Lyrics you always got wrong: Wiggaz Unreleased Extract

Quite early on when I was doing the first draft of Wiggaz With Attitude, I hit on what I thought was a great wheeze. The type of thing that would be funny, make great content for the book and also involve other people actually doing some writing on my behalf, which is always good.

I sent out a quick internet survey to my friends via email, Facebook and the Diggers With Gratitude forum, one of the few sanctums of sanity left when it comes to online discussion of hip-hop. What lyrics, I asked, did you always get wrong?

There are some lyrical faux pas that are entirely understandable. In the pre-internet age, we didn’t understand half of what the rappers out of America were banging on about. Brand names, TV presenters, you name it. What the hell is a Walter Kronkite, we wondered?

However, there are also some that are attributable to rappers being particularly mush-mouthed – stand up Kool G Rap and Biz Markie – and also others that are down to us hearing them on shitty fifth-generation tape dubs. Ultimately, however, the real classics are the ones that seem massively obvious once it’s explained to you. The ones that make you feel incredibly stupid and naive.

I got dozens of replies. Happily, I found a few in common with me, so I felt marginally less dumb. I also got some which had me shaking with laughter. What a great chapter this will be, I thought.

I later realised it was incredibly self-indulgent to fashion a couple of pages out of this material and would bring non-specialist readers shuddering to a halt. I want Wiggaz to be accessible and relatable to readers who didn’t grow up listening to Knights of the Turntables. The solution? Tuck it into a footnote.

There are about 100 footnotes in Wiggaz. Some of them are to remind people of stuff they might have forgotten (Campri coats, ZX Spectrums, Duncan Norvelle). Others are an opportunity for me to do sketch portraits of various rappers, while some are just an occasion for me to bang on about something that I’ve got an opinion on without completely derailing the narrative.

A couple of early readers have balked at the amount of footnotes, but they’re just people who haven’t read any David Foster Wallace. Come back to me after you’ve read Infinite Jest, I tell them. This is the only time I will compare myself to David Foster Wallace.

David Foster Wallace footnotes

Footnotes, David Foster Wallace style

Anyway, a footnote it was. Easily the longest one in the book. It was still self-indulgent though, so I cut it in half.

At this stage, I realised something I really should have thought about some five years earlier. I’d decided I’d start each chapter with a classic lyric from an established artist that had some relevance to the chapter itself. It wasn’t an easy task, and I was about five chapters in when I asked myself, ‘Am I allowed to do this?’

A simple Google search answered that definitively: no. If I wanted to use any lyrics to open chapters, or indeed at all, they had to be out of copyright, or I had to seek permission. Track down the owners, get a letter, probably pay them. It wasn’t really going to be worth it. This idea was killed, and so was my footnote about lyrics. Damn.

In the end, it survives, but it’s now tiny, and hedges around the lyrics. It’s nothing like what follows this long-ass intro. It just about justifies staying in there as there are still a couple of very funny examples. As this is the internet, I’m less concerned with the rights and wrongs, as I’m not seeking to profit from it here. Re-reading it now, it’s clear it’s a blog post at best, which is why you don’t publish your first draft. So here it is in all its unexpurgated and undoubtedly indulgent OG glory:

“I asked some of my friends which lyrics they’d got wrong over the years. This reinforced my view that I was not alone and even made me feel better because about six respondents all cited the same track, one that I’d never got wrong. Losers. Chris Aylen, who runs a hip-hop website and record label and should know better, says he thought that Sugar Bear’s 1998 hit ‘Don’t Scandalise Mine’ went ‘Don’t steal our rhymes!’. My good friend Rob Pursey (labelled by many as London’s finest DJ) says that, “I know most people thought of that as ‘Don’t steal my rhymes’ and DJ and podcaster James Hamlin says, “I agree with Rob, it was always ‘Don’t steal that rhyme’.”

Sugar Bear

Black Moon’s ‘For All Y’all’ has a hook that celebrates the name of the group’s producers – ‘Mr Walt, Evil Dee’. Not for Stilts (who, like many of the people mentioned above and below, is a member of an excellent hip-Hhp forum called Diggers With Gratitude. If I don’t tell you who they are, assume I know them from that), however: “I used to chant ‘Do the walk Evil Dee’ but I was off my mind on magic mushroom tea.”

