall mood/sonority/timbre? [Those are words that one uses for music…right? Help in the comments SVP!]
  • The dancing! First, that there is dancing. Second, I just finished teaching about American Bandstand and Soul Train in the lecture course I teach. And this is a lovely abstraction of the sets and space of those shows. But it also uses the movement from those shows, particularly Soul Train, showing them in both their historical and current forms. Look out for Locking, Popping, some New Jack Swing era dances (Running Man and others), and a lot of new, current dance flavor.
  • I love Asa’s style! I would wear every outfit she wears in this video; the silhouettes are a perfect balance of contemporary and retro, completely flattering, and just crazy enough to be gorgeous. Plus, LOVE her hair, her glasses, and…well everything.
  • err…any interpretations or sentiments on the TV character at the beginning? (and could someone identify the language, I’m having trouble.) My guess is that he’s referencing another song of hers, and/or that he and the TV index her global circulation. But…it makes me slightly uncomfortable.

I think, as I sort of alluded to above, I also like this video because I associate it with other videos/media/experiences. The two below are the most resonant:

Soul Train Line 1973

This is an amazing find from 1973 which I actually just stumbled upon, and seems to have been uploaded earlier this month following Don Cornelius’s tragic suicide; amazing first and foremost because Cornelius came down the line himself! Which he had never done before and I don’t think ever did after. But also wonderful for its range of styles presented–it’s crazy to look at the footage from ST and see the kernels of many of the genres we have today–I even saw some bonebreaking/flexing!

And, this:

Prom Scene, Footloose (1984) 

Which, of course, is strongly influenced by Soul Train, as well as the introduction of b-boying into the movement vocabulary and consciousness of middle America through various breaking films that came out in those years, including Wild Style (1983), Flashdance (1983), Beat Street (1984), Breakin,’ and Breakin’ 2 (1984).

Signing Off!

Well. That was much more involved than I anticipated. I’ve got four posts sitting in the draft pile, better just get them out so you can read them! Thanks for reading, this has been an installment of “OMG! FYI:” stay tuned.

“Taekwondo Shuffle”

There’s a wonderful video circulating Facebook and some mainstream media blogs (FOX and CBS) which shows an outdoor performance by a group of young Koreans showcasing their mastery of Taekwondo as well as their choreographic skills. No one seems to have information on who they are or what the purpose of the display was, so if anyone knows, comment here and fill us in!

It’s being referred to as the “Taekwondo Shuffle” because the footage begins with the music and basic step (a “shuffle”) from the music video of this summer’s big hit “Party Rock Anthem” by the group LMFAO. While doing the shuffle step (which to my eyes is a miniaturized running man), the performers go through some of the arm motions used in Taekwondo training sequences.

If by some chance you haven’t seen it, here’s the LMFAO video, featuring Quest Crew, winners of the third season of America’s Best Dance Crew. Check out their website and YouTube channel.

But actually the majority of the video displays a choreographed sequence of different members of the group breaking boards with different kicks, aerial moves, and spins. This is a demonstration of ‘speed breaking,’ where the ability demonstrated is that of speed and precision, in contrast to ‘power breaking,’ where the goal is breaking as thick an obstacle as possible. Read more about Taekwondo history and techniques here or at the World Taekwondo Federation website.

What I love about this performance is the variety of movement sources and performance, as well as the well coordinated use of space, levels, and all members of the group. Having no expertise on Taekwondo I can’t pass any judgment on their completion of the moves attempted, but it is visually arresting and wonderful (and interesting, and not without problems) to see the combination of social, participatory dance forms with martial arts techniques performed in a presentational manner.

It’s also interesting to think about this choreographic display of martial techniques and movement lexicon in relation to Tricking, the dance/acrobatic form that runs just tangential to B-boying, gymnastics, and martial arts, and borrows and lends to all of them. Below is the YakFilms footage of the Tricking/Trix battle at this year’s Onde 2 Choc in Paris. You’ll see influences from and variations on classic gymnastic’s tumbling routines, B-boying’s power moves, Capoeira‘s flips, spins, and kicks, and similar moves performed more in line with the aesthetics of Asian martial arts.

As you can see, the performances captured in the two videos have a lot in common. Of course the Battle setting is very different from a public group performance, but the movement vocabulary is nonetheless very similar. It’s interesting to think, what’s the difference in the finished product between the two integrations of martial arts vocabulary into dance syntax?

Beggin’ Re-edits: Pilooski vs. Madcon

So, here’s the deal; one amazing Frankie Valli song, “Beggin'”: two quite excellent re-mixes/re-envisionings (read about the various re-incarnations of the song here) which each have quite excellent videos. So, which is better?

I was introduced to the Pilooski re-edit first (the top video), and fell in love with it. The song is precisely a re-edit; there is nothing new, but elements are re-arranged, repeated, and adjusted. The video, which has since dissappeared from YouTube in its official (and good quality!) version, is brilliant. Through setting, costume, and choreography, it traces the intervening years and influences between the Four Season’s version and the world that gave birth to Pilooski and DJing. Watch for subtle changes in costume as well as lighting and choreography- look for the twist, disco, locking, b-boying, and good ol’ rockin’ out.  Don’t forget to check out the DJs in the back- they change too!

Because I was so attached to the Pilooski version, my initial reaction to the Madcon version was adverse. But on its own it is really quite good too. It has a strong aesthetic playing off of the films of the era of Blaxploitation, complete with bell bottoms and afros, and features strong rap verses, using the original song as the hook and building off of it. One ‘plot’ element I don’t really understand is that of the video games. I interpret this as a similar tactic to the contemporary elements in the Pilooski video; because the original song is ‘vintage’ the new version must distinguish itself from that label (although clearly each video has an affinity for some nostalgic past, both of which are more than a little anachronistic, especially the Madcon vid). However, the video game thing just doesn’t work for me.

In the end, I think I still like the Pilooski vid/song better. I think this may also have to do with the fact that Pilooski’s video appeared first, and has since been removed (I suppose for copyright purposes?) while Madcon’s video is hosted by VEVO. But they both are very good. Unfortunately, and characteristically, I cannot find information about the directors or choreographers of either video, so they both lose points for that!

What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments below.