'Ain't No Party': Examining the Origins of a Ubiquitous Phrase

Coolio started it.

Wikimedia Commons/Flickr/Warner Bros./Rex/The Atlantic

There ain't no party like a Scranton party, 'cause a Scranton party don't stop. Except, like many Michael Scott statements, that can't be true. A Rob Gronk party also doesn't stop. Nor does a PewDiePie party. Nor does a Holy Ghost party. A Time Lord party doesn't stop, though for pedantic reasons. A no-panty party is comparably endless; a no-pants party too. Yelp parties? Perpetual.

A Gatsby party will stop, but only under certain conditions (specifically: vehicular homicide and widespread social disillusionment). There ain't no party like an S Club 7 party, though the reasons are unspecified. A Catholic party will stop, but not until Epiphany. Ain't no party like a Lil B party with Ron Paul watching, and for that we can thank the Based God. Ain't no party like a Mario party. I think we can all agree that there ain't no party like a manatee party. Oprah—same deal.

The ubiquity of the "ain't no party" phrase is matched only by its promiscuity. In any situation—party or not, endless or not—it's a favorite crutch for television writers and creators of cyberephemera alike. How did a phrase from a mid-'90s rap hit become a signal formula in the Internet age? It's a tale of appropriation, but it's also a story of how old culture is recycled and rescued from obscurity in unlikely ways.

For example:

There ain't no party like the Donner Party but c'mon, is that joke funny once you're out of middle school? In a similarly bloody vein, Time informs us that there ain't no party like a Westeros party. Nor is there any party like the one going on at Lil' Flip's house. Brian Hoyer? He can't win a football game, but the man has distinctive parties.

Ain’t no party like a midterm campaign Halloween party (if you say so, Washington Post). Ain't no party like a shutdown party. Ain’t no party like the Black Panther Party at Berkeley Rep. And talk about endless war—ain’t no party like a Clausewitz party cuz a Clausewitz party don’t stop. (It's socializing by other means.)

Give Liz Lemon credit. A party hosted by the 30 Rock protagonist is unusual in that it is mandatory. (Although—whoa—it gets even meta-er: "There ain’t no party like a Leslie Knope party, 'cause a Leslie Knope party is actually 30 parties.")

In a quick survey of my officemates, few were correctly able to identify where the "ain't no party" meme began. The answer: Coolio's "1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)," released 20 years ago:

Ain't no party like a West Coast party
'Cause a west coast party don't stop
So when you see a young nigga
In a Chevy hittin' switches, then you gotta give the nigga his props

"1, 2, 3, 4" was the third single of Gangsta's Paradise. When it was released, the East Coast-West Coast feud wasn't just a piece of '90s ephemera. Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were still alive. In the mainstream media and in Washington, "gangsta rap" was viewed as a serious threat to society. Two months before Coolio released the record, the Los Angeles Times reported, "Succumbing to months of pressure from Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and media watchdogs, Time Warner Inc. decided Wednesday to get out of the gangsta rap business."

"Gangsta's Paradise," the title track, has had the strange fate of being perhaps best known for Weird Al Yankovic's spoof. Quick: Which have you heard more recently—the original, or "Amish Paradise"? Still, there's an obvious association, even if it's obscured. "1, 2, 3, 4," by contrast, has come almost completely unmoored from its original source and context. Maybe when it's invoked today, it might borrow Coolio's original cadence; maybe it won't. But the appropriation is impressive. A salvo in a countercultural musical movement has become so dissociated, has been so stripped of danger and menace, that it can be connected with fictional paper-company managers in Rust Belt Pennsylvania. Or Yelp. Or the sublimely Caucasian Games of Thrones.

It wasn't a constant build. Look at this Google Trends chart—up until November 2006, the phrase simple doesn't exist. And then, suddenly, it blows up.

The chart suggests, however, that "ain't no party" may be on a downward swing. If so, I think we can name a culprit: the cornball frat-rapper Shwayze. For his 2012 song "West Coast Party," he adopted Coolio's original couplet wholesale:

It was on an EP called Shwayzed & Confused. Coolio's phrase has been married to a film about white stoner teens listening to classic rock in Texas in the '70s, more or less the antithesis of  '90s Los Angeles gangster culture in all but the affection for marijuana. "West Coast Party" has little to recommend it, but it is an almost perfect illustration of the way a phrase is removed from its context, and likely will continue to be. There ain't no party like a decontextualization party, because a decontextualization party don't stop.