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On the Continuing Resonance of “Rump Shaker”


Earlier today, a new track from M.I.A. called “Hit That” hit the internet. Produced by Bangladesh, the guy responsible for most of the beats on Ludacris’s still-amazing first album, “Hit That” has a nagging high-pitched synth-whistle and a big off-kilter drum track that may or may not be made from a sample of a slamming door. M.I.A. does what M.I.A. does, coolly rattling off an unconnected series of random party-talk exhortations and possibly-sarcastic political buzzwords and nonsense sounds. None of this amounts to anything we haven’t already heard from M.I.A., but it’s a fun little song, and I’m looking forward to another album full of these things. Other than the Bangladesh production credit, though, the most interesting thing about “Hit That” is M.I.A.’s decision to liberally quote the nonsense words of a much better song on her own chorus, that song being the 1992 Wreckx-N-Effect hit “Rump Shaker.” In isolation, this wouldn’t be a particularly weird development. M.I.A. seems to pretty much say whatever comes into her head. She’s about my age, which means she probably heard “Rump Shaker” about a bajillion times at 6th grade (or whatever they call 6th grade in England) dances just like I did. But “Rump Shaker” seems to have stuck around in the mass-culture worldmind way more than just about any other random hit I can think of from that era, which could mean any number of things but probably just means that it’s a really good and catchy song and that it’s still fun to say “zoom-a-zoom-zoom” fifteen years later.

If nothing else, “Rump Shaker” is notable for being the song that Pharrell Williams supposedly partly ghostwrote years before he became famous. The story there is that Williams, then fresh out of high school, wrote Teddy Riley’s verse on the track, which would make Williams responsible for the immortal “I like the way you comb your hair, unh, I like the stylish clothes you wear, unh” bit. Of course, Pharrell didn’t actually do anything notable until “Superthug” and “Got Your Money” six years later, and “Rump Shaker doesn’t sound anything like any of the beats he’d make later, so the track’s success doesn’t really anticipate any of the success he’d find with the Neptunes. “Rump Shaker” comes from an era where even ridiculously goofy dance-rap didn’t sound all that different from something like Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y.” except with much dumber lyrics; if “Rump Shaker” came out now, you’d probably think it was a satirical Little Brother song or something. The track was a product of Riley, the world-beating new jack swing producer, who was just then reaching the later stages of his period of absolute chart dominance. But none of Riley’s tracks for Guy or Bobby Brown seem to have the staying power of “Rump Shaker,” and these days he’s working on tracks for White Rapper Show quitter Sullee, which is just depressing. None of the Wreckx-N-Effect guys really did much after “Rump Shaker” either. I remember reading somewhere that the group got into a brawl with a Tribe Called Quest backstage at Showtime at the Apollo; the two crews had a beef that the Nation of Islam eventually got involved in stopping. (If that had happened during the internet age, I would’ve absolutely blogged the fuck out of it.) According to Wikipedia, though, the group broke up in 1996, and I haven’t heard about any of them doing anything afterwards.

Still, “Rump Shaker” lingered. In 1998, the first song on the Bulworth soundtrack was LL Cool J and Dr. Dre’s “Zoom,” which pretty much stole the “Rump Shaker” chorus wholesale. In 2001, Benzino released the unbelievably awful club-track “Bootee,” which started with Teddy Riley saying that the track was going to be the new “Rump Shaker,” a prophecy that sadly did not come to pass. Just last year, Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” sampled the same indelible saxophone riff that “Rump Shaker” had used. Writing about the song at the time, I called it the “Rump Shaker” horn riff, something that annoyed a few of my readers since Public Enemy’s “Show Me Whatcha Got” had already used that same horn riff, a sample from the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band’s “Darkest Hour.” But that’s not the “Show Me Whatcha Got” horn or the “Darkest Hour” horn, at least not to the entire generation who heard it first on “Rump Shaker.” I know these examples don’t quite make the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or anything, but it’s not like we’ve heard a lot of songs making reference to Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” or TLC’s “Baby-Baby-Baby” in the past few years. For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, “Rump Shaker” turned out to be bigger than 1992, and that’s definitely a good thing.

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