Hip-hop expert and label boss Vergill Tibbs recalls that he thought Biz Markie’s seminal dedication to his DJ, ‘Cool V’s Tribute to Scratching’, contained the words, ‘I’m like jelly and straight on up’, rather than the actual, ‘I’m like tellin’ ya straight on up.’ Journalist Hugh Leask wasn’t far off the mark when he thought Nas, guesting on Main Source’s ‘Live at the Barbecue’, rapped, ‘Poetry and text, paragraphs punch hard’, instead of the actual ‘Poetry attacks, paragraphs punch hard’. That’s forgiveable. Less so is an old friend of my wife, who thought Snoop Dogg’s hit ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ was called ‘Walk It Like a Dog’.

Manphat says, “I used to think that Big Daddy Kane had a Colby’s fixation, when he rhymed on ‘Come on Down’, ‘Quick as a Lamborghini, smooth as Alexis‘. Years later I learned that it was ‘smooth as a Lexus‘. Beatlover heard the chorus of Gangstarr’s ‘Just To Get A Rep’ as ‘Stick up kid is out, attack!’, instead of ‘Stick up kid is out to tax’, while Sparkdala and his friends probably wanted to think that Public Enemy’s ‘We wear black Wranglers, we’re rap stranglers’ was ‘We wear black Wranglers, they’re ball stranglers’.

Public Enemy's ball stranglers

Public Enemy in their ‘ball stranglers’

Soul Survivor adds, “In ‘Can’t Front On Me’, CL Smooth says “Count all the bars, numeric”. Well I was 14 when that came out and English is not my native language so I had never heard the word ‘numeric’. I used to think they gave away the sample source by saying “Count all the bars, Lou Merrick”. I presumed that was some old jazz legend and that the loop in the track came from one of his songs. It wasn’t until probably 1996 or 1997 I realized what he actually says.” Record Sniffer recalls, “When I was young one of my friends, when chanting the hook from Pumpkin’s ‘King of the Beat’ used to say, ‘Oh Oh OK Oh Oh OK I’m king of the Pizza’… still makes me laugh 30 years on.” Bob Disaster: “At first I thought Big Juss was saying ‘Bugged Out like Bananas’ on ‘8 Steps to Perfection’ instead of the genius opener of ‘Rugged Like Rwanda’.”

Orko: “I still think the start of Mobb Deep’s ‘Shook Ones’ sounds like he says ‘to all the killers and the hundred dollar billers, for real niggas who ain’t got no fillings [it’s actually ‘feelings” – now that you’ve read that, that’s all you’ll ever hear from now on, dental hygiene was a big thing in Queensbridge].” Step One misheard the same bit: “The first few times I heard ‘Shook Ones’ I thought it was, ‘to all the killers in the 100 dollar villas’ (as in a reference to low cost housing or something).”

Names can be misheard too. DJ Superix and his friends thought that the UK top 10 hit ‘The Show’ was by an artist called Doggy Fresh, rather than Doug. E. Fresh and, “someone gave me a bootleg copy of the first Public Enemy album and referred to them (and wrote on the tape) as ‘Paul Academy’.” Public Enemy’s influence is seen again in this anecdote from Rob Pursey: “At a Public Enemy concert a mate of mine heard everyone shout Terminator X! He said, “who’s Jim Latex?”

Terminator X

Jim Latex, earlier today

Dan Greenpeace, my future rap partner, made a habit of such cock-ups. Run DMC’s ‘My Adidas’ contained the line ‘With Lee’s on my leg, Adidas on my feet’. Dan thought it was ‘fleas on my leg’. Gang Starr’s ‘Take it Personal’ had rapper Guru running down a list of sports – ‘Racketball, tennis, pool, whatever’, which Dan interpreted as ‘Racketball, tennis, ooh, whatever’. For these reasons the track became known between us as ‘Take your purse with you’. And that really is enough of this now…”

Posted by drewhuge