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Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap

Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 10:52 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 11:00 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 11:05 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 11:19 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 11:27 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 11:38 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 11:51 AM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 05:14 PM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 05:18 PM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 05:30 PM
GUEST,Lighter 06 Aug 06 - 05:40 PM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 05:42 PM
Azizi 06 Aug 06 - 06:39 PM
Azizi 07 Aug 06 - 09:03 AM
Azizi 07 Aug 06 - 06:31 PM
Azizi 07 Aug 06 - 06:57 PM
Johnhenry'shammer 08 Aug 06 - 05:11 AM
GUEST,Lighter 08 Aug 06 - 10:06 AM
GUEST,Lighter 08 Aug 06 - 10:10 AM
Bert 08 Aug 06 - 01:12 PM
Kaleea 08 Aug 06 - 02:51 PM
Azizi 08 Aug 06 - 03:45 PM
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blind will 15 Aug 06 - 11:51 PM
blind will 16 Aug 06 - 11:12 PM
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Subject: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 10:52 AM

I'm starting this thread as a result of a comment that Art Thieme made in the Folklore: It's All About Ass thread.

After reading a contemporary children's rhyme that I had posted, Art wrote that he had no doubt where rap came from. Art's comment got me wondering about the roots of rap. I went searching for Mudcat threads on rap music & I found these archived threads:

Rap music

Talking of Rap

Blues vs Rap

blues lexicon

There are a number of posts on those threads that address the subject of the roots of rap. However, in order to read those comments you have to wade through posts from people declaring their dislike of rap and posts from people indicating that rap shouldn't even be considered music.

I'm starting a whole 'nuther thead with the fervent hope that the focus will remain on the subject of rap's roots and not on the rap {hip-hop} music genre itself.

While I loathe most contemporary rap and like other periods of rap {particularly some pre 1990s, pre gangsta old school rap}, whether I or anyone else likes or dislikes rap isn't the point of this thread.

The purpose of this thread is to explore the roots of rap {hip-hop} music. In my opinion, a discussion of the roots of rap is a relevant topic for a folk/blues discussion forum.

I'll continue this discussion in the next couple of posts and hope that others will join in this discussion.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 11:00 AM

Here's a couple of comments about "Toasts":

"Toasts are probably the only living form of oral narrative poetry in the U.S.; they represent a vital genre of black folklore. They come from various sources: from street corners to jails and from barrooms to academic halls. Some are quite short, others run to 150 lines. Many scholars recognize toasts as the roots of the rap tradition, and many of the same themes of violence, sexuality, and boasting are found in both genres.

The toasts celebrate mythological figures from African-American culture, including the famed "bad man," Dolomite, and the famous exploits of the "Signifying Monkey," who outsmarts his stronger opponents in the forest by using his wits. Also included are stories of the loss of the Titanic, famed in black folklore because of its symbolic significance, representing the failure of the era's powerful white establishment, and including the (perhaps apocryphal) story that the ship's owner had refused to sell tickets to blacks, including prize fighter Jack Johnson."

Source: African-American Narrative Poetry from the Oral Tradition Bruce Jackson's Get YOUR ASS IN THE WATER AND SWIM LIKE ME: African-American Narrative Poetry from the Oral Tradition (Routledge; Paperback Reprint; ISBN: 0-415-96997-2; $19.95 [CAN $29.95 originally published in 1974


"Toasting has been part of African American urban tradition since Reconstruction as part of a verbal art tradition, dating back to the griots of Africa. African American stories usually lauds the exploits of the clever and not entirely law-abiding trickster hero (not always human) who uses his wits to defeat his opponents.

Toasters continue the oral tradition by recounting the legends and myths of the community in venues ranging from street corner gatherings, bars, and community centers, to libraries and college campuses. As with oral traditions in general, and with other African American art forms as the blues, toasting uses a mixture of repetition and improvisation.

There are many versions of the most well known toasts, often conflicting in detail. Historically, the toast is very male- oriented, and many toasts contain profane or sexual language, although more family-oriented versions also exist.

Well known toasts include "Shine and the Titanic", "Dolemite", "Stack O Lee", and "Signifyin' Monkey"..."


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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 11:05 AM

Here's Rounder Records: sound clips Get off your ass and swim like me

And here's the online summary of record:

"These toasts are representative of an extraordinary body of folk poetry from black American oral tradition. With the briefest of listens, anyone immediately realizes this is the precursor of today's rap. Toasts are fun; the great performers recite in grand theatrical style. They are dynamic evens, full of sound and movement. Toasts can be told anywhere, but they seem to be told in county jails more than anywhere else, and that is where the bulk of these recordings were made. Like much folk literature, toasts deal with problem of human relations, but they do it in a special, highly filtered and exaggerated way. Many of these contain violent language, some of it sexual. We find here stories of badmen, tricksters, pimps, fools, prostitutes, hustlers and squares. This album is a companion to Bruce Jackson's book of the same name (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1974). "

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 11:19 AM

Here's an online article about the Gospel roots of rap:

"Music historians are at last beginning to acknowledge that a key factor in the development of rap music were the early "straining preachers", many of whom recorded to extraordinary popularity in the 1920s and '30s. Compilation CDs such as 'The Roots Of Rap' (Yazoo) and 'Sacred Roots Of The Blues' (Bluebird) demonstrate that the raspingly rhythmic exhortations of preachers such as Rev F W McGee and Rev A W Nix were an early prototype for the secular rhymebusters of the 1970s. Of all the black preachers who were unexpectedly elevated to recording star status in the 1920s, the most popular was the Rev J M Gates. Born in 1884 the good reverend was the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Rock Dale Park, Atlanta from 1914 until his death around 1941. His recording career began in 1926 when Columbia Records, intrigued by the novelty of a singing preacher (Rev Gates often sang gritty renditions of the old hymns accompanied by two or three uncredited members of his congregation) released the first of many subsequent releases. His first smash hit was "Death's Black Train Is Coming", a hair-raising, fire and brimstone sermonette.."

