How Street It Is...

[Neil Drumming]

(I've been delinquent with this particular post. Fortunately, I don't think time is of the essence in this case.)


So, last week, my wife and I were watching "So You Think You Can Dance" (shut up) and the first couple of the evening performed a dance routine to the current Jadakiss hit, "By Your Side" (not to be confused with "By My Side," a way more enjoyable Jadakiss song off of a previous album.) The couple, Karla and Jonathan, were dressed in costumes reminiscent of those in Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" video. And, not surprisingly, their routine was   categorized by the choreographer as "smooth hip-hop." The number was admittedly pretty forgettable, but I found myself simultaneously amused and dismayed by the judging panel's critiques.

This, from the program's patriarch, Nigel Lythgoe, a soft, cuddly version of Simon Cowell if ever there was one:

"It feels like it's been sort of ironed-out, that there's no excitement in the routine. And the one great thing for me with hip-hop is fear. There's this great thing that I'm on the edge of my seat whenever you talk about gangsta, or hip-hop, or b-boying, there's a fear there. 'What are they going to do?' It's gonna be really exciting. 'What's going to happen?'... If you drop her you drop her, but that's the danger. There was no danger in it."

I'm not looking to rant here, but I always feel a little queasy when I hear these odd parameters that arise around anything hip-hop. It would seem to me that any of the styles danced on this show -- whether it be salsa, jive, disco, contemporary, or my fave, the Viennese Waltz -- that include lifts, flips, somersaults, and other gravity-defying acts would include the same element of fear and danger.  I mean, what the hell does Nigel want to be afraid of whenever somebody dances to hip-hop? That a fight will spontaneously erupt on stage like this is the Source Awards? That his overly-loud co-host Maggie Murphy might succumb to a hail of bullets like Biggie and crumple in the seat next to him, thereby ending her eardrum shattering shrieks of praise forever? Who knows. 


But if you think Nigel's kooky... well, he is. But so was the following expert evaluation from the guest judge, Toni Basil. Now, Basil is apparently some sort of renown choreographer. Like me, you probably know her better as the grown woman dressed as a cheerleader who made that "Oh Mickey" song a long time ago. At the top of the evening, she mentioned that she would soon be receiving something called the "Living Legend of Hip-Hop Award." I didn't know such a thing was being given out, but I sincerely hope, seeing as how Basil is up next, that KRS-One, Rakim, De La Soul, Snoop, Ralph McDaniels, Big Lez, Scoob and Scrap Lova, Bobbito the Barber, DJ Yella, and Chi Ali, have already gotten theirs.

Here's what Toni Basil had to say about Karla and Jonathan's "smooth hip-hop" routine:

"Hip-hop is a series of steps that the choreographer draws from many millenniums of dance styles - but mostly street. And street has to have a groove and a funk. And if you're gangsters, and you don't have a ghetto groove, it's just gonna feel store-bought." 


I don't actually know what that means. Am I not hip-hop?
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Neil Drumming is a filmmaker, screenwriter, and journalist. He is a former staff writer and editor at Entertainment Weekly, and his work has appeared in Wired, The Washington Post, Vibe, Rolling Stone, Essence, and Vanity Fair.

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