“The Importance of Safe Humping” - a New-Wave to Hip-Hop Dance Experimentation
While starting to think of what direction to go in for the 3rd installment of my Hip-Hop experiment I remembered that I was in fact voted “Best Dancer” in the superlatives section of my senior year yearbook in high school. Now this wasn’t because I was into ballet or ballroom, it was due to all the MTV I had watched and how I tried my best to emulate the steps and moves of my Hip-Hop favorite groups. Some bands even made things easier by creating dances that go with the song. This of course is nothing new thanks to countless hits like the Hokey Pokey, Hand Jive, The Twist, The Peppermint Twist, The Hustle, The Stroll, Harlem Shuffle, The Locomotion, and a big thank you goes to Wilson Pickett for putting them all into one song in The Land of 1000 Dances. In the world of Hip-Hop we have a wide range of dance styles as well from Apache (Jump On It)and Hammer Time, to The Tootsie Roll, Da Dip, and additional big thank you goes to House of Pain for snapping floor boards and an ankles with their timeless hit Jump Around. Another thing many of these songs have in common is that they were the biggest singular success of their respective artists, forever linking the one song and sound with that group.
Though there are technical and industry stipulations for what officially constitutes as a “one hit wonder” (it’s placement on the Billboard chart, record sales and such) for the American listening audience it’s simply an artist or group who had a huge hit. This generally means the song crossed demographic barriers, and while it may have been a clear style of music, that somehow the song transcended its own genre. For many recording artists this is considered a sort of kiss of death but if you look at it optimistically, one is better than none.
When I was 14 I was given the job of DJ at a local youth center. This was mostly due to my large personal music collection. The gentleman who volunteered to run the youth center was the head of programming at the local, Mainly A.C. (adult contemporary), radio station. His name was Matt Dowling, he was also the morning jock and as such had a local celebrity status. I got to hang out with him a lot which bumped me up on the “cool meter” with most of my peers. He donated and trained me on the proper usage and care of professional DJ equipment. This consisted of an eight channel powered mixer, speakers, and a cassette player (as CDs had not yet grown to popularity). When he found out I was a Hip-Hop fan, and that I was from NYC he bestowed upon a pair of his own personal Technics SL-1200s. That this upstate blue eyed Irish devil even knew what these were blew my mind and his giving them to me was the starting point in what would be a very long friendship. When the time came for me to find a deejay for my wedding I knew who I had to ask, and though I hadn’t seen him in four years, he jumped at the chance.
It has been speculated that without the advent of these amazing feats of technology we might not have Hip-Hop today, certainly not as we know it. Technics SL-1200’s are turntables for playing records. The difference between them and their predecessors is that rather than being driven by a belt running from a motor which then beneath the table making it turn, the SL-1200’s tables were directly connected to the motor itself a technology known as “direct drive”. This made the turntables more powerful and sensitive and when folks first starting cutting at scratching they could rest assured that the exact sound they wanted would be produced. The DJ could deftly maneuver the album below the needle and guarantee that it would return to the exact spot in groove (literally) that would keep the beat and thusly the party poppin’.
When Matt trained me on the art of “turntablism”, as it is called in the Hip-Hop community, he made sure to remind me that though I loved rap, it was the music from earlier generations being sampled that gave my favorite music its back bone. This opened up my world to the revolutionary music of:
The Ohio Players
The “Original” Meters
George Clinton ( and the rest of Parliament -Funkadelic)
Sly (and rest of the Family Stone)
Kool (and the rest of The Gang)
And though I knew his contemporary stuff I rediscovered…
Michael (and the rest of The Jacksons).
This time would also begin an education in learning the skills it took to jump back and kiss myself. If James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, then poppa was a rolling stone ‘cause that man fathered more music than that for which he has ever been given rightful credit. But those folks are NOT one hit wonders. In fact, in and amongst them are world-renowned superstars and relative unknowns, the talent difference between them negligible. Popularity is illusive and is often a matter of time and place; I suppose a little luck never hurt either.
As I learned more about DeeJaying I discovered what it took to move a crowd. The little upstate town my mom moved us to was not ready for me to be cutting, scratching and mixing songs for their kids to be dancing to. So I had to find a way to get that same effect by just using the studio recording of all my favorite music. This was when I learned about the “pop”. YOU can blend and mix beats all night, sure. One song into the next, practically strong-arming folks to stay out on the floor or you could use… the pop. The pop is a DJ term for the precise moment, the breath of space, when one song ends and the next one hits. And if that song is a hit the crowd will lose it, usually hollering “Ooohhh” as they let the music take get inside them taking their mind and body on an unexpected, fantastic voyage. And they thought they were just about to run to the bathroom or get a drink? HA! As I was once told, a good DJ moves your feet, a great DJ owns your soul.
This can be any music, as long as it’s a hit. It can be a song that is currently blowing up the charts or an older tune that takes you somewhere in your memory and makes you go wild, tapping into the feral creatures we thought we had evolved from being.
Diving back into my desire to take a song that seemingly had little connection with the world of Hip-Hop and fusing it with a beat that would reflect my love for partying and dancing I looked to the world of the One Hit Wonder and found two songs that had more in common than one might expect.
“The Safety Dance” was the only hit of an odd little synthesizer driven Canadian New Wave band called Men Without Hats. It was electric, it was silly fun and on any given night the right DJ could certainly use it in the pop to get the party started or keep it going. This would be where I would get my lyrical content.
The beat would come from a party song considered by most to be the only success of its group. Oakland California’s very own alternative Hip-Hop outfit The Digital Underground. (D.U.) If it is their one hit, it was a mega-hit, making it all the way to #11 on the pop charts, #7 on the R&B charts, and #1 on the Billboard Rap Singles chart. Part of the success of The Digital Underground was their use of what is considered to most in the Hip-Hop community as a gimmick. The lead singer and chief song writer of the band known as Shock-G had an alter-ego. A goofy sounding, comical character who donned an oversized Groucho Marx-esque nose attached to his glasses which Shock always complained about having to paint himself as the only ones available were colored for Caucasians. (Though he did eventually have some custom noses plated in gold and platinum.) This fictional character’s name was Humpty Hump and though he was featured on many D.U. tracks it was his “solo” joint that would launch the band into the annals of music history.” The Humpty Dance” was released in 1990 and to this day when party/club goers hear that distinct base line and beat drop, they get hype.
In combining these songs I am attempting to speak to another amazing element of Hip-Hop that I believe is discredited. Rap and Hip-Hop songs are almost all danceable. It could be a song with a serious theme or a party anthem and they can both get your booty shaking. Generally speaking if a rock song wants to cover a “serious” matter it usually moves slower or is constructed out of minor chords and the musicality is what adds the weight to the tone of the song. If I played only the beats to 10 different rap songs which ranged in theme from gut –wrenchingly honest and depressing to downright silly you’d probably be bouncing along to all of them. This truth again brings to mind the statement Imani Uzuri made during her Goddard Graduation Presentation when describing gathering at the Hush Arbor. “What did these folks have to be giving thanks in praise for?” Yet that’s exactly what they were doing. It seems to me that even at the darkest time the music of the descendents of Africa seem to find a way to lift the spirit. I hope combining these two fun loving songs I can lift a few spirits in a reminder that sometimes all you have to do to feel better is dance. I now present “The Safe Hump Dance”.