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 11:27 AM

And here's an excerpt from A 1990 Louisiana Folklife article by Mona Lisa Saloy:African American Oral Traditions in Louisiana

"The sidewalk-song of children's folklore performs a particularly important role in African American culture. When Black youth perform these sidewalk songs, they practice and learn to contribute to their rich African American verbal culture. By puberty if not earlier, the Black child must learn to "hold their own" for protection, that is, from verbal or physical abuse. It is a common Black custom to be able to "rap" oneself out of a street fight or "jive" your parents out of a deserved whipping. Therefore, this early verbal play becomes a vital link to what will later become "jiving," "sounding," "woofing," "the dozens," and eventually "rapping," all of which are common African American verbal-dueling traditions. The dueling dozens and rapping have been incorrectly attributed only to Black male culture. Girls also participate in these early raps and frequently with boys. Boys participate with girls to varying degrees depending on their exposure to sisters, girl cousins, and neighbors…"

… it is clear that at an early age, African American children actively participate in their verbal development. They brag, they duel, they dance, they sing. These rhymes and raps serve to define group identity, address adults on adult concerns, learn verbal prowess, and entertain one another. Sidewalk songs, toasts, and stories are traditions particularly strong on the streets of the Seventh Ward in New Orleans."

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 11:38 AM

And here's the example that prompted Art Thieme's comment about contemporary children's rhymes being one of rap's roots:

Miss Susie had a tug boat, her tugboat had a bell, Miss Susie went to heaven her tug boat went to HELL...o operator please give me number nine, and if you disconnect me I'll cut of you're behind the 'fridgerator there lay a piece of glass Miss Susie sat upon it and cut her little ASS...k me no more questions, and tell you no more lies the boys are in the bathroom zipping up their flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park, Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, dark dark dark. The dark is like the movies, the movies' like the show, the show is like tv set and that is all I know I know my ma I know I know my pa, I know I know my sister with the 40 acre bra. my ma is like godzilla, my pa is like king kong, my sister is the stupid one who made up this dumb song." posted by Athina at July 1, 2003

[reposted with permission of that blog's members]

And here's an example of an African American children's foot stomping cheer:


Hump De Danda.
Hump Hump De Danda.
Hump De Danda.
Hump Hump De Danda.
Soloist #1: {Well} My name is Tanisha.
Group:        De Danda, Hump Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: I'm super cool.
Group:        De Danda Hump, Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: You mess with me
Group:        De Danda Hump, Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: and you're a fool.
Group:        De Danda Hump, Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: I'm goin down
Group:        De Danda Hump, Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: to touch the ground.
Group:        De Danda, Hump, Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: I'm comin up
Group:        De Danda, Hump Hump De Danda
Soloist #1: to mess you up.
Entire Group:
Humpty Dumpty
sat on ah wall
Humpty Dumpty
had a great fall.
Oosh, ain't that funky now.
Oosh, aint that funky now.
Oosh, ain't that, Oosh ain't that,
Oosh, ain't that funky now.

[repeat from beginning with next soloist and continue until every member of the group has had one turn as the soloist; chanted while peforming a routine of bass sounding foot stomps, and individual hand claps]

{Source: African American girls 7-9 years old, Pittsburgh, PA; mid 1980s}

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 11:51 AM

Imo, these examples of children's rhymes are contemporary with rap, and therefore aren't actually examples of the roots of rap.

However they demonstrate elements of rap such as the play with words, and-particularly the foot stomping cheer-the in-your face/tough image, and self-boasting words of rap, and the dozens, and toasts.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 05:14 PM

"The Roots of Rap is a compilation of blues, country, gospel and other songs from the 1920s and 1930s with spoken cadences that pre-dated, and influenced, rap music.
Compilation producers: Richard Nevins, Don Kent.
Recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. Includes liner notes by Don Kent."

Disc 1
1. If I Had My Way I'd Tear This Building Down - Johnson, 'Blind' Willie
2. Cocaine Blues - Jordan, Luke
3. Bow Wow Blues - Allen Brothers
4. Jive Man Blues - Jaxon, Frankie 'Half Pint'
5. Jonah In The Wilderness - Thomas, Henry
6. South Carolina Rag - Walker, Willie
7. Whitewash Station - Memphis Jug Band
8. Automobile Ride Through Alabama - Henderson, Red
9. Dirty Dozen No. 2 - Speckled Red
10. Tain't None O' Your Business
11. It's A Good Thing - Beale Street Sheiks
12. She's A Hum Dum Dinger - Davis, Jimmie
13. Papa's On The House Top - Carr, Leroy
14. Let That Liar Alone - Clayborn, Rev. Edward
15. Back In My Home Town - Hutchinson, Frank
16. Track Linin - TCI Section Crew
17. Atlanta Strut - Johnson, 'Blind' Willie
18. Arkansas Hard Luck Blues - Glosson, Lonnie
19. How Can You Have The Blues - Georgia Tom
20. Pickin' Off Peanuts - Dill Pickles
21. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out - Smith, Pinetop
22. When I Stopped Running I Was At Home - Dixieland Jug Blowers
23. Frankie Jean - Memphis Minnie

Roots Of Rap, The (Classic Recordings From The 1920's & 1930's)


Roots of Rap Sound Clips

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 05:18 PM

See Mudcat thread Cocaine Blues 4 (Luke Jordan) .

Related Mudcat threads on this song are listed on that page as are DigiTrad examples of Cocaine Blues.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 05:30 PM

Regarding the Caribbean routes of rap, see these excerpts from the article Roots and Routes: The connections between dancehall and rap. This article was written by Hannah Appel for

"There are more similarities than not between dancehall and rap music. From shared musical and social histories going back to pre-Middle Passage Africa through today where rhythms and lyrics transmit at rapid speeds via modems, televisions, and the radio, the interconnectedness of these two musical forms is undeniable. DJs and rappers sample one another's material with reckless creativity, and look to one another for collaboration and inspiration...

Though many of the links between rap and dancehall are more abstract, like African retentions or similarities in language use, their most fundamental relationship is a perfectly tangible one: Jamaican immigrant Clive Campbell (a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc) brought his knowledge of Jamaica's budding dancehall tradition to the Bronx, and in 1974, he invented the break beat, widely understood to be the founding moment in hip-hop music. This celebrated moment, when hip-hop music (rap) was born out of Jamaican dancehall traditions, could use a little context of its own...

Rap and dancehall share two fundamental and definitively African elements: orality and rhythm, that date back to sub-Saharan Africa far before the forced migrations of slavery.

With their lyrical focus and ability to manipulate language for speed, affect, content, etc., rappers and DJs are the contemporary incarnations in a long line of orators, following the West African griot figure, or one who would spread news and stories in the community. Many writers and thinkers have also related the orality of dancehall and rap to the West African concept of "nommo," which understands the power of the word to be the power of life itself. To speak something or to "speak on" something is to generate it, or make it come into being. (See the work of Henry Louis Gates or Geneva Smitherman...

The second definitively African element that both rap and dancehall share is their mutual reliance on rhythm. While the foundation of music that comes out of classical European traditions is with melody, music informed by classical African traditions relies almost solely on rhythmic creativity and layering. Rap and dancehall both share this reliance on rhythm, offering their lyrics over heavily laden bass tracks full of drum machine sound effects, handclaps, and even traditionally melodic instruments like the guitar or the horn used as rhythmic accompaniment. (Think of the "one drop" in reggae or the horn section in often sampled funk riffs.)

While it's important to acknowledge the African musical roots of these traditions, those roots are only one part of a much larger picture. That larger picture is a much more modern view in which rap and dancehall both rely extensively on newer technologies (microphones, turntables, amplification, keyboards, computers, etc.) and the extraction and recycling of old musical material into something new and exciting, a process known in hip-hop as sampling (and a habit so ingrained in dancehall it doesn't have a name.)

These changes took place in urban points in the African Diaspora:Kingston, New York, etc. The technological innovations of the second half of the twentieth century are really the musical heart of rap and dancehall"...


If you're interested in the history of dancehall reggae and/or rap, the entire article is a fascinating read.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 05:40 PM

The first book of pre-rap "toasts" to be published was Roger Abrahams's "Deep Down in the Jungle" (1964):

Abrahams collected his material in Philadelphia in 1958-59.

The texts he collected show that some even deeper roots were ballads of "Stagolee" and tales of Jesse James.

Robert Service's once famous poem (1902) about "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" was parodied in bawdy form by the 1940s - in both versions something of a "toast."

The third basic collection of toasts from the '50 and '60s is Wepman, Newman, and Binderman's "The Life" (1976):

Great thread idea, Azizi!

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 05:42 PM

"Shine and the Titanic is a popular toast in African American folklore. Its glowing African American hero uses his wit and physical ability to save himself from the destruction of the Titanic.


It was a hell of a day in the merry month of May

When the great Titanic was sailing away.

The captain and his daughter was there, too,

And old black Shine, he didn't need no crew.

Sine was downstairs eating his peas

When the…water came up to his knees.

He said, "Captain, Captain, I was downstairs eating my peas

When the water came up to my knees."

He said, "Shine, Shine, set your black self down.

I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down."

Shine went downstairs looking through space.

That's when the water came up to his waist.

He said, "Captain, Captain, I was downstairs looking through space,

That's when the water came up to my waist."

He said, "Shine, shine, set your black self down.

I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down."

Shine went downstairs, he ate a piece of bread

That's when the water came above his head.

He said, "Captain, Captain I was downstairs eating my bread

And the…water came above my head."

He said "Shine, Shine, set your black self down.

I got ninety-nine pumps to pump the water down."

Shine took his shirt, took a dive. He took one stroke

And the water pushed him like it pushed a motorboat.

"I'll give you more money than any black man see."

Shine said, "Money is good on land or sea.

Take off your shirt and swim like me."

And Shine swam on.

Shine met up with the whale.

The whale said, "Shine, Shine, you swim mighty fine,

But if you miss one stroke, your black self is mine."

Shine said, "You may be the king of the ocean, king of the sea,

But you got to be a swimming son-of-a-gun to out-swim me."

And Shine swam on.

Now when the news got to the ocean port, the great Titanic has sunk,

You won't believe this, but old Shine was on the corner damn near drunk.

(as quoted in Saloy 1999)

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 06 Aug 06 - 06:39 PM

Thanks, Lighter.

Hopefully others will join this discussion and/or post information about this subject.


Here's the hyperlinks to those resources that you posted along with some comments:
[Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia (Paperback)
by Roger Abrahams

Excerpt of a comment by an online reviewer: January 26, 2006
Andre M. "brnn64" (Mt. Pleasant, SC United States)

..."Basically, the white folklorist Roger Abrahms spent some time in the late 1950s living in the Philadelphia ghetto. He befriends a number of the locals who are fascinated with his tape recorder (this was when they were new) and proceeded to record their folktales, songs, rhymes, and stories.

To his credit, Abrahms does not patronize his black sources. He also writes about them and their lives with respect in the chapters preceding the tales. But what makes this controversial is that the tales he records are the rough, uncensored kind that black comedians like Redd Foxx, Rudy Ray Moore, and Richard Pryor would not publicly record until a few years later. Many (middle class) African-Americans at the time saw this kind of humor as an embarrassing throwback that would hurt their chances of integrating into mainstream America, thus it was heavily criticized at the time.

But taken as it is, the sometimes bawdy tales like "Shine and the Titanic," "The Signifying Monkey" (the title of the book is the opening stanza from this), "Stagolee", "The Preacher and the Bull," etc. were street folk tales that were told for years in Black communities. Previous folklorists such as Langston Hughes tended to clean them up for public consumption. But the fact that these tales were told in the streets for so many years is proof that for better or worse, what we now know as "Gangsta Rap" is nothing new.

Incidentally, the story of Roger Abrahms's experiences getting these tales in the Philadelphia ghetto and the initial controversy behind this book would make an interesting movie"


The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler (Mass Market Paperback)

Comment by online reviewer: Reviewer: "funkmasterj" (Maryland)
"This is an excellent collection of Toasts (Afro-American oral folk poetry), as transcribed by one of the authors."

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 07 Aug 06 - 09:03 AM { Archives 2004} has an interesting discussion about other Toast "heroes" Joe de Grinder {Jody}, and Stagger Lee {Stack o' Lee}.

Here's an excerpt from one of those posts:

"There's a pretty fascinating story around Jody, that most people here (I think!) know from 70's hits by Johnnie Taylor and others. Actually, from what I understand, Jody (Joe) the Grinder is another one of those "toast" heroes, like Stagger Lee, that's been part of African-American folk culture for a long time.

It seems as though the stories about Joe or Jody the Grinder go at least as far back as the forties. In the late thirties/early forties Alan Lomax collected Afro-American Blues and Game songs, which were issued in 1942 on a record with the very same name:

"Afro-American Blues And Game Songs" (available on

This collection contains a tune with the title "Joe the Grinder", performed by Irwin Lowry. Since this type of material usually has
been around for a long time before it's commited to tape/vinyl, it does seem as though the Joe/Jody goes as far back as Stagger Lee and the other macho heroes!

I also found a reference to Joe/Jody on a web site devoted to black harmony groups. The group The Hawks / Humming Four had a release on
Imperial in 1953, as the Hawks, which featured "Joe The Grinder" as a B-side (dunno if it's Lowry's Joe, though!)

On I also found the following CD:

Get Your Ass In The Water And Swim Like Me: Narrative Poetry From Black Oral Tradition

This CD is based on a collection of toasts, assembled by Bruce Jackson:

Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me:
Narrative Poetry from the Black Oral Tradition, by Bruce Jackson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1974.

I had a look at the list of titles, and lo and behold, there he was again, the mighty Joe! The sample was very short, so I couldn't
figure out if the rhyme has any connection to the military, but it does seem as though it has, judging by the title:

Joe The Grinder And G.I. Joe

Bruce Jackson has also written an article which gives a pretty good picture of the origins of the "Jody" songs. This is what he has to say in "What Happened To Jody" (Journal of American Folklore 80, 1967)

"Life in an army during wartime and life in prison anytime have a number of aspects in common, so it's not surprising when we find items of folklore shared by both camps. One mutual concern is who is doing what, with, and to the woman one left at home. In Negro folklore, this concern is personified in the songs and toasts about one Jody the Grinder-"Jody", a contraction of "Joe the" and "Grinder", a metaphor in folk use for a certain kind of coital movement.

Jody's activities and life style are perhaps best described in the toast bearing his name. Roger Abrahams collected a version of "Jody the Grinder" in Philadelphia in the early 1960's. I collected a longer and more detailed version in Texas in 1965. The toast is pretty well dated by its content and slang: "solid news" and "solid sender" were out of circulation by the early 1950's; Japanese war brides didn't start receiving much attention until some time after the American occupation of Japan was well under way, probably around 1947. The atom bomb and fall of Japan are so central that they supply an absolute early cut off. One would be safe in assuming somewhere between 1947 and 1950.

But Jody was around earlier. He is named in the brief blues "Joe the Grinder", recorded by John Lomax from the singing of one Irvin Lowry
in Gould, Arkansas, in 1939. During the war years, Jody figured in the marching song "Sound Off", a version of which is printed in Alan
Lomax's "The Folk Songs of North America". Lomax says "In many variants this song was sung by all Negro outfits in World War II." Abrahams notes that "This song is often called 'Jody's song' and
other similar ones 'Jody Calls'. Woody Guthrie in an undated note included in "Born to Win", says, "The best of marching I saw in my eight months in the army was to the folk words of a folky chant tunem that went:

Ain't no use in writin' home/Some joker got your gal an' gone/Hey,
boy, ya' got left, right?/Ho boy, ya' got right."


The discussion continues from there and includes links to other forums where discussion of these characters occurs.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 07 Aug 06 - 06:31 PM

No discussion of the roots of rap could be complete without mention of African jeli {griot}.

There are quite a number of online references to West African griots. Here's an excerpt of one such article:

"Jeliya (Griots)
The jeliya (sing. jeli, fem. jelimusow, French griot) are a caste of professional musicians and orators, sponsored by noble patrons of the horon class and part of the same caste as craftsmen (nyamakala) like blacksmiths. Because the jeli class is endogamous, surnames are caste-based; thus, certain names are held only by jeliw. Common jeli surnames include Kouyaté, Kamissoko, Cissokho, Dambele, Soumano, Kanté, Diabaté and Koné.

Jeliya are supported by their noble sponsors. Their job is complex. They recount genealogical information and historical family events. They also laud the deeds of their patron's ancestors and praise the patron himself (for the patrons are always male), as well as exhort them to behave morally to ensure the honour of the family name. They also act as dispute mediators. The position is highly-respected, and jeliw are often trusted by their patrons with privileged information because the caste system does not allow the jeliw to be a potential rival of the nobleman.

Few non-jeliw have taken music as a profession, though Salif Keita remains an extremely prominent example of a noble-born Malian who became a singer, adopting traditional garb and styles. He has, however, made it clear that he sings as an artist, in order to personally express himself, and not as a jeli.

The jeli repertoire includes several ancient songs; the oldest may be "Lambang", which praises music. Other songs praise ancient kings and heroes, especially Sunjata Keita ("Sunjata") and Tutu Jara ("Tut Jara"). Music is typically accompanied by a full dance band, often using electric instruments in recent years. Songs are composed of a scripted refrain (donkili) and an improvised section. Improvised lyrics praise ancestors, and are usually based around a surname. Each surname has an epithet used to glorify its ancient holders, and singers also praise recent and still-living family members. Proverbs are another major component of traditional songs.

The political and historical aspects of the jeli's task fall within the male jeli's realm, as does the playing of instruments. Their work is considered to be a form of speech, whereas the work of the jelimusow, which is to sing praises and exhortations, is viewed as song"...

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 07 Aug 06 - 06:57 PM

See also these excerpts of a review of a book about "taalin", another genre of oral tradition. The book is Katrin Pfeiffer. "Sprache und Musik in Mandinka-Erzählungen"} With an English summary. (Wortkunst und Dokumentartexte in afrikanischen Sprachen; Band 10). Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. 2001

"Taaliŋ are one of the five main genres of Mandinka speech art. The other genres include epics, songs, proverbs, and riddles. Mandinka, which belongs to the Niger-Congo language family, is the most widespread language in The Gambia. Its speakers, who are also called Mandinka, form 42% of the Gambian population….Mandinka taaliŋ are orally handed down in informal settings in order to entertain people, especially children. In the dry season, when people are not busy working their fields, grandmothers spent their evenings narrating taaliŋ for their grandchildren in the compound. However, nowadays narrating is not a prevalent phenomenon. The school and the media have taken over the educating function of taaliŋ.

Narrating taaliŋ is not reserved to a specific group in Mandinka society, and the narrators do not receive a formal training. Taaliŋ are usually narrated by women and this may explain why issues like the education of children and the relationship between husband and wife or between co-wives are central in this genre. For many women in Mandinka society narrating is the only means to give expression to negative feelings, such as jealousy, despair, and anxiety. Consequently, taaliŋ have a cathartic function.

Pfeiffer deems it necessary to draw a distinction between a female genre: taaliŋ, and a male genre: jaliyaa ('griotism'). She associates the female genre with the informal and domestic domain, while she relates the male genre to the formal and public sphere.
The significance of this dichotomy is highly debatable. Several decades ago feminist social scientists have already demonstrated that such a distinction is too simplistic. By associating jaliyaa with the male activity of narrating epics, Pfeiffer passes over the activities of female griots in the public domain. Her statement on page 30 that Gambian female griots do not produce 'öffentliche Kunst' (public art) is plainly offending. During my field research in The Gambia, I met female griots who saw it as part of their professional duty to narrate taaliŋ. It would have been interesting if Pfeiffer had also incorporated taaliŋ narrated by professional performers in her analysis"...


In the contact of this thread, this sentence is particularly interesting to me: "For many women in Mandinka society narrating is the only means to give expression to negative feelings, such as jealousy, despair, and anxiety. Consequently, taaliŋ have a cathartic function".

This sentence might also refer to rap music.


On some level, rappers give props to the African griot traditions, as shown by the stage name of a member of a new rap group: "Lawless Element":

"In learning how to tell tough tales in silky-smooth style, you could hardly pick better models than Tribe, De la, and Slick Rick. The real triumph of the Detroit duo of beatman "Magnif" and rhymer "Griot" is joining the rolling, instrumental vibe of the first two with the elegant lyrical arrogance of the natty one.

When Kavi "Magnif" Tapsico and his cousin Alfred "Griot" Austin of Detroit's hip-hop duo Lawless Element were but pint-sized playmates (6 and 9 years old, respectively) they didn't waste time messing with toys. No, as impressionable children of the '80s, these pup prodigies were wrapping their sticky fingers around hip-hop culture and little else.

"We wanted to be rappers even back then," Griot says, smiling wryly."We started out by beat-boxing into an old radio and recording it. Then we'd play the beat-box back and rhyme over it all day." He pauses, and then he adds, "I think Mag's been making beats since he was in the first grade."

Their years of working together have created a chemistry that can't be duplicated.By studying a range of artists, they have been able to come up with a style all their own.."

Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States
Genre: Hip-Hop » Underground Rap"

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Johnhenry'shammer
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 05:11 AM

I think I may have a different perspective from most people on this board in that I have been an absolute lover of Hip Hop since I was very young (probably about 5 years old). So here's a little story that must be told:

If you had to name somebody to be the "creator" of Hip Hop, it would be a Jamaican immigrant to the Bronx who went by DJ Kool Herc. Kool Herc was an amateur DJ during the 70's playing small birthday parties and stuff when he noticed something that would change music forever. He saw that people would have big reactions to segments in a song maybe 10-30 seconds long called the break. This was just the stripped down funk and rythym that would get crowds moving and people dancing. He figured he could isolate the break and play it over and over again so that he could keep the crowd moving and the people dancing. So he used two turntables playing the same record and a mixer to cut between them. Well this caught on real quick and soon enough, everybody in the ghetto was buying turntables. There would be block parties and club parties with break dancing and all sorts of shit. NOW, here's where rapping starts. During a show, the DJ would never get on the mic and address the crowd. So you needed somebody to engage people. Thus, the MC was born. He could get on the mic and get the crowd pumped. Sometimes he'd just say things like "All the ho's say ho!" Or, "Throw your hands in the air!" Well from this, came MC's saying things rythmically or with the DJ's beat and call and response type stuff. So maybe the MC would say, "Yes, yes, yall! And you don't stop! To the beat yall! And you don't stop!" Since rhymes have always sounded good to human ears, the chantings of the MC started to rhyme. The rest is history.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 10:06 AM

Way back around 1959 there was a TV commercial in New York & New Jersey (and maybe Pennsylvania and Connecticut) for the old Palisades
Park on the Hudson.

It consisted entirely of verses spoken by what sounded like a white announcer (off-camera) but with the heavily-stressed rhythm that everybody now associates with rap. All I can remember of this speil was

   SKIP the bothaer and SKIP the fuss !

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 10:10 AM

Sorry for cutting myself off.

PAL-is-ADES Amusement Park !
PAL-is-ADES Amusement Park !
SKIP the bother and SKIP the fuss !
Take the PUB-lic SER-vice bus !
PUB-lic SER-vice sure is GREAT !
It TAKES you RIGHT up to the GATE !

They aired this ad plenty, believe me.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Bert
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 01:12 PM

Where does Billy Cotton fit into this? Or was he just an unrelated incident?

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Kaleea
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 02:51 PM

I do recall, back in the 70's some of the above when I was working for the Army in rec services & as a Choir Director.   The chapel where I worked was one where lots of artillery trainees came through in short 6-8 week cycles, & the trainees could go on detail or go to chapel on Sunday morning. There was a young Chaplain who often used Call & Response & a rap style in his sermons. It was very catchy & kept most of the trainees from going to sleep for their brief respite from training. He even had an entire sermon which he gave in that style. While the trainee groups were always of various ethnicities, it was enjoyed by most by those who were African American, except perhaps for a few Country & Western diehards. Since that Chaplain happened to "Black" (as we said back in those days), the trainees of the same persuasion really enjoyed it. It was popular with some of the Drill Instructors, especially the African American ones. They began to use some of the phrases as cadences for marching drills instead of the usual stuff, & then added their own ideas. Those DI's had some quite colorful & syncopated cadences.

Here's an interesting bit about a WWII Private who changed/re-invented American military marching cadences.

   (sorry, my 'puter won't make those blue thingies)

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 03:45 PM

Here's the hyperlink to the site that Kaleea posted:

That article "Second World War Cadence - SOUND OFF"
By Michael Stucke has examples of military cadences including this version of the Duckworth chant:

"An old Army legend is told... in May, 1944, an fatigued marching column, returning to barracks at Ft. Slocum, New York, picked up the step with a chant heard in the ranks. Others repeated it and the "Duckworth Chant" or "Sound Off" was born. Pvt. Willie Duckworth, an African American soldier created the chant that we know today"..

"Sound Off"
(CHORUS) SOUND OFF (By individual)
1 - 2 (By troops)
SOUND OFF (By individual)
3 - 4 (By troop)
CADENCE COUNT (By individual)
1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 1 - 2 --- 3 - 4 (By troops)

VERSE 1 The heads are up and the chests are out
The arms are swinging in cadence count.
Repeat - Chorus after every verse

VERSE 2 Head and eyes are off the ground,
Forty inches, Cover down.

VERSE 3 It won't get by if it ain't GI,
It won't get by if it ain't GI,

VERSE 4 I don't mind taking a hike
If I can take along a bike.

VERSE 5 I don't care if I get dirty
As long as the Brow gets Gravel Gertie.

VERSE 6 The Wacs and Waves will win the War
So tell us what we're fighting for.

VERSE 7 They send us out in the middle of the night
To shoot an azimuth without a light.

VERSE 8 There are lots plums upon the tree
For everyone exceptin' me.

VERSE 9 The first platoon, it is the best.
They always pass the Colonel's tests.


Imo, the entire article is very interesting reading.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Aug 06 - 03:57 PM

Here's a site for lots of examples of military cadences:

[that website includes this warning on each cadence page: "(Some cadences contain vulgar language. Please read with caution.)"

Yes, I know. The same warning should be said for for many toasts and rap songs.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: blind will
Date: 15 Aug 06 - 11:51 PM

Rap was a major part of my music listening in the 1980's.As far as I can remember my first exposure to the music came from a Detroit radio station, which I used to be able to pick up in Canada here.My initial reaction to the music was one of awe or excitement, though I dislike an awful lot of today's rap.

But enough about that.To the roots of Rap:

The rap vocal part itself has very strong roots in the black American traditions of toasting and rhythmic talking (something that has been well discussed in previous posts).Going back ultimately to Africa the tradition has varied in style, from the lighthearted childrens rhymes, beat poetry, to rhythmic preachers.It has been used in a variety of black styles such as blues, black gospel quartet, the 50's rock'n'roll of Bo Diddley, reggae,disco, soul and funk.But another factor that has influenced rap vocals is the rhythmic flow of the musical accompaniment, originaly done in a very simple 4/4 rhythm that matched the flow of the percussive beats (sampled or otherwise).

Rap as we know it today began in the early 70's as a unrecorded musical form.In it's earliest stage it was primarily a blend of funk beats manipulated on a turntable by a dj and simple rhythmic talking.Soul records were also sometimes used (a style related to funk).But this underground scene of the 70's would also see another strong stream of disco based rap, which appears to have begun with DJ Hollywood.While disco-rap would eventually fade out in the 80's, some of the first recorded rap is pure disco music, the only difference being the vocals on top.A good example of this is the 1979 track "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill Gang.The very first recorded rap song is often cited to be the Fatback's "King Tim III (Personality Jack)" which is also from 1979.But this song is by a live band doing very disco type music with rapping, not the turntable/hiphop stuf.

From my perspective the Jamaican connection to this 70's hiphop & rap is more in the borrowing of ideas than the direct use of reggae rhythmns, through the Jamaican immigrant DJ Kool Herc (previosly mentioned).Such things as dj's manipulating beats or tracks and talking over "toasting" was already done in reggae.The actual rythmic flow of the raps were very different (sounding closer to the rhthmic talking of the black American tradition).If you ever get a chance to hear Otis Reddings late 60's soul song "The Tramp", it includes some sections where drums are accompanied by rhythmic talking, sounding very close to that of the rap genre (and sometimes sampled by rappers).It sounds alot closer to rap then the old Jamaican toasting I've heard so far.

For a more detailed look at the history of 70's rap, hear is this article:

Well I'm not actualy finished yet.I will continue my look at 70's rap and other rap connections in the future.I'm forced to stop now for sleep sake.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: blind will
Date: 16 Aug 06 - 11:12 PM

Continued from my last page...

Another type of music which has had some connections to the rap/hiphop world is the Last Poets.The Last Poets were a politicaly charged black music group that formed in New York city in the late 60's.Beginning their recording career in the early 70's, their initial sound consisted solely of African bongo type drumming with rhythmic beat poetry (a type of poetry long associated with the jazz genre).With recordings such as "White Man's Got a God Complex" and "Niggas Are Scared of Revolution" this was percussive drum and street talking music that sometimes used the f-word.This description makes it sound like alot of rap, which was birthed in the same city(Some have even labelled it as an early form of rapping).But unlike the early rap pioneers like Kool Herc, there initial music made use of unfunky complex polyrhythmns and had no relationship to soul or funk.Eventually however the Lost Poets would begin to add melodic instruments such as the saxaphone, bringing in jazzy melodies and experimenting into the realms of jazz/funk, while continuing to use a beat poetry way of talking.

As early as 1973 Alafi Pudim of the Last Poets did an album with Kool and The Gang and Eric Gale called "Hustlers Convention".Though I don't remember hearing anything from this album, it is said to use funk grooves, street noises, sound effects and features Pudim's street talking.This same record was used as a break record by some of the first hiphop dj's.Later on in the 1980's The Last Poets would return the favour by experimenting with hiphop elements.

Another artist who often has a similar style to the Last Poets is Gil Scott Heron (who is obviously influenced by them in his talking tracks).His most popular track is probably his "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", which would later be covered by both the Last Poets and the Disposable Hereos Of HipHoprisy.It was originaly recorded in 1970 in the sparse style of early Last Poets, just his beat poetry with congas and bongos.He would later record it in a jazz/funk vibe in the early 70's (1971?) and the results is something that sounds an awful lot like rap.You can hear this track for yourself in this following MP3:

For a lengthier look at the Last Poets, see this article:

Speaking of the influence the Last Poets have had on rap, the above article sais "Their influence is great, but it's more on attitude than on the music itself." I think this statement would be true for alot of rap or atleast some of it.But not all rap has the political street attitude they had.And some rap groups even borrow something of their beat poetry based vocal style (like tracks I've heard by the Disposable Hereos of Hiphoprisy).

Continuing, but interuptions welcome....

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: blind will
Date: 17 Aug 06 - 12:49 AM

After the first official recorded rap of the Kool Herc & disco kind, the 1980's was just around the corner.

This decade saw the emergence of some new types of hiphop and rap vocal styles.One of the most important and influential was that of Run D.M.C.Their style of rap vocals and music with it's booming vocal delivery was shaped heavily by both the earlier funk/soul rooted hiphopers and rock music.With tracks such as "It's Like That" and "Hard Times" they created a music that strattled the fence between funk and rock, owing about as much to each.(Some rap in the 80's continued to be essentialy funk music in a different form).Later on they made a more overtly rock influenced track with Aerosmith (a group I don't particularily like).Following the path of Run D.M.C. other straight forward rap artists would emerge with a similar rock punch like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, sometimes with a even harder hitting sound.

It should be noted however that rock had infiltrated alot of rap before Run D.M.C, going back to it's underground days of the 70's.(I'm using "rock" in the more narrow use of the term, such as hard rock).The way it primarily happened in the 70's was through the use of soul and funk records such as Sly and the Family Stone (a group that played soul with a psychedelic rock flavour) and the often sampled sounds Of Parliament/Funkedelic who also owe some of their sound to psychedelic rock.Infact this last group was doing funk-rock in the early 70's, their early sound strongly shaped by the likes of Jimmy Hendrix and even Black Sabbath.And these early records of these P-Funk musicians could have easily have been used by the early days of unrecorded rap (but I can't prove this).Maceo Parker who played with both James Brown and the P-Funk crew has recorded some funk that has both jazzy saxaphones and obvious rock touches in the drumming--and I've heard this very kind of funky sound crop up in rap.So with these things in mind and how rap evolved with the likes of Run D.M.C, I think the later trend toward rap-rock was a very natural progression.

Another influential rap/hiphop sound that croped up in the 80's was electro-hiphop, which is also categorised under the electro or electro-funk label.One of it's originaters was Afrika Bambaataa, his most popular electro rap being 82's "Planet Rock" (which was one of my all time favourite music tracks in the early 80's).The sound was mostly created by mixing up funk/hiphop beats and rapping with the rhythmic "techno" type of sound that Kraftwerk began to do in the late 70's.Kraftwerk was an all electronic group that came from Germany.In the early/mid 70's they pioneered a very original "synth pop" sound, something that was linked to both earlier electronic artists and pop/rock melodies of some kind (but not really a rock band).By the late 70's when disco dance music was a rage, they began to do songs in a more rhythmic danceable feel yet in a beat all there own.This techno or proto-techno sound of Kraftwerk not only helped to shape 80's electro-hiphop, but in a more indirect way has contibuted to other rap sounds like Miami Bass and the Crunk music that became very popular this decade.

So that's some of my look at rap roots, coming from more of an old school guy (when it comes to rap).I've kind of lost track of alot of the new rap scene.

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Subject: RE: Toasts, & Other Roots of Rap
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 20 Apr 12 - 12:03 PM

The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama
A history of the street insult game that has inspired artists from Jelly Roll Morton to Zora Neale Hurston to NWA

by Elijah Wald, coming from Oxford University Press in June 2012.
"The dozens" is a tradition of African American street rhyming and verbal combat that ruled urban neighborhoods long before rap.
At its simplest, it is a comic concatenation of "yo' mama" jokes. At its most complex, it is a form of social interaction that reaches back to African ceremonial rituals. Whether considered as vernacular poetry, verbal dueling, a test of street cool, or just a mess of dirty insults, the dozens has been a basic building block of African-American culture. A game which could inspire raucous laughter or escalate to violence, it provided a wellspring of rhymes, attitude, and raw humor that has influenced pop musicians for a century. This book explores the depth of the dozens' roots, looking at mother-insulting and verbal combat from Greenland to the sources of the Niger, and shows its breadth of influence in the seminal writings of Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston; the dark humor of the blues; the hip slang and competitive jamming of jazz; the edgy brilliance of generations of black comedians; and the raw language and improvisatory battling of rap. A forbidden tradition that has survived for well over a hundred years below the surface of American popular culture, the dozens links children's clapping rhymes to low-down juke joints and the most modern street verse to the earliest African American folklore. In tracing the form and its variations over more than a century of African American culture and music, The Dozens sheds new light on schoolyard games and rural work songs, the literature of the Harlem renaissance and the flowering of blue nightclub comedy, and pop hits from ragtime to rap.

Much more about the book at the link.

~ Becky in Long Beach